Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Soba Noodles Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing

We are always looking for alternatives to the same-old, same-old pasta salad especially as the weather starts to warm up and we fire up the grill for cookouts and other outdoor gatherings. We first had this salad years ago from the deli counter at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market. We brought it back because it is relatively healthy compared to many other pasta salad recipes. The whole wheat pasta is easier to digest, the dressing is low fat reasonably low in fat and the peanut butter provides a protein punch.

This salad is delicious warm or cold and is actually better when made in advance. It holds up well at a picnic because the ingredients are not quick to spoil as afternoon temperatures climb. Be the hit of your next potluck with this tasty, unique salad.

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts, chopped and toasted
  • ½ pound soba noodles, cooked

Mix soy sauce, mirin (which is seasoned rice wine vinegar), peanut butter, honey, ginger and garlic in a small mixing bowl and whisk together until smooth and creamy.
Toss the dressing with cooked soba noodles (or you can substitute whole wheat spaghetti which is what we have done here) pasta that has been allowed to cool. We sometimes use pasta leftover from another meal. Make sure that the pasta is well coated with dressing but not swimming in it. Place the coated pasta in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Before serving, top the salad with toasted sesame seeds and chopped peanuts. This salad is especially tasty when garnished with freshly chopped cilantro.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Colorful Curried Cauliflower

Waiting for Spring produce to appear at markets and grocery stores each year requires extreme patience. This is the time of year that I crave a garden fresh cucumber or tomato. I start to feel that if I eat one more Brussels sprout that I will turn into one! Adding a bit of flavor and flair to the ordinary cruciferous vegetables available this time of year helps to stave off the pre-spring boredom.

Additionally, members of the cabbage family have a very low glycemic index making them a healthy choice for those of us who are still trying to stick to our New Year’s resolution to lose weight, especially with swim suit season looming large. The most attractive aspect to this recipe is that the curry-flavored cauliflower makes a good snack as I find it as just as appetizing when eaten cold as hot.

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2-3 teaspoons curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Paprika for dusting

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, curry powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Whisk together until combined. Add the cauliflower florets to the bowl and toss with the curry dressing.

Once the cauliflower is fully coated with dressing, arrange the florets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check for your desired level of char. If you like your cauliflower a little more caramelized, pop it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until browned to your liking.

Once roasted, season with more kosher salt and black pepper if needed, and dust with paprika before serving. Chopped parsley or cilantro makes a pretty fresh garnish with a contrasting color as well. I spritzed a little lemon juice on mine too since I like it a bit tangy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mayonnaise: It’s What’s for Dinner?

Every good Southern cook has a jar of mayonnaise in their refrigerator. It is an absolute for making macaroni salad, potato salad, and slaw. In fact, it is hard to imagine preparing an Easter dinner without it. Except. Dom loathes mayonnaise. I am not sure that he ever recovered from his first mayo-induced trauma. While on a hunting outing at a quail plantation (another very Southern custom,) the luncheon buffet included pear salad: canned pear halves with dollops of (what he thought was) sour cream with a pinch of grated cheddar on top. Dom popped the pear in his mouth only to discover that the dollop was not sour cream, but in fact was a generous spoonful of mayonnaise. To this day, he still gets a little shiver when he is reminded of the episode.

Unlike Dom, our youngest Sonny who was born and raised in Atlanta, loves mayonnaise-laden foods like deviled eggs and pimento cheese and has even been known to slather mayo on his burger. There have been times after a track meet that Sonny has even eaten mayonnaise right out of the jar!*

Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce or dressing that is an emulsion of oil, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar, and seasonings. Emulsifiers are liaisons between the two liquids and serve to stabilize the mixture. In mayonnaise, the emulsifier is egg yolk, which contains lecithin, a fat emulsifier. Salad dressing, unlike mayonnaise, does not contain egg yolks and is generally sweeter than mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise is commonly used as the base for other dressings and sauces, such as honey-mustard, horseradish, and tartar sauce. Another popular emulsion is hollandaise which is basically a cooked mayonnaise. Mayonnaise (along with its sibling, hollandaise) is one of the five mother sauces, which also include sauce espagnole, tomato sauce, béchamel and velouté. Mayonnaise was invented in 1756 by the French chef of the Duc de Richelieu. After the Duc beat the British at Port Mahon, his chef created a victory feast that included a new sauce called "Mahonnaise" in honor of the Duc's victory.

Blenders, mixers and food processors make it easy to make homemade mayonnaise, which many gourmets feel is far superior in taste and consistency to commercial mayonnaise. Since homemade mayonnaise is uncooked, it is important to use the freshest eggs possible. Homemade mayonnaise will last three to four days in the refrigerator.

