Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mediterranean Pizza


It's pizza time again! 

Mediterranean Pizza
(adapted from allrecipes.com)
12 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp. each dried basil and oregano
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1/4 lb. diced ham
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Prepare the pizza crust and brush lightly with a little marinade from the artichoke hearts, then sprinkle with the herbs.  Cover crust with half the Monterey Jack cheese, then add artichoke hearts, ham, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese. Top with remaining Monterey Jack cheese.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, until crust and cheese are lightly browned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pound Cake

When I was a little girl, my Mother bought me a pair of black patent leather Mary Janes.  I thought those were the most beautiful shoes in the world and I just loved them.  On Sunday morning, as we walked up the sidewalk to my Sunday School class, she saw me looking down and admiring my shoes as I walked.  Just before we reached the classroom, Mama admonished me not to tell anyone I had new shoes. 

The minute we walked into the classroom, the teacher exclaimed, "Rocquie has new shoes!"  To which I quickly replied, "No I don't."  Mama said, "Yes, you do", to which I replied, "You told me not to tell anybody".  My poor Mother could have probably crawled into a hole.  She later explained that what she had meant was not to walk in the door, kick my foot into the air, and announce, "Look at my new shoes". 

Now why do I mention this little story? It has to do with my hard learned lesson of not boasting.  You see, I have a beautiful, shiny, new piece of kitchen equipment that I have been telling myself for the past week not to mention, much less brag about.  My husband surprised me last weekend when he came home with a new stand mixer!  He has wanted to buy me one for a long time and even led me to them in stores when we were shopping together.  I have always objected that I don't have the space for it, I wouldn't use it all that often, I have managed all these years without it, and so on, and so on.  So he took matters into his own hands, bought one, and brought it home. 

For my new mixer's maiden voyage, I decided to make a Pound Cake.  I searched out a recipe with instructions specifically for this type of mixer and found one at Southern Living. I posted a Pound Cake recipe last year, which uses the traditional method, if you are interested. 

Pound Cake
4 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 pound butter, softened
3/4 cup milk
6 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla, in that order, into a 4 quart bowl.  Beat at low speed with a heavy duty electric mixer 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides.  Beat at medium speed 2 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured 10 inch tube pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

The cake was very good, moist and tender on the inside, with a buttery, sugary crunch outside. 

(The tablecloth in the pictures belonged to my Grandmother.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day with Baby

One thing that kept me away from blogging this week was spending a day with Baby.  The two of us had a wonderful day!  We watched Shrek, her favorite movie, in a continuous loop.  We sang and danced.  She is very enthusiastic and adventurous about food and is fun to cook for and eat with.  She is so busy and curious. 

This is what the room looked like after she had been exploring for a few hours.  See that box on the right?  Her Mama had that neatly packed with diapers and other supplies.  Baby had a different idea and I know you can see it coming. . .

What is it about children and boxes?

Preserving Summer Tomatoes

I have been busy with kitchen projects but not with my blog.  One of the things I have done is can tomatoes, which I love to do.  Canning tomatoes is time consuming and a lot of work, but the results are so very satisfying.  I love feasting my eyes on those beautiful, plump, red, juicy tomatoes, especially in the winter when it is snowing outside.  The pops and pings of the jar lids as they seal is music to my ears.  And the aroma of summer, released in winter, is so fragrant. 

I am not giving step-by-step directions because I did that last year. You can see that post here.  I also added a link to last year's tomato canning project in the side bar. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Split Pea Soup--Alabama Style

I have been busy canning for a few days, with more days to come. In preparation for turning my kitchen into a cannery, I made a few dishes which could easily be reheated. When I saw Split Pea Soup posted on my friend, Melynda's blog, Mom's Sunday Cafe, I knew that would be one of the things I made. I love having a big batch of soup on hand and this one is great with grilled cheese sandwiches to make a very satisfying supper.

The recipe I use comes from an old and yellowed clipping from my Alabama hometown newspaper. It is the recipe of Jim Nabors who played Gomer Pyle, the dim-witted gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show (catch reruns on TV Land). I don't know where Jim Nabors is now, but I do know that he was born and raised in Sylacauga, Alabama.

Split Pea Soup--Alabama Style
1 lb. package green split peas
1 ham bone or ham hock
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 bay leaf

Place peas in Dutch oven with ham bone, potatoes, carrots, onion, bay leaf, 4 quarts water, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

From here, Mr. Nabors instructs removing the ham bone and bay leaf, then pureeing the soup, adjusting the seasoning, and reheating. I skip this step, as you can see from the photo, because I like my soup chunky.

Also, it is delicious to me with a drizzle of soy sauce, hot sauce, and/or extra virgin olive oil.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cube Steak with Mushroom & Onion Gravy

Every cook must know the scenario. You are out of ideas or otherwise can't decide what to cook, so turn to those you cook for--your family, for ideas. Typically, when I ask my husband what he would like for supper, I get a flippant answer for something he knows I'm not going to cook. Or he will give the standard, "It doesn't matter" or "Anything you make will be fine".

But this day, he surprised me. After I asked and we went through the battery of standard answers, he came back a little later and made a request! He said he thought cube steak with mushrooms, onions, and brown gravy sounded good. After a few questions to help me interpret exactly what he had in mind (did he want peppers? tomatoes? rice or mashed potatoes?) I had a menu and that made me happy.

