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Stuffed Summer Squash

Stuffed Summer Squash

My favorite memories are always captured in the spur of the moment. Whether in a childhood game of “hey, try and block this racquetball with my mom’s couch pillow” or improvised trips to faraway lands (see Misadventure in Peru), the times in which worrisome planning subsides to unadulterated enjoyment are second to none and are moments that I will always cherish.

This past Easter-weekend was filled with such pleasureful moments; the raw heat of the springtime sun illuminating the bright purples, whites, and greens of newly blossomed trees on our drive through the Alabama countryside; the gratifying moments of a well-received and heart-felt meal for family; a spontaneous trip to a wonderful antique store in an otherwise unassuming small town on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Why we decided to turn the car around and patronize the small store I’ll never know. Perhaps it was out of sheer curiosity or the need to break the persistent boredom that encompasses a six hour trip that should take two hours at most. Whatever the case, I sure am glad that we stopped by to enjoy what the little beige store had to offer.

Inside, we met a nice man, who later introduced himself as Felix, along with a vast array of vintage southern folk art that would make anyone’s grandparents proud. If we weren’t broke from the recent trip to Whole Foods it would have been nearly impossible to resist the urge to buy something. Sure, explaining how I spent the money reserved for Easter dinner would have been difficult to explain—but time would pass and memories would fade and I’d still be the proud owner of my so-very-awesome vintage southern sign. But I digress…

While we were there, the subject of food came up, as it inevitably does with me around, and Felix, a former cook and café owner himself, shared a recipe he thought that I might like– summer squash stuffed with cream cheese and spinach and topped with parmesan. It’s old-school and southern just the way I like it, and as he described it, “it looks like you did a whole lot and you really didn’t.” Perfect.

I decided to use his suggestion as inspiration to create my own version which combines his uniquely southern dish with the Italian flavors that I love and know so well.

Stuffed Summer Squash Recipe (serves two):

Preheat oven to 350ºF

For the filling-

  • 2 medium yellow squash, halved and seeds removed
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 80z package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup homemade crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, sautéed and well-drained
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

To sauté spinach, place a frying pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook for 4-6 minutes until it has reduced in half. Press with a fork to remove liquid. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Combine the cream cheese, crème fraîche, spinach, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Place a single large basil leaf in the bottom of each squash.

Yellow Squash with Basil

Stuff the squash with equal parts of the cream cheese mixture.

Yellow squash stuffed with cream cheese

Bake at 350º for 25-35 minutes, depending on the size of the squash, until fork tender.

For the garnish-

  • 2 slices thick cut, hickory smoked bacon
  • 4-6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 6 sprigs of thyme, picked
  • 6-10 small basil leaves
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Shaved fresh parmesan (I forgot to add this, but it would be great!)

Cut the bacon slices into 1/4 inch strips and fry over medium-heat until crispy, but still slightly chewy.

Arrange two squash halves in a stacking pattern. Scatter cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme, and bacon around the plate. Top with basil leaves,a light drizzle of olive oil, and freshly cracked pepper. Serve hot.

For anyone interested in visiting Felix’s antique store in Vincent, Alabama, be sure to check out his website at SpringCreekAntiques.com for directions and store hours.

April 6, 2010   5 Comments

Tangerine and Grapefruit Sorbet

Tangerine and Grapefruit Sorbet

Citrus fruits are perfect in the springtime. With the winter months come and gone and the heat of summer steadily approaching, it’s now within the confines of “seasonal” to begin turning towards dishes that are lighter on both the palate and the stomach (yea, that’s right… I’m looking at you guy who obviously had a few too many winter stews).

Citrus fits the bill perfectly. Contrary to popular belief (I’ve argued with my dad endlessly about this to no avail), citrus is actually at it’s peak from mid-winter to spring, not in the summer when a cold glass of fresh squeezed orange juice is so desired. It’s one of those unfortunate facts of life, I know.

The problem is that during the miserable coldness of winter, comforted by warming desserts that compliment it so well, no one in their right mind wants a cold glass of juice or sugary sorbet. As a result citrus goes unnoticed and under appreciated at a time when it’s at it’s best.

But springtime is different. Pears are long gone,  strawberries are still hard and tasteless, peaches and raspberries are on the horizon, but citrus is still packed with flavor and ready to handle all that spring has to offer.

And so I push for citrus, in all it’s various forms, to be the go-to springtime fruit.

Tangerines and Grapefruits

Today I make my push with a tangerine and grapefruit sorbet, a near-perfect way to showcase the bare deliciousness of the fruit, second only to a glass of the cold stuff.