2 egg yolks
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups olive oil (or any neutral oil you choose)

Place the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard in the bowl of a food processor and season with salt, to taste. Turn the machine on and VERY slowly start to drizzle in the oil. Drip, drip, drip until the mixture starts to thicken and look like, well, mayonnaise.

You can add the oil a bit faster at this point until it is all incorporated. If you add the oil too quickly, it will keep the two liquids from combining (emulsifying). If the mayonnaise is too thick add a few drops of water or if it is not thick enough, with the machine running, add a little more oil.

Once it has reached your desired consistency, seasonings can be added. For example, the ever-popular “aioli” is just another name for garlic-flavored mayonnaise. Other popular variations include adding paprika for patas bravas and curry to complement Indian dishes.

*Oh and by the way... April Fool! While it is true that Sonny does enjoy pimento cheese and the occasional deviled egg, he has never eaten mayonnaise straight from the jar. Knowing Dom’s mayo aversion, we saved a jar (for quite a long time actually) and added vanilla pudding. The look on Dom’s (and Nic’s) face was PRICELESS! Possibly one of the best April Fool’s jokes we have ever attempted!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival 2014 Sneak Peek with Chopped Chicken Liver on the Side

In few two short months, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will once again take over Midtown. In its fourth year, the three-day festival will offer guests over 100 cooking and cocktail demonstrations, technique labs, food and beverage tasting seminars and panel discussions. Each activity has been carefully designed by the Festival co-founders and their Festival Advisory Council and Curators to put the national spotlight on the food and beverage traditions of the South and to establish Atlanta as the gateway. I recently attended a “pot luck” luncheon hosted by co-founders Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love and catered by Advisory Council Chefs to get a special behind-the-scenes look at AFWF14.

The Festival’s Advisory Council is made up 70 (give or take a few) food industry “rock stars.” These award-winning chefs, sommeliers, mixologists are personally invested in celebrating and protecting our region’s rich culinary traditions and collaborate to create the weekend’s programming. After tasting their amazing dishes, I can exclaim that this was no ordinary “pot luck!” If the Lunch-and-Learn was an example of what revelers can except at AFWF14, no one will be disappointed! Our menu included:
  • Corned Duck, Sauerkraut, Pickles Apples by Zeb Stevenson of Parish  
  • Braised Short Ribs, Roasted Root Vegetables and Finglering Potatoes by Oliver Gaupin of Eleven at Lowes Atlanta Midtown
  • Chopped Liver and Pimento Cheese with Toast by Shaun Doty of Bantam+Biddy  
  • Curry Roasted Cauliflower by Gerry Klaskala of Aria 
  • Baby Beet Salad, Argula, Country Ham, Cheddar, Cornbread, Truffle by Chris Hall of Local Three  
  • Mediterranean Bulgur Salad by Pano I. Karatassos of Kyma  
  • Mixed Salad by Steven Satterfield of Miller Union  
  • Bourbon Roasted Banana Pudding with Pastry Creme by Todd Richards of The Shed  
Needless to say, the delicious fare made it difficult to focus, especially after my first bite of Chef Shaun Doty’s Chopped Liver Salad, (more about THAT in a hot minute) but here is the scoop on this year’s festival:

WHO: The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival boasts a roster of more than 250 epicurean superstars that represent the South’s best talent from James Beard Best Chefs and legendary beverage distillers to award-winning winemakers and cutting-edge mixologists.

WHAT: The Festival will have numerous venues and formats to appeal to every guest including seminars, demonstrations, panel discussions, tasting experiences as well as themed dinners & connoisseur events. To see a full listing of ALL the AFWF14 offerings, please visit http://atlfoodandwinefestival.com/planning-tools.

WHEN: Thursday, May 29 – Sunday, June 1, 2014

WHERE: Every great city has a defining district; the heart that pumps life into the city. In Atlanta, it is Midtown which has become the epicenter of work, play, culture, art, shopping and dining. The Loews Atlanta Hotel will again be the Official Host Hotel of the weekend’s activities with the Festival Learning Experiences taking place in the hotel’s conference center. This year’s Tasting Tents will move to a new location being transformed by Selig Properties which will become a permanent green-space for the community.

HOW: One-Day and 3-Day passes are available as well as tickets to tasting tents and individual dinners and events at http://atlfoodandwinefestival.com/tickets. Want to do it ALL? Become a connoisseur at http://atlfoodandwinefestival.com/connoisseur-lounge/connoisseur-experience. Proceeds from the Festival go to charity.

Now about that Chopped Chicken Liver Salad… since we are a food blog, we were able to get the recipe from Chef Doty to share with you are patient readers. 

