Monday, April 30, 2012

A Nod to the Bluff City.

As that One Hit Wonder, Marc Cohn, once sang...

I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis...

First off, Marc is a lying liar.

No one in Memphis walks anywhere.  And if you do walk, you are met with one of two looks:   Suspect or Pity.

But, for the past eight years I have lived in the city that is proud to call itself "The Birth Place of Rock and Roll."  It's a quirky little city, rich in music, food, and history.  Seersucker and cicada songs in the summer; Christmas trees up immediately following the Thanksgiving meal (they say in the South there are two seasons:  Summer and Christmas); collard greens and fried okra; porch sittin' and story tellin'; and Elvis everywhere. 

And now, I'm going bi-coastal.  If you consider the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan coasts.

While my love affair with Memphis has been a tumultuous one filled with more highs and lows than an episode of Revenge, I have met some of the most delightful, talented, fiercely loyal, and completely insane folks whom I love and cherish with all of my heart.

So on the eve of my pseudo-departure, I offer a tribute to one of Memphis' biggest achievements:  barbecue.

Smoky Mango Barbecue Sauce
Elvis would love this sauce.

On Meatless Mondays, slap some of this on a 'Bello Burger and serve with some grilled asparagus and spicy slaw with jicama.  If'n you like to eat things with a face, try this on grilled salmon or mix it into your turkey burgers.  Delish!

1 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbl fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp curry powder
2 chipotle peppers, chopped
1 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
2 Tbl tomato paste
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 mango, diced
2 Tbl. olive oil

In a medium sauce pan, saute onions and garlic (with just a little bit of salt) in the oil for about 5 minutes or until tender.  Add mustard, curry, and rosemary and cook for about a minute, allowing herbs to bloom.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and puree until super smooth.  Enjoy.

Spicy Slaw with Jicama
Sexy Elvis loves jicama.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with jicama, it is God’s little joke of the vegetable world. Imagine the illegitimate love child of an apple and a potato. It is sweet and crunchy and absolutely delish!

½ head of green cabbage, shredded
½ head of red cabbage, shredded
3 carrots, grated
1 red pepper, julienned
1 cup jicama, julienned.
½ cup corn
½ cup black beans
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Spicy Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Place ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss with Spicy Vinaigrette. Allow to sit for a couple of hours so flavors can marry.

Spicy Vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
just shy of 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
pinch salt

In a small food processor, combine all ingredients except olive oil until garlic and cilantro has been good and mashed up. With the motor running, slowly add oil. Spicy and delish!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mayo Madness!

Lest we forget, mayonnaise is actually a sauce.

Yes, before Americans started schmearing it all over their sandwiches, this delicious emulsion of egg yolks and oil was used to add rich, velvety flavor to many dishes.  And there are many different regional variances in its preparation.

While it's super easy to make your own mayo, sometimes it's easier to just to spice up some store bought mayonnaise.  To be clear, Miracle Whip is NOT mayonnaise.  It is Satan's tears and should never, ever be used.  Ever.  It's gross.

Curried Mayonnaise

Allowing the curry powder to bloom prevents the sauce from tasting gritty.

1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
2 Tbl lemon juice
pinch of red pepper flakes

In a cold saute pan, combine oil and curry.  Heat over a medium flame stirring for one minute.  Add shallots and garlic to the oil.  Season with salt and red pepper, and saute until tender (about 3 minutes).  Remove from heat and allow to cool briefly.

In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, and shallot mixture.  Mix thoroughly and chill for 15 minutes.

Try this versatile sauce with asparagus, sweet potato fries, or grilled salmon.  Use it to liven up chicken and egg salads or add a little more sour cream and use as a dip for homemade beet chips or crudité!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Raw Deal

As you know, I have been trying to eat healthier.  I love me some fruits and veggies. I've accepted quinoa into my life with open arms.  I live for my juicer, and I've even been able, for the most part, to abstain from cheese.  Or as I like to call is, "Nature's Candy."

I have embraced my new twigs and berries lifestyle.

However, the one thing that I can't really fully comprehend is the whole raw food movement.  I think I would miss the time over a saute pan or a stock pot taking in the delicious aromas that come from cooking.  What is a cold winter's night without a warm bowl of soup?  How can you resist a (black bean) burger?  Baked sweet potato fries? Strawberry rhubarb pie? Lasagna?!

