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Category — Recipes

from the archives: southern skillet beans

Southern Green Beans

 

03 July 2012  I don’t know why I didn’t post this at the time. It’s one of my favorite bloggings and, although it’s been hidden away for nearly two years now, it feels proper to post it, thousands of miles, far from home, nostalgic and remembering childhood dreams of travelling the world.
 
from Greenwich, London, England
 

When I first received my copy of The Flavor Bible, a now favorite resource on mine, I immediately turned to green beans without thinking twice. Now, you may be thinking, “Green beans? Why, of all of the great ingredients in the world, would you turn to the simple and plain green bean?” In truth, even I found it a bit curious until the reason came to me  in a moment of realization. The reason, it’s simple, is nostalgia.

See, canned green beans form a better part of my childhood food memories. My dad loved them– they’re inexpensive, relatively healthy, fairly tasty, and are an acceptable side item for just about anything from fried chicken to pork chops, a hamburger, or a grilled steak. All of which, in some way or another, formed my other earliest memories of food, with the only missing pieces needed to fill in the puzzle being copious amounts of creamed corn, black eye’d peas, fried Tilapia, and macaroni and cheese. Oh… and mashed potatoes. We can´t forget my mom’s thousand varieties of mashed potatoes!

Now, while I don’t eat green beans everyday or have them with every meal, like I did when I was a kid, I still have a deep appreciation and love for them. Thankfully, in the interest of keeping things exciting, I’ve thought up a few ways to spruce them up after a few years of trial, error and, at times, radical experimentation. What I’ve learned is that different cooking methods can coax a range of flavors out of such a simply flavored bean. Long, slow-cooking in a deeply flavored broth courtesy of a smoked ham hock produces a tender bean with a deep richness; a quick boil followed by a high-heat sauté in bacon fat brings out a slightly smoky, meaty caramelized flavor; gently steamed and shocked in ice water and paired with fresh herbs, a little butter, and a tangy vinegar will accentuate their freshness.  Regardless of how I choose to cook them, eating a bowl of green beans transports me back to childhood like only comfort food has the power to do.

Which, again, is why I turned to green beans when I first opened the book; the simple, yet infinitely sweet taste of nostalgia, the unexplainable force that memories have to drive our lives, continuing living, if only in a subtle way, to recapture or reexperience our fondest memories– of childhood, of holiday gatherings, of family, friendships, first loves, and food.

Written December 20th, 2010

 

Love and Memories,

Thomas Chase

July 3, 2012   4 Comments

Grilled Tilapia with Charred Sweet Corn Relish

Grilled Tilapia with Charred Corn Relish

This dish is almost too simple for how delicious it is. The relish, bursting with the acidity of cherry tomatoes, slightly smoky sweet corn, and fresh herbs is perfect next to the barely charred Tilapia. For something truly special, try and pick out as many ingredients as you can at a local farmer’s market while the ingredients in the relish are in season and at their peak this summer.

To make execution of this dish as easy and painless as possible, make the relish up to three hours ahead, only tossing in the herbs at the last minute before serving. With the relish out of the way, full attention can be focused on grilling the fish to perfection.

Shopping List:

Serves 4 as a light dinner

  • 2 pounds Tilapia, sea bass or favorite white fish
  • 6 cobs of sweet corn
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil,  cut into chiffonade (you can substitute cilantro for a Mexican-themed twist)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 6 chive sprigs, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup virgin olive oil (plus more for grilling corn, onions, and Tilapia)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat a grill to a high flame (you can also use a broiler to diminished results)

To begin, shuck the corn and toss the cobs in either butter or olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Sweet Corn

Slice the sweet onion and do the same (toss in olive oil or butter and sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper).

Sweet Onion

Grill the onions and corn until well-charred. Beware of potentially eye-poking-out flying corn kernels!

Grilled Corn and Onions

Allow the corn and onions to cool. To make removing the kernels less messy, cut the corn cobs in half and carefully remove the kernels from the cobb with a sharp knife. Roughly chop the onions into 1/4″ thick pieces.

In a large bowl, combine the corn, onions, quartered cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Again, the relish can be made at least a few hours before grilling the fish.

***Add in the fresh basil chiffonade, chopped parsley, chives and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

Grilling The Fish

To finish, the fish needs to be grilled. But before you rush mindlessly (like I did) and end up with dismantled Tilapia (like mine) and a dirty grill (that you’ll have to clean up), take these few easy precautions to prevent the fish from sticking.