Chef Shaun Doty is a one of the founding chefs of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and is currently the co-owner and executive chef of Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, Chef Doty spent his formative years working in Charleston, Dallas, New York, and spent time in Europe. Here in Atlanta, he worked with renowned Chef Guenter Seeger at The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead and Mumbo Jumbo before opening his own restaurants: MidCity Cuisine (2005) and Shaun’s (2006) which was voted Esquire Magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2007.

Photo Credit: Angie Mosier 
Bantam & Biddy Chopped Chicken Liver Salad
  • ¼ pound bacon
  • 1 pound chicken livers, trimmed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • Toast for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a sauté pan over medium-heat, cook bacon until crispy. Drain bacon on a paper towel before chopping into bits. Transfer cooked bacon pieces to a mixing bowl and set aside. Season livers with salt and pepper and dredge through the flour.

Add vegetable oil to the sauté pan with remaining bacon fat to cover the bottom of the pan and heat over medium heat. Place the flour-coated livers in the pan and cook until they become crispy on one side.  Flip livers over and place the entire pan in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.  Remove livers from the pan and place on paper towel -lined plate to cool.

After livers have cooled, chop into ½-inch pieces. Put chopped liver, bacon bits, chopped hard-boiled egg, shallots, mayonnaise (Chef Doty prefers Hellman’s), and parsley in bowl and lightly mix together. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with or on toast.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Soul-soothing Pasta Fagioli

Like many traditional Italian dishes including polenta or even pizza, pasta fagioli started as a peasant dish made with leftovers and other ingredients commonly found in an Italian pantry. Pasta e fagioli, (pronounced "pasta fazool,") simply means "pasta and beans" in Italian and makes a hearty, belly filling, and inexpensive meal,

Pasta fagioli is commonly made using cannellini beans or borlotti beans and some type of small pasta such as elbow macaroni or ditalini. The base is generally olive oil, garlic, minced onion, and spices, along with stewed tomato or tomato paste. Some variations do not include tomatoes at all, and are made from a broth. While this meatless bean soup is a good dish to serve during Lent, this is true comfort food and is a year-round go-to in our house.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ cups cooked white beans
  • 2 cups cooked pasta (ditalini or elbow)
  • Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil and then add the onions Sauté the onions until they are tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for a few minutes until garlic is fragrant, and then add the tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 or so minutes before adding the cooked white beans (or a 15 oz. can of beans hat has been drained and rinsed) and chicken stock before simmering for another 20 minutes more.

While the soup simmers, cook the pasta according to package directions. To make 2 cups of cooked pasta, cook 1 cup dry pasta. Add the pasta to the soup about 5-10 minutes before serving to let the flavors meld.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Top with a zesty generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese and serve with some crusty bruschetta. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Potato Drop Scones & Giveaway

Saint Patrick was a 5th century Irish bishop who purportedly used the Irish shamrock to explain the holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the originally pagan people of Ireland. Legend has it that St. Patrick combined the traditional Christian cross with the circle of the sun used by the pagans of Ireland and created the Celtic Cross. He is also credited with driving snakes out of Ireland.

While potatoes are commonly associated with the Irish, the staple crop was not introduced to Europe by the South American Spanish until the second half of the 16th century. This means that St. Patrick likely never ate or even saw a potato in his lifetime, yet the tuber played a major role in the European population boom during the 18th and 19th centuries. As one would imagine, the Irish incorporated potatoes into many Irish recipes (as in lots) including breads and cakes.

Scones, originally made with oats and shaped into round cakes, and griddle-baked over an open fire. They are related to Welsh yeast cakes and were named either from the Gaelic word “sgonn” meaning a shapeless mass or large mouthful or the German “sconbrot,” for fine or beautiful bread (or maybe both.) No matter what they were named after, they are an appealing addition to any Irish meal. They even make a quick, improvised shortcake for a dessert served with berries and whipped cream.
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Oil for frying

Stir together mashed potatoes, butter and egg until combined well. Combine dry ingredients in a separate mixing bowl, and then stir into potatoes with a wooden spoon until just combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

Heat a griddle or a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, and brush with oil. Drop spoonfuls of dough on the heated surface. Smash the dough with a spatula to make the scones about 1/4” thick. Cook for 1-2 minutes, turn the scone over, and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes. Both sides should be a pretty golden brown. Serve warm with bangers and eggs.

To celebrate St. Patty's Day, we are hosting the

Luck of the Irish FLASH Giveaway
~ Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card ~

Use the form below to enter and remember, this giveaway ends in 24 hours, at 11:59 pm on March 17, 2014!
Now, the question is, do you feel you are lucky?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Great Grilled Octopus Experiment

The phone rings. After a brief salutation, Dom asks, “How do you feel about octopus?” To which I replied, “the entire species or on a dinner plate?” Given that this is a food blog, I think you know his response. Thus began the octopus experiment.