However, I do understand that enjoying fruits and vegetables in their natural state maintains their vitamins and nutrients.  And, it's probably the healthier choice.  Someday, I may venture forth into the wacky world raw enchiladas and raw cupcakes (someone please explain this one to me).  But until that day, I will stick to enjoying some kale in its raw form.

Kale and Currant Salad with a Tarragon Honey Vinaigrette

Use this method as a base to improvise your own combinations.  Mangoes, oranges, fennel, slivered almonds, parsley, basil.  You get the idea. Play with your food!

2 large bunches of kale
1/2 cup carrots, grated
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup currants
1 lemon
1 tsp tarragon vinegar
1 clove garlic
2 Tbl fresh tarragon
3 Tbl honey
1/4 cup olive oil
salt 'n pepper to taste
pepitas or pine nuts to garnish

Remove stems from kale.  Grasp the stem, fold leaves over, and yank those suckers free!  Place leaves on top of one another and roll them into a "cigar".  Give them a coarse chop and transfer to a large bowl.  It will look like a TON of kale, but fear not!

Squeeze juice from one half of the lemon over leaves along with the vinegar, a splash of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt.  With your hands, mash on the kale and squeeze it gently.  We are using the acid to help break down some of the fibers in the leaves.  The kale should reduce in volume by half, become bright green, and take on the slightest scent of bananas.  Crazy, no?

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, garlic, and honey.  Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly to incorporate fully.  Add tarragon and season with salt and pepper.

Add carrots, currants, and onions to the kale.  Toss salad with dressing.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.  When you are ready to serve, garnish salad with pepitas or pine nuts.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some How To Tips

A couple of years ago, I received some cooking classes as a Christmas present, and I couldn't have been more excited.  As a self-taught kitchen ninja, I was chomping at the bit to learn some new tricks.  Especially knife skills. Years spent watching Top Chef has had me yearning to unlock the secrets of butchering delicious cuts of meat or filleting a swordfish or making a rose out of a radish.

So, when I arrived for my Evening in Tuscany Dinner, I was rearing to go!

Here is what I learned:

1) I don't play well with others in the kitchen. 
2) I have little patience for a lackadaisical tempo when food is involved.
3) I know a whole heck of a lot more than I thought.

So, filled to the brim with arrogance...I mean...confidence, I offer a couple of "How To" pieces of advice.


Place the fuzzy root side down on your cutting board.  With a sharp knife, slice onion in half.  Hold on to said fuzzy end and slice off opposite side.  Peel back outer layer.  Now you have a something to hold on to. Make several slices in the direction toward the root but careful not to cut all the way.  This will keep it intact.  Steady the onion with the palm of our hand and make two to three horizontal slices through the onion creating a crosshatch pattern.  Holding on to the handle you have created, slice through the onion for a perfect chop!


Mangoes have a large, almond shaped stone.  Place mango on its side so that the stone does not lay flat.  With a sharp knife, slice through the mango as close to the stone as possible.  With a paring knife, score the mango vertically and then horizontally, careful not to slice all the way through.  Invert the mango half so it looks like a nubby orange porcupine.  Slice out flesh with a sharp knife.  Woohoo!


Using a sharp knife, slice the avocado right through the center maneuvering around the pit. Separate into two halves.  Carefully whack the pit with the knife and pop it right out.  Starting at the edge, use a spoon and work around the avocado freeing the deliciousness from the skin.  You did it!

Now let's put those chopping skills to work!

"Confetti" Salad

This bright and satisfying salad is perfect for a summertime side dish or a light lunch. If corn is in season, by all means use fresh, but frozen works just as well in this recipe.

2 cups black beans, cooked
2 cups corn
1 mango, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp cumin
healthy drizzle of olive oil
salt 'n pepper to taste.

There really is no cooking involved, just assembly.  Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.  Dress with lime juice, zest, vinegar, and olive oil.  Season with cumin, salt and pepper.  Toss well.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.  Blam!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Late Summer Soup in the Springtime!

I try my best to eat seasonally. I try to convince myself that I eat seasonally.

