July 30, 2004

Corn Soup

This time of year always brings a surplus of tomatoes and corn. Some vegetarian friends gave me this recipe when I lived in Washington, DC. It's easy to make, tastes bright and fresh, and is a perfect summer lunch with a salad.

Click "more" for the recipe.

Sopa de Elote (Corn Soup)

3 small ears of corn or 1-1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 small tomatoes, peeled, chopped
1 qt broth (we use veg.)
1/2 tsp dried leaf oregano, crushed
1/2 C whipping cream
cilantro leaves

If using fresh corn, cut kernels from cobs. Scrape cobs with a sharp spoon; discard cobs. Measure corn. You should have about 1-1/2 C. Puree 3/4 C corn in blend or food processor; set aside. Mash garlic with salt to make a paste. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic paste. Cook until onions tender but not browned. Add tomatoes. Cook slowly 10 minutes, mashing tomatoes with a spoon. Add broth, oregano, pureed corn and whole corn kernels. Taste and add salt if needed. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in cream. Cook until heated through. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 6 servings.

Notes: We use canned shoe-peg corn in the winter; leave out the cream to lighten the calorie load; use olive oil instead of butter; and puree the corn with a hand-held stick blender right in the cook pot.

Posted by linda at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

July 29, 2004

Barbecue Battles (My Favorite Barbecue Restaurants)

If you want to start a spirited discussion (a literal food fight) , gather food lovers from Alabama, North Carolina and Texas and ask them which state serves the best barbecue. Omnivore that I proudly am, I have a soft spot in my stomach for all three. Alabama's smoky pulled pork with tomato-based sauce is most readily available, and a sandwich of pulled pork and cole slaw is a regular lunch when I'm hurried for lunch. North Carolina offers a sauce heavier in vinegar, but often bright, tangy and refreshing. Texas BBQ disdains pork for beef, smoking briskets to a tender, spicy version of heaven.

Here are my favorite places for barbecue:

Top Hat Barbecue, Blount Springs, Alabama: If you are looking for ambiance, pass this restaurant on US Highway 31 by. If you can look past the torn upholstery on the seats and the occasional fly inside the place, you can eat some great pulled pork. Perfectly smoked, moist meat paired with a slightly sweet tomato-based sauce make this my favorite place for BBQ (and the fried catfish is pretty good, too).

Johnny's Bar-B-Q, Cullman, Alabama: In the city where the leading tourist attraction is a monk's version of Jerusalem in miniature (Ave Maria Grotto) is one of my favorite restaurants. Johnny's is not fancy, but the pork is always smoky without being overpowering, and never dry. The tomato-based sauce is spiked with heat and is always a pleasant surprise.

Stubbs BBQ, Austin, Texas: Stubbs' Brisket may not be the best in Texas (or even Austin), but when you combine the food with the bar and especially the music venue, you have a winner. I've had many late dinners at Stubbs before seeing a show during SXSW or my trips to the city, and have never been disappointed with either the food, the beer, or the music.

The Rendezvous, Memphis, Tennessee: The rendezvous is all about their ribs. Dry-rubbed and falling off the bone, they are worth a trip to Memphis by themselves.

Dreamland, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Many years ago I spent a year going to every Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa with a friend, not for the football, but for the lunch or dinner at Dreamland. Back then they served a minimalistic menu: only their dreamy ribs and white bread on butcher paper, but it made the trip worthwhile.

Big Bob Gibson's, Decatur, AL: A local favorite recently commended by the Wall Street Journal for their overnight delivery offerings, this is where we usually pick up our BBQ fix. The pork is good and the sauces, especially their white sauce built with mayonnaise and vinegar that is tangy without overpowering the pork or chicken.

Posted by david at 03:22 PM | Comments (4)

July 27, 2004

Sweet Summer Corn

We enjoy shopping at our local farmer's market because we enjoy eating fresh, locally grown food. Last week we found Silver Queen corn and bought enough to put in the freezer. I knew it was fresh, because, as my father taught me, I talked to the farmer and found he had cut his corn off its stalks that morning.