Dom arrived home with the 5-foot-long beast. Thank goodness it had been cleaned at the market, so that part of the adventure was preempted. Feeling like Captain Nemo and his crew battling the poulpe (French for "octopus”), we managed to wield the cephalopod into a giant stock pot filled halfway with water, and adding three wine corks, brought the creature to a boil. Why the corks? Many theorize that tartaric acid (cream of tartar) collects on wine corks as wine ages in the bottle. This is a naturally occurring substance that is part of the wine fermentation process. Admittedly, we are quite skeptical on the whole cork thing , but both Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich swear by them so at least we are in good company.

Surprisingly, the simmering octopus smelled wonderful; kind of like fried shrimp or scallops. They are what they eat as the maxim supposes.  When it was time to drain the water from the octopus’ boiling bath, it was interesting to see that it had become more firm, had shrunk considerably, and had dyed the water a deep shade of lilac. What was even more notable was how much more the octopus shrank before it was served. The original weight of the cleaned octopus was approximately 10 pounds and we estimated that grilled octopus yielded about 2½-3 pounds of meat; succulent and well-worth-the-effort meat.

1 octopus, cleaned
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground

Place octopus in cold water with a cork and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at a low boil for 30 minutes to tenderize.

Drain the octopus and place in a French oven or covered baking dish with the butter and ½ cup water and braise in a 325°F oven for one hour.

Once the octopus pieces are cooled enough to handle, toss with the teriyaki and marinade until the grill is ready. Place the octopus on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes. The octopus should be crispy and slightly charred. Allow to cool before slicing into bit-sized pieces and serving.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Out Like a Lamb Keftas

In like a lion out like a lamb. That is the old expression used to describe the month of March and its frequently unreliable weather. March also brings with it other harbingers of Spring like daffodils, asparagus and robins. Lamb is a common ingredient in many vernal recipes and meals, but none more versatile than the kefta. Keftas are made with ground meat, usually lamb, mixed with Moroccan spices such as cumin, paprika, coriander and parsley. Cinnamon, chili pepper, and mint leaves are optional additions.

As the days get longer and warmer, these spicy sphereoids make the perfect excuse to break out the grill. Served with naan, tzaziki, feta and cucumbers, this meal hits all the flavor notes. Economical and easy to prepare, these skewered meatballs make a great option for party food, but be prepared to double the recipe because your guests are likely to gulp these skewers down before you can blink twice.

  • 1 ½ pounds ground lamb
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped  

Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal. In a large bowl, combine lamb with chopped onions, spices and mint. Mix until well blended. We use our hands to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Form lamb mixture into meatballs about 2 inches in diameter.

Thread 5 or 6 meatballs onto each skewer. Now, you may be wondering how you are going to thread these keftas on a skewer and get them onto the grill without them falling into the coals. When skewering the meat, squeeze them onto the skewer. Refrigerating the meat will firm them up a bit. Use care when transferring them onto the grill where they will firm up quickly as they cook through.

When the coals are ready, lay the skewered meat on the grill and cook until lightly charred on the outside and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife or fork. Transfer to a platter and serve with assorted salad ingredients, minty yogurt dressing, feta cheese and pita bread or naan for a surprisingly satisfying and healthy meal.

And for those days that are still more like that proverbial lion and grilling is out of the question, the keftas can be broiled on baking pans set about 5 inches from the heat. Broil for about 3 minutes each side until golden brown and just cooked through.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mardi Gras Recipe Round-Up

Many people do not know that the term Mardi Gras actually means “Fat Tuesday.” Fat Tuesday is the last day of the Carnival season that begins January 6th which is the twelfth day after Christmas, (yes, like in the song). Fat Tuesday is the last opportunity to celebrate before Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. This pre-Lenten carnival has Roman Catholic origins and is celebrated in New Orleans, as well as Brazil, France, Germany.

Here is our collection of Cajun and Creole dishes worthy of celebrating!

And what celebration is complete without some thematic music?

Cajun Playlist:
File – 2 Left Feet (as seen at the Maple Leaf!!)
Beausoleil – Cajun Conja
Buckwheat Zydeco – Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire
Wayne Toups – ZyDeCajun
John Delafose - Heartaches and Hot Steps
BooZoo Chavis – American Explorer Series

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Proud Pecan Pralines

You can barely swing a strand of bead in New Orleans without hitting a shop selling pralines. For the uninitiated, a praline is a caramel-coated pecan confection with a consistency more like fudge than usual chewy caramel one might associate with a chocolate turtle.