1. Dry the Tilapia with paper towels until no moisture remains on the towel.

2. Toss the fish in a high-heat, refined oil such as canola, peanut, or extra-light olive oil.

3. Thoroughly clean and oil the grill grates.

4. Season with salt and pepper just before grilling to prevent the salt from drawing moisture out of the fish.

5. Let the fish cook, flipping only once. This will allow the protein structure on the outside of the fish to fully form and remove from the grill, thereby allowing it to not stick to the grate, like we want.

Otherwise, pay careful attention, get used to touching the fish as it grills, looking for a slightly springy texture, and go with your gut instinct. If you think it’s done then it probably is. And if not, now you know what not-done-fish feels like. Grilling is as much an art as it is a science– and there’s no room for thermometers when grilling fish!

Plate and serve hot with the relish and your favorite glass of white wine.

Smoking Loon Chardonnay, Fresh Basil, Family

During dinner, we got into a rather lengthy and relatively heated discussion about how much we would pay for a dish like this in a few different scenarios– a fine dining restaurant, a casual lunch spot, and a specialized ‘gourmet’ catering truck that drives around town selling fresh local food.

How much would you pay and how would your expectations change depending on the situation?

May 24, 2010   15 Comments

Asparagus and Gulf Shrimp Meunière

[written Friday after my last exam] I just finished writing about British literature for two hours straight. That’s five written pages covering nine works from a collective list of 94 short stories, novels, poems, and manifestos taken from three and a half months of class, in case you were wondering. I don’t want to whine, I really don’t, but my wrist hurts, my brain is fried, I’m hungry, and I don’t want to go to work in an hour. But at least my finals are over. For better or for worse, to pass or to fail, they are over. And so it’s back to blogging…

Asparagus and Gulf Shrimp Meunière

Ahhh… blogging. That’s more like it.

Asparagus and gulf shrimp meunière; I made this a week or so before the misery of finals and I won’t lie to you, it was kind of a disaster. That’s not to say it didn’t start off as a great idea, like I suspect many disasters do, or that it wasn’t quite tasty how it turned out, but there was disaster involved all the same.

Imagine, if you will, an early spring morning trip to Whole Foods, intended to be a break from the boringness that Publix, a medium-quality chain grocery store, stationed in the southeast United States, with a basically void selection of quality meat, fish, and produce, has to offer. We set off on this adventure to Whole Foods with no immediate plan, list, or idea of what food we were getting.. no, no, I like to feel what I want to cook. It has to come to me like the Ten Commandments came to Moses from the burning bush. If the produce ain’t talking then I ain’t buyin’.

Spring Onions

As it were, there we are, standing in the middle of Whole Foods wondering, no, begging, for something to come to me. “Maybe we should have organized or made a list before we came,” is Brittany’s usual rhetoric after a few minutes of my meandering around pretending to be waiting on some magical moment. By the way, when I say inevitably, I mean this happens every time we go food shopping. You see, Brittany likes structure and order and for each event to be planned to perfection. Me? I thrive in chaos. I can’t stand to be organized. My life is an absolute wreck; my apartment’s a mess, the dishes are never clean, important papers are never put away, I can stay up until 5 in the morning and sleep untill 6 in the afternoon, just as the sun is going down, and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t get stressed. I get creative. And luckily, I’m the one that can cook.

And so, there we are, standing in the Whole Foods produce section aimlessly messing around with some oranges (did I mention I was still awake from the night before?) when, like a light bulb finally turning on after a power outage, the ideas began to flow. It started with the watermelon radish, watercress, and cremini mushroom salad with a honey-sherry vinaigrette. Then came the green beans with shallots, sherry vinegar, parsley, and bacon (coming soon) quickly followed by a hoagie roll with grilled Italian sausage, Diijon aioli, and arugula (also coming soon). And finally, the star of the show, the one everyone’s been waiting for, the asparagus and gulf shrimp meunière, which I had yearned to try for months after picking up my copy of Frank Stitt’s “Southern Table,” an ode to his Birmingham-based and nationally renowned, Highlands Bar and Grill. In a matter of seconds I had improvised the ‘blog menu’ for the following week. Unfortunately, when this happens,  it all happens so fast that I just start running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off (pretty morbid for a saying, huh?).

But, like I said, this all started with a good idea and ended in disaster, remember? Although, technically, it isn’t my idea. It’s Frank Stitt’s idea, but it’s a good idea all the same. The asparagus: thick, tender, and light enough on the palate to allow the gulf shrimp, in all it’s sea-tasting brininess, to shine through. The entire dish is brought together by the tangy lemon bursting through the rich butter sauce scattered with green onions, garlic and white wine, known as meunière. The dish is the epitome of spring, through and through.

