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Friday, March 2, 2012

March 1, 2012: Holy Lou Manati's! Now THAT's a pizza!

Somewhere in 32 locations in Chicagoland, Illinois, there is PIZZA! I love thin crust pizzas the best, but when in Chicago, do as the windy and try the deep dish pizza. There are several excellent purveyors of the pie: Bacinos, Chicago Pizza Company, My Pi, Giordanos and the famous Lou Manati's. Fortunately for me, I didn't even have to go to Chicago to get it!
This guy who is my boss and his beautiful wife Jean sent me a lovely pizza for Christmas. They did this a few years back too. That time, I had visitors in my home and they ate it WITHOUT ME! So I was raring to get a taste of this one. And boy was it good. Lots of gooey mozzarella and sweet tomato sauce. YUM What did my lovely spouse think of this dish? "I never met a pizza I didn't like." Well said, hubby! If you are ever in Chicago, check out Lou Manati's or SOMEBODY's CHicago deep dish pizza. My favorite is SPINACH. Or order Lou Manati's on line: ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012: Leap into this SPECIAL OFFER.

I have 97 comments on my blog...and I am stretching to get 100. So anyone who posts a comment between now and 1159pm on March 1, 2012 will receive a $5 Starbucks gift card...Yep, a free cup of coffee. Whoo hooo. Bring on the caffeine. So what did I have for dinner tonight? Well, I love my job, but it does involve spending some nights in the hospital. And that involves some limited food choices. The doctors are fortunate in that they do leave some morsels in the executive dining room. Tonight, I had a tuna salad sandwich on wheat bread. This brings back memories of childhood and the soggy tuna sandwiches we brought to school on WonderBread!
Of course, the ones here are not soggy, thank heaven. Tonight's Quiz Topic TUNA 1. True or False. In Belgium, the dish pêches au thon / perziken met tonijn is made from halved canned or fresh peaches stuffed with tuna salad. 2. The pinkish/reddish color of the meat of the tuna fish is due to a. crustaceans that the fish eats b. algae that the fish eats c. myoglobin, an oxygen-binding molecule, which tuna express in quantities far higher than most other fish d. the color of the tuna's blood e. dense muscular fibers 3. True or False. Tuna can swim at speeds in excess of 40 mph. 4. Which of the following is NOT a tuna species? a. blackfin b. yellowfin c. bluefin d. greenfin e. bigeye 5. Which of the following statements regarding tuna is FALSE? a. Japan, Australia and New Zealand are all suspected of underreporting their tuna catch to international conservation authorities. b. In 2010, Greenpeace International has added the albacore, bigeye tuna, blackfin tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna, Atlantic bluefin tuna, southern bluefin tuna and the yellowfin tuna to its seafood red list. c. Skipjack makes up 60% of tuna fished worldwide and is not actually a true tuna species. d.In March 2004 the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children limit their intake of tuna and other predatory fish. e.In Australia, a can labelled tuna must be at least 51% tuna. DON'T SKIP THE ANSWERS JACK!
1. True.
Belgians like it in both French and Flemish. 2. C
This is the molecule. Not easy to spell but I'd rather spell than draw it. 3. True
They can swim up to 43 mph! If redneck's knew this, there'd be tuna racing. 4.D There is no greenfin tuna, but there is a big eye!
It used to be true, but now the standard has been "relaxed."\ Hope you scored 100% of quiz tuna.

February 28, 2012: Potato and Leek Soup. Thanks Emeril!

