Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tupelo Honey Café’s Pimento Cheese

One of the nice things about living in Missouri is that I can claim both the North and the South, at whim.  When I’m making crab cakes, or cooking up a pot of clam chowder, I claim the North; when I’m making gumbo or pimiento cheese, I claim the South.  No one does pimiento cheese better than the South, and I have yet to find a recipe that beats the one from the Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville, North Carolina.  The secret, I have found, to a really good pimiento cheese spread is substituting a flavorful roasted red pepper for those little jars of rather insipid pimientos.  Sure they’re both red peppers, but roasting brings out so much of the delicious red pepper flavor.

Tupelo Honey Café’s Pimento Cheese
(Makes 2 cups)

8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. stone-ground mustard
1 tsp. mustard powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
½ cup finely diced Melissa’s fire roasted red bell peppers
Tortilla chips for serving
Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, stone-ground mustard, mustard powder, salt, pepper, parsley, and roasted bell peppers in a large bowl. Transfer to a microwavable dish and microwave for about 20 seconds or until warm, or put in a baking dish in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Italian-Style Vegetable Soup

When you ponder the fate of the literal fruits of your labor, a.k.a. the summer vegetable garden harvest, my guess is that soup isn’t the first thing to come to mind.  However, if you are one of the lucky people able to grow zucchini and reap its bounteous reward, then give this some thought.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no luck growing zucchini, so I use Melissa’s, but my lack of zucchini growing skills doesn’t stop me from making this delicious soup recipe that my mother has been serving us for as long as I can remember.  It makes a large pot so there is plenty to share, takes a mere 45 minutes from start to finish, and freezes quite nicely so you can enjoy it in the winter months as well.

Italian Style Vegetable Soup

1 or 2 large onions totaling 1 pound
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ cup diced carrots
¾ cup diced celery
1 16-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups cubed zucchini
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic (more or less to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups cooked navy beans (or 1 15-oz. can)
6 cups beef broth
Freshly ground pepper

Peel and coarsely chop onions.  Heat oil in a large stock pot, add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté for five minutes.  Add tomatoes.  Stir in zucchini, basil, oregano, garlic, beans and broth.  Cover.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Serve topped with ample gratings of fresh Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Looking for more soup recipes?  This book is my absolute favorite!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Concord Grape Sorbet

Imagine a delicious dessert that both you and your kids will love, that is elegant enough to serve to company, that can be made days ahead, that is good for you, and contains only two ingredients. One of the ingredients is superfine sugar (Do not buy this, you can easily make it yourself, see directions below.), the other is concord grapes.

Concord grapes that are packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus, are one of the super foods.  A good non-dairy source of calcium, they also contain a small amount of protein.  The purple skin of the grapes contain a polyphenol, which acts as an antioxidant protecting you from cell damage caused by toxins in the body. According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, polyphenols found in concord grapes can strengthen your immune response and could even protect you from developing some forms of cancer.  And you get all of this, in a DESSERT!

Concord Grape Sorbet

2 pounds Concord grapes, washed, stemmed, and divided 
(I used Melissa’s)
½ cup superfine sugar

Place grapes into the work bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth.  Force mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or food mill into a bowl resting beneath, and discard collected solids.  Whisk in sugar until dissolved.  (Depending upon the sweetness of your grapes and your palate, you may use less sugar than this.)  Chill until very cold, about 6 hours. Freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm, 2-3 hours.

Now that you have the ice cream maker out, you may want to try one of these recipes:

How to make superfine sugar
Pour 1 cup of granulated sugar into the work bowl of a food processor.  Cover processor with dish towel as a fine dust is formed in the process that can make a real mess of your countertop.  Turn on processor and let run for 2 minutes.  Turn off processor.  You now have ¾ cup superfine sugar.  You can scale the measurements to meet your needs, always be sure to add just a bit more granulated sugar than you need in the superfine variety.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mixed Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

This is a great time of the year for fresh fruit lovers like me.  The abundance and variety has me looking for new ways to prepare it almost daily.  I like a nice dish of mixed fruit, but sometimes that can get to be a bit boring.  This tasty dressing adds a bit of sweetness and zing to any fresh fruit that may be lurking in overflowing bowls on your counter or bins in your fridge.  It’s a huge hit at brunch, but equally welcome as a refreshing afternoon snack or light dessert.

Mixed Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
2 cups Melissa’s Canary melon*
2 cups Melissa’s Hami melon*
2 cups seedless Melissa’s Muscato grapes
2 cups diced peeled and cored fresh pineapple
1 cup halved hulled strawberries

Whisk first 4 ingredients together in a small bowl to blend; set aside. Toss any variety of fruits together in large bowl. Mix dressing into fruit. Let stand 15 minutes to blend flavors.

This can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead.  Do not mix dressing with fruit until just before you are ready to serve.

Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

*Use a melon baller to make rounds rather than dicing them into squares

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Pan-Seared Scallops with Champagne Grapes and Almonds

When you think of grapes, my guess is that, a) champagne grapes don’t spring immediately to mind, and b) you don’t think of something savory.  You need to change these thoughts on both counts.  Champagne grapes (called such because their diminutive size resembles the bubbles in a glass of champagne) are sweet, delicious, and incredibly juicy.  They can substitute in any dish calling for grapes (as I demonstrated in my last post on Waldorf Salad), make an attractive garnish on a fruit and cheese tray, and are one of the key ingredients in this delicious, savory recipe from an old issue of Bon Appétit magazine. 

This recipe goes together in a matter of minutes.  I served it as an entrée atop angel hair pasta, but two scallops on a plate, topped with the sauce would make an excellent starter for an elegant meal.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Champagne Grapes and Almonds

16 large sea scallops, side muscles removed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots
2/3 cup Melissa’s Champagne grapes* (about 4 ounces)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (I substituted Hazelnuts because I find them more flavorful)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in very large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook butter until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add scallops; cook 2 minutes per side. Transfer scallops to plate; tent with foil. Melt remaining butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and grapes; sauté until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and any accumulated scallop juices. Bring mixture to boil; season with salt and pepper. Stir in almonds and parsley. 

*In lieu of Champagne grapes, black grapes, cut in half, may be substituted.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Waldorf Salad

I've been making Waldorf Salad ever since the 70s.  It's a recipe that has always been easy to remember as it was clearly stated in a very funny episode of the British sitcom, Fawlty Towers.  In a nutshell (or perhaps a walnut shell?), innkeeper Basil Fawlty encounters a very rude and demanding American, Mr. Hamilton, who first requests a drink -- a screwdriver -- of which he had never heard, and then baffles him completely by ordering a Waldorf Salad. After informing him that the hotel is out of Waldorfs," Hamilton barks at him that it is celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, in a mayonnaise sauce.  

Essentially, that’s it.  Easy, right?  And it is easy, but a couple of additions can make this salad a touch better than the classic version first created circa 1893 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. The quality of the produce makes all the difference, along with a switch from seedless red grapes to champagne grapes (that literally burst with juice and sweetness, and are so adorably cute!), will really enhance this salad.

Here’s my version:

Waldorf Salad

1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced, cored, tart apples
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup Melissa’s Champagne grapes
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup heavy cream, whipped until thick
¼ cup mayonnaise
A pinch of freshly grated lemon zest
A pinch of cinnamon

Combine celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, zest, and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir together cream and mayonnaise, and toss with the salad mixture.  Top with a few gratings (or pinch) of good cinnamon.  Serve on a lettuce leaf with additional champagne grapes as a garnish, at room temperature or chilled.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Coca-Cola Cake

Call me crazy, but I subscribe to a lot of foodie newsletters.  It’s not that I don’t have piles of cookbooks and magazines in which to search for recipes, no, I have to add to the confusion with newsletters.  Tasting Table is but one of the many, and last week the featured recipe for Coca-Cola Cake made me sigh.  It was one that I enjoyed back in the 70s, and while I still had the recipe for the icing in my battered recipe box, the cake recipe had long disappeared. It’s a classic Southern layer cake with a unique texture.  I followed the recipe exactly, down to the mini marshmallows in the center, but I’d eliminate them the next time.

Coca-Cola Cake
Recipe adapted from Lee Gregory, The Roosevelt, Richmond, VA
1½ sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup Coca-Cola
¼ cup whole milk
2 large eggs

Chocolate Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup whole milk or heavy cream
1½ cups mini marshmallows (optional)
Chocolate curls or grated chocolate (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Set a 9-inch cake pan on top of a piece of parchment paper. Using the bottom of the cake pan as a guide, trace a circle on the paper with a pen or pencil. Cut out the circle and set aside. Repeat so you have two parchment circles. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease two 9-inch cake pans, then place the parchment circles in the pans. Turn the parchment over so the greased side faces up.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the remaining 1½ sticks of butter with the sugar on medium speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk together the Coca-Cola and milk.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients in three batches, starting and ending with the flour mixture and mixing until just combined. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Place the cake pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Remove the cakes from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
5. Make the frosting: In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder. Turn off the mixer and add the sugar-cocoa mixture, then combine on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and add the vanilla, salt and milk. Mix for 3 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.
6. Remove the cooled cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment and place one layer on a serving tray or cake stand. Spoon and spread about one-quarter of the icing on top of the first layer, sprinkle with half of the marshmallows (if using), then top with the second cake layer. Use the rest of the icing to frost the top and sides of the cake (or just frost the top of the cake, as shown) and finish with the remaining marshmallows (if using), then garnish with chocolate curls or grated chocolate (if using).
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