Gulf Shrimp

That is, it would have been, if only I hadn’t overcooked the shrimp, let the asparagus go cold, and turned the sauce into a gloopy, coagulated mess scattered with overcooked (read: nearly burnt) green onions and garlic. Was this the result of the complete chaos and disorganization of a photo shoot, a blog post, and a meal going on at the same time? Maybe.  Alright… yea, it was.

What can I say? Maybe I’ll learn one day.

Asparagus and Gulf Shrimp Meunière Recipe:

Jumbo asparagus

Adapted from Frank Stitt’s “Southern Table”

Before we start, aside from my screw-ups, this meal was great. But it was definetly a “restaurant dish,” meaning that it’s small portions and not very filling. When we have the chance to make it again, we’re going to throw in on some angel hair pasta for a more hearty, home-type meal.

  • 16 jumbo asparagus spears, tough (bottom) end cut off
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 to 3 spring onions or 2 small Vidalia onions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 pound shrimp (you could also substitute crawfish tails or crab meat)
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large sauce pan of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Boil the asparagus until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

In a medium saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium-heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the shrimp and white wine and simmer until the wine is reduced by half (we had to add more wine, so don’t be afraid to do so). Add the lemon juice and slowly whisk in the remaining butter piece by piece. Season to taste with hot sauce,  salt and pepper.

May 11, 2010   4 Comments

A Celebration of Smoked Pork: Open-faced Barbecue Sandwich with Fried Egg

Open-faced barbecue sandwich

Keeping in theme with the short articles and quick and tasty recipes of ‘smoked pork week’, today I bring you the ultimate leftover barbecue pork breakfast– an open-faced barbecue sandwich with a sunny-side up fried egg.

This is probably my favorite dish that we made this week using the leftover pork from the smoked Boston butt last  weekend. The contrast of texture is excellent. The creaminess of the cayenne-sprinkled egg yolk blends perfectly into the sweet-heat of the sauce drenched pork laying a top the hickory-smoke infused and super crunchy hamburger bun. The entire thing is an all-around home run. I just wish I had enough leftover pork to make it again.

Open-Faced Barbecue Sandwich with Fried Egg (feeds two)

  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1 hamburger bun, split
  • 2 cups pork
  • 1/4 cup favorite barbecue sauce
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
  • handful arugula or favorite relish/chow chow
  • 3 teaspoons hickory-smoked pork fat reserved from smoking Boston butt
  • Kosher salt, to taste

In a cast iron pan, heat 1 teaspoon pork fat over medium-heat. Fry only the inner-side of each hamburger bun until golden brown. Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon pork fat and fry the egg over medium-ish high heat until crispy and the egg white is no longer runny (you’re going for a crispy fried egg and runny yolk– none of that slow-cooked egg stuff here). Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, heat the remaining teaspoon pork fat and fry the pork over medium-ish high heat until warmed thoroughly. Add in the cider vinegar, rosemary, and barbecue sauce and continue to cook until the sauce is slightly caramelized, but not burnt. Remove to a plate and sprinkle with fresh thyme.

Plate and serve hot.

Fried egg with cayenne

Music to eat a great breakfast to: Brett Dennen – “Brett Dennen” Click to listen for free at Grooveshark!

“This is that rare and wonderful thing – a brilliant debut album from a mature young artist with a sound like nothing you have ever heard. Dennen’s voice sounds like it’s caught somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, but he sings with the idiosyncratic confidence of Van Morrison. His guitar playing crackles with jazzy melody and he has already learned that less means more. Dennen’s unique phrasing syncopates with the playing to make you tap your toes as you absorb his superbly crafted songs. The material is often unabashedly spiritual, invested with down-to-earth intensity and sincerity. Brett Dennen has it all together and the production lets it shine. It’s all that good-essential!” – Review by Michael Devlin for Music Matters

Follow me on Twitter: Don’t forget! Did you make the recipe and want to share how it turned out? Do you like the pictures? Dig the music? Just want to say hello? Add me on Twitter @cblackwell44, introduce yourself, and tell me about it! (the button to add is located at the top of every page)  - Chase

May 1, 2010   9 Comments

A Celebration of Smoked Pork: Sweet Potato Hashbrowns with Crispy Fried Pork

Sweet Potato Hash browns with Crispy Fried Pork

It’s the week before finals at the university (known as dead week not because you’re dead, but because you wish you were) and I don’t really have the time or the mental energy to right write an article at the moment. So, this week, I’m going to keep the words short and the food delicious for a special I’m calling “A Celebration of Smoked Pork.”