Cube Steak with Mushrooms, Onions & Brown Gravy
1 lb. cube steaks
Salt and pepper
Canola oil or other fat of choice
1 large, sweet onion, sliced
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 cups beef broth

Salt and pepper the steaks and dredge in flour. Pan fry in a little oil until well browned on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm. Saute onions and mushrooms, scraping up the brown bits from the pan. Add the beef broth and stir well. Add the steaks back to the pan, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the steaks are very tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mediterranean Salmon Salad

I am never ready for summer to end! Summer is my favorite season and always has been. I am, however, grudgingly admitting that the cooler days we've had for the past few weeks have been a relief after the inferno of a summer, the hottest on record, we have had this year.

One of the many things I enjoy in summer is making salads as a meal. And when I say salad, I do not mean dumping out a bag of lettuce, opening a box of rock-hard croutons, and unscrewing the lid on a bottle of commercial salad dressing. No, I prepare my salads with as much love and care as any other food made in my kitchen.

For this salad, I bought some frozen salmon fillets. We don't have a lot of salmon swimming around here in the mountains, so if I want to eat it I have two choices--buy it frozen, or pay 30 prices to have it shipped in fresh.

Mediterranean Salmon Salad
2 salmon fillets
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. green beans
1 large tomato
4 oz. cannelini beans (canned)
2 oz. calamata olives
2 boiled eggs
4 slices toasted bread

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until blended and emulsified, then refrigerate while preparing and assembling the salad.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat and saute the salmon fillets, which have been salted and peppered, until a nice crunchy crust forms on each side.

Wash and trim the beans and cook in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside. Wash, peel, and slice the tomato. Drain the canned beans and rinse in sold water.

Place 2 slices of toast on each plate. Break the salmon fillets onto bite sized pieces. Arrange all the prepared ingredients on the toast slices. Slice the eggs and add to the salad. Drizzle with the dressing. Garnish with olives and fresh basil.

Serves 2.

Eggplant and Feta Stuffed Bell Peppers

One of my favorite cooking exercises is creating a dish based upon what is available in the kitchen. No cookbooks, no recipes, only taking inventory and imagining it all together in a final meal. I will admit that these exercises are not always a resounding success. But these stuffed peppers were very good.

Here are the things I found: several small green peppers from our neighbor's garden, a large ripe tomato, some leftover rice, 3 Japanese eggplants (I bought too many for another recipe), leftover marinara sauce, feta cheese.

I made the stuffing in a skillet, but then was faced with crispy, raw peppers. While I like bell peppers raw and also tender crisp in a stir fry, I want my pepper completely tender when it is stuffed. I could have blanched the peppers, or baked them, but I decided to use the pressure cooker. In only 4 minutes, the peppers were soft and tender.

The amount of stuffing listed here will accomodate 4 large peppers, but I stuffed it into several very small peppers.

Eggplant and Feta Stuffed Bell Peppers
4 large bell peppers--any color
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
Approx. 1 pound eggplant, diced
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup tomato sauce or marinara sauce
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. feta cheese, diced

Slice off the tops of each pepper. Remove seeds and membranes and set peppers aside. Chop the pepper tops and saute them in olive oil along with the onions and eggplant, until tender. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano and saute for a couple of minutes more. Add rice and cook until heated through. Fold in the feta cheese cubes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the mixture into the peppers. Place the stuffed peppers on a steam rack that will fit into the pressure cooker and top each with some of the tomato sauce. Lower the rack into the pressure cooker which has about a cup of water in the bottom. Cover the pressure cooker, bring up to full pressure, and cook for four minutes. Release pressure and serve right away with additional tomato sauce.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Orleans Bread Pudding

What a busy holiday weekend we had, including a wedding and a birthday party. With all the advance preparations, it was a whirlwind of activity for several days. Everything worked out beautifully and the weather couldn't have been more perfect--cloudless bright blue skies, low humidity, moderate temperatures.

For one of our desserts, though not for the wedding or birthday party, I made a bread pudding which is always popular in my family. I like making bread pudding because it utilizes leftover bread which I always seem to have on hand.

Ordinarily, I would have used raisins, which would have been more authentic, in this New Orleans style bread pudding, but I had at least one family member coming for dinner who does not enjoy raisins. So I used dark chocolate chips instead! And who doesn't like chocolate?

New Orleans Bread Pudding
1 loaf stale French bread
2 cups milk
1 cup raisins or chocolate chips
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 - 1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar

Tear the bread into small pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Cover with the milk and let it soak for 20 minutes. Mash the bread to a consistent texture with no chunks. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Pour into a buttered 9 inch square baking pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven, until browned on top and set in the center.

Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Monte Cristo Sandwich

Until a couple months ago, I had never had a Monte Cristo sandwich, except when I made them at home the way Martha Stewart taught me. One day when my husband and I were running some errands, we stopped for lunch at a chain restaurant. We had never been to the place but it was conveniently located and we decided to give it a try.

When I saw the Monte Cristo sandwich on the menu, I thought it sounded good and ordered it. Boy was I surprised when my order came! The sandwich had been quartered, battered, and deep fried. I could barely make it through one of the quarters and didn't care for it at all. Martha's way is more like stuffed French toast. And according to my Food Lover's Companion, Martha's way is the traditional way. But a quick Google search informed me that there are many fans of the battered and deep fried version.

I bought a square loaf of sour dough bread to make my sandwiches and sliced it at home. Use any sturdy bread you like. I also used 2 eggs for two people--adjust the quantities, as you would for French toast, according to how many sandwiches you are making.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
2 slices of bread per sandwich
Sliced turkey
Swiss cheese
Sliced ham
2 eggs
2 - 3 Tbsp. milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put slices of turkey, cheese, and ham between slices of bread. Whisk together the eggs and milk. Dip sandwiches into egg mixture, flip over to dip the other side. Saute gently in butter, until browned and the cheese is melted.

Serve with maple syrup or your favorite fruit preserves.