Archive for June, 2018

Farmers’ Market Fun

June 30, 2018

Nothing is better than food from the farmers’ market unless you pick it out of your own garden.  My garden is doing a whole lot of nothing this year.  Looks like I’m going to get summer squash, green beans, and radishes and not much else.  My tomatoes are mostly drowned and the peppers never really took off.  No problem.  I have many wonderful markets to choose from!

Now that it’s almost July in Central Virginia, the market is so full of wonderful things that it’s hard to resist buying too much.  I’ve been waiting for tomatoes and butter beans and corn to come in – and they have!  I also got some eggplant, potatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, cucumbers, bacon, and a pork shoulder.  I was too late to get eggs today, but I had a few left for deviling so all is not lost!

Here’s the thing about food that was picked on Friday and you eat on Saturday or Sunday – it’s the very best it can be already.  Very little dressing up needed.  Butter beans cooked in salted water, drained, and with a little butter added.  Squash and onions cooked with garlic, salt and pepper until it chars just enough.  Cucumbers sliced and put in a water, vinegar and dill bath.  A London Broil cooked on the grill.  Dinner done.  Divine.

I had my first tomato sandwiches of the year today.  That’s really the sign that summer has started.  Soft bread, tomato with salt and pepper, and Duke’s mayonnaise.  Slider buns and large dinner rolls work great. The world’s most perfect food.  Add some cucumber or bacon for crunch if you like.

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The London Broil has nothing but salt, pepper and olive oil on it.  When I cook a fairly large piece of meat on the weekend I like to make it as plain as possible so it’s super versatile for the rest of the week.  The key is to take the beef out of the fridge about an hour before you start cooking.  Salt it when you set it out so the salt has some time to work it’s way into the meat.  It will flavor and tenderize.  This one is cooked 16 minutes total – 4 minutes, 90 degree turn, 4 more minutes, flip, repeat.  I like it on the pink side.  Let it rest while you cook the sides.

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Later in the week your veggies might need a little more than salt or butter to help them be their best.  This week you’re likely to see steak tacos with corn salsa.  Grilled eggplant with cucumber and feta relish.  Grilled vegetable salad with buttermilk dressing.  We’ll see how things go.  I’ve got cucumber pickles and deviled eggs to make everything feel a little like summer.  Can’t wait!

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Everything a “meat and 3” should be!

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Travels to Nice!

June 29, 2018

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to work in London fairly regularly.  So regularly that I don’t write about it much anymore.  But occasionally I’m also lucky enough to spend a London weekend somewhere else.  I spent a few days in Nice, France this week and the food is worth mentioning!

I don’t have an unlimited budget so I generally book deals where the hotel breakfast is included.  Nothing to write about there except to say that it’s enough to keep you going until the good meals roll around.  I will say that the bread and cheese are outstanding, even on a hotel buffet.  I ate my fill of Brie and goat cheese on baguette every morning before moving on to the croissants.

As in a lot of tourist destinations, Nice has an area of restaurants that have largely the same menus no matter which one you pick.  Pizza is everywhere on the Promenade des Anglais.  And it’s good!  The beach clubs on the other side of The Prom offer omelets and frites and salades (Salade Nicoise anyone?).  Only a few of them offer dinner, but when they do there’s a heavy emphasis on seafood – makes sense.

The really good stuff is back on the little side streets and hidden in Vieux Nice.  If you’re going to splurge a little I recommend La Cave du Fromager.  The atmosphere is very cool.  The service is friendly and good.  The food and wine are fantastic.  And it’s not a huge splurge.  No Michelin stars here.  We probably spent $70 a person for a starter and main each and a bottle of wine between us.  Not an every day meal for me, but I’ve spent much more for a much less enjoyable experience.

It’s France in June so enjoy the outdoor seating!  Not too hot and wonderful people watching.  This little street was just about my favorite.  It’s everything I think France should be.  Mismatched tables and chairs.  Old chandeliers hanging from cords.  People walking by.  Menu on a chalk board.  (They were kind enough to offer us the English version).  And a lovely bottle of rose in an ice bag.  This is the life for sure.

It’s a wonderful place to visit and doesn’t have to be only for the rich and famous.  If you get a chance, definitely go.  Have some cheese and frites and rose for me!