(this is missing a few photos...will add March 1) I have mentioned numerous times how much I love soup and stew in the winter. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Today in Knoxville, however, it was 70 degrees February no less. But alas, I have been called by a plethora of potatoes.
And not just any old potato either. The russet potato. A couple of weeks ago when I sponsored the mashed potato throwdown, several folks left me a hostess gift--their potatoes. If any of you are reading this and want them back, come on over and get 'em. I am going to be awash in potato cookery otherwise for a couple of months. Not that this is a problem. My hubby would eat potatoes every night and never complain as long as they were mashed, fried, baked, twice baked, scalloped, au gratin, gremolata, roasted....wait, I sound like Bubba in Forrest Gump!
I have been writing a practice management guideline for the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma ALL DAY and did not have much time for dinner. But I always want to make something tasty, healthy and special for my husband, so I thought Emeril Lagasse's recipe for potato and leek soup would put the BAM! into dinner.
This is another really easy recipe that tastes fantastic but isn't really very hard to make and is not time consuming. One thing I never gave much thought to until the mashed potato throwdown is how different types of potatoes are best suited for certain dishes. I guess somewhere in my pea brain, I knew this, but it didn't resurface until Amanda Stokes, our chef judge of the throwdown, mentioned this. It ends up the best potatoes for MASHING are Yukon Gold, White Rose and Red Rose.
Waxy potatoes such as these are recommended for boiling applications because they have less starch and a higher moisture content. They hold up to boiling and do not absorb as much water. Waxy potatoes tend to result in a more flavorful end product, but it can be difficult to get a really smooth texture without turning them to glue. If you decide to use russet or idaho potatoes for their creamy texture, you should steam rather than boil. Russet potatoes virtually fall apart if you boil them. So as long as you want the potato to end up as "mush" or a thickener, russets are a good choice. If you want the potato to remain intact like in a beef stew, go back to the yukon gold, white rose and red rose variety. Russets are, however, the best potato for BAKING. In this soup, I elected to use the RUSSET potato because (1) it is after all CREAM OF POTATO and leek soup and (2)somebody left a bunch of them at my house. To start this recipe off, thinly slice the white part of a large leek. One pesky thing about leeks is that they tend to have dirt or sand right where the white part meets the green part. So make sure you wash it well and pay attention to this section in particular. Otherwise, you will have grit in your creamy soup.
Put enough olive oil (2 Tbsp should be enough, but if you are watching your waistline, you might get away with one) in the bottom of a pan to thinly coat and wilt the leeks over medium heat. This should take five minutes or less. Next take a pound and a half of your potato of choice and peel it.
These potato peelers are a godsend, but you can manage quite well with just a paring knife if you don't own one. Cut these potatoes up into cubes.
These cubes don't have to be inordinately small, because you will simmer this dish for half an hour. Frankly, you likely could get away with cutting the potatoes into quarters, as long as they aren't too large. Once your leeks are soft, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. If you don't drink wine, no problem. You can use additional chicken stock instead. Finish the liquids with 5 cups of chicken stock. Place 2 bay leaves and a big sprig of thyme in the pot.
You will be taking this out at the end, so if you want to wrap it in a cheesecloth to make it easier, be my guest. I fished them out with a slotted spoon, but I am sure my husband would appreciate the cheesecloth from the engineering viewpoint. In Emeril's recipe, he tied them up inside a leek leaf...easier said than done! Add a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper (to taste.)I used white pepper, but black will work too. Bring the concoction to a boil. Then comes the fun part-- Turn the stove down to the lowest setting, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Put your feet up, grab a good book and how about another 1/2 cup of that dry white wine for YOU. You deserve it.If you don't drink wine, please don't substitute chicken stock here! Get some POM juice. Sit back and relax. Use the last five minutes before the buzzer sounds to set the table, because when you get back to the stove, SOUP'S ON! When your half hour break is over, take the soup off the stove. Remove the bay leaves and the stem of the thyme. Most of the leaves will be in your soup. Next you will need to puree the soup. I used an immersion blender. I think this is much easier and SAFER than transferring to a blender in batches.
Cuisinart makes a very sturdy quality blender for about for just under $40. But if you don't have that kind of cash for this item, use the blender or purchase a less expensive model. I bought the first one I had at Walgreen's for $12. And it lasted for about a year. Once blended, add a half cup of sour cream, whipping cream or creme fraiche.
Personally, I chose the creme fraiche. It is less sour than sour cream and is very high viscosity, so it really doesn't detract from the thick quality of the soup. Some folks, however, might enjoy that sharper sour cream bite or might not like any of it, in which case cream would be your choice. One thing I have noticed in Knoxville is that many stores do not carry creme fraiche, especially if you are outside of the ritzy West Knox or Bearden locations. The specialty food stores such as Earthfare and Fresh Market nearly always have it. But if they don't, no worries. You can make it at home. To make a batch at home, all you do: add a small amount (1 to 2 tablespoons) of buttermilk or yogurt to a few cups of heavy cream, and let the mixture sit out in a clear jar or plastic container in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. (I've read you should leave it uncovered, but—worried about bugs, dust and the like—I left the lid ajar for a few minutes, then sealed it, and was successful.) Within the day, the cream will have transformed to a thicker, tangier and more spoonable version of itself. Then just store it in the fridge, where it will continue to mature. Just as every brand of store-bought crème fraîche tastes different, yours will vary slightly depending on the flavor of your milk or yogurt, the butterfat content you can find, and how long you let it become sour. If you like a looser, runnier consistency, check your crème after 12 hours. I've left some batches as long as 36, especially when using yogurt, which I find produces a thinner version. Just keep in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken once you place it in the fridge. Once you've added in the creme fraiche, garnish with something green. I used a sprig of thyme. One other aside--- If you want your loved ones to feel like you are making a fancy meal, even when it is just potato soup, serve it up in a pretty bowl. I found these beautiful asymmetric bowls for about $3 at CB2 in Atlanta. For dessert, I made a cheater's trifle. I bought a lemon poppyseed muffin at Fresh Market. I thinned about 2 tablespoons of store bought lemon curd with about 2 tablespoons of dry white wine (I used an inexpensive, but delicious albirino for all the parts of this meal.) I had sliced strawberries left over from Monday's meal and a can of store-bought whipped cream in the fridge. I tore the muffin into bite size pieces. I put a tablespoon of thinned lemon curd into the bottom of a burgundy glass, then layered muffin, curd, whipped cream and strawberries, then I repeated, but on the last layer, I put the strawberries before the whipped cream. This made an easy, quick delicious dessert. What did my husband say about this meal? Soup: Um Um Good Trifle: Not trifling Act like my hubby and ENJOY!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 27, 2012: Real Men Do!