If you’ve ever smoked a huge piece of pork you know that it can be a struggle to find new and exciting ways to use the leftover meat besides ‘tossing it on a sandwich.’ You contemplate freezing it, throwing it out, feeding it to the dogs — none of which allow you to  enjoy the wonders of smoked pork. In an effort to rid you (and me) of this problem, I present to you…

Sweet Potato Hashbrowns with Crispy Fried Pork (serves two hungry folks):

Very loosely adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cut into cubes (size doesn’t matter.. they can be big or small.. just make sure they are cut evenly so they cook evenly)
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons reserved hickory smoked pork fat from smoked Boston butt (bacon fat can be substituted in a pinch, but expect there to be flavor consequences)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 cups pulled pork
  • 1/2 cup favorite barbecue sauce (something with a little tang and spice works well)

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the pork fat over medium-high heat. Add in the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add another tablespoon of the fat and add in the potatoes. Cook until tender, about 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

In the now empty skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of fat and fry the pork until heated through and slightly crispy (this works best with room temperature pork). Just before serving, add the barbecue sauce to the pork and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. You want the sugar in the sauce to caramelize a bit, but you absolutely do not want it to burn.

Top the potatoes with the pork, sprinkle in the fresh thyme and parsley, and serve hot with arugula or your favorite side-salad.

Follow me on Twitter: Don’t forget! Did you make the recipe and want to share how it turned out? Do you like the pictures? Dig the music? Just want to say hello? Add me on Twitter @cblackwell44, introduce yourself, and tell me about it! (the button to add is located at the top of every page)  - Chase

April 28, 2010   4 Comments

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary and Brown Sugar Rub

Pulled Pork Sandwich

My experiences with smoked Boston butt always end with the same half-dejected reassurance that, “well, it was good, but I can do it better next time, I swear.” And the next time I set out determined to ‘finally’ turn out a ‘perfect’ piece of smoked pork.

Then it happens, like the torturing clockwork of a stacked game of cards, the smoker is too hot, or even worse, too cold, I forget the thermometer, the coals die out ¾ of the way through cooking, the thermometer is too close to the bone so I remove it only to see hordes of flavorful juice escape from the now bone-dry pork, we should have taken it 5 degrees further, the crust is too thick, the rub doesn’t taste good, we forget to rest in foil; the list goes on and on. Oh what an unbearably frustrating list it is.

In the midst of such frustration I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Edison who said, in response to a question regarding his failure to successfully create the filament for the light bulb, “I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

I bet you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s not such a bad way to look at it, Chase. How insightful, through all of your failures you’ve learned a wealth of information in your quest for perfect smoked pork. With the right attitude and some persistence I bet you’ll get there one day, buddy!” Yea. Right. That’s all well and good until it’s nearly midnight and you’re running to Walmart for more coals and, as my new friend Sasa @ sasasunakku would say, you’re hit with a bought of  ’hanger’ (hunger that turns to anger) so intense you’d actually rather smash a car window with the pork than eat it.

But when the hanger fades and I’m done cleaning up the glass and explaining the situation, I guess I really have learned quite a bit about how-to smoke a piece of pork. Which is what I’m here for– to help prevent you from making the same mistakes that I’ve made and getting hangry (…now listen here, Johnny-boy, you know daddy loves you right..?)

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary Brown Sugar Rub:

For the Boston Butt -

  • 4 to 5 pound Boston Butt, bone in and extra fat trimmed
  • Dijon mustard
  • Rosemary and Brown Sugar Rub
  • Choice of firewood, hickory and apple are both fantastic with pork
  • Favorite brand charcoal briquettes, I use regular Kingsford
  • Lighter fluid, optional

Tip: If your considering using lump charcoal — don’t. Stick with charcoal briquettes and save the hardwood lump charcoal for high-heat grilling. The briquettes burn longer and at a more consistent temperature.

For the Rosemary Brown Sugar Rub -

Let me just say, I’ve never had a pork rub that I really liked. Until this one– rosemary and pork pair exceptionally well.

  • 2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rosemary Brown Sugar Pork Rub

Slather the entire butt (..heh) with Dijon mustard and season with a even layer of the rub. Set aside at room temperature until ready to cook.

Smoked Boston Butt with Rosemary Pork Rub

Modified Minion Method:

I’ve been searching for the best way to maintain a consistent smoker temperature with even smoke output for almost two years now. I happy to say that I’m searching no longer. The Modified Minion Method is pure brilliance. With a little-set up and virtually no effort you can run a consistent smoker temperature of around 225 – 275 degrees for at least 10 hours, maybe more, with even smoke output the entire time.