Tangerines

I found a basket of tangerines at a produce stand on my ride home from school and with one whiff I knew I had to have them. I couldn’t believe the perfume they carried– pungent, earthy, with a strong smell reminiscent of orange flavored bubblegum, unlike any other tangerine I’ve ever smelled. I knew instantly that sorbet was on the menu… you should have seen the look on the man’s face when I asked, “so, how much juice do you think I could get out of these babies?”

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April 2, 2010   6 Comments

Homemade Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraîche

In the states, crème fraîche has gained an unfortunate reputation as a snooty, gourmet ingredient with little or no use to the average home cook. That it’s unnecessarily expensive serves only to make matters worse. It is just cultured cream after all. How much extra could adding a small amount of bacteria to the cream and letting it culture really cost? Certainly the backwards-slash è and funky looking î don’t inherently make a product more expensive… do they? If so, be on the look out for büttér and mîlk prices to be on the rise.

Luckily, good ol’ home grown ingenuity is here to save us all– making crème fraîche at home is seriously simple and just as inexpensive. Mix a bit of cream with a little buttermilk, sit out at room temperature for 24-48 hours, and voilà! You’ve made a full-bodied crème fraîche complete in all of it’s rich, buttery, tangy and slightly nutty glory.

If you’ve been using sour cream your entire life, you’re in for a treat. Crème fraîche is everything that sour cream wishes it was and then some. Plus, due to it’s butterfat content being much higher, crème fraîche is far more versatile– add a rich tang to pan sauces, garnish soups, dip your nachos — you name it, crème fraîche has it covered.

So tell us, what’s your favorite way to use the infamous crème fraîche?

Basic Crème Fraîche Recipe:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Pour the mixture into a sanitized mason jar and allow to sit at room temperature for 24-48 hours or until thick. The mixture will keep for 2 weeks.

More crème fraîche recipes…

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March 31, 2010   8 Comments

Pork Tenderloin and Collard Greens

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Brasied Collard Greens

There comes a point in any cooks career where he or she can proudly exclaim, “this is the best thing that I’ve ever cooked.” To the fortunate few this revelation may come often, to others it may only happen once, but for me, it happened tonight.

The idea of combining the flavors of pork, apples, and collard greens has been floating around in my head for awhile now. In retrospect, I’m sure the foundation was laid the first time I was introduced to the combination of braised pork belly and roasted apples at Joël in Atlanta. And the time I had a pork chop and collard greens at Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. But it was in the ephemeral moments of a sleepless night about a month ago that I found the inspiration to combine the two. “What if,” I said to myself, “I braised collard greens in hard and sweet apple cider, threw in a sliced onion, a few whole garlic cloves, a pinch of red pepper flakes, topped it with grilled pork tenderloin and spooned on the delectable pot liquor.” Realizing the importance of this idea, I quickly awoke from my dreamy, timeless state and took pen to paper in my handy little green book of ideas.

Idea Book

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March 29, 2010   7 Comments

Greek Yogurt with Strawberries, Toasted Almonds and a Beaujolais Wine Reduction

Greek Yogurt with strawberries and a Beaujolais wine reduction

With strawberries coming into season within the next month or so I thought it was about time to put on my thinking cap and start developing recipes to take advantage of their deliciousness. I can happily say that I think you’re going to like what I came up with. Whether for a luxurious breakfast or an interesting and light Spring dessert, the combination of Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, lightly toasted almond slices and a Beaujolais wine reduction is sure to be a hit.

Though it’s a ridiculously simple dish to put together, the flavors are surprisingly complex. The predominant flavor profile is earthy, thanks in part to the interplay between the yogurt, slightly sweetened with local Alabama honey, and the light nuttiness of the toasted almond slices. The dry fruitiness of the slightly peppery Beaujolais reduction also mingles particularly well with the acidic, pungent earthy flavors of the strawberries, which are macerated in a bit of aged balsamic vinegar and sugar to intensify their flavor. But perhaps my favorite part of the dish lies in the delicate contrast of textures; the sensations of the rich and creamy yogurt against the slight crunch of the almonds is particularly superb.