My father was a connoisseur of fresh produce, having grown up on a farm in the south. We had an extensive vegetable garden when I was growing up so that he could satisfy his desire for freshly picked, young vegetables. He endeavored one year to grow corn and had some modest success. In his pursuit of freshness, he had my mother prepare the boiling water, then he cut and shucked the corn in the garden, and ran into the house with it. It is the only time in my life I ever saw my father run. It's a memory I cherish.

For instructions on preparing corn for freezing click "more".

My mother is a master at organizing cooking projects for maximum efficiency. Following her assembly line instructions, I parboiled the corn for 3 minutes, transferred it directly into ice water, drained it on a towel and bagged it for the freezer. Why do we parboil corn and other vegetables before freezing? This step stops the enzymatic action that converts the sugars to starch and prevents the food from having an off flavor.

For cutting corn off the cob, she suggests putting a small cutting board in the bottom of a roasting pan, putting the pan down in the sink, and cutting the corn off there to reduce splattering and cleanup.

Remove as much air from the bag as possible before freezing. Insert a small straw (like a coffee stirrer) in the opening of the bag, close the zip-lock strip as much as possible, and suck the remaining air out with the straw. Remove straw and seal as quickly as possible.

Posted by linda at 10:02 PM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2004

Summer Means Tomato Sandwiches

Summer is my favorite culinary season. Our garden is producing at record clips, and we have full use of the fresh herbs and vegetables for our meals. My favorite simple meal of summer is also one of the most refreshing: the tomato sandwich.

My usual tomato sandwich is deceptively simple, yet open to experimentation on every ingredient (like all the great recipes):

First, slather two pieces of bread with mayonnaise. I use whatever bread we have on hand, from my wife's homemade rosemary Italian bread to storebought whole wheat, use your favorite.

Any non-cherry or grape tomato will work, but beefsteaks and heirloom purple varieties stand out in this sandwich. Thinly slice the tomatoes, then salt and pepper them. You could stop here, but I usually add some cheese (cheddar, Parmesan Reggianno, Asiago, mozzarella... anything on hand) and some basil.

Eat with a glass of cold iced tea (or your favorite beverage), and enjoy the bounty of a summer garden.

Posted by david at 08:34 PM | Comments (3)

July 25, 2004

Linda's Favorite Cookbooks

I know my titles will overlap David's somewhat--after all, food is one of the pleasures that has brought us together. So here they are, in no particular order.

1. Dean & Deluca Cookbook: An all around enjoyable read. If you ever wanted to just learn about food, this is one the best, most informative books I know.

2. Moosewood Cookbook: Lots of vegetarian classics. This book almost all hand-written which gives it a homey charm. Beware, vegetarian does not mean light.

3. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook: This is the old standby my mother had. It has all the basics you need to know from roasting a chicken to converting liquid to dry measures.

4. The Silver Palate Cookbook: Lots of great decadent recipes. There's a great porcini and orzo casserole recipe in there. Another one to avoid if you're trying to watch your weight.

5. Hot, Hotter, Hottest: Who could have known ginger and garlic were hot on their own. Another informative book about preparing certain ingredients to highlight their unique attributes.

6. The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook: They know their flour. Gives you enough recipes using flour that you can improvise and create your own recipes.

7. Greens: Vegetarian again, but emphasizes cooking with fresh, locally grown foodstuff. Gives good advice about cooking with seasonal produce. Taught me the premise that if you use fresh ingredients, your dishes will turn out pretty good.

8. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe: This book is sort of a vegetarian manifesto. I especially enjoyed learning about the methane production of cattle. Recipes were a little bland, but had some interesting ideas that could be spiced up. Sadly this book is out of circulation but another interesting read by the same author is Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity.

9. Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book: The reason I put on 20 lbs. after I got married.

10. All Around the World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins: A wonderful book for experimenting with cuisine that has international influences. A quintessential American cookbook.