Tip: If you run into trouble and find the heat too hot or cold a simple adjustment of the bottom vent will quickly solve the problem.

To begin, arrange 2 rows of briquettes along the the rim of the grill. Follow with another layer of 2 rows. Finish with a layer of 1 row of charcoal and 1 layer of wood (this isn’t depicted accurately in the picture due to figuring this out after spending an hour attempting to get the grill to the proper temperature). But hopefully this will give you a good idea…

Modified Minion Method

Next, squirt some lighter fluid (you heard me, lighter fluid, don’t be shy) on the first 8 coals, ignite, and let burn uncovered until ashy white.

When the coals are white, place in a drip pan. The bottom to a terracotta pot works great (it also makes a perfect pizza stone), as does a foil covered glass bowl, but I thought I’d take the 10 hours of fat and smoke-rich environment as an opportunity to further season my little carbon steel frying pan. Fill with water, if desired.

Tip: If you don’t happen to have lighter fluid on hand, like me, use a chimney starter to get the coals hot and then place in the grill.

Chimney Starter and Drip Pan

Smokin’ The Butt:

You’re now ready to assemble the grill, arrange one thermometer probe in the thickest part of the meat (away from the bone) and rig the other to monitor the temperature near the pork in the smoker, put the lid on, and get that butt a smokin’.

At a temperature of 250ºF it will take, on average, about 1 ½ to 2 hours per pound to finish cooking. However, be warned, barbecue can be  unpredictable so it’s better to start early than finish late to avoid eating at midnight with hanger pains.

Tip: The meat can be ‘held’ in foil for up to 5 hours after cooking (more on that below).

Smoked Boston Butt

Just as an aside, I’d like to recommend a product that I couldn’t live without when smoking or grilling anything. The Maverick ET-73 Dual Probe Thermometer with a wireless receiver allows you to simultaneously monitor both the ambient smoker temperature as well as the internal temperature of the meat at a range of 100 feet. That’s right, lazy one, you can monitor the entire thing in the comfort of your own living room or beside the pool. Also, if you get busy and forget to monitor the temperatures, alarms can be set to alert you if your smoker is running to hot or too cold. Best of all it’s easy to use, reliable, and accurate. It’s truly the best on the market and will make smoking anything from pork butt to ribs and chicken that much easier, enjoyable, and tasty.

The Finished Product:

Once the meat registers an internal temperature of 205º F it’s ready to be taken off of the grill and be wrapped tightly in aluminum foil for a minimum of 1 hour to allow the juices to redistribute and the meat to come to a final temperature of 210º. I know it’s tempting to take the freshly smoked pork and chow down right away, but take this part seriously and let the meat rest. It really does make a huge difference and you will be rewarded with better meat.

Tip: If you’re going for sliced pork, take it off when the internal temperature reaches 190º to 195ºF.

Smoked Boston Butt

From here the meat can be pulled, chopped, drizzled with cider vinegar with fresh thyme sprinkled in, slathered with your favorite barbecue sauce,and made into a delicious sandwich with arugula or your favorite coleslaw or chow chow.

Oh, and don’t forget to strain the hickory smoked pork fat (and boil the water out, if necessary) from the drip pan and reuse. It makes plain old bacon fat look worthless.

Rendered Pork Fat

Music To Rock To: Presidents of The United States of America Click to listen for free on Grooveshark!

“Having modified the bass to two strings and the guitar to only three, The Presidents are about as gut level as you can get. The irresistable riffing and “meowing” vocals on “Kitty” show that this is a band with power to spare. Bassist Chris Ballew’s writing is diverse and catchy, and propels The Presidents through roaring originals that they obviously love to play. “Lump” has a ferocious pop kick and sing-along appeal, rivaled only by the gnarly, funky edge of “Boll Weevil.” – CD Universe

April 26, 2010   81 Comments

How-to Make Homemade Pita Bread

Homemade Pita Bread

Hummus is all the rage. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. There’s just something about the ambiguous blend of chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic that gets people excited.

And I like to think it’s with good reason, too. Hummus is spectacular if properly prepared with great ingredients, a little love, and a lot of tasting.