Greek Yogurt, Strawberries, Toasted Almonds, and Beaujolais Recipe:

Strawberries and Beaujolais

Serves 1-2

  • 7oz (200g) Greek Yogurt (Such as Fage brand)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4-6 fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups Beaujolais wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Spread almonds evenly over a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes, stirring halfway through, and allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine yogurt and honey and refrigerate. Slice strawberries in half. In a small bowl, combine with vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. Let the mixture macerate for 20-30 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally. In a small sauce pot, combine wine, 1/4 cup sugar, and black pepper. Reduce mixture over medium-high heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (should reduce to around 1/3 cup). Allow the mixture to cool (you can speed up the process by placing the pot directly into an ice bath and stirring until cool). To assemble, dollop yogurt in the center of a small bowl, spoon wine around the edges, and arrange strawberries and nuts in an attractive pattern. Serve chilled.

March 25, 2010   4 Comments

Theme Change

As you may have noticed, I decided to change the theme for the website with the hopes of making it not only more attractive, but also easier to read, navigate, as well as more feature friendly. It will take at least a few days, maybe even a few weeks, to fully customize image sizes, sidebar widgets, header images, color schemes, etc. — so please be patient! As always, feedback is fully welcomed and greatly appreciated!

March 23, 2010   2 Comments

Grind Your Own Meat

Grinding Meat

With the summer months quickly approaching it can mean only one thing– it’s grillin’ season. That’s right, it’s finally time to turn off the oven, throw some lighter fluid on those coals, and get grillin’. But before you go ahead and mindlessly throw on some stale, cheap quality, bacteria-infested meat on those ever-so-lightly oiled grill grates, let’s get one thing straight. If you want a truly great hamburger, you must grind your own meat.

It doesn’t matter if it’s pork, chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, etc.– it all benefits greatly from being freshly ground. To begin, you have complete control over the quality of the meat that goes into your burger. There’s no telling what quality and how old that pre-ground stuff is. And for the health conscious, there’s a little known fact about pre-ground meat. It’s a haven for bacteria growth. You see, grinding meat increases the surface area in which bacteria can mingle and infect your meat. Let it sit on the shelf for a few days and… I think you get the point. This has numerous consequences in your quest for a great hamburger, most namely that you’re much more likely to get sick. But what’s important from the cook’s perspective is that the meat must be cooked to a higher temperature to ensure that the bacteria is killed and the meat is safe to consume. The resulting burger is dry, tasteless, and anything but a good.  Not so with fresh ground meat.

Need another reason? What if I told you it’s cheaper and will pay for itself eventually? It’s simple economics, any processing that occurs in the production of a product increases the price to the consumer. Publix has to grind your meat? They make you pay. Want a pre-seasoned hamburger? Jack up the price. It just so happens that a whole chuck roast is anywhere from $0.20 to $1.00 cheaper per pound than it’s ground counterpart. With a top of the line Porkert manual meat grinder costing a mere $30 on eBay, it’s not hard to see how, with consistent use, it’ll pay for itself soon enough.

But what about the real kicker… Does it taste any better? Is the texture better? Is it really worth the extra time and effort? My answer– an overwhelming, all-American, lettuce, tomato, and Heinz-57 covered hell yes. There’s nothing like a burger taken straight from the grinder to the grill. Tender, juicy perfection doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s just that much better, no questions necessary.

And did I mention that a meat grinder is more versatile than you ever imagined? Need a mixture of veal, pork, and beef for meatballs? Consider it done. Want an out of this world meatloaf? No problem. Want to experiment with making your own signature sausage? Get a sausage making attachment and go for it! Making a spicy pork and cabbage filling for pot stickers? Look no further. Wondering how you’re going to grind all of those cranberries for Thanksgiving? Problem solved. Want to make some old school, ground Pimento cheese? You got it. Seriously, the list goes on and on.

Hopefully I’ve at least forced you to consider the idea of grinding your own meat. If so, these tips should make the transition between pre-ground and freshly ground a smooth one.

  • Always, always, always put the grinder in the freezer before you grind the meat. It will turn to mush if you don’t.
  • Cut the meat into small strips, not chunks, and place in the freezer until partially frozen or just very cold.
  • For large projects, work in batches, keeping the unground meat in the freezer while you’re working.
  • Clamp the grinder to a very sturdy table and use an extra pair of hands if you’ve got them.
  • To clean, soak briefly in hot soapy water and scrub with a toothbrush (reserved for this purpose, of course!)
  • If you have some stale bread laying around, run it through before you soak it. It will force the nasty bits out without scrubbing.
  • Clean immediately after using.
  • Thoroughly dry immediately after cleaning to avoid rusting.
  • Store in a plastic bag filled with a bag of uncooked rice. The rice will absorb the ambient moisture and prevent the parts from rusting.
  • If the unit does rust, steel wool is your best friend. Don’t worry, in most cases it should only take a light scrubbing to remove.

