Saturday, June 30, 2007

Melon, Prosciutto and Feta Salad

I'm a sucker for melon and prosciutto. There's something perfect about the marriage of salty prosciutto and sweet melon. This salad takes it to the next level with the slight bitterness of onion and the tanginess of feta. Rounding out the flavors is the richness of balsamic vinaigrette. It's also one of those "chameleon" dishes that would be suited both as an offbeat starter for an elegant dinner party and a side dish at a casual summer supper.

Melon, Prosciutto and Feta Salad

Makes eight servings.

4 cups cantaloupe, cut into bite-size cubes (about one half of a large cantaloupe)
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion, ideally Vidalia or Texas 1015 for the sweetness
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (aka thin strips)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Balsamic vinaigrette (Good recipe here.)

Mix all ingredients and toss with enough balsamic vinaigrette to coat.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Neiman Marcus Cake

I have no idea why my in-laws call this recipe Neiman Marcus cake. I just know it's been a family tradition for as long as they all can remember. My mother-in-law fixes it for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and it's a hit with the younger generation as well. My 19 -year-old nephew-in-law requested it as his official birthday cake last week.

It's a cross between the two layers of what I've always heard called "Ooey Gooey Butter Cake" and the chocolate/coconut combination of a German Chocolate cake. Try it and see what you think.

Neiman Marcus Cake
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

1 pound box powdered sugar
2 eggs
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 by 13 glass baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix together first five ingredients until well-blended. Final product will resemble a firm cookie dough. Spread into prepared pan.

Using a mixer, blend remaining ingredients, reserving 1/2/ cup chopped pecans, until smooth. Pour over first layer.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly (or overnight) before serving.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Beach Bum

I'm in Florida this week, so the cocktail has to be easy. This is not a time for jiggers or complicated ingredients or even cocktail shakers. I need something that I can slosh into a plastic cup and sip while I'm floating in the pool or watching the sunset on the beach. So here it is. Enjoy and make it your own.

Beach Bum
Rum (Light rum is good for this. Or a coconut-flavored one.)
Orange juice and/or pineapple juice
A splash of grenadine if you'd like

A good ratio os one part rum to three parts juice; pour into an ice-filled glass or cup. Add the splash of greanadine and sit back and enjoy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Organic Fruits and Vegetables to Splurge On...

I know that many people are having the "organic vs. local" discussion. I blogged about it here. (I also recently read a great column on the fact that makes the debate moot, pointing out that we should be eating organic AND local. And I certainly try.)

Sometimes, however, the increased cost of organic fruits and vegetables can seem excessive. I don't think any of us can argue with the importance of protecting our environment, but it's not always easy to be virtuous when it hits us in the pocketbook. So, thanks are due to the Environmental Group, a non-profit that has helped sort it out for us, basing their advice on testing conducted by the USDA.

Considering the high level of pesticides you're likely to find on these fruits and vegetables, here are some products that you SHOULD always try to buy in the organic aisle:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (especially the imported ones)
  • Oranges
  • Spinach

On the other hand, these have such low levels of pesticides that you can buy the conventional version if you'd like:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Mangoes
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Blueberries
  • Bananas
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage

There are so many factors that go into our shopping decisions. Guess this is just one more to keep in mind!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sole with Pineapple-Basil Salsa

I used to steer clear of fruit salsas or sauces on my main course. They were usually sickly sweet and something better-suited for waffles or a scoop of ice cream. Recently, however, I've run across some good ones. They use the fruit as an accent, tempering the sweetness with herbs or a little spice. Here's a recipe that I've adapted from a cooking class I took at Central Market. (The major adjustment I made was omitting the mango in the original recipe...I just don't care for it. If you're a fan, you might try adding it to your version.)

The colors in the final dish are beautiful. A riot of summer flavors and hues.

Sole with Pineapple-Basil Salsa
Serves four.

4 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 six ounce lemon sole fillets (You can also substitute tilapia for the sole if you'd like to save a buck. Just look for fillets on the thicker side.)
4 tablespoons shallot, minced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
3/4 cup pineapple, diced into small pieces
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced into half moons
4 tablespoons basil, chiffonade

Jasmine rice and sweet chili sauce for serving

In a saute pan, heat the butter. Season the fish with salt and pepper and press half the minced shallot into the fillets. Saute the fish slowly and remove from pan when cooked. Set aside and cover lightly to stay warm.