Posted by linda at 03:01 PM | Comments (1)

July 23, 2004

My Favorite Marinade

With just the two of us at home, sometimes firing up our charcoal grill seems like overkill for two breasts of chicken. That's why I usually grill several pieces of chicken at a time, freezing the leftovers for chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, salads, and quick dinners during the week.

To prepare the chicken breasts for grilling, I marinate them for at least thirty minutes. My favorite marinade for chicken and pork tenderloin is simple and tasty:

Zest three or four limes, then juice them. To the juice and zest add several chopped cloves of smashed garlic (I peel mine, then flatten with the blade of a chef's knife, then rough chop). A splash of olive oil will help keep the chicken from sticking to the grill. The secret ingredient is next, a shot of whiskey (I'm partial to Kentucky bourbon, but any whiskey will do). The whiskey adds smokiness and a bit of bite to the chicken. Add a generous sprinkling of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, give the mixture a quick whisk, then place the marinade and your chicken to a large plastic freezer bag, squeezing the air out and sealing until you grill.

Posted by david at 09:30 PM | Comments (2)

July 21, 2004

A Summer Staple (Tabouli)

I love having a garden where I can harvest fresh vegetables and herbs as I need them. Nothing beats a homegrown tomato in the heat of a southern summer. However, we've been a bit overzealous in the past about the number of tomato plants we put in our garden. So here's what I do with too much tomato and parsley for just one fork:

click "more" for recipe

Tabouli (based upon the recipe found in the Moosewood Cookbook)

1 c. dry bulghar wheat
1-1/2 c. boiling water
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 clove of fresh crushed garlic
1 bunch chopped scallions (including greens)
3 large tomatoes diced
1 packed cup fresh chopped parsley
1 15oz can garbanzo (chickpeas) beans
1/2 tsp dried mint
fresh black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine boiling water, salt and bulghar wheat in a small pot and remove from heat. Let soak about 15-20 minutes.

Chop and combine vegetables in a large bowl.

Make a dressing with the lemon juice, mint, garlic, and olive oil and combine.

Pour bulghar wheat over vegetable mixture then drizzle dressing over all and combine. Chill a bit before serving. Best if used within a day.

Posted by linda at 12:22 PM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2004

Soft Or Crunchy? (Cookies, That Is)

We're not big cookie eaters in the largehearted household, but when the talk turns to cookies, the discussion turns to the soft/crunchy cookie debate.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where most of our cookies were homemade and if they had something nutritious in them, then so much the better. So it was rare that we got store bought cookies except for Oreos. I used to beg my Mom to get us the Chips Ahoy because my classmates would have them in their lunchboxes. You can't get a crunchier cookie than a throw-'em-against-the-wall-and-watch-them-shatter Chips Ahoy!

Then sometime in the 80's the soft cookie came along. Mom had slacked up a bit on the homemade baked goods opting for the pre-packaged soft chocolate chip cookies in the red resealable pouch. I've never liked those cookies. I'm willing to bet there are unnatural polymer-based softening agents in those cookies. They just don't act right with milk.

I like my cookies crunchy. It's a texture thing, plain and simple. David likes his chewy, especially if they're fresh out of the oven, which just about nixes it on his appreciation of store-bought cookies.

Which do you think is better, crunchy or soft cookies?

Click "more" for my mom's toll-house cookie with oatmeal recipe.

Mom's TOLL HOUSE COOKIES but with oatmeal

3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 c. rolled oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to butter mixture, mixing well. Stir in oats. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 9 minutes for a chewy cookie, 10 to 11 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire cooling rack. Store in tightly covered container. 4 1/2 dozen.

Posted by linda at 11:01 AM | Comments (5)

July 19, 2004

Ten Favorite Cookbooks

One of the things my wife and I share is a love of cookbooks and books about cooking. A cookbook is more than a collection of recipes to us. Good cookbooks combine instruction with humor, grace, and the occasional geography and sociology lessons. Now that we are married, our collection has grown to over seventy cookbooks. We are both prone to grab one at random and read it like a book of short stories. We will open it, then enjoy a brief respite from our busy days, and hopefully be inspired to try a culinary experiment.