Steamed Spiced Summer

June 16, 2018

Super busy day.  Hot and steamy out.  Lots of chores.  One of my pups has had an iffy stomach for a couple of days so I made some chicken for him today.  Enough to last a couple of weeks.  Bake, chop, wipe up, bake, chop, wipe up.  Six pounds worth.  Throw in some pumpkin and he’ll be right as rain in no time.

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When it came time for my dinner I had no interest in creating another disaster in the kitchen.  One pot and 2 bowls.  That I can handle.  Steamed spiced shrimp is a favorite of mine. Always reminds me of the beach.  And vacation.  I could use one of those for sure!  Until then, these take less than 10 minutes start to finish.

I know you can buy your shrimp pre-steamed and pre-spiced from the grocery store or the seafood shop.  It’s super easy to do at home though and will save you some money.  You need a pot with a lid and either a steamer or a colander.  If you’ve got a lemon, great.  If not, fine.  You’ve got your choice of spices, but Old Bay is my choice.  Throw in some cocktail sauce and you’ve got yourself some dinner!

Put a little water in the bottom of a pot or pan and bring it to a boil.  Add part of a lemon to the water if you like. Meanwhile, put your shrimp, shells on, in the steamer or colander.  Add some Old Bay and some more of the lemon.  Once the water boils, put the steamer basket in the pot and put the lid on.  That’s it.  Wait a few minutes and voila!  Roll up your sleeves and dig in!

Too tired Friday

June 15, 2018

It’s been a long week, y’all.  And it’s not quite over.  Still, a girl needs her comfort food.  Lucky for me I had some leftovers and a few odds and ends to make a dinner that felt about nice enough to get me through.

Summer Friday night is often a little piece-y.  I’m always down to the last few items from last Saturday’s farmers’ market trip.  Tonight that meant a few fancy lettuce leaves; a baby squash; a sweet onion; and a mostly green tomato.  Here’s a tip. If you buy a green tomato to use as a green tomato you need to use it in 5-6 days.  As it sits around it’ll start to pink.

Combine the lettuce with the leftover peas and rice from earlier in the week.  Main course done.  My first squash and onions of the summer.  First side done.  And some barely pink fried green tomatoes.  Not a ton of effort, but tastes a lot like loving care to this girl.

What’s the first sign that a yummy dinner is on the way?  All three of my cast iron skillets on the stove at the same time.

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I’ll direct you to a previous post to get details on making fried green tomatoes.  For tonight I can tell you that going the lazy route doesn’t pay off.  A breading station has 3 parts:  flour, egg, cornmeal in this case.  I cheated.  Cornmeal, egg, cornmeal.  It’s not the same.  The flour on the bottom makes the coating fluffy underneath.  The egg in the middle makes everything stick.  The cornmeal on the outside makes a crispy coating.  Your other option is cornmeal on the bottom.  Egg in the middle. Panko or breadcrumbs on the outside.

Two layers of crispy isn’t the same.  Don’t misunderstand, they were darn good.  And I burned the tar out of my tongue eating the first one when it was still too hot, as always.  But there is a better way.  And this is it.

The second sign that a yummy dinner is on the way is that it takes more than one dish to get it to the table!  It’s not the prettiest meal I’ve ever made, but it did taste like summer.  And it did feel like a little comfort, so it did its job plus a little.  Some days that’s the best you can expect.

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Gingered Collards with Rice Noodles and Vegetables

June 11, 2018

I know what my Southern friends are thinking – Gingered Collards??  I never heard of such a thing!  For, the non-collard eating folks out there, just pretend I said lacinato kale.  It sounds fancier.  But I hope you’re all intrigued enough to read on!

I am frequently on the hunt for something to do with collards (or kale) besides cook them to death with smoked meat.  I do love them that way, but one cannot cook with ham hock alone.  Of course my new chef BFF Vivian Howard worked it out for me.  And then I threw in a bunch of other stuff and made a whole meal out of them.

Let’s start with the collards.  Forget about half of what I’ve told you about chopping collards.  Do remove the stems and stack the leaves on top of each other.  Don’t roll and slice them.  You’re going to cut them into 1-2 inch squares instead.  So we’re already in unfamiliar territory with these greens.  And then you’re going to cook them in oil and butter and ginger until they caramelize.  Now we’re fully in a foreign land.  And it’s a wonderful place!