In the same saute pan, add the remaining shallots and bell pepper and cook two or three minutes, until slightly tender. Then add the pineapple and kiwi and cook for two minutes. Finish with basil and remove from heat.

Serve the fillets over jasmine rice and with fruit salsa on top. For an extra flavorful kick, drizzle with a sweet chili sauce (like Caravelle).

Wine Pairing: Here's a great reason to open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe one of the ones I blogged about recently. I served this as the fish course at a fancy wine dinner last year, pairing it with the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tuna Burgers with Wasabi Mayonnaise

Yes, it's grilling season. But that doesn't mean your burgers always have to be beef. Here's a twist on the traditional that is delicious and a little lighter. With Asian slaw and wasabi mashed potatoes, it just might become a new summer tradition around your house.

Tuna Burgers with Wasabi Mayonnaise
Makes 4 burgers.

1 pound tuna, cut into chunks. (Hint: Putting the tuna in the freezer for fifteen minutes ahead of time makes it easier to chop and grind.)
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup panko crumbs
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of kosher salt
Drizzle of toasted sesame oil
Hamburger buns (or onion rolls), split and toasted

Your choice of favorite toppings: Traditional-- like sliced tomato or butter lettuce; Exotic--as in sliced avocado and arugula, and/or Asian-inspired-- maybe grilled green onions, Asian slaw, sliced water chestnuts, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, spinach. Go crazy! (Just leave off the would overpower the tuna.)

Wasabi Mayonnaise
1 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, minced
2 teaspoons wasabi powder (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

To make burgers, place chilled tuna, cilantro, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard in food processor. Pulse briefly, just until mixture is roughly chopped. Add panko, onions, ginger, soy sauce, salt and pepper and sesame oil; pulse a few times more to combine. Form into eight patties and chill for half an hour.

To make wasabi mayonnaise, combine all ingredients; cover and chill until ready to serve.

Grill the burgers over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side. Don't overcook; it will dry out the tuna.

Serve on toasted buns with wasabi mayo and your choice of toppings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Brown Sugar and Citrus Cocktail

After a couple of disappointing drink recipes, the folks at Martha Stewart Living redeemed themselves with a great rum-based cocktail in the latest issue. It's perfect for summer; rum, mint and citrus enriched with a brown sugar simple syrup. Fix up a batch and hit the patio.

Brown Sugar and Citrus Cocktail
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Makes 8 cocktails. (Or four if you pour them like I do!)

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
6 ounces light rum (although a mix of light and dark rum might also be nice with the heft of the brown sugar)
Orange slices, lime slices and mint sprigs for garnish

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring brown sugar and water to a boil, stirring until brown sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add mint leaves. Let steep 10 minutes; strain and discard leaves. Let cool.

Stir orange and lime juices, rum and syrup together in a pitcher. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with fruit and mint sprigs.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Olive Tapenade

Feeling Mediterranean? Here's an easy appetizer for a richly-flavored olive tapenade. With toasted french bread or pita chips, it's a perfect starter or cocktail snack. Or with a great green salad, it could be a cool summer meal.

Olive Tapenade
1 1/2 cups (10 ounce jar) pitted kalamata olives
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons mustard (Use a bold one like Dijon or stone-ground.)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Place all ingredients in food processor. Process until pureed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake

We're right smack dab in the middle of rhubarb season, and I've decided to try several rhubarb recipes. Although it looks like celery that's been sitting in your Bloody Mary too long, rhubarb is "legally" classified as a fruit and is used most often in desserts. Perhaps it's because only a dose of sugar and spice can make this tartest of ingredients palatable. (Don't believe me? Chew on a piece of the rhubarb as you're preparing it and tell me what you think...) Regardless, it's worth a try...especially if you can find some at your farmers market.

This first recipe pairs rhubarb with sweet strawberries, so it's a great "entry level" dish for people who haven't tried rhubarb before. I love the way Gourmet magazine describes it: as being "like the old-fashioned cake Grandma always had ready after dinner, even though you never saw her working on it."

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
From Gourmet magazine.

1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks (10 ounces)
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (5 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.

Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wines You Can Trust: Sauvignon Blanc

You already know that Food and Wine magazine is one of my greatest sources of information and inspiration. The fine folks over at their website have struck again...this time with a list of 50 Wines You Can Always Trust. I was thrilled to see quite a few of my house wines and favorites on the list, so I decided to revisit some of them and try some new ones in the process. Over the next month or so, I'll post my tasting notes.