But sometimes, I want to jump the gun on some summertime love, and I just need to make this soup:  a velvety combination of roasted red pepper and eggplant so decadent you would think there was cream in it.  And it's easy, peasy, cool breezy.

And, I promise, I will try to do better about eating with the seasons.

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup

Take the time to roast your own peppers. Quite often the jarred peppers are in a brine and can add to the salt content.  Wow...that sounded so responsibly healthy.

1 large eggplant
3 red peppers
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 Tbl cumin
thyme bundle
1 bay leaf
4 cups water (or chicken stock)
salt 'n pepper 

If using an electric range:
Preheat oven to 450.  Arrange the whole peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet and let those suckers roast for about an hour.  The eggplant should look a little deflated and the peppers should have a char.  If there is no char, remove eggplant and broil the peppers for 10 minutes. 

If using a gas range:
Turn on three burners to a high flame and place peppers directly on the flame.  Char the peppers on all sides, turning frequently with tongs.  Preheat oven to 450.  Roast whole eggplant on a baking sheet for one hour.

Once the skin has blackened, place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes to let them sweat it out.  To remove the charred skins, simply rub them off with your hands.  Remove seeds and coarsely chop, reserving any liquid. Slice eggplant in half, and scoop out flesh.

In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add chopped onions and garlic.  Saute for 5 minutes.  Add cumin and thyme bundle, and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.  Add peppers and eggplant, and allow the flavors to marry for a few minutes.  Add liquid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove soup from heat, discard thyme and bay, and puree.

If your feelin' crazy, add a dollop of goat cheese on top when serving.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beet It!

Growing up, I hated beets.

And rightfully so.  My kind, sweet mother would feed us those horrid little suckers right out of the can or she would boil them even further.  The result was a nasty, tinny glob of redness that would have me sitting at the table praying that the dog would move just a bit closer so I could drop them to the floor.  Then again, even my pup had taste.

It wasn't until I had done growed up that I realized how delicious these ruby colored bulbs of joy could be.  Sweet and slightly earthy tasting, beets are great to added to a salad, used as a star ingredient in a soup, or roasted up as the main event.

Since you're going meatless anyway, why not try roasting up some fresh beets tonight...

Roasted Beets with Pistachio, Blueberry and Rosemary Pesto

So yummy.  So good for you, too!
This bright "pesto" is a great pairing with the beets.  Try serving with sauteed beet greens or a simple arugula salad with balsamic to make it a meal.

1 1/2 lbs beets
1/4 cup pistachios
3 oz dried blueberries
1 garlic clove
2 Tbl fresh rosemary
juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbl olive oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Wash beets thoroughly and remove stems. (You can saute up those greens with a bit of garlic and balsamic...yum!)  Wrap beets securely in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast those bad boys for about 45 minutes. 

In a food processor, combine pistachios, blueberries, garlic, rosemary, and 2 Tbl olive oil.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 Tbl oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Remove beets from oven carefully as some beet juice may have escaped the foil.  You are so happy you put them on a baking sheet now, aren't you? Allow beets to cool until they are easily handled.  Rub beets to remove skin. Your hands will look like a very special episode of Dexter.  Slice beets and top with pesto.

If you are feeling truly madcap (Nicole...ignore this part), serve with the tee-tinsiest bit of (Nicole...look away) goat cheese (I had to!).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gettin' Pickled

For the past three months, I have been traveling far too much.  I know, I know...poor me.  But the thing about traveling, it means that I am away from my Valentine, away from my pup, and away from my kitchen.

It may seem strange, but I literally go into cooking withdrawal.  I get into such a state that all I can think of is getting in the kitchen and whipping something up.

And yesterday I wanted to get pickled.

Spicy Pickled Carrots

These bright and spicy little snack treats are super easy to make and way tasty.  They make a great accompaniment to a sandwich and spice up an antipasti platter.

1 lb carrots, peeled
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves
5 dried red chiles
3 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 cup honey
8 sprigs dill

Peel and slice carrots in small sticks.  Stand carrots up in a large mason jar and add dill.

Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour pickling liquid over the carrots and seal the jar.  Once cooled, refrigerate for at least three hours.  Enjoy!

*If you can find those cutesy, little baby organic carrots, slice off the greens and pickle whole.  It makes for a pretty little presentation.