My favorite cookbooks:

The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: We are forever beholden to King Arthur Flour for teaching us to bake edible bread at one of their seminars. This book offers recipes from the King Arthur test kitchens, and is presented in an orderly and fact-filled way. Until Alton Brown's baking book is published, this is my baking bible.

The Dean and DeLuca Cookbook: This book by David Rosengarten (with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca) presents both simple and elegant recipes in straightforward presentations, and the asides are as tasty as the resulting meals!

How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking: I may not be a domestic goddess, but Nigella Lawson helped me learn to bake with this book. Her engaging voice makes every recipe a pleasure. If you like comfort food (and we do), this is a great book.

30 Minute Meals: Rachael Ray's first cookbook is a favorite not for the recipes, but for the shortcuts and timesaving tricks she offers.

Beard on Bread: James Beard did not teach me to make bread with this book, but I am entranced by his writing style. The recipes for yeast breads especially are very easy to follow and tasty.

Cheese Primer: Technically not a cookbook, this book by Steven Jenkins is a comprehensive reference to cheese in the western world. Enlightening and humorous, this is the book I turn to to learn more about the second love of my life.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook: When I want to learn how long to roast something, I turn to the venerable Fannie Farmer. This book has been around forever, but along with the Joy of Cooking, it's like a bible in the kitchen.

The Greens Cookbook: This book is full of elegant vegetarian recipes, from salads to pizza to main courses. We are not vegetarian, but we do use this book as often as any in our food library.

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Filled with low-fat vegetarian meals full of flavor, this book is a dinner favorite. An added bonus is the nutritional information in the back of the book, making a wonderful resource even better!

Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas: This collection of regional African cooking in the Americas has a story attached to every recipe, adding warmth and a human element to the often simple yet flavor-packed recipes.

Posted by david at 05:56 PM | Comments (3)

July 16, 2004

Garlic Rosemary Roasted Chicken

One of the keys to a happy life (in our house at least) is a kitchen filled with staples. With two busy adults, having the ingredients to throw a satisfying lunch or dinner together at the spur of the moment is essential. One of the mainstays we keep around is a roast chicken. When time is short, we pick up a pre-cooked supermarket bird, but when we have a little extra time, we roast this excellent garlic rosemary chicken. The rosemary from our garden, combined with fresh lemons and garlic, permeates the flesh with a heavenly flavor, perfect for chicken salad, tamale filling, or eating by itself. Click "more" for the recipe, originally found at Yum!, also home to "white trash recipes" (try the deep-fried Mars bar, I recommend it).

Ingredients:

1 large roasting chicken

1 bulb/head of garlic

1 bunch of fresh rosemary

1 large or 2 small lemons, washed

olive oil

salt & pepper

large roasting pan with rack

Directions:

Heat oven to 475F.

Wash and dry chicken.

Roughly chop the bulb of garlic. (Don't worry about peeling the individual cloves.)

Roughly chop the lemons.

Reserve 4 stalks of rosemary and roughly chop the rest.

Combined the chopped ingredients and stuff into the cavity of the chicken.

Rub the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place chicken on rack in roasting pan. Place reserved stalks of rosemary on top of the chicken. I like to put them where the legs and wings join the body.

Place roaster in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees. Continue to roast for an additional 30 minutes or until browned and crisp.

Posted by david at 06:32 PM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2004

The Donut Debacle

Tastes evolve. There used to be a time when I loved those little donuts with the powdered sugar on them. I even took it in the chin for them once.

As a youngster (around 4 or 5 years-old) I had a penchant for busting my chin open at the drop of a hat. The last time I did was the donut debacle of 1969. I was just tall enough to see over the counter and I often watched my mother cook while I rested my chin on the edge.

So, one day she came home with those little powdered donuts and I, being easily excitable in those days, began hopping up and down in a paroxysm of delight. The outcome was inevitable, my chin met the edge of the counter with great force. The groceries were dropped and I was rushed, for the fifth time, to the doctors office for stitches in my chin.