Let's start with a varietal that used to be not one of my favorites, but that I have grown to respect and enjoy. It's a quaff perfectly suited for a warm summer evening. Sauvignon Blanc.

I have simple associations with most wine varietals, and the thing that always comes to my mind first when I think of Sauvignon Blanc is grapefruit. Most wines made with this grape have a bracing acidity that walks the balance between sweet and what we would consider more dry...or even tart. I am especially a fan of a Sauvignon Blanc that also brings out the herby, grassy qualities that can also be present in the grape.

Sauvignon Blan's acidity and herbal qualities make it my go-to wine when I am pairing with a dish that includes goat cheese or tomatoes. Heck, why not hit it out of the park with tomatoes topped with goat cheese and a sprinkling of freshly chopped basil or thyme? Now, THERE's a pairing.

Additionally, its leanings towards sweetness and its brace of mouthwatering acidity also makes Sauvignon Blanc a good way to tame down the heat of Thai or other spicy Asian cuisine. And, of course, it's a good wine to serve with simply prepared white-fleshed fish. (Again... especially if there are tomatoes, herbs or a little bit of hot spice involved.)

Here are my notes on two of the California Sauvignon Blancs that Food and Wine has on their list:

Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc
This wine has so much zing to it, it seems almost fizzy. Lightly acidic, with grapefruit and nice herbal flavor, it is a perfect taste profile of what I expect Sauvignon Blanc to be...fresh, crisp and mouthwatering. And at around $12 a bottle, it is, like the rest of the list, a real bargain.

Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Fume Blanc
At almost $20 a bottle, this is at the upper price range of the list, but is well worth the extra few bucks. While the Geyser Peak was zingy, this wine has a firmer backbone (maybe due to the little bit of Semillon that is blended into the wine) and more subtlety. My notes say "zesty," and, yes, in my tasting lexicon, that means a little more refined and structured than "zingy." It has a silky texture, and, while the grapefruit is still there, there's also a nice rush of pineapple on your tongue as you drink it. It's rounder than the Geyser Peak and a wine I think you would enjoy. Definitely a dinner party wine as well.

You have any trusted favorites to add to the list? Stay tuned for more California wines and a look at several other of the world's wine-producing regions in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mexican Turnovers

It's time for a party. Just need to come up with an excuse for one. In the meantime, I pulled out The Appetizer Bible. Here's something I tried last week just for the heck of it. Quite tasty. And pretty easy too.

Mexican Turnovers
1/4 pound bulk hot Italian pork sausage
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 can (4 ounces) diced mild green chiles, drained
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
40 wonton wrappers
1 quart vegetable oil (for deep frying)

Brown sausage in small skillet over medium-high heat until done, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir occasionally to separate sausage. Drain on paper towel-lined plate. let cool slightly.

Combine sausage, cheese, chiles and onion in medium bowl. Spoon 1 teaspoon sausage mixture near one corner of wonton wrapper. Brush opposite corner with water. Fold corner over filling; roll into cylinder.

Moisten ends of roll with water. Bring ends together to make a bundle, overlapping ends slightly; firmly press to seal. Repeat with remaining filling and wonton wrappers.

Heat oil in heavy saucepan over medium heat to 365 degrees. (Or use deep fryer.) Fry bundles, a few at a time, about 1 1/2 minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Mai Tai

Finding a cocktail to post this week was tough. First, inspired by a delicious blackberry cobbler, I tried to come up with my own version of the Blackberry Bramble--this one with gin, muddled blackberries, rosemary simple syrup and a touch of lemon. Didn't work out.

So then I turned to Martha. Fixed her cherry mojito. (Misnamed by the way since it doesn't include a drop of rum or a hint of mint.) A blend of citrus vodka, fresh cherries, simple syrup and sparkling water. Again, yuck.

So, drawing on memories from a recent trip to the restored time capsule that is Trader Vic's here in Dallas, I decided to make a Mai Tai. Now, I didn't have the orgeat syrup (sweetened almond syrup with a touch of orange flower water) that the traditional recipe calls for, but I made do with a splash of Amaretto. My attempt at the original was quite passable. Try one for yourself.

Modern Mai Tai
Adapted from the classic Trader Vic's recipe.