Tonight's mission: Channel Julia Child in one hour...or less! I do have a few things in common with Julia. 1. I enjoy good food. 2. I like to cook. 3. I am tall. (She was too tall for the WACS and the WAVES in WWII, so she joined OSS.) 4. I am probably never going to be asked to compete for Miss America. 5. I have a good education. 6. I married a guy named Paul 7. He loves food and is something of a gourmand. 8. She lived with Paris and I live with Parris. (That's thing same thing, right?) 9. I love French cuisine. 10. I truly love quiche. (Theoretically, quiche lorraine was her favorite food.)
Unfortunately, real men don't eat quiche. Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, by Bruce Feirstein, is a bestselling tongue-in-cheek book satirizing stereotypes of masculinity, published in 1982. It popularized the term quiche-eater, meaning a man who is a dilettante, a trend-chaser, an over-anxious conformist to fashionable forms of 'lifestyle', and socially correct behaviors and opinions, one who eschews (or merely lacks) the traditional masculine virtue of tough self-assurance. A 'traditional' male might enjoy egg-and-bacon pie if his wife served it to him; a quiche-eater, or Sensitive New Age Guy would make the dish himself, call it by its French name quiche, and serve it to his female life partner to demonstrate his empathy with the Women's Movement. He would also wash up afterwards. So what's a guy to do? I started by throwing him off-guard with a strawberry salad. To further camoflage, I called it: salade de fraises avec laitues de bébé. I mean what self respecting male gourmand won't eat that!
Next, I served this very delicious and pretty quiche on a small plate-- quiche de poireau lard fumé et épinards (That's spinach, bacon and leak quiche). The cheese base was smoked gouda. Yum.
I used Paula Deen's recipe for Spinach and Bacon Quiche which is perhaps the EASIEST quiche recipe ever and so very delicious. I tweaked it a bit and I will mention how in the recipe below. I am a huge fan of Paula's desserts. I have found some a bit sweet, but if you are doing potluck in the South and you make her desserts, people will come over and ask for your recipe. Her non-dessert cooking tends to be hit or miss for my taste, but I will give the lady (and sons) credit for this. When she hits a home run, it is usually a grand slam and she really did it with this one.
For dessert, I served something that requires no english to french dictionary usage: A Napolean. I had an hour or less, so this one came from the fresh market bakery.
What did my "real man" say about this meal?
Salad: Really tasty. Loved the fresh strawberries in the winter. Quiche: Both hearty and creamy. At the same time. Napolean: I have met my Waterloo. So in a nutshell, Paul had a lovely egg and bacon pie. Then he helped me clean up :) Thanks, sweetheart. RECIPE for Spinach, Leek, and Bacon Quiche (If you want to make the original SPinach and Bacon Pie, here is Paula Deen's link: Ingredients 4 large eggs, beaten 1 cup heavy cream Salt and pepper 1 cup chopped fresh baby spinach, packed 1 cup leeks 1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled 1 c of grated Gouda 1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust ( I've found it is better to spend the extra 39 cents to get the good one.) Directions Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in a food processor or beat with a whisk. Layer the spinach, bacon, and cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, then pour the egg mixture on top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the egg mixture is set. Cut into 8 wedges. ENJOY!

