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Sometimes old favorites such as standard meat-and-potatoes fare simply need a brightening…a fresh approach…a swift kick in the pants. And it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here, the meatloaf gets a new treatment which the addition of orzo pasta, fresh tomatoes, and black olives as components of the loaf. Green beans are accented with fresh dill. Creamed corn gets a flavor boost from the addition of chili powder, cumin, and diced onions and red peppers. And leftover mashed potatoes are transformed into crispy oven-fried cakes. Just a few simple changes helps elevate the ordinary and/or expected into something altogether different.

The potatoes are probably not the potato “pancakes” with which you might be familiar. Most recipes call for mashed potatoes mixed with flour and eggs that are pan-fried in oil. In this case, cold mashed potatoes are simply formed into patties, dipped in egg white, and dredged in seasoned bread crumbs. Place these in the fridge for a few minutes to set the breading, then place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and “fry” in a hot oven, turning halfway through the cooking. The result is a wonderfully crispy exterior with a creamy interior not unlike tater tots. Do not try to accomplish this in a skillet on top of the stove folks. It won’t work!

I have some golden rules about corn that I will share in an upcoming post but for now, suffice it to say the first of those is to use the freshest ears you can possibly lay your hands on.

Meatloaf of ground beef mixed with cooked orzo, fresh tomatoes, black olives, onions, red peppers and fresh basil
Romano beans glazed with butter and fresh dill
Spicy creamed corn
Oven-fried potato cakes
Yeast roll

Housemade blueberry ice cream and sugar cookies

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I have probably posted a menu like this before, but each version I make of this go-to dish is different based on what is fresh and seasonal at the moment. Tonight’s variation includes peppers and onions from my father’s garden, and carrots, squash, corn, and tomatoes from the farmers’ market. Some Cajun spices bring up the heat without being terribly alarming, and the spiciness is counterbalanced by the salad served alongside. The combination of beans (or in this case black-eyed peas) and rice provides a perfect protein.

Garden jambalaya of mirepoix, squash, corn, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas
Garden lettuces with housemade creamy dill dressing
Yeast roll Chez Edouard

Vanilla panna cotta with fresh peaches

Tonight I entertained friends with a dinner predominantly based on vegetables from the farmers’ market and herbs from my deck garden. Yesterday the market was brimming with a wide selection of fresh offerings which provided inspiration for the meal.

The parfaits I made for the family 4th celebration earlier in the week were such a hit, I decided to experiment further with the idea. Tonight’s rendition involved gelled pureed peaches along with the vanilla panna cotta. Again, another well-received dessert offering. Technically speaking, the plain gelatin I used was derived from animal sources, so that keeps the meal from being 100% vegetarian. The vegetarian alternative (agar agar flakes), is not available in my area but if you can find it you will achieve similar results.

Appetizer:
Roasted mushrooms stuffed with Mississippi caviar

Main Course:
Roasted red bell pepper halves stuffed with orzo, chopped tomato, artichoke hearts, and basil and garlic infused ricotta topped with fresh mozzarella
Roasted baby summer squash
Romano beans with extra virgin olive oil
Yeast dill rolls Chez Edouard

Dessert:
Peaches-and-cream parfait garnished with fresh blueberries and served with pecan sandies

Well almost…But anyway, I will probably not have time to post tomorrow due to hosting a crowd of family members for our celebration. Here’s the menu:

Chicken breast paillards marinaded in lemon, garlic, and olive oil grilled over mesquite embers
Dry-rubbed pork spare ribs slow-roasted in the oven
Potato Salad
Coleslaw
Corn on the cob
Housemade baked beans
Housemade bread-and-butter pickles
Cornbread muffins

4th of July sugar cookies
Red, white, and blue parfaits
Watermelon wedges

Notes:
The baked beans start with dried navy beans that are first simmered until tender. A heavy bean pot is then layered with sliced onions, the beans, molasses, brown sugar, tomato katsup, dried mustard, and other spices.
The parfait is made with layers of blueberry puree gelatin, vanilla panna cotta, and strawberry puree gelatin. (No artificially-flavored Jell-O here!)

I hope those of you who celebrate this important American occasion will enjoy your day!

Prepping for the 4th

In lieu of my usual menu today…

My niece, nephew, and I had fun this afternoon baking and decorating dozens of cookies for our upcoming 4th of July celebration. Here’s a photo showing a small sampling of our efforts. Tanner is an expert at the rolling process, and his sister Landree is equally astute at wielding the cutters.