The exact origin story of the praline is unclear. The candy was originally called “praslin,” after 17th century French diplomat, Maréchal du Plessis-Praslin, even though it was the marshal’s personal chef who first created the sweet made of almonds and some sort of creamy sugary caramelized coating. Interestingly, in Europe, the treat has evolved to an entirely different candy altogether. In Belgium and France, a smooth paste of cocoa blended with finely ground nuts that is used to fill chocolate truffles is known as a praline.

The praline that is familiar to most Americans, especially those that live in the South, is far closer to the original candy with only one major difference: they are made with pecans rather than almonds. Unlike, pecans, almonds are not indigenous to Louisiana. Using ingredients at hand, pecans began to replace almonds in many local dishes like sauces, stuffings, and cakes.

It is believed that pralines were brought from France by the Ursuline nuns, who settled in New Orleans in 1727. Through their evangelical outreach, the nuns took in young girls from unfortunate backgrounds. In the course of their scholastic and domestic instruction, the girls were taught the art of praline making. As these young women married and settled throughout Louisiana and other parts of the South, they spread the tradition of making pralines.

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups pecans, halves and pieces
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over high heat.  As soon as the butter is melted, add both sugars, salt and cream and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring constantly.  Next, add the milk and 1/3 of the pecans, cooking for 4 minutes more, whisking constantly.

Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, still stirring for 5 minutes.  Add the remaining pecans and bourbon and continue cooking and stirring until done, about 15 to 20 minutes more. If the mixture starts to smoke toward the end of cooking, lower the heat.

The trickiest part about making pralines is determining  the exact moment when they are done. Be careful not to get any of the mixture on your skin, as it sticks and can cause serious burns. If you are using a candy thermometer, the pralines will be ready when the thermometer reaches 240 degrees F. When nearly done, the batter will start to form distinct threads on the sides or bottom of the pan.

To test for doneness, make a small test praline every few seconds.  The early test pralines will be somewhat runny, very shiny and only somewhat translucent.  These early pralines will tend to be chewy rather than friable in texture. The ideal praline will be opaque, lusterless and crumbly instead of chewy.

When you think the pralines are done, remove the pan from the heat.  Quickly and carefully drop the spoonfuls of batter onto the cookie sheet using the second spoon to scoop the batter off the first (we use a greased ice cream scoop).  Each praline should be a patty about 2 inches in diameter.  Allow them to cool completely and then store in an airtight container, or wrap each praline in plastic wrap or foil.

Many cooks avoid making pralines because the clean-up can be so daunting. So, once you have made all the pralines and take a good look around your kitchen, inhale deeply! Resist the urge to panic. First take the large pot and fill it with hot tap water, place all caramel-coated utensils and tools in the hot water and let it sit in the sink to dissolve all the sugars while you put everything else away. If you got batter on your counter tops, place a wet sponge or wet towel on the spot and let sit for a minute to melt. Remember that a creamy, nutty, cooled praline is your reward for cleaning the mess!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Scampied Pollock & Healthy Solutions Spice Giveaway

Last October, the FDA released a report which stated that 12% of the spices imported by the U.S. are contaminated with insect pieces, rodent hair and other debris which is twice the amount of “filth” found in other types of imported food. While the FDA says that it has increased its inspections of spice facilities and will take further action to strengthen the spice safety net, it is probably wise for those of us who enjoy cooking at home to be more selective about the source of the spices and dried herbs that we purchase. Enter Healthy Solutions Spice Blends™.

Made with no fillers, preservatives or MSG, these recipe-ready spice blends are all natural and come in
16 distinct blends: Crusted Tilapia, Shrimp Scampi, Cajun Seafood, Encrusted Haddock, Lemon Pepper, Sesame Ginger Tuna, Grilled Swordfish, Salmon with Dill, Bold Beef Rub, Authentic Chili/Tacos, Hearty Beef Stew, Italian Meatballs, Perfect Steak, Savory Meatloaf, Ultimate Burger and Pork & Poultry. The spices come in resealable packets which have a transparent window that allows you to see exactly what is inside, and are printed with the ingredients and nutritional information as well as several cooking methods allowing you to choose one that best suits your needs.

We were lucky enough to receive several Healthy Solutions blends to work with. Last evening, we tried the Shrimp Scampi mix with the main ingredients of dehydrated garlic, onion, parsley and sea salt. Instead of going with the standard use, we opted to dust some Pollock fillets with the spices and run them under the broiler. The fish emerged juicy and perfectly seasoned.

4 fresh or frozen Pollock fillets (thawed)
4 teaspoons Healthy Solutions Spice Blends™ Shrimp Scampi blend
¼ cup breadcrumbs
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Set your oven rack about 6 inches below the broiler element and preheat broiler. Spray a broiler pan or a foil-covered cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Rinse fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Because thick layers of seasonings will burn under the broiler, lightly sprinkle both sides with the scampi spice blend and lay skin-side-down on the greased pan.