I don't care much for donuts these days, but I do like powdered sugar on cakes in lieu of frosting. Here's a nice little thing you can do to gussie up plain old 10X.

Vanilla Sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups powdered sugar

Scrape seeds of vanilla bean into a bowl and stir in sugar until combined well.
Note: Vanilla sugar keeps in an airtight container at room temperature 1 month.

Posted by linda at 01:02 PM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2004

Salmon Papillotes

Every now and then, a recipe will leap from our kitchen and go forth and multiply, speading through our friends and family. For me to recommend a recipe, it must either taste great or have extreme ease of preparation, and salmon papillotes combine both.

When we first moved back to Alabama, we decided to include more fish in our diets. With salmon both cheap and accessible, I dug through my cookbooks and the internet looking for a quick and tasty way to cook this fish. Luckily, this recipe is both. Plus, you can make the papillotes up to a day in advance.

These salmon papillotes are simple yet tasty, click "more" for the recipe (via the University of Missouri's Heart & Palate Recipes)...

Ingredients
1 bunch fresh rosemary sprigs
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1-1/2 pounds center-cut salmon fillet, skinned, and cut into 4 equal pieces
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large lemon, very thinly sliced
olive oil spray
4, 24-inch x 16-inch pieces parchment or foil

Directions

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

Fold each parchment or foil piece in half crosswise and cut each piece to make a large, rounded heart shape. Open a parchment heart. Place a few rosemary sprigs in the middle of one side of each heart. Lay the salmon on top of the rosemary. Spray top of salmon fillet with olive oil spray. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon wine and salt and pepper. Arrange 1/4 of the lemon slices and 1/4 of the red onion slices on top.

Beginning at bottom end of center crease, in overlapping 1-inch segments fold edges of parchment, crimping as you go, to form a tight seal. Make 3 more papillotes in the same manner. [Papillotes may be made up to this point 4 hours ahead and chilled, covered.]

Put papillotes on a large baking sheet and bake 9 to 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted through the parchment and into the fish slides out smoothly.

Serve immediately, cutting them open at table. Alternatively, open each packet and transfer fillet with juices to a plate.

Posted by david at 08:10 PM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

The Giant Ho-Ho

I have many warm childhood memories of standing at the kitchen counter watching my mother making a myriad treats for our family. One such treat was a delightfully light confection called a chocolate roll which was filled with whipped cream and resembled a giant Ho-Ho. Mom whipped the egg whites until they formed stiff peaks and turned away to get the cocoa. Meanwhile I took a big ole swipe of the stuff thinking it was whipped cream and got a mouthful of the most disappointing flavor and texture describable. I've never forgotten that experience a make sure to double check that anything that's fluffy and white is whipped cream before I taste it. Click below for the recipe.

Chocolate Roll

5 eggs separated
2 T unsweetened cocoa
1/2 C sugar
pinch of salt

Beat egg white and salt until stiff. Beat egg yolks until thick and add cocoa and sugar; continue to beat for 10 minutes. Fold in stiff egg whites. Pour into a buttered and wax paper lined jelly roll pan. Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Turn out onto tea towel that has been sprinkled with confectioners sugar and roll up while still warm. Cool and unroll; fill with sweetened whipped cream and re-roll. Store in refrigerator until used. Serve with hot chocolate sauce.


Hot Chocolate Sauce (Optional)

1 C water
1 C sugar
1 t corn starch
1 square melted chocolate

In a double boiler, mix sugar, corn starch and water and blend. Add melted chocolate last.

Posted by linda at 12:09 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2004

Welcome

The love of food is a wonderful thing. Food brings us together, accentuates our best times, and permeates our memories with tastes and aromas.

Too Much Pork is our missive to food lovers everywhere. My wife and I will share food stories, recipes, and adventures in eating. We will also review cookbooks and discuss culinary trends. Pull up a chair, pick your meat and three, and enjoy!

Posted by david at 07:03 AM | Comments (1)