But this post isn’t about hummus. Au contraire, my friend! This post is about what hummus is not. And hummus is not pita bread. Surprised? Didn’t think so. But hear me out…

Pita bread, the infamous sidekick to the superhero, the Robin to hummus’s Batman, if you will, is all but left by the wayside in the search for the perfect hummus. Why is this so, you ask? I’m not entirely sure. Who would want to munch on lifeless, tasteless, pre made triangles of -choose expletive and descriptive adjective- pita bread? Or much less pair it with a delicious, creamy bowl of homemade hummus? Not me!

Seriously people, listen up! This is important — you can’t have great hummus without great pita bread. It’s like trying to make the perfect pizza without the perfect crust. It just ain’t gonna happen!

Luckily, because pita is just a basic flat bread, it’s quick and easy to make. All in all, it takes about 10 minutes of active work, including getting out the ingredients, mixing them up, worrying if you’re doing it right, double checking, triple checking, cleaning up the mess, and baking the bread. Best of all, you’ll be a Pita-pro your first time, guaranteed! It really is that easy!

You will need just a bit of planning, though, because the dough needs to rise for about two hours at room temperature after mixing the ingredients!

Homemade Pita Bread Recipe:

Adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (This book is a must-have for anyone looking to bake a variety of artisan breads better than their bakery in no time flat).

Makes four one pound loaves, which is a ton of Pita. Luckily, the recipe can easily be halved or doubled.

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 packets granulated yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
  • Baking Stone

Combine the water, yeast, and salt in a large bowl with a lid. Add in the flour all at once and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and there are no dry chunks of flour remaining. Cover with a lid that isn’t air-tight as you want some of the gases produced to escape. Allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

After two hours, preheat your oven (or grill) to 500º F, dust your hands with flour and punch down the dough and remove to a floured surface. For single serving size pitas, take a serrated knife and cut the dough into rounds the size of an orange. For family style, the size of 1 ½ grapefruits should do.

Dust the dough with flour until it isn’t sticky and form the dough into a ball.

Just a note, don’t use a baking stone over an oven flame on your grill. It’s better to just grill directly on the grate.

Rolling out homemade pita

Roll the dough ball until it is about an 1/8th of an inch. You can leave the dough a little thicker for more chewy, fluffy bread the way I like.

Thickness of homemade Pita

When your pizza stone is preheated, quickly toss in one or more pita breads, quickly shut the oven door to prevent excessive heat loss, and set a timer for 5 minutes. Which, as it just so happens, it just enough time to jam out a song on the guitar, if you’re so inclined.

Playing Guitar

One mediocre rendition of Sister Hazel’s “Your Winter” later the dough should have puffed considerably. It will also be baked and crunchy and you’ll probably be scratching your head thinking, “well darn, this isn’t like any pita bread I’ve ever had.” No worries, you’re on the right track.

Baked Pita

Place the dough into a clean, dry dishtowel , tightly cover, and let cool. The steam will soften the pita as it slowly deflates.

By the way, I see myself as a man of the people, a firm believer in great directions, proper warnings, and, for the simple fact that I don’t want you to hate me, please, for the love of all things Holy, do not press down on the towel to deflate the pita with your bare hands just because your curious what will happen. Unless,of course, you enjoy the pulsing pain of a steam burn.

Wrapped Pita

Meanwhile, throw a few more pitas in the oven, open up a jar of your favorite hummus, grab a beer (try a Sierra Nevada Summerfest) and munch on, my friend… munch on.

Classic Hummus Recipe:

From World Spice Merchants

  • 1 cup garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons cumin seed
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • Reserved juice from garbanzo beans
  • Salt n’ pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne, to taste

Combine all ingredients except the juice and seasonings in a food processor. Give it a good waz, adding just enough of the reserved liquid to get the mixture moving. Blend until smooth and creamy. Season to taste and enjoy!

Music To Cook By: Diane Birch – “Bible Belt” Click to listen for free on Grooveshark!

“Though classically-trained, there’s a freshness and freedom about her piano style which enables her to tackle with equal aplomb the bluesy piano triplets of “Fire Escape”, the New Orleans second-line groove of “Rise Up”, the smouldering Southern soul of “Forgiveness” and the Seventies’ singer-songwriter flavour of “Ariel“, the melody and arrangement of which could have come straight from an Elton John album of that era.” – The Independent

Follow me on Twitter: Don’t forget! Did you make the recipe and want to share how it turned out? Do you like the pictures? Dig the music? Just want to say hello? Add me on Twitter @cblackwell44, introduce yourself, and tell me about it! (the button to add is located at the top of every page)  - Chase

April 23, 2010   10 Comments

Watermelon Radish with Wild Watercress, Cremini Mushrooms, and Honey-Sherry Vinaigrette

Watermelon Radish and Watercress Salad

“It’s six o’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake since midnight after an unfortunate incident involving a sleepy, careless brunette-haired monster who ruthlessly edged her way into the slender crack in the couch next to me. I’ve been planning my course of action, my revenge, if I can confide, for the better part of the sleepless night. I am to wake her at sunrise and carry on with my plan from there. “At sunrise”, I tell myself… at sunrise.