Broil for 10 minutes per inch of fish, based on how wide it is at its widest point. It'll take at least 5 minutes, even for thin fillets, but it is a good idea to keep a close eye on the cooking fish. Because Pollock is fairly delicate, we do not attempt the flip the fish over.

While the fish cooks, place the breadcrumbs in a non-stick pan and toast briefly over medium heat and set aside.

Remove the fish from the oven and pierce with a knife gently separating the flesh to check for doneness. If you see pink or translucent flesh, broil the fillets for a few more minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and plate the pollock. We served the fillets layered on a Caesar salad. Top the fish (and salad) with the toasted breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan.

Want to try delicious these healthy spice blends for yourself? Healthy Solutions Spice Blends™ has generously offered to give one of our readers a chance to sample not just one – but 4 unique spice blends of their choice with an estimated value of $14. Enter to win using the widget below before midnight Friday, March 7th.

Can’t wait to win? Healthy Solutions Spice Blends™ are available in your favorite stores or you can order them online at www.spiceblends.com. Each spice packet retails for $3.29. Connect on them on Facebook and Twitter to keep current with product news, coupons, deals, and more!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sinful Salted Caramel Doughnut Sundae

Short, sweet and to the point. As a seasoned blogger, it can be easy to get bogged down in “the rules:” posts should be timely; headnotes should be at least 450 words and be on a topic; tags should be added to optimize SEO; blah blah blah. Tonight, I’m breaking the rules. No hard-to find-ingredients or complicated steps, a recipe so sinfully easy that I am almost embarrassed to post it.

As a teenage boy with a voracious appetite and the metabolism of a hummingbird, our youngest son can eat. A lot. It doesn't help matters that he is currently the captain of his high school track team’s distance squad for which he runs several miles each day making him so wispy that he is at risk in a strong wind.

After what most would consider a nice-sized meal, Sonny hinted that he was still, well, famished. So without hesitation, I proceeded to reheat some leftovers which he downed in moments and still looked a bit peckish. So, I resorted to creating the most debauched and caloric dessert I could dream up:

  • 1 glazed doughnut
  • 1 large scoop vanilla ice cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons caramel sauce
  • 1 generous pinch Kosher salt
  • 1 large dollop whipped cream

Place the doughnut on a plate and heat in a microwave for 20-30 seconds. Place the scoop of ice cream on top of the warmed doughnut.

Drizzle caramel sauce over the ice cream and dust with salt. Top the whole assembly with a liberal amount of whipped cream.

Serve the concoction as quickly as humanly possible so as to avoid grabbing a spoon and eating it yourself!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Where There's a Will, There's Coffee

Must. Have. Coffee. These were the first words uttered after Pax cloaked Atlanta in ice and left us without power before breakfast and for the next 7 hours. We had water, candles, batteries, firewood, yet had completely neglected to prepare for the most important element of the day. How could that be? Why not just go to Starbucks, you ask? Alas, the roads were covered in ice and the coffee shops within walking distance were all closed, that’s why! Leaping from under the toasty covers, I headed to the basement in search of a coffee making vessel. In my desperation, I managed to unearth a fairly wide variety of antiquated brewing equipment.

The glass percolator was immediately dismissed by the spousal unit as the thought of cleaning up exploded glass shards without a vacuum was too frightening. The vintage espresso pot seemed the best choice at the time, so we filled that puppy up and set it on the gas-powered burner and waited for the elixir of life to bubble into existence. And waited, and waited, and waited. Ten minutes later we had enough espresso to fill three 3-oz. cups which were consumed in half the time it took to make them!

Quickly scrambling to make another pot, we discovered that the rubber gasket used to seal the innards of the pot had melted due to age and storage. Arrgh! Okie-dokie then. Next up was the French press which took less than five minutes to set up and steep to make three full-sized cups of lukewarm, weak, bitter coffee with an ample sludge appearing at the bottom of each cup (well, technically only two cups because Nic couldn’t make it to the bottom of his.)

We were rapidly running out of options! We were down to that aforementioned glass percolator and a clunky, dinged aluminum drip pot that I had used in college in the 1980s. Bordering on despair, we added grounds and water and hoped for the best. Several minutes later, we were drinking hot, much-better-than-passable coffee from a hideous, dented tin can! Added bonus, we could reheat the coffee without a microwave. Woo-hoo!

The guys headed out to shovel snow as I cleaned up from our fully-caffeinated breakfast of crispy bacon, fried pepper frittata and jalapeno corn muffins, the whole while thinking of old adages about storm ports, gift horses and unexpected places. On that note; stay warm everyone!

