Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dinner on the Farm










Since the baby arrived, our nights out have pretty much come to an end. For only our second night out of the house in six weeks, we headed to the country. We were fortunate enough to attend a fabulous dinner for Georgia Organics on the grounds of the organic farm Woodland Gardens. After a tour through the farm with cocktail stations throughout, we sat down to a supper of epic proportions. Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia designed the tables and the food kept coming from the best chefs around Georgia. It was a dinner that you had to remind yourself to keep pace, or you'd miss out on the next round simply from having no space left. That's my kind of meal!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rekindled Love Affair

Just like the recovery after the loss of a great love, I’ve spent nearly a year missing something that is as much a part of my life as oxygen and water. At the sudden end of a passionate love affair, there is a yearning and a heart breaking that can only be felt, not described