I poke her shoulder with my pointed finger and whisper in the delicate tone of a scheming child, “Brittany…? Brittany…?” No response; impatient with my plan I tap harder, to be sure that I wake her, as she had done to me, and mutter in my revised but still unassuming tone, “do you want to go to the farmer’s market with me?” The question resonates for an eternity until she finally musters a response…” To be continued.

…just a snippet from my upcoming food inspired novel… kidding, of course.

It is a true story, however. And although it wasn’t in the dramatic fashion usually evoked from the phrase, she did say ‘yes.’ But only after much poking, prodding, and deal making.

The market I’m referring to is the Pepper Place Market in downtown Birmingham, about a 45 minute drive from where we are in the Tuscaloosa, a college town located in the southwest region of Alabama. If you remember (see: Pepper Place Farmer’s Market)  we had eagerly gone in February only to find little in the way of fresh food. But this time was sure to be different. Pepper Place had officially opened for spring and I was determined to go, come Hell or high water.

As it turned out, it was completely worth it. Farm fresh strawberries, rutabaga, parsnips, lemon thyme, and other early-in-the-season goodies were abound at the market. But the star of the show was wild watercress. I’m sure you can imagine my amazement, “Wild watercress?!?! You mean you foraged for this stuff?” That’s right–wild watercress, it all it’s crunchy and intensely peppery glory (alongside a trio of cremini mushrooms).

Cremini Mushrooms with Watercress

Watermelon Radish with Wild Watercress, Cremini Mushrooms, and Honey-Sherry Vinaigrette (serves 4 as a side-salad):

For the salad:

  • 1 large watermelon radish, washed
  • 4 cremini mushrooms, washed
  • 1 large bunch watercress, washed
  • 1 cup honey-sherry vinaigrette

With a mandolin slicer, or a sharp knife and some amazing knife skills, slice the watermelon radish into 1/8″ thick slices. Slice the mushrooms 1/4″ thick.

For the honey-sherry vinaigrette (makes 1 cup):

Adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

Honey-Sherry Vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 chives, finely sliced
  • 3/4 cup light olive or canola oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, honey, parsley, and chives. Slowly whisk in the oil, being careful not to break the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Watermelon Radish Salad with cremini mushrooms

Music to Cook By: Ray Lamontagne – Trouble Click to listen for free at Grooveshark!

“[...] an instant classic. Ray LaMontagne’s new release Troubleis one such record. [...] one is sure to recognize the instantly accessible sound, the righteous vocals, and the truly great musicality. But the truly great experience comes when listening to the full record, song after song of blissful melody and easy rhythm. [...] Trouble is packed with the kind of rock music that wraps itself calmly around your heart and squeezes, instilling warmth and a peaceful sense of well-being. – Hybrid Music

Follow me on Twitter: Don’t forget! Did you make the recipe and want to share how it turned out? Do you like the pictures? Dig the music? Just want to say hello? Add me on Twitter @cblackwell44, introduce yourself, and tell me about it! (the button to add is located at the top of every page)  - Chase

April 20, 2010   9 Comments

Pan Seared Salmon with Sautéed Spinach and Crème Fraîche

Pan Seared Salmon with Sautéed Spinach and Crème Fraîche

The past two posts  have been basically vegetarian, which I am not, nor will I ever be. It’s not that I don’t like veggies, or even vegetarians for that matter, but I just couldn’t live on vegetables alone. I did have the wild idea to become a fruititarian about a year ago. It didn’t work out. I think I made it three days before I caved out of stomach wrenching starvation and ate a Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich.

In case you were wondering, there have actually been a few famous people who have attempted an all fruit diet. Ghandi — being the enlightened spiritual guru that he was — maintained his fruititarian lifestyle for an impressive stint of five years until his doctor recommended he stop due to unrelated health reasons. Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple computers, was also a fruititarian back in the 1970′s. Now, according to him, he’s a walking “garbage can” like the rest of us. The point is, not only am I not crazy, but I’m in impressive company. Though, I’m not proud of my current record of three days. Who knows, maybe I’ll try again some day.

Anyways, enough of this fruit n’ veggie talk. It’s time for some meat– or fish. Yep, fish is good. And it’s healthy. And you don’t have to needlessly starve yourself on fruit or veggies. We’re talkin’ a win-win situation here.