Friday, February 7, 2014

New Order Jalapeño Cornbread Muffins

A change will do you good. This was confirmed when after 20 years, I decided to try a different recipe for corn muffins. Every good Southern cook has a favorite recipe for corn bread. Our go-to recipe had been Paul Prudhomme’s because the cornbread muffins served at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans were the best we have ever tasted. Yet this recipe had never fully satisfied. It was not quite moist nor was it quite sweet enough. We tried adding more sugar and more butter to no avail.

So yesterday, I googled “best cornbread recipe” and got a proliferation of results. Most had one thing in common: eggs. Not just one or two of the oviparous zygotes, but a generous four or five. Other differences included a lack of milk or buttermilk and the use of oil instead of butter. Armed with these new variants, I embarked on a batch of corn muffins.

I thought back to those moist, mouthwatering little parcels of deliciousness from K-Paul’s kitchen and remembered that they had included whole kernel corn and fresh jalapenos. Such additions had never before found their way into a Romeo corn muffin. The only deviation from the former recipe was the infrequent pinch of cayenne pepper added to the batter. Yet with the creation of a new formula came a new confidence as well. I would stretch beyond my comfort zone and add that corn and those hot peppers.

So how did the new recipe turn out? {Pause to feel the suspense here.} Nailed it! They are super moist, sweet but not too sweet, fluffy, delicate, and just the right amount of kick from the jalapenos. Bite-sized awesomeness! Do not pass go, do not collect $100, go straight to the kitchen and make these muffins. NOW.

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded & chopped 
  • ½ cup whole kernel corn

Preheat your oven to 400° and grease 2 mini muffin pans or a 12-by-4½ -inch loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water and then stir in the vegetable oil.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. If you don’t have a flour sifter, whisk the dry ingredients to combine and fluff. Using an electric mixer beat the dry ingredients into the sugar-oil mixture. Add the eggs, corn and jalapenos and beat until just blended.

Spoon the batter in to the muffin pan. This is a messy business. Bake the mini muffins for about 15 minutes or until they are just golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If the tops brown too quickly, you may cover them with foil. Turn the muffins out onto a rack to cool a bit before serving.

If you are using a bread pan, scrape all the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Same deal with the foil if the top browns too quickly.

The corn bread muffins can be wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 week or kept at room temperature for 2 days.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Veni Vidi Vici: New Direction, New Friends

We descended upon the midtown restaurant with enthusiasm and anticipation. Fifteen members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance were invited to downtown Atlanta’s venerable Veni Vidi Vici to explore a sampling of dishes from their new menu. Many of the bloggers in attendance had never met in person, making it an evening of new friends as well as a new focus for the restaurant.

After a fire destroyed the restaurant’s rotisserie station, executive chef Jamie Adams revamped the menu to focus more on regional Italian dishes with an emphasis on seafood. The former rotisserie area will become a charcuterie station featuring artisanal Italian cheeses and hand crafted meats such as prosciutto, soppressata and cacciatorini. Executive Manager, Leonardo Moura, is excited about the change in direction. “Chef Jamie is very earthy and unassuming. His focus is on ingredients and preparation. Just when we think that he has perfected the menu, he kicks it up a notch.”

Moura’s enthusiasm was evident. He chatted with bloggers as plate after plate of antipasti rolled out of the kitchen: crisp calamari and clam strips with sun-dried tomato aioli, plump steamed mussels and clams in a cherry tomato broth infused with saffron, and perfectly prepared grilled octopus cut into tiny medallions with pickled onions served atop baby arugula. Long serving boards of salami, prosciutto, robiola, asiago and dried fig paste were passed around the table and disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived.

With each new service came an accompanying wine selection. Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco with the antipasti and biodynamic Chianti with the pasta, pesci and carni. Then came the pasta course with spaghetti carbonara, orecchiette with a spicy fennel sausage and roasted broccoli, agnolotti filled with roasted chicken, duck and fontina tossed with brown butter, sage and pecans, and a robust saffron risotto with seafood and fennel. The restaurant is serving their pasta in smaller portions and are encouraging sharing. “In Italy, people eat smaller portions of several different dishes, not just one massive bowl of pasta or large piece of braised meat,” Chef Adams says. “It’s more a little bit of this and a little bit of that—a very balanced, healthy way of eating.”

Following the pasta course, we were treated to “Pesci Regionali;” four fish dishes that highlight Chef Adams’ expertise in classic Italian cooking. Each fish dish was prepared simply and garnished modestly as they would be in the varying regions of Italy. Grilled Idaho rainbow trout typifies the Piedmontese served with cipolline, sage, and balsamic vinegar, while the Atlantic flounder prepared with saffron, sweet onions, golden raisins, and Prosecco vinegar was representative of Venetian cuisine. The Ligurian pan-roasted branzino with fresh tomatoes and mixed mushrooms, and the Tuscan baccalá with oven roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers were standout regional representations as well.