A few tips before you start.  Mis en place is a good thing.  It’s not huge here since you don’t have to move too fast, but since I was making this up it helped to feel prepared.  So do all your chopping and measuring and putting your noodles in to soak, or your water on to boil, before you start heating any oil or butter.  You’re going to make the collards all the way through and set them aside. That way your large cast iron skillet will be free make the sauce and to do the other vegetables.

Here’s what you need:

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For the collards:

  • 1 t canola oil
  • 2 t butter
  • 1 bunch collards chopped into 1-2 inch squares
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/4 t crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 C orange juice
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 T brown sugar

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil and butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat until the butter foams
  • Add the ginger
  • Add the collards, spread them into an even layer
  • Add the garlic and red pepper
  • Leave them be for 3 minutes (Seriously, no stirring or shaking the pan)
    • This is a LOT harder than you think.  I had to set the kitchen timer and walk away from the stove to resist the urge to stir!
  • Now you can stir!
  • Spread the collards back into an even layer and them sit another 3 minutes
  • They’ll start to brown and carmelize
  • Add the water, juice and sugar
  • Cook until the liquid cooks away
  • Remove the collards from the pan and set aside

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If the collards get as done as you want them before the liquid cooks away just remove them and leave the liquid in the pan.  It will help with the sauce.

For the noodles:

You’ve got a couple of options.  Either fill a pot with HOT tap water and soak the noodles 25-30 minutes.  Or fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Cook the noodles as you would pasta. Drain, rinse, and return to the pot.  Stir in the collards and a little bit a sesame oil to make sure the noodles stay separated.

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For the sauce:

  • 2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 3 T orange juice
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/4 t crushed red pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and then add to the cast iron skillet.  Bring to a boil and stir until it reduced and thickens.  Stay close by.  The sugar will burn if you’re not paying attention!

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Pour the finished sauce into a bowl and set aside.

For the vegetables:

  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1 C matchstick carrots
  • 1-2 spring onions, sliced, whites and greens divided
  • 8 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.  Heat the oil until it shimmers.  Add the peppers, carrots and onion whites.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms.  Cook down 3-5 minutes.

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You’re almost done!  Add the vegetables to the noodles.  Stir in the sauce.  Top with the onion greens.  Enjoy!

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How’d it turn out?

I had two bowls, so that tells you something.  It’s warm and noodle-y and has a great kick to it.  I’m super pleased to have happened upon these gingered collards.  They’ll be great as a side for a pork roast.  And it’s nice to have a way to serve collards that’s not so winter-y.  This also meets my requirements for flexibility!  You could use this to clean out the vegetable drawer for sure.  Bok choy, cabbage, radishes.  No rice noodles, no problem.  Udon, soba, spaghetti, rice – whatever you want.  Chill everything and serve over lettuce and cucumbers.  Vegetarian not your thing or need some extra protein?  Double the sauce and use it to marinate a flank steak.  Serve thinly sliced beef on top of your vegetables.  Not into spicy?  You can leave out the red pepper.  The fresh ginger will give you a gentler kick in the pants.

I’ve marked this as intermediate only because it’s a fair number of components in a specific order.  Don’t let that scare you!  It’s just noodles and veggies with a yummy sauce!

Ode to Summer (and a Southern Salad)

June 9, 2018

I love Summer!  I love that my neighbors sit on front porches and wave as you walk by.  I love that our vegetable gardens are in front yards because dogs and chickens are in the back.  I love that there’s plenty of mint for juleps and mojitos and salads.  And I love that my Friday nights are spent with a lap full of cookbooks making plans for the wonderful things I’ll find at the Saturday farmers’ markets.  And so it was last night – Hardywood’s Mamaw’s Mean Peach Cobbler beer and Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots.

It’s still early summer.  In Central Virginia that means cucumbers, green beans, early squash, late radishes and spring onions. My garden also has a little arugula ready to bolt.  We’re all ready for corn and peaches and tomatoes and field peas, but we’ve got a few weeks to wait yet.  So, salads are still kind of the thing.

My farmers’ market also has the best bacon I’ve ever eaten.  Crabill’s Slab Bacon.  I call it Crack Slab Bacon.  Since I discovered it I haven’t been able to give it up. I buy extra all summer so it will last me through the winter.  So tonight we’re working with arugula and bacon salad.  Leave it to Vivian Howard to make wonderfulness from that.  This is a modifed version of her Sprouted Hoppin’ John Salad with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette.

Hoppin’ John is my traditional New Year’s Day food so I was surprised to be drawn to it on a 90 degree day.  I was hoping there might be early field peas to be had at the farmers’ market, but had to settle for frozen black-eyed peas instead.  I love black-eyed peas, so no problem there.  Hopping John is essentially rice, black-eyed peas and bell pepper often with smoked ham or turkey.  This salad, done my way, is all those things, but with bacon instead of ham and served over salad greens.  Use whatever greens you want.  I used lettuces and arugula, but spinach and chard would work just fine.

I cooled the rice, but left the black-eyed peas warm.  The lettuce and peppers are salad cold and the bacon cool enough to crumble.

The key is the dressing.

Hot Bacon Vinaigrette
  • 8 ounces sliced bacon
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion white part only
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a mandoline
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used Southern Hot Honey)
  • 1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Add 2 tablespoons of bacon fat back to the pan. Over medium heat, stir in the scallion and let it sizzle for 10 seconds. Then quickly add the garlic followed by the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, Dijon, and salt. With a wooden spoon scrape all the little bacon bits, or fond, from the bottom of the pan.
  2. Once the dressing begins bubbling furiously, pour it over the salad. Stir it up and serve with the crumbled bacon on top. The arugula will wilt, and that’s the point.

As always, I have leftovers.  Salads can be difficult to eat leftover.  The greens get wilty and then slimy if you dress them.  For storage I mixed the leftover rice, peas and dressing.  I can reheat all of that together without damaging any of it.  When I add the warmed rice mixture to a fresh bowl of lettuce and peppers the greens will wilt just as they’re supposed to without being soggy!

I enjoyed this salad immensely!  It’s a complete meal all by itself.  It’s a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.  Using field peas, or the sprouted peas in the original recipe, would make the flavors less earthy and more green, but still good!

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Leftover Greens Twice Baked Potatoes

June 3, 2018

It’s the end of my vacation week and I’m off on a business trip in the morning.  The last dinner before travel is often a very strange assortment of odds and ends from the week.  I didn’t have a lot leftover this week except some greens.  I decided to make myself a nice meal to close out my vacation, and still use up the fridge odds and ends.  I have to say this is a darn good use of greens that were leaning toward the wilty side.

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Here’s what I had left:  6-7 leaves of lacinato kale; 1/3 of a large container of baby spinach; 1 spring onion; and part of a bunch of parsley.  I also had the last of a buttermilk parmesan dressing that I served with charred vegetables earlier in the week and a little cheddar.

You can use whatever you have.  Leek tops, chard, beet greens, turnip greens.  You’ll need a little liquid – milk or cream or stock.  And a little cheese or plain yogurt never hurt a stuffed potato!

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 400
  • Bake the potato, unwrapped, on the oven rack
  • Chop all the greens
  • Boil a small pot of water, add salt
  • Add the heaviest greens first, then the more fragile ones
  • Drain the greens into a colander and squeeze out any excess water
  • When a fork goes through easily the potato is done – an hour plus, so plan ahead
  • Slice the potato longways
  • Use a spoon to scoop the potato into a bowl
  • Mash the potato and add the greens
  • Add 3-4 T of liquid
  • Stir the mixture to incorporate ingredients evenly, adding more liquid as needed   (I ended up using about 1/4 C)
  • Stir in the cheese
  • Spoon the potato mixture back into the potato skins
  • Bake another 10-15 minutes

Here’s how it turned out:

Hard to go wrong with a twice baked potato! This is a nice upgrade from the sour cream, bacon and cheese version.  This is a way to get some greens in for folks who aren’t big fans.  If you want to hide them a little further, put the greens and a little liquid into a food processor and chop until smooth before adding them back to the potatoes.  You’ll end up with fun, green potatoes!

This would make a entree easily.  I had mine alongside a little steak and some of the spinach sauteed with garlic.

Farewell vacation!  It has been wonderful to sew and cook and bake and run and hang out with the pups.  Next, we’re back to easy weeknight recipes with leftovers!