As it were, pan seared salmon with sautéed spinach in a molten lake of crème fraîche is one of my favorite “healthy” meals. Now, why is healthy in quotations, you ask? Well, there may be just a wee bit of butter, oil, and fat laden heavy cream thrown in the recipe somewhere. And it’s certainly not wild steamed spinach drizzled with fresh pressed olive oil topped shaved fresh hazelnuts stolen from the squirrels in your backyard. But come on, this is a fresh, home cooked meal — it’s healthy.

It’s also very easy. The entire process took a mere 12 minutes from start to finish. Not bad for a tasty, “healthy” meal, huh?

Pan Seared Salmon with Sautéed Spinach and Crème Fraîche (serves two):

  • 1/2 pound fresh salmon, skin on
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 9 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche, store-bought or homemade
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne, if desired

Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. In a non-stick or cast iron skillet, heat two tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat and place in salmon  skin side down. Cook for about 3 minutes per side. Once the salmon is finished, remove to a plate lined with a paper towel, leaving the skin side up so it remains crispy. Meanwhile, drain the oil from the pan and add in the 1 tablespoon butter. Once the butter is melted, toss in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant, but not browned. Quickly add in the spinach, parsley, and crème fraîche and cook until the spinach is fully wilted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne if using. Remove to a plate, top with the salmon, and serve piping hot.

Tip: If you’re going for healthier than just “healthy,” replace part or all of the crème fraîche with chicken or vegetable stock. But don’t complain when it’s missing the luxuiorious tanginess of the molten hot crème fraîche!

April 14, 2010   12 Comments

CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad

CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad

I hate California Pizza Kitchen. It’s nothing personal or anything. I’m not really a fan of most chain restaurants for the same reason I dislike CPK–  at best, they serve decent food at high prices. Sure, the atmosphere is pretty great and people who have no taste buds and deep pockets love the place, but as a wise man once said, “good decor and a blind following does not a good restaurant make.” Wise guy, that one, eh?

On second thought, hate is a strong word. Who knows,  maybe if I were stranded in a deserted town in the middle of Montana with 4 day old hunger pangs I might love CPK. It’s just that in Birmingham, on a recently fed stomach, you can either eat at CPK, The Cheesecake Factory or any other middle of the road chain restaurant. Or you can search out the mom and pop restaurants like Highlands Bar and Grill, Hot and Hot Fish Club, or GianMarcos and enjoy a truly great meal featuring great ingredients alongside a great atmosphere. It all costs roughly the same, but the difference in quality is astounding. Oh and I’d probably forage for my own food before I ate at CPK, even stranded and starving in Montana.

With that rant behind us, it’s with great regret that I admit that CPK serves just about my favorite salad ever. The Grilled Vegetable Salad with its layers of grilled Japanese eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, corn, avocado and sun dried tomatoes tangled in a slightly spicy Dijon laced balsamic vinaigrette is a formidable foe in the world of salads. I have many a fond memory that involves spending Brittany’s lunch breaks from her job at the GAP happily munching on said salad and a bowl of hummus, all the while hating the very idea of loving it all so much. Though, in my defense, the 20% discount given for being an employee of a neighboring business must of made my hypocritical actions easier to swallow. That and I haven’t been back to CPK in over two years. Whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

 

CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad (serves 2 hungry people):

Sliced Vegetables

  • 1 Japanese eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1″ patties
  • 1 pound green asparagus, stems removed
  • 2 yellow squash, halved and seeds removed
  • 2 zucchini, halved
  • 1 sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 cremini mushrooms, washed
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons high-quality sherry vinegar, we use “O” brand
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Coat the vegetables in the 1/4 cup of oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables, basting with the remaining oil as needed, over medium-high heat until tender, but not mushy.  Remove from the grill and, if desired, slice the eggplant, squash, zucchini, and mushrooms into 1/2″ thick pieces. With a sharp knife, gently run the blade down the corn to remove the kernels from the cobb. Gently toss the vegetables with the oil,vinegar, thyme, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm/hot.

I’ve purposefully left this recipe a bit open ended so feel free to add whatever suits your mood. As for ideas, shaved parmesan or fresh goat cheese would be great. As would lightly grilled cherry tomatoes. Or if you’d like to go the CPK route add diced avocado, sun dried tomatoes and replace the sherry vinegar with balsamic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whatever the case, get creative and get cookin’!

CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad

April 13, 2010   1 Comment

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