As the emptied seafood platters were removed from the table, they were replaced by plates of glistening “carni.” Roman-style chicken breasts with roasted peppers and tomatoes, succulent garlic-rosemary glazed pork ribs, and delicate braised rabbit with fennel and polenta were accompanied by VVV “contori” of roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, and a ratatouille-style eggplant Parmigiana. While the rabbit was a clear favorite among the bloggers, each meat dish was outstanding.

As the sommelier poured Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, our servers brought out plates of dessert. Although we were all stuffed, we could not resist the temptation of fluffy chocolate tartufo, crusty bomboloni, decadent crème brulee and VVV’s signature “Pizza di Fragole,” a crispy tart with a light coating of strawberry sauce, dollops of mascarpone and fresh strawberries laced with balsamic syrup. We said our farewells over cups of warm cappuccino and waddled out to our cars satiated and content.

Veni Vidi Vici is a delightful blend of casual elegance and intown sophistication. The updated menu features dishes that are less complex and lighter allowing the quality of the ingredients and preparation to shine. Whether it is a special occasion or a meal before the theater, the Buckhead Life Group’s chic Italian trattoria is a perfect place to unwind and enjoy a relaxing meal. Veni Vidi Vici, located on 14th Street at I-75 in the heart of midtown, is classic Italian dining at its best.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lucky Dumplings for the Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year is one of the most significant of Asian holidays and is a time for feasting, reflection and renewal. Traditionally celebrated over 15 days, the holiday starts with the first lunar new moon of the year and ends on the full moon. Chinese New Year 4712, which begins tomorrow, will be the Year of the Horse.  The New Year's Eve family dinner represents a night of unity, reunion and harmony. Popular lucky dishes include anything whole (complete) or long (longevity). Traditional favorites include whole chicken, duck or fish served with long noodles, long leafy greens, and long string beans. Fresh and candied fruit, especially kumquats and oranges, represent good health, happiness, prosperity and blessings.

Chinese dumplings called jiaozi (“gee-OW zeh”) represent wealth because they are shaped like ancient silver and gold ingots which were used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. Interestingly, the first bank note of China was called "Jiaozi." I adore these hearty little bundles of joy filled with cabbage (prosperity and luck), pork (strength and wealth), and green onions (long life and eternity). Until this week, I have enjoyed them at Chinese restaurants. Amazingly, they are actually quite easy (and fun) to make at home. For those not ready to fully embrace the “from scratch” concept, pre-made dumpling wrapper are available in most Asian and ethnic markets.

Dumpling Wrappers:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 to 3/4 cups boiling water

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and salt and then slowly add hot water to flour in 1/4 cup increments. Mix with chopsticks or a fork until a ball is formed and the dough is not too hot to handle.

On a floured surface, knead dough until it becomes a tight ball. This is harder than you think it will be. Keep folding and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough back in bowl and cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about an 1 hour. Resting the dough is important because otherwise the dough is difficult to roll out and shape.

Working on a floured surface with floured hands, roll out dough to form a long 'noodle' about 1-inch in diameter. Cut 1/2-inch pieces and turn them over so the cut sides are facing up. Flatten with your palm and roll out thin using a rolling pin. The dumpling wrapper should end up about 4 inches in diameter.

Pork and Ginger Filling:
  • 3 cups Napa or regular cabbage, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 pound ground pork 
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sprinkle cabbage with the salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Place the cabbage on a clean dishtowel or cheesecloth and squeeze out any water. You will be amazed at how much water can be extracted from the cabbage. The dryer the cabbage; the better.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the cabbage with all of the other ingredients. Cook a tester to check the seasoning and make any wanted adjustments.

Place a small mound of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Be very careful not to touch the edges with the filling as this will impede proper sealing of the dumplings. Fold the wrapper in half to form a half moon shape. Starting on one end, pleat the wrapper tightly together until the dumpling is completely sealed. There will be approximately 10 folds per dumpling. Rest the dumplings with the folded edges straight up. You can also use a dumpling press, which makes uniform pot stickers and dramatically speeds up the process.

To cook, bring two inches of water to boil in a wok or sauce pot. To prevent dumplings from sticking during cooking, lightly coat the steamer basket with oil (or you can line the steamer basket with several cabbage leaves). Steam 6 dumplings at a time in the basket, being careful not to over-crowd, for 8-10 minutes with a tight fitting lid.

While dumplings are steaming, whisk together a tangy dipping sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients and mix until honey is fully dissolved. Drizzle some sauce over pot stickers and garnish with chopped scallions. Serve remaining sauce in a small bowl for dipping.

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