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As is often the case in the summer, I abandon planning menus ahead preferring to be inspired by the availability and bounty of the local harvest. In fact, tonight’s dinner started with taking out all of the vegetables on hand and laying them on the counter. As I peruse each offering, associations begin to take place and I become inspired by what strikes me at the moment, embracing certain ingredients and editing out others for a later meal. What was left on the worktop tonight was broccoli, mushrooms, onions, summer squash, and red peppers. A rummage through the pantry produced a box of dried garden rotini. There was some sharp cheddar in the fridge. The result: a vegetable-packed macaroni and cheese (or perhaps I’ll call it a vegetable and pasta gratin), that was more than satisfying as a one-dish meal.

Similarly, I had no plans for any particular dessert. That is, until I passed by the next door neighbor’s farm stand this afternoon. Late season strawberries! Thus, one of the simplest sweet endings to an impromptu meal was achieved with very little effort.

Garden vegetable and pasta gratin
Cornbread muffins

Strawberries with sour cream/ground pecan/brown sugar dip

The menu for this evening includes a fairly standard beef brochette with some unusual accompaniments. And it’s simple as well. Grilling cubes of steak on a skewer with onions and peppers simply seasoned with salt and pepper is straightforward enough. Steaming couscous with some herbs and garlic is fast and easy because it cooks so quickly (in fact it’s the last thing you should do before being ready to eat). And roasting green beans and mushrooms in a hot oven with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper brings new life to both vegetables.

Grilled brochette of New York strip cubes with onions and red peppers served over herbed couscous
Oven-roasted green beans and mushrooms

Chocolate-peanut butter-oatmeal cookies

I am an advocate of finding new ways to use leftovers and tonight’s dinner includes components of dishes that were made earlier in the week and transforms them into something new. Orange bell pepper halves are stuffed with a mixture of leftover brown rice, slivered green beans, and caramelized onions. Mushroom caps are stuffed with leftover black-eyed pea salad that has been mashed into a puree. Baby summer squash are hollowed out, blanched briefly in boiling water, drained, and stuffed with grated pepperjack cheese. The watery flesh is scooped out of tomato halves and replaced with a mixture of herbed breadcrumbs, garlic, and parmesan. Once all of the vegetables are stuffed, they roast together on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, and dinner is served.

A further note about the squash. I first devised this utterly simple treatment to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at a birthday party I catered many years ago, and they were such a hit I was offered several other future catering jobs before the evening was over.

Orange bell pepper half stuffed with brown rice and green beans
Mushrooms stuffed with pureed black-eyed pea salad
Baby summer squash stuffed with pepperjack cheese
Tomato halves stuffed with herbed breadcrumbs, garlic, and parmesan

Peach ice cream

How do you enjoy a barbeque sandwich made from scratch without spending the time to slow-roast a pork shoulder? Chicken takes far less time and produces more than acceptable results. You can roast an entire chicken or just the parts you like best. Tonight I used a combination of breasts and thighs basted with my housemade peach barbeque sauce. When the chicken was done, the meat was pulled off the bones just as you would do for pork, and kept warm in a double boiler with a generous coating of additional sauce. Served on a housemade roll with coleslaw this was just as satisfying to me as the traditional pork sandwich.

The salad is made of canned black-eyed peas which helps save time. Look for a variety that is packed with only water and salt with no artificial additives or preservatives. A toss with both sweet and hot peppers, some finely diced spring onions and minced garlic, and a simple vinaigrette streamlines preparation of this simple side dish.

Pulled chicken sandwiches with peach barbeque sauce and coleslaw
Chilled black-eyed pea salad
Deep-fried shoestring potatoes
Bread-and-butter pickles

Watermelon wedge

The main course for this menu is an adaptation of a James Beard dish presented in his book Beard on Pasta.* I have often remembered his introduction to the recipe: “I first had this at a dreary hotel in Genoa that was tolerable only because the kitchen knew how to do a few brilliant dishes. The tiny waxy new potatoes bathed in basil kept me there long after the beds and plumbing should have driven me away.”

The recipe originally intrigued me because it involved the combination of two starchy ingredients, pasta and potatoes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the two worked quite well together. But as is my usual practice, I have made changes to suit my own tastes. I like pesto as a “hint” in cooking, but I’m not overly fond of the sauce bathing a dish. And it’s rare that I have enough basil on hand to create it in the traditional way. So my rendition involves what I call deconstructed pesto. The pasta and potatoes are tossed with just enough extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic to achieve a light coating and then the dish is garnished with toasted pine nuts, a light chiffonade of basil leaves, and some grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I have omitted the cream that Beard calls for in the dish, preferring instead to dress the salad with a creamy buttermilk dressing.

Housemade fettuccine with roasted new potato wedges and deconstructed pesto
Salad of baby lettuces from the garden with green beans and buttermilk dressing
Yeast roll Chez Edouard

Housemade peach ice cream with pecan crisps

*Beard, James. Beard on Pasta. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1983.

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