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 26, 2012: Bring in the foreign words! Moussaka and Clafouti

If you said these words on the playground, you might get your mouth washed out with soap in my day! But now, we just think of it as food...another one of my favorite four letter "F" words. As a wedding gift, my friend, Shirley Gilbert from Frierson, Louisiana sent me a cookbook entitled The Wine Lover's Cookbook. I have been looking forward to cooking from it's pages, and finally, I had the chance.
This book is full of amazing looking recipes. There were many choices. But in honor of the "greek economy," I chose Moussaka. Moussaka is an eggplant based dish of the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, but the Greeks make the best known version for most of us Americans. The word is arabic and it means chilled. Which seems odd to me, because I always eat it hot. Most versions are based primarily on sautéed eggplant and tomato, usually with minced meat. The Greek version includes layers of meat and aubergine topped with a white sauce/Béchamel sauce and baked. I actually grew up partially in Greece and have great memories of Moussaka as a kid (and numerous other fanastic greek dishes!) Several years ago, I went back there with a friend from my childhood, Tim Elliot and his dad Maurice and we had a toodle through our old stomping grounds.
One of the most fun things we did was ride a funicular up the mountain. This is an inclined railway sort of like the ones in Chattanooga and Pittsburgh. WE never did this when I was a kid, but I would probably have been scared of it. We went back and visited the Acropolis which I played on as a child. It was literally just down the street.
It is now in repair...not sure how much of it because I played war games with the fallen stones, but thankfully, they don't let tomboys climb around on it anymore. One of the places we visted on our sentimental journey was Glyfada, a beach town just south of Athens. It was very gaudy like many beach towns I have visited in the US.
But I think I had the best ever moussaka of my life in a tiny nondescript restaurant and it was almost free. So when I saw the recipe BEST EVER MOUSSAKA in the wine lover's cookbook, I was sold on making it. You start this dish by cutting 2 eggplants into 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips. Lay them out on a paper towel and salt liberally. YOu want them to "sweat" so you get a lot of the moisture out and don't end up with a soggy dish. After half an hour, rinse the pieces, dry them and lay them on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven to roast.
While they are roasting, there are two tasks to complete: (1) make the meat mixture and (2) make the bechamel sauce. To make the meat mixture, cook 1.5 lbs of lamb, 2 minced garlic cloves, a large onion and a red pepper over medium high heat until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is browned. Then remove the mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon and discard the grease. Return the meat to the pan and add 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon and herbs de provence (an herb mix usually found in your spice aisle.) Add a 6 oz can of tomato paste and 1/4 cup of chopped parsley. Stir well. Then add 3/4th cup of a red wine. I used a zinfandel, because I was informed by the book that it pairs best with this meal. Simmer for 10 minutes over lowest heat. While that simmers, turn your attention to the sauce. It is basically a bechamel.
This is easy and quick but you do have to stay near the stove for it. In a medium pan over medium heat, melt a half stick of butter. Add gradually 6 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly with a whisk. This will get pretty thick. As soon as you get all the flour stirred in, add 2 cups of whole milk and stir till creamy. Put a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and salt in. Leave on low heat, stirring often to thicken. In a separate bowl, beat an egg yolk. Temper it by adding one or two tablespoons of the bechamel mixture and stirring with a fork. This will keep the egg from turning into scramble when you add it to the bechamel mix.