March 23, 2010   3 Comments

Pot stickers

Potstickers

Today, I present to you pot stickers. Now, I know what you’re thinking, what the heck is a kid from Alabama doing making pot stickers? Fair enough, I’ll admit, I’m no master of Japanese, Chinese, or any other -ese cuisine. I couldn’t even put together a decent pot of Asian-inspired noodles or rice if my life depended on it. And while it may be sad to be relegated to paying for someone else to make my rice and noodles for me, there is one Asian-thing that I can cook. They call them pot stickers, and not only can I cook them, I’ve mastered them. Seriously, they kick ass. I’ve never had any better. Every time I order them at a restaurant, hopeful to try something that will blow mine away, they’re always met with the same reaction– “Well, they’re good… but mine are better.” And trust me, I want to be blown away. I want to feel the rush of a pot sticker so good I never have to make them again. I was just born to make pot stickers. It’s a gift… I can’t help it. Who knows, with some hard work and a little luck maybe you too can be a pot sticker master.

Pot Stickers Recipe:

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 6-8 spring onions (reserve 2 for garnish)
  • 1/2 head of small green cabbage
  • 1/2 tsp chili oil
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 package wonton or gyoza wrappers
  • Peanut, canola, or vegetable oil (amount depends on how many batches you make)
  • Warm water (for steaming and sealing wontons)

Spicy Pork Filling

1) Finely shred and chop the 1/2 head of cabbage and finely slice the spring onions.

2) In a heavy-skillet with a couple tablespoons of cooking oil, cook the cabbage and onions until par-cooked and slightly tender.

3) Once the cabbage and onions are cooled, combine the first 10 ingredients (from pork to salt).

Making Dumplings

There are a million ways to pleat dumplings and the exact procedure will differ depending on if you use square wonton vs. circular gyoza wrappers, but the basic procedure is the same:

  • Place a small spoonful of filling in the middle of the wrapper.
  • Using a small brush, lightly paint the edges of the wrapper with water.
  • Fold in half, making sure there is no air trapped with the filling.
  • Fold in the corners and press closed to seal the wrapper (Below is how we like to do them with square wontons)

Folded Wontons

Frying Potstickers

1) Lightly oil a non-stick pan over medium-low heat and place the dumplings into the pan, making sure they don’t touch.

Note: A non-stick Teflon pan is absolutely necessary. Despite the name, sticking to the pan is really counter-productive.

2) When the dumplings begin to sizzle add 1/4 cup cup of water or chicken stock, cover with a tight fitting lid, and gently simmer until the water is evaporated.

3) Remove to a lightly oiled cooling rack, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, add 1/2 cup of oil, and increase the heat to medium-high.

4) Fry until golden brown and delicious, transfer to a paper towel covered plate, and serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce and the reserved green onions.

Note: Though I’ve never done it personally, I’m sure you can freeze them on a lightly-oiled baking sheet and, once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and store away for quite awhile. (If you do this, let me know how it turns out and how you manage to cook them).

Dipping Sauces:

We’re poor and in college so we just dip them in soy sauce, which is tasty enough, but I’ve taken the liberty of doing some research on a variety of dipping sauces that look really great.

March 19, 2010   6 Comments

Turkey Sandwich

Turkey Sandwich

What’s Playing? Diane Birch – “Bible Belt” (Play here)

Dear Friends,

Imagine a wonderful turkey sandwich—wholesome 5-grain bread, turkey, tender, lightly smoked over a smoldering hickory wood fire—wonderfully accented by the crunch of fresh, peppery arugula together with a sweet and savory onion jam.

Jam and Arugula

Like all wonderful sandwiches, it’s simple. So simple we can explore and experiment with our own creations.

Turkey sandwich with caramelized onion jam, mayo, and arugula

Imagine the sandwich paired with freshly fried potato chips, with a generous sprinkling of sea salt :)

Homemade potato chips

Turkey Sandwich Recipe:

Mayonnaise Recipe

  • 1 tbps Sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canola, vegetable, or light olive oil

1. Whisk together the egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.

2. While whisking, carefully drizzle in the oil.

4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, vinegar, and a pinch of cayenne.

5. Wonderful… I hope :)

Originally posted on March 6th, 2010.

Gently cared for on December 17th, 2010.

March 6, 2010   2 Comments

Caramelized Onion Jam

Caramelized Onion Jam

We decided to experiment and make caramelized onion jam. Thankfully for my budget, I had all of the ingredients at the house. The jam is wonderful. Here’s how to create it—

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March 5, 2010   4 Comments

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