1 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces dark rum (I like Bacardi Anejo.)
1 ounce light rum
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (I used Cointreau.)
1 tablespoon Amaretto

Mix all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and strain into a crushed-ice-filled rocks glass. Stick in the little umbrella and enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Top Ten List: Dallas Farmers Market

In D magazine's June issue, they do a great job adding voice (including the wonderful Nancy Nichols') to the organic vs. local food debate. I talked about it a couple of days ago. Certainly, they (and I) would encourage you to head to the Dallas Farmers Market (although I also plan to check out the markets in Coppell and McKinney in the next several weeks) and stock up. For a twenty spot, you can buy more fruits and vegetables than your family can eat in a week. (Just make sure you're in the yellow shed and buying from stalls marked "Farmer.")

When I did my shopping last weekend, I had my D magazine in hand and hit a few (new to me)stalls they suggested in their "10 Things You Must Taste." Certainly, I already knew about the tomatoes at Carolyn and J.T Lemley's stall. They've been my go-to source for years now. (Hint: Check out the "uglies" on the concrete floor under the tables. The tomatoes stashed down there aren't perfectly photogenic, but taste just as wonderful. And they're cheap too. They're perfect to make the tomato jam recipe in this post.)

But there were other products I wasn't familiar with, including several in covered Shed 2 (which is due a makeover over the next several months; it will be converted into a space dedicated to natural, organic and farmstead products like cheeses, meat and breads). Here's my tasting report:
  • Farmstead cheese from Debbie and Michael Sams' cows at Full Quiver Farm just outside of Kemp, Texas. I picked up a ball of their mozzarella. It was wonderful with (Lemley's) tomatoes and basil from my garden, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. A wonderfully clean cheese with a hint of what almost seemed like smoke. Although I hate to say it, it gave Paula Lambert's WONDERFUL mozzarella a run for its money.

  • Stuffed Italian bread from Philomena Food Company. I arrived it thinking I'd buy the one with Italian sausage and caramelized onion, but simply couldn't pass up the fig, prosicutto and gorgonzola version. With a green salad and a nice fruity Zinfandel, it's destined for a summer supper here at mi casa.

  • Don't miss the honey from Round Rock Honey. It's raw wildflower honey (although they do filter it, thank goodness, so there are no bee wings involved), and it's delicious. Full-flavored and rich, it's great in recipes or just drizzled on whatever you have on hand to drizzle it onto. (Quite frankly, a finger will do!)

  • And regardless of where your bread is should be buttered with the rich goodness that comes from the grass-fed cows at Wagon Creek Creamery. It's a beautiful yellow, lightly salted, and fills your mouth with the wonderfully herby taste of the grass the cows ate before milking. I've never churned butter, but I can only hope THIS is what it would taste like if I ever did.

And I have to go back for the spices at Kurry King. Even in their plastic bags, the wonderful aromas attacked me. And the beef, lamb and chicken from Rehoboth Ranch. Apparently, they're so popular that most of the cuts were sold out by noon on the Saturday I went.

Check it out. Hopefully, we won't be competing for the ribeyes on the day you go...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Grilled Flank Steak with Tomato Jam

Grilling and tomatoes are two things that help define the summer here at our house. I found a recipe in the June Cooking Light that combines both into a delicious meal. It's a great way to use a glut of tomatoes from your backyard or the farmer's market. And the flank steak (or flatiron steak as I used) give you a taste of beef without the heaviness of a steak and potato meal. Check out some of my ideas for theme and variations after the recipe.

Flank Steak with Tomato Jam
From Cooking Light
Makes eight servings.

6 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut in half crosswise (about 4 pounds)
1/3 cup sugar (Note from me: You can go a little lighter with the sugar for a less-sweet final product if you'd like.)
1/3 cup grated onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon grated lime rind
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 jalapeño peppers, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds flank steak, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

To prepare jam, grate tomatoes, flesh side down, over a large bowl to form 5 1/2 cups pulp; discard skins. Combine pulp, sugar, onion, 3 garlic cloves, and 2 jalapeños in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until reduced to 2 1/4 cups (about 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature. Stir in cilantro, 3 tablespoons juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

To prepare steak, combine rind, 1/3 cup juice, oil, 2 jalapeños, and 2 garlic cloves in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add steak; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 8 hours or overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Prepare grill.

Remove steak from bag; discard marinade. Sprinkle both sides of steak evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place steak on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Serve with jam. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Theme and variations: As made exactly from this recipe, this dish has lots of uses. I had mine salad-style on a bed of peppery arugula. My other half folded his between flour tortillas for a delicious soft taco. I have my eyes on the leftovers for a great steak sandwich in a toasted roll. The arugula would be great with it again, but I might also add a dollop of horseradish mayo or some grilled onions.

I'm thinking that you could take it even further. With the cilantro and jalapeno, the jam has a definite Southwestern flair. When making the jam, why not adjust the herb and make it in a variety of styles? How about with oregano or fresh basil for an Italian twist? Check out your spice cabinet or herb garden and see what inspires. I'd love to hear what you come up with...

Friday, June 08, 2007


I pretty much took the day off today. Sure...there was plenty to do, but I just didn't feel like doing it. So I dusted off my best procrastination skills and just hung out. After my hot tea, had a bagel and smoked salmon for breakfast.

Then lots of wandering around the backyard and patio (Thank goodness for the cold front that knocked temperatures back into the 80's.) checking out the newly fledged birds that come with their parents to the feeders. Looking at the ever-increasing number of butterflies that are visiting the buffet we've provided them. (And searching for caterpillars everywhere I can.)

But the stars of the garden show today were my daylilies. They're in their prime. Creamy pinks. Lemon yellows. Brilliant reds. Golden yellows. Bright oranges. Even a regal purple or two. And some of them are HUGE. Blooms that are easily as big as my hand spread out to its fullest. Many of them with ruffled and crinkly edges.
The idea that their magnificent beauty only lasts one day (hence their name) makes you want to savor every moment. And the good news is that with anywhere from two to seven blooms on a single stalk, they can put on a show for a week or more. Almost like a REALLY slow fireworks display.
The best news...they're very easy to grow. With a sunny spot and some decently fertile soil, you're on your way to your own show to enjoy. Their tuberous root system means they even get through periods of drought. And while they commonly freeze to the ground, they are dependable in reappearing every spring. Pests? With the exception of an aphid or two, I've never seen a bug remotely interested in them.
This is the perfect time to buy your plants. They're in full bloom in nurseries and garden centers; so you'll see what you're purchasing. Google your city's name and "daylily growers" or society and you're likely to find a club in your area that has periodic sales of some of their castoffs. You can also go to a reputable online mail-order nursery like Oakes in Tennessee. I have purchased many plants from them over the years and am always amazed at the size and quality of the plants they send. (And at their generosity in sending "bonus" plants to you as well.)
Tempted? Then get out there and get planting! You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Easy Cheesy Potatoes

I don't think I ever posted the runner-up from the Easter Sunday Battle Potato Casserole. This recipe lost in a close contest, but it's still delicious. These are the kind of potatoes I remember from Boy Scout and Methodist Church buffet suppers. They're easy to make and great alongside a steak, a roast, or a big ham.

Easy Cheesy Potatoes
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 (2 pound) package frozen hash brown or cubed potatoes, partially thawed. (Hint: Make it easy on yourself and buy hash browns or O'Brien potatoes that also have green and red bell pepper in them. Otherwise, add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper and 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper to the recipe.)
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
4 cups shredded Colby/Jack cheese
3/4 cup chopped onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Mix well. Place mixture in greased 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Top with remaining cheese; bake 3 to 5 minutes until cheese melts. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Food & Wine Magazine: A Monthly Inspiration

I subscribe to a lot of magazines. A lot. A news magazine or two. A couple of fitness/health publications. And a plethora of food/wine/cocktail magazines. Including Cooking Light, Gourmet, Southern Living, Saveur and the requisite Martha Stewart magazines. They are constant sources of recipes and inspirations for this blog and my everyday beautiful life.

Hands down, my favorite foodie magazine is Food & Wine. Simply put, it appeals to my sensibilities. Delicious, but "doable" recipes. News about restaurants and new products. And great info and advice on wine (including Lettie Teague's great monthly column).

I just cracked open my June issue. Here's a sampling of the pages I've turned down. Once I've tried some of them, I'm sure you'll read about them here in the months to come.
  • It's "The Grilling Issue," so a highlight is "10 Easy Ways to Master the Grill." Great tips and information as well as recipes that Brazilian Beer-Marinated Chicken and Pork and Bacon Kebabs.
  • It's accompanied by a variety of sauce, pickle and salad recipes. Your BBQ feast will never be the same.
  • Where else will you find recipes for homemade ketchup, mustard and mayo? I must confess; I'm intrigued and will probably try them.
  • From an article on pairing food with beer and ale, there's the article for Sichuan Peppercorn Shrimp. A perfect way to set your mouth on fire this summer.
  • In preparation for its "Best of the Best" cookbook, the magazine lists its 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year. My Amazon Wish List just got longer.
  • And, of course, wine's not neglected. I've ripped out every page of the "25 Best Wines for Summer" section. Most are new and upcoming brands. I look forward to checking them out.
  • Plus wine writer Lettie Teague doesn't disappoint with her column on "America's Great Value Winery": Chateau Ste. Michelle. I've had several of their wines before, but Ms. Teague point us toward some others to try.
  • Bonuses include tips on outdoor entertaining and a burb on eco-friendly cleaners.

Are you intrigued? Then subscribe. You can get a year's worth of issues and a gift subscription for less than $20. Then you can look forward to your own inspiration every month.

In the meantime, continue to tune in here. I'm guessing you'll see posts inspired by...or taken directly from...the pages of Food & Wine quite often.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Eat Local...

For years, we've been told to eat organic. It's good for the environment. And good for us. So markets like Whole Foods and Central Market...and increasingly "main-stream" stores like Kroger...provide us with organic options. They cost a little (or a lot) more, but we buy them because we SHOULD.

Well there's another SHOULD nagging at us these days. Not eating organic, but eating local. The New York Times had an article about it on April 25. Even Time made the debate its cover story on March 12. The new argument is that environmentally-friendly growing techniques simply aren't enough since the amount of fossil fuel used to get an organically grown apple from New York state to Dallas negates the fact that the orchard owner didn't use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It's enough to make a foodie's head spin.

Leave it to D magazine and brilliant food writer Nancy Nichols (along with Rod Davis batting clean up) to put things in perspective. She is one of the few who realizes it's not just about's about emotion. We FEEL better buying vegetables from local farmers at the market, whether it's really best for the environment or not. Nichols' best advice from the June 2007 issue: be practical.

"I would be mindful of what I eat. Yes, at times I might eat a lamb from New Zealand that has more frequent flyer miles than I do, but in the end the most important thing is to take care of myself. I will eat organic when it makes sense, like with thin-skinned fruits and vegetables. I will spend a little extra money on hormone-free meats and pastured poultry. I will buy local and in season every chance I get. And I will hug a farmer whenever possible."

All in all, great advice. So check labels carefully. And head to the farmers' market every weekend. If you're at the one in downtown Dallas, make sure and buy tomatoes from the Lemleys in yellow shed #1. And give Carolyn a hug. You'll never have felt better.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Slow-Cooker Pork Stew

Yes, summer is a time for light eating. Grilled meats and fish. Fresh vegetables. And certainly I avoid having the oven on for long. It's hot enough!

But you can make a hearty meal without it being heavy. Here's a recipe that takes advantage of the convenience of a slow cooker and includes lots of vegetables that you can pick up at the farmer's market. I might even add tomatoes to it next time I make it.

Slow-Cooker Pork Stew
From Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes
Makes 4 servings.

1 pound boneless pork cutlets, chops or roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons flour, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (Don't be surprised if the sweet potato "disappears" into the stew. It seems to dissolve into the stew base.)
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup corn (or 1 ear corn broken into 4 pieces)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Chopped parsley

Toss pork pieces with 1 tablespoon flour and set aside. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add pork; cook until browned on all sides. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add remaining ingredients, except parsley and 1 tablespoon flour. Cover; Cook on low 5 to 6 hours.

Combine remaining 1 tablespoon flour and 1/4 cup cooking liquid from stew in small bowl; stir until smooth. Stir flour mixture into stew. Cook on high 10 minutes or until thickened. Serve, garnished with parsley.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Pomegranate Mojito

When cocktail time rolled around tonight, I wanted something new and different. So I cruised through the "stack of stuff" and found this one...supposedly from the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Adapted slightly, it was just what the doctor ordered. Tangy, slightly sweet and refreshing. What more can you ask from an early summer cocktail?

Pomegranate Mojito
Makes one drink.

2 tablespoons sugar (superfine dissolves fastest and best)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
12 mint leaves
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/3 cup white rum
Club soda

In a tall glass, muddle sugar, lime juice and mint leaves. Add pomegranate juice and rum. Fill glass with ice and top off with generous splash of club soda. Stir to combine and enjoy!