It is easy to temper an egg, but if you don't feel confident, here is a 30 second video: Blend the egg into the sauce, which should be getting thick enough to coat the back of a spoon by now. Add 3 Tbsp of bread crumbs to this sauce. Hopefully, this will coincide with taking your eggplant out of the oven, but if not, do not fear. Just take it out when the half hour is up. YOu are going to reheat it all anyway. Now you create the layers. You will need about 3/4 lb of feta cheese to complete this process. Now they even sell feta in the market already crumbled for time-pressed or lazy cooks!
Lightly olive oil the bottom of a 9X13 pan. Sprinkle about 3 Tbsp. of bread crumbs around the bottom. Don't worry. It isn't supposed to be thick. Place a layer of eggplant, the lamb mixture and then a generous portion of cheese in layer one. Repeat process for layer 2. At the end, pour the bechamel sauce over the top of the layers evenly. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 375. After a sprinkle of parsley, here is what you get:
I couldn't find a recipe for a greek dessert in the wine lover's cookbook so I settled for a french one: Clafouti. It is what we call cobbler down home, but perhaps this is more sophisticated? You can add any fruit frankly,but this one is a fig and raspberry. YUM. Recipe will follow.
What did my husband think of this WELCOME HOME FROM ATLANTA MEAL?
Moussaka: It hit the spot. I might even eat the leftovers. Clafouti: I will eat anything with raspberries in it. Fig and Raspberry Clafouti 2 cups figs, quartered ( i reconstituted dried ones) 2 cups raspberries 1/2 cup almonds 1 cup flour 1/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 cup milk 3 tablespoons port (I did not have this, so I used marsala) 2 tablespoons butter. Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange figs cut side down in a buttered 8X8X2 inch baking dish and sprinkle raspberries over the top. Mix the remainder of the ingredients (except butter) and pour them over the fruit. Dot butter in small dollops on top. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 20 minutes and serve with a scoop of ice cream. ENJOY!

February 25th: Fourth and Swift--Engagement Reprise!

About fourteen months ago, my sweet hubby proposed to me in Atlanta at the now defunct Kimpton Hotel. I hope we do better than the Kimpton did, although the facility appears to now be a Renaissance Hotel. After he proposed on New Year's Eve, we went out to a late night meal and rung in the New Year at Fourth and Swift.
This restaurant is located in an old dairy and certainly does NOT disappoint. This was our second trip, and we were pretty sure we would get a great meal. Ends up, we were right! After total restaurant decadence and wallet emptying at Bacchanalia, we were looking for something a little less filling overall, but still really high quality. The restaurant itself maintains a cool vibe with an industrial type interior. One of the nicest things about it is that they have a selection of small plates for sharing, so you don't have to order big portions that might go uneaten.
We decided to order three small courses, a half bottle of wine and a dessert. We started with Mary’s Baby Mixed Lettuces: A combination of fresh microgreens and Yuzu-Pear Vinaigrette, Pickled Cipollinis, Red Beets, Toasted Pistachios, Parmesan Crisp
We followed it with Maine Lobster & Ricotta Dumplings: Bouillabaisse Fumet, Preserved Lemon, Pac Choi, Hon Shimeji Mushrooms, Cured Black Olives And finished up our dinner course with Slow Cooked Mishima Ranch Waygu Beef Saffron Cous Cous, Black Olive Yogurt, Hariss. Waygu is America's answer to Kobe Beef and is just as tender. Designed to mimic the diet that Japanese cattle were receiving, Wagyu cattle in the United States are fed a mixture of corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat straw. They are not however, getting beer like the Japanese cows...and I bet they'd love a Sapporo! I know I would.
The nice thing about small plates is you don't get stuffed and you can share with your sweetie. And it leaves room for: DESSERT. We had a trio of sorbets and a chocolate caramel tart. We thought we had died and went to heaven. The "pistachio paint" next to the tart was every bit as good as the dessert itself.
What did my husband and I think of this meal?
It tastes better married! So good. And all of this with the wine and cocktail each before the meal and tip: $70.00 Highly affordable so ENJOY!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 24: Bacchanalia!

A few years ago, I went to Atlanta in celebration of my friend, Shelley's birthday. And as a part of this celebration, I told her I would take her anywhere she wanted to eat. And this is what she said, "BACCHANALIA!"
For those of you who remember their mythology better than I do (which is probably danged near everyone!), Bacchus was the god of wine. And although the Atlanta version of Bacchanalia doesn't match Ruben's picture of drunken revelry, it sure does produce some delicious food. I am not sure where Shelley found out about this place, but she sure picked a winner!
The location is in a peculiar spot. Near downtown, but also nearly nowhere out on Howell's Mill Road and beside a water treatment plant, which fortunately is not as laden with Fluorine gas as the one in Knoxville is--but then, what is? There are a few "high end" shops nearby but really not much of anything. But inside this nondescript strip mall is a genuine pearl. The Bacchanalia "concept" is a five course prix fix meal with local ingredients and paired wines. You need a couple of hours, a hearty appetite (small portions but plenty of them), and a deep wallet. I hate to even tell you what I had, because you will be so JEALOUS. Course 1 Blue Hawaiian Shrimp in Fennel, Tangerines, Almond, and Pea Shoots with Chateau Giraud Sauv Blanc. Do we really need to elaborate on how tasty this was?
I was told these shrimp would be served "medium rare" as they were very high quality. I am not even sure what this means except possibly some sort of hepatitis warning? To my knowledge, although quite soft and no rubbery texture at all, I am not sure if I could tell a medium rare from a medium well. But it was delicious. Course 2 Georgia Rainbow Trout, Chard, Hakurei Turnip, and Lentil Puree paired with Far Niente Chardonnay.
Another really stellar creation and since I had just attended the Far Niente wine dinner a few days before, a nice re-introduction to a very smooth chardonnay. Course 3 Jamison Farm Lamb served in multiple parts--loin, tenderloin, sausage, tongue and sweetbreads. Now I have to say, the total amount of meat was probably 2-3 ounces, but it was plenty considering the meal in its entirety. I am not a big fan of sweetbreads, because to me it is pancreas and it in fact, looks like a tiny pancreas on the plate, so not very appetizing as a surgeon looking at it. I merely tasted it. It was good, but that and the tongue were too realistic for me to get past more than a tiny morsel. The loin, tenderloin and sausage were outstanding though. This was paired with a Barossa Valley SHiraz.
Course 4 Flat Creek Lodge Georgia Red Cheese with "contrasts"
It was NOT red, but it was scrumptous. No wine pairing. Sigh. Course 5. Goat Cheese Cake, Dulce de Leche, Coffee Ice Cream.
Paired with a Prosecco. Seriously, I think I just gained MORE WEIGHT by writing about this meal!
What did my husband and I think of this meal? OUTRAGEOUSLY good. Expensive, but hey! I am worth it...maybe... It was $300 for two people with wine pairings and the tip. As my husband's dearly departed friend would say, "Ridiculously small food at utterly unfair prices." But my oh my! If you ever go to Atlanta, get into Bacchanalia and ENJOY!