Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I’ve been told by a friend that Cupcake mid-day followed by a chicken cacciatore dinner from Villa Tronco makes for a near perfect day. All of this was of course, as Jane Austin would say, in an effort to vex me! The antagonizing started with two of my favorite spots and ended with a culminating blow because I was out of town for work, and therefore could not partake. Villa Tronco is one of my frequent lunch establishments but when I extend that news to co-workers or friends, the reactions all seem to be the same. “I haven’t been there in ___ years.” So, if you’re willing to take it from a foodie, it’s still good! Though it is hard to pass up one of their homemade desserts, if you find yourself with stronger will power than I possess, and are in the mood for Italiano, here goes.

Chicken Cacciatore
Olive oil, as needed
4 chicken breasts, pounded
Kosher salt
2 large onions, sliced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 pound baby portobello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted
2 cups dry white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed Italian plum tomatoes
1 bundle thyme
3 bay leaves
[chicken stock]

COAT a large, wide pot with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Season the chicken with salt and brown in the hot oil, working in batches, if needed. Once all the chicken is brown, remove to a plate and discard most of the excess fat.

IF NEEDED, coat the bottom of the pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. ADD the onions and crushed red pepper, season with salt, and sweat over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes. ADD the garlic and sweat for 1 to 2 minutes. ADD the peppers and olives and cook until they are soft. ADD the mushrooms, season with salt and cook until they are soft. ADD the white wine and reduce by half.

RETURN the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes; taste for seasoning. ADD the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

NOTE: Check the level of the sauce periodically during the cooking process and replenish it with chicken stock as needed; the level of liquid should be about even with the chicken.

REMOVE the chicken from the pot and place it on a serving platter. Taste the sauce for seasoning, adjust if needed. Skim the surface of the sauce if excessively greasy. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Salute!

Don't poke the breasts with a fork. Use tongs or a spatula to turn the breasts over the heat. Every hole in the meat allows moisture to escape.

Don’t over Salt them. Salt pulls out moisture; only add it to a completed chicken dish, just before serving.

Don’t rush! Let the breasts rest. After the cooking is done, let the breasts sit at room temperature for five minutes before serving so that the natural juices can reincorporate into the meat.

Pistachio Cake

Have you ever have that urge to ‘do’? Half way through the work day I realized that I needed to make, and freeze, my 8” 2 layer cake for class on Monday. Well it seems once you get baking and powdered sugar is floating through the kitchen air-- you might as well make something else. I found this recipe on another blog that I read, Puttin on the GRITS, and adapted it a little. It’s a common recipe and I suspect you could change the flavoring by substituting a different pudding mix. (I might try Coconut or Pumpkin Spice next!) But for now, here is the recipe to a girl’s night in. Thanks for the company, the wine, and the laughs!

Pistachio Cake

1 box white cake mix (I used Duncan Hine’s Golden Butter)
1 small box of pistachio pudding
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp almond extract

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees.

MIX all ingredients and pour into a greased Bundt pan.(DO NOT mix cake batter according to recipe on box)

BAKE for 45-50 minutes or until the edges have firmly pulled away from the sides.

COOL for about 10 min. If you are using a regular, non scalloped edge, Bundt pan-- run a knife around the edges gently to loosen the cake.

PLACE your plate or cake stand on top of the pan and flip it over. It should come out easily.

For a Glaze:

MIX ¼ cup powdered sugar and a splash of water or milk. If you want the cake to sit out at room temperature, use water; otherwise the glaze will need to be refrigerated.

OR Just dust with powdered sugar for a lighter presentation. (I might recommend this. The cake is lovely enough plain)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

May the Best Team Win

When the NY Times is reporting on an issue, you know it’s something big. What they have dubbed as ‘the latest crazy in the bar scene’ is merely what we locals have come to call Trivia. Originally formed to draw in crowds for beer sales, the game has taken off—just like the speed round! Generally, the “quizzes vary from place to place, most are free and consist of five to eight rounds of a dozen questions each; answer sheets are distributed and graded by a quizmaster. The use of smartphones is prohibited, but that’s part of the thrill. In an era in which constant access to the Internet and its avalanche of indexed information is expected, exercising our recall muscles can be downright exhilarating.” Though it’s common to see the same players, or at least hear the same team names, a specified group isn’t necessary. Teams often merge and migrate—adding to the probability of success. If the formula for the perfect question is as follows: “At least one person in the room should know the answer, at least half the people in the room should be able to make an educated guess, and everyone in the room should find the answer interesting” then the same applies to the formation of a team. I specialize in the arts movement, theater, cooking, and health related facts—while some might be more inclined to 80’s music, star wars, & literature. The bottom line is there is a type of trivia player — “people with a lot of education who still like to go out and have drinks.”

Trivia Nights in Columbia,

The Publick House @ 8:00
The Sly Fox @ 8:00
Flying Saucer @ 7:00, Adult Trivia @ 9:00
Carolina Wings Vista @ 7:30
Locals Bar @ 8:00
The Village Idiot @ 9:00
Mellow Mushroom @ 8:00 with $3 SweetWater drafts and $10 Newcastle pitchers
Yo Burrito @ 8:00

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Focaccia Sandwiches

In a hurry for dinner before my cake decorating class, I ran into Earthfare for inspiration. I came home with gorgeous facaccia rolls and immediately got to work. Focaccia is related to pizza dough, but not considered to be the same. It is quite popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion and cheese. I found one recipe which prompted me to create the other two. Duplication might be the biggest form of flattery, but when are we ever satisfied? Here’s to two quick sandwiches that can only be described with full mouths.

Turkey Facaccia

Facaccia Rolls
Deli Turkey
Dijon Mustard
Baby Arugula Greens (Handful)

SLICE the facaccia roll

ASSEMBLE turkey on one half and provolone on the other

TOAST until the cheese has melted completely and has begun to sink into the holes

REMOVE from heat and SPREAD Dijon onto the turkey side. (The oil from the cheese will make spreading difficult)

LOAD with baby arugula, Salt & Pepper


Facaccia Caprese

Facaccia Rolls
Fresh tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Basil leaves
Tbsp of good pesto (Sold by the jar)
Tbsp Mayonnaise

SLICE the facaccia roll

ASSEMBLE the tomatos on the bottom half

MIX a Tbsp Mayonnaise and a Tbsp Pesto and apply the top half.

PLACE mozzarella slices and basil leaves in the middle, Salt & Pepper.


Famously Hot Columbia

I have been in Columbia for about 5 months now, and between my college friends, law students, and politicos—I have found a bar hoppin’ Mecca. I am supposed to be a guide to Good Food and Fun, however I have neglected to give the “fun” portion its due. Making up for lost time, here is a list of places that I frequent—by no means is this all that Columbia has to offer!

Weekly Specials and Events,

Saki Tumi’s: 2for1--2 starters, 2 glasses of wine, 2 entrees. ONE PRICE: $28

Flying Saucer: Pint Night, almost everything on draft is only $3.00 a pint.

Yo Burrito: Taco Madness, $1.50 tacos or basket of 4 for $5.00

Cellar on Greene: Champagne Tuesday! Enjoy half-priced Bubbly specials- Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and more!

Saki Tumi: Come in any Tuesday, pick any bottle off of our wine list and you'll get it discounted half-price. (Over 32 Bottles of Wine!)

The Sly Fox: Grab a cold Budweiser, Bud 55, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Michelobe Ultra, or Coors Light for just $2 a pop.

The Village Idiot: $1 Bud/Budlights

Mellow Mushroom: ALL pints are only $2.25 from 4-7pm

Momo’s Bistro: Free Wine Tastings with Marc Anglade by Southern Wines

Saki Tumi: Half Price Drinks & Sushi

Cantina 76: $3 House Red/White; $1 off all wines, Plus specialty pricing on weekly bottles.

Yo Burrito: Ladies Night, $2 champagne and flavored vodkas.

Delaney's Irish Pub: Pint Night

Cellar on Greene: Two Pizzas and a bottle of wine for only $25!

Saki Tumi: .50¢ Sushi Pieces, $1.50 Ichiban Draft.

Yo Burrito: $2 Pint Night, All Pints All Night.

The Village Idiot: $3 Natty Light Pitchers

Mellow Mushroom: $2.50 off all pitchers from 4-7

Cantina 76: $2 Coronas

Flying Saucer: $3.00 Fire Sale

Saki Tumi: Half off bottles of Bubbly

The Village Idiot: $5.50 Bud/Bud light pitchers

The Village Idiot: Make-your-own bloody mary bar. $2.50 premium beers of the month.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lemon Frosting & Tort(e)s

For those of you that know me well, you know that I want to open a bakery named
Tort(e)s. Well it just so happens that Saturday night, I swirled my first cupcake in the signature fashion. My favorite Columbia bakery is by far Cupcake, and last Wednesday they were offering a Power Hour of Lemon Cupcakes—free to those that came in within 30 min. Under penalty of firing from a dieting employer, I did not get a lemon cupcake. Instead I waited until the craving could be pacified no longer and a partner in crime was available. Here is the opening credit to Tor(e)s! Drum Roll Please.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
2 8oz Packages softened cream cheese
1 stick softened butter
2 Tsp of vanilla extract
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 lb of confectioners’ sugar

CREAM butter and sugar

SLOWLY sift sugar and mix

ADD vanilla and lemon juice

MIX well

NOTE: Refrigerate 30 minutes before frosting if using a piping bag.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Saturday Morning Hashbrowns

A confession that I must admit before this blog goes on is that I haven’t met a breakfast item that I didn’t like. Baked or broiled, with cheese or jam, I am an A.M. Eater. Tomorrow though, I will be heading back to my Alma Mater to do some design work for an upcoming theater production; and therefore will probably have to quell my craving to scramble some eggs. I fear that I might be forced to visit a drive thru, coffee and blackberry in hand, attempting to piece together my day. So for those of us sunrise stuffers—it might not be pretty, and it might not be wholesome—but by god, there will be breakfast!

Sunrise Scramble
3 cups hash browns (shredded or cubed, thawed)
¼ cup olive oil
1 stalk leeks, cut in half rounds and washed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup packed fresh spinach
2 cups mushrooms of your choice, stemmed and sliced
Poached Egg (Garnish optional)
Sea salt and black pepper

WRAP grated potatoes in paper towels or a dish towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.

HEAT olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and add mushrooms and garlic over medium/high heat. Season with salt and pepper.

WHEN mushrooms are tender, ADD leeks and spinach, cook until just wilted.

ADD potatoes into the hot pan and stir ingredients. Then let the mixture cook without stirring until they have a very crispy bottom. Once the bottom is browned and crisp, flip and let it cook on the other side.
Adjust seasoning to taste.

NOTE: The trick to getting nice and crispy hash browns is to not disturb them too much. If it seems a little dry, it’s ok to add a little more oil around the edge of the hash browns to keep the edges crispy.

SUBSTITUTION: May also use halved cherry tomatoes and bell peppers. Just add them during the original sauté process since they take longer to soften. May also add cheese to the final stage to melt briefly.

Contains Nuts

When I walk into department stores, grocery stores, and themed party stores, all I see are Valentine’s Day displays. Isn’t it a little early for that? While it seems that big business is moving forward with great haste, some seem to be stuck in the holiday spirit(s). I was just saying yesterday that I was almost ready for spring. I was admiring the new collection of Lilly Pulitzer dresses and the wedged pastel Jack Rogers for the Carolina Cup—however it seems that my booted feet have been grounded once again and I am still in a winter wonderland for a few more months. Here’s to the end of January & here’s your recipe Mr. Wrong.

Bourbon Balls
1 cup finely crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup finely chopped pecans
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup Maker's Mark
Powdered sugar

COMBINE vanilla wafers, pecans, powdered sugar, and cocoa in a large bowl; stir well.

COMBINE corn syrup and bourbon, stirring well. Pour bourbon mixture over wafer mixture; stir until blended.

SHAPE into 1-inch balls and refrigerate for 2 hours.

NOTES: When ready to serve, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Paying homage to the Bud Light commercials that honor the Real Men of Genius for their trivial accomplishments, I would like to take a moment to say that Folks, we have made it to pay-day! And although I didn’t sleep very well last night--one of those mind racing wake up every 2 hrs kind of deal--it’s time to celebrate the little things! My genius moment occurred this morning when I was a whole 15min ahead of schedule getting into the shower. Now, according to Bob Winter, the creator of the infamous commercials, it doesn’t seem to matter that somewhere between feeding my Standard Poodles and my morning coffee I ran out of the allotted extra time; but instead, for a brief shining moment, I had the potential and was in fact, going to be punctual. This recipe came together after an evening of drinking Bud Lights with friends. To all our moments of genius!

Italian Tuna Panzanella Salad

4 slices hearty multigrain bread
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cooking spray
1 (1-pound) tuna steak (about 3/4-inch thick)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup low-fat Italian salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
8 cups mesclun salad greens
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

PREHEAT oven to 350

COAT both sides of bread with cooking spray and cut into 1-inch square pieces. Sprinkle croutons with parmesan cheese.

TOAST carefully until desired firmness is achieved.

SPRINKLE tuna with salt and pepper; coat with cooking spray. Heat a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat; cook tuna 2 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Cool 5 minutes; cut into 1-inch cubes.

COMBINE dressing and tarragon in a small bowl. Combine greens, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl; toss with dressing. Add tuna and bread; toss well.

NOTE: serves 4 with a serving size of about 2 1/2 cups

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pint Night

Wednesday in Columbia is pint night at many of the local bars. In honor of the ‘hump’ day special—how about some bar food? They say that in order to keep yourself looking young on the outside all you have to do is to harness the child on the inside. Which could explain why every once in a while we all get the child-like craving for chicken fingers and french -fries. Just short of driving through a fast food window at midnight after one of these pint night experiences, try these easy at home recipes that children of all ages will enjoy.

Coconut Chicken Fingers & Dip
1 pkt. Shake & Bake Extra Crispy Seasoned Coating Mix
1 cup Angel Flake Coconut, toasted
1/4 tsp. each curry powder and ground cayenne pepper
1 egg
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch-wide strips *
1/4 cup Miracle Whip Dressing
1 Tbsp. mango chutney

HEAT oven to 400ºF.

COMBINE coating mix, coconut and seasonings in pie plate. Beat egg in second pie plate.

DIP chicken in egg, then in coating mixture, turning to evenly coat both sides of each strip; place on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.

BAKE 12 to 14 min. or until chicken is done. Meanwhile, mix dressing and chutney.

SERVE chicken as dippers with the sauce.

NOTE: Some grocery stores carry pre-cut chicken fingers, by all means feel free to use those!

Cajun Yam Fries
1 large yam, peeled and cut into ¼ thick fries
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

PREHEAT oven to 425 degrees F.

TOSS yam sticks with oil, salt, and Cajun seasoning. Spread out evenly on a sheet tray. If multiplying the recipe, use a separate sheet tray for each yam.

BAKE for 15 minutes then flip fries with a spatula. Rotate pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes until nicely browned and crisp looking.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life's Lemons

If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation must be the mother of creativity! As my closest friends and family know, my mother and I are fools for packaging. PR and Marketing departments everywhere clearly have our numbers! One of my college-esque habits that remain when I go home is the opening of the pantry cupboards in search for gold. This last pan mining experience led me to a packet of egg drop soup mix. Now, I really have to give my mother credit for this creative recipe, which is a variation and substitution for Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. Minus some key ingredients…

Lemon Egg Drop Soup, No Egg
1 packet of egg drop soup mix
4 cans of low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup rice
1 cup spinach
1 lemon

BRING chicken broth to a boil and add rice. White rice usually takes 25 to 30 minutes to cook but in this case reduce heat and simmer until desired tenderness.

STIR in dry packet of egg drop soup. (At the time we had to eggs, which means this serves as all the seasoning)

STIR in the juice of 1 lemon, and ADD spinach. Soup will be done with the spinach is just wilted and still very green.

Big Fat Italian Wedding

If soup diets are all the rage, so should having your tonsils taken out! I recently underwent the knife and in the recovery process lost 11lbs. I’m not here to boast about the weight loss because frankly I love to eat, and no solid food almost killed me-- but rather give credit to where the broth is due. The following soup is both easy and cost effective; and hey—it got me into my bridesmaid dress!

Italian Wedding Soup

1 bag of frozen Italian style meatballs
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks)
10 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta such as tubetini*
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed

BROWN the meatballs according to the package directions.

HEAT the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

ADD the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender.

ADD the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.

STIR in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted.
LADLE into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.

NOTE: Cannellini beans can be substituted instead of the pasta.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Champagne Stars

All too many people shy away from drinking champagne because it ‘goes right to their head’. While this is a travesty in the making, unfortunately, it has been proven. The carbonation bubbles within the bottle act as happy little speedy messengers—far surpassing their vineyard relatives. But none the less, some of us drink on!

My college roommate is getting married soon and all we single ladies are hosting a bridal shower at the end of January in her honor. A devout champagne drinker, she could always be seen with a bottle of bubbly whether it be a Friday night, or Sunday brunch. Dom Perignon, at the moment he discovered champagne , exclaimed “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” Here’s to you, Mrs. Thompson—may you too taste the stars in your marriage.

Champagne Punch

1 bottle of champagne – Brut
1 can frozen cranberry concentrate
½ liter Sprite

MIX all of above. Do not dilute frozen concentrate, just mix concentrate.

GARNISH with fresh strawberries or cranberries.


Fun Time Lime

It’s no secret that my family enjoys a good fun drink for special occasions. Some favorites include Cranberry Margaritas on Christmas day, Bloody Mary Bars on Thanksgiving, and Mimosas any of the other mornings… So here goes a string of ridiculously easy party drinks!

Fun Time Lime

6 Cans of Bud Light Lime
1 Can of Frozen Pink Lemonade Concentrate (Minute Maid)
1 Cup Vodka*
1 Lime
1 Package Fresh Raspberries

MIX lemonade and vodka in a festive pitcher. Stir well until concentrate is dissolved.

POUR in the beer slowly and at an angle to prevent excessive foaming.

GARNISH with lime slices and fresh raspberries. These can remain whole, or be muddled prior if you prefer a stronger flavor.

NOTE: I usually just use the empty lemonade carton to measure the vodka, that way I get any remaining lemonade concentrate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Wok, No Time?

As I’m sure you’re all aware, snow blanketed the southeast, leaving inhabitants crippled in its wake… or so the weatherman said. I took a trip to the Piggly Wiggly Sunday to do my weekly shopping; but much to my surprise—the shelves were empty! It seems that the neighborhood decreed a state of emergency, and all stock items were therefore sold out. The produce shelves we scant with onions and potatoes, garlic cloves and sick looking lemons. I was crippled more from the lack of fresh food than by the pending snowstorm! So with my futile grocery list in hand, I moved down each isle, wondering what I could piece together for my dinner. In the designing world, all you need is a spark to ignite an idea—and so my dinner emerged in the shape of a dry seasoning packet of stir-fry sauce!

NOTE: I don’t own a wok or a wok spatula—so most of this is improvised with a pan and tongs.

Snowstorm Stir-Fry

Dry Seasoning Packet of Stir-Fry Sauce
1 bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables
Handfuls of fresh spinach
1 can of water chestnuts
1 can of bamboo shoots
Soy sauce
Canola Oil
Sesame Seeds
Pinch of Curry Powder & Cayenne Pepper

MIX dry packet of sauce accordingly in separate bowl.
ADD both cans of water-chestnuts and bamboo shoots, toss and coat.
HEAT 2 tbs oil to non-stick pan and sauté frozen veggies until almost tender.
ADD the stir-fry sauce (water chestnuts and bamboo shoots included), HEAT until veggies are tender.
ADD handfuls of spinach and cook until wilted.
SPICE with Curry & Cayenne pepper, SPRINKLE with sesame seeds.
TOSS all ingredients until well coated and heated through.
GARNISH with drops of soy sauce and cilantro leaves

NOTE: Can serve alone or over rice.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Melting Point

When it comes to cold-weather comforts, few things quell a craving like grilled cheese. Although it may seem like an oversimplified concept to build a restaurant around, chefs across the country are hedging their bets on the straightforward childhood favorite. The Italian cheese used in this recipe copied from The Foundry on Melrose, Taleggio, has a strong aroma, but its flavor is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang. Its crust is thin and studded with salt crystals, which makes it a perfect pair of the sweet and savory tastes we crave.

Much More than a Grilled Cheese
15 dried apricots
1 tablespoon nonpareil capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 slices dark raisin bread
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
4 small handfuls arugula
8 ounces Taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature
4 pinches sea salt

PLACE the apricots in a small saucepan and add water just to cover. Over high heat, bring the apricots to a full boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Mix in the capers, mustard and olive oil.

TRANSFER to a blender and pulse to a chunky consistency; set aside.

SPREAD one side of each slice of bread evenly (to the edges) with 1/2 tablespoon butter. With buttered sides down, top four slices with 2 tablespoons of the apricot mixture, one handful of arugula and equal portions of cheese. Cover with the remaining four slices, buttered side up.

PLACE a large skillet over high heat, and melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Reduce the heat to low and add the sandwiches. Cook until browned and crisp on both sides, about 2 minutes a side. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels, and sprinkle each with a pinch of sea salt. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

NOTE: Makes 4 Servings

Charleston Monkey Bread

What is better that waking up to the smell of something baking in the oven?...Having someone else do all the work! This breakfast heaven was always such a treat for me when visiting fellow coastal friends. I began to crave it and beg for it, like their Irish setters and my standard poodles under the table. While the recipe has been around for several generations, it has taken shape in my kitchen more times than I can count! It is shamelessly easy with a fairly impressive return. It holds up to many variations, like adding crushed pecans or dried fruit, but I always go back to the original. When this comes out of the oven, you can be sure that a good time will follow!

Monkey Bread
½ Cup Brown Sugar (This can be light or dark brown sugar.)
1 ¼ sticks of butter (1 cup and some change)
Bundt Cake Pan*
2-3 teaspoons Cinnamon
3 cans of Buttermilk Biscuits (Non -flaky ones)
1 Cup Sugar

PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

COMBINE the 1 cup of regular sugar with 2-3 teaspoons of cinnamon.

OPEN biscuit dough and cut sections into quarters.

PLACE bits into a 1 gallon zip bag with the cinnamon/sugar combination and shake to mix evenly.

POUR cinnebites into your bunt pan of choice.

MELT the butter together with 1/2cup of brown sugar and STIR together over a medium-high heat until the two become one syrup.

POUR syrup over the cinnebites.

BAKE this @ 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is a deep brown on top

*NOTE: I use a flower shaped bunt to produce a fun presentation for parties.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Harlequin, two are better than one!

A serious labor of love for a loved-one. Growing up an only child, I relied on extended family to act as my siblings. One particular cousin and I have been extremely close. During middle school and into boarding school, I tried to be like her. I followed her to New England and back to the South again, I’m currently trying to follow her steps into law school, and once, I even tried to become a vegetarian in solidarity with her dietary restrictions. This soup is for her, as we struggled to make it together.

Included in this Post:
1 recipe for Very Green Broccoli Soup
1 recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Very Green Broccoli Soup
1 1/2 pounds broccoli
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup (1/4-inch) diced onion
1/2 cup (1/4-inch) diced celery
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
5 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 cups packed spinach
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream, buttermilk, or cool-whip for vegans.

CUT the broccoli florets from the stems. Peel the tough outer skin from the stems and trim off the fibrous ends. Cut the stems lengthwise into slices about 1/2-inch thick and then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

HEAT the olive oil and butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook until light brown. Add the onion and celery, lower the heat to medium, and season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables slowly until tender, about 10 minutes. Regulate the heat so the vegetables cook without taking on color. Add the thyme and stir. Add the broccoli stems, stock, and salt and pepper, to taste, and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for about 3 minutes. Add the florets and continue to cook until very tender, about 5 minutes more.

PUREE the soup in a blender in small batches. Add some of the spinach and some of the lemon zest to each batch and then puree it. (The soup can be made to this point, covered, and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Return the soup to the pot and reheat over gentle heat. Stir in the cream or substitute. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
The first step in making this soup is to roast the squash. Follow the first recipe below.

Roasted Winter Squash: (Puree)
About 3 pounds butternut squash (preferably 1 large squash)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dark unsulfured molasses

PREHEAT the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Halve lengthwise, discard the seeds, then cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

HEAT the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter ceases to foam and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered), molasses and toasted spice rub. Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to meld the flavors.

POUR the vinegar mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet or baking dish large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing at least once, until very tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm, so the liquids are runny.
Working in batches, if necessary, transfer the warm squash and all the cooking liquids to a food processor and process until smooth. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Extra Puree? Serving suggestions: Serve the puree on its own as a side dish for roast chicken, turkey, or pork; use as a stuffing for ravioli; make into additional soup; or use to flavor pastina.
Yield: about 2 cups puree

For the soup:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (1/4-inch) diced onion
1/4 cup (1/4-inch) diced celery
1/4 cup (1/4-inch) diced carrot
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt, preferably gray salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground toasted coriander, optional
1 1/2 cups Roasted Winter Squash Puree
1/2 cup half-and-half or Cool-Whip, optional

HEAT the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and cinnamon stick and saute until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

ADD the chicken stock and the coriander, if using, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash until smooth, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.

PUREE the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)

RETURN the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half, if using. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm until service.

Both soups should be warm at this point if being served together. It is important that both soups be of the same consistency, or the presentation will fail. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Garnish evenly with pumpkin seeds, if desired.

NOTE: Ladle (via measuring cup) some of each soup into bowl. It is important to pour both soups simultaneously into each of the bowls so as to create a paralleled appearance. A toothpick can then be used to swirl the two into a design.

Chili for a Crowd

The best part of winter may very well be the snow and Mr. Jack Frost for some, however living in South Carolina, I have to settle for another benefit that the cold weather summons-- soup!

These next few posts will display some of my favorite soup recipes—both old and new. Drawing on one from my past, which has been tested in quite a few chili cook-offs, I would like to present a new recipe that combats the stigma associated with ordinary chili.

Chili for a Crowd
(Adapted from the Silver Palette)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound yellow onions coarsely chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage removed from casings
4 pounds beef chuck ground
1 can tomato paste (12 oz)
1 ½ tablespoons minced garlic
1/3 cup ground cumin
½ cup chili powder
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 ½ tablespoons of salt and pepper each or to taste
3 cans Italian plum tomatoes (28 oz ea) drained
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 cans dark-red kidney beans (16 oz ea) drained
2 cans pitted black olives (5 1/2 oz ea) drained
1 can yellow corn (Optional)

HEAT the olive oil in a very large pot. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 15 minutes. Add the sausage meat and ground chuck; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the meats are well browned. Spoon off any excess fat and discard.

STIR in the tomato paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, mustard, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, wine, lemon juice, dill, parsley and kidney beans. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.

TASTE and adjust seasonings. Add olives (corn optional); simmer for 5 minutes more to heat through. Serve immediately.

GARNISH with sour cream, sharp cheddar cheese, and green onion.

NOTE: This recipe yields 20 servings. Freezes well. Venison can be substituted, however more kick & spice should be added to combat the extreme lean flavor of the meat.

A Star is Born

Every year for Christmas, my family shares breakfast with my God-Parents. We have our traditional items that must be served: grits, egg casserole, Kudzu bakery cheese biscuits--but this year I added something new. I’ve always enjoyed quiche, but sometimes feel they can be greasy or crumbly if the crust isn’t prepared correctly. The recipe below solves that problem by removing the crust, and using silicon molds to keep the delicate shape. Because of the holiday, I used star-molds, however with enough patience and cooling, any form could take its place.

Mini Star-Shaped Quiche
1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ CARNATION Evaporated Milk
3 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups (8 oz. pkg.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups chopped, frozen broccoli, thawed and drained
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease and lightly flour muffin cups or silicon molds.

WHISK evaporated milk, eggs, flour, salt and black pepper in medium bowl until blended. Stir in cheese, broccoli and bell pepper. Spoon mixture into each prepared muffin cup, filling almost to rim*. Stir mixture frequently to evenly distribute ingredients.

BAKE for 23 to 28 minutes or until knife inserted near centers comes out clean and tops are lightly browned. Cool in pans for 15 minutes. Run knife or small, flat spatula around inside edges of muffin cups. Carefully remove quiches.

*NOTE: Number of quiches that you get will depend on the size of your muffin cups. Bake time may need some adjusting. For example, shaped silicon molds can be used, see below!

Gone Crabbin'

Having grown up along the Grand Strand and the marshlands, I know how to string a turkey neck and throw a crab line. Some of my fondest memories are stuck in the pluff mud with my cousins. Now the family rule was that you had to catch at least 12crabs in order for them to be cooked—otherwise, they were going to be released. I’m not sure we ever caught enough—but I know we ate crab!

I have always had a great appreciation for fresh seafood; however, the price of crab meat seems to be a deterrent for most at-home chefs. Priced at about $34.99/Lb for ‘Jump Lump’ at grocery stores would put a dent into anyone’s wallet; however, if you have the time, you can easily buy in bulk at Costco for a fraction of the price! In fact, for around $10/Lb.

Though this soup resembles a Maryland style recipe, it has a southern twist of Limas and Bacon. It comes together quickly, so have everything pre-chopped and measured!

Coastal Crab Soup
2 cans (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
6 cups water
4 cups beef broth
2 cups lima beans, frozen
2 cups carrots, sliced thin
2 cups yellow sweet corn, frozen
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 pounds crabmeat
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
4 cups cubed red potatoes
4 celery stalks, sliced thin
2 tablespoons bacon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons parsley
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

HEAT olive oil in stock pot. Add the garlic and onions and heat to extract the flavor, until translucent.
ADD remaining ingredients EXCEPT crab
BRING to boil and then add the crab
COOK about 10 minutes, or until veggies are tender, and serve immediately!

NOTE: Let simmer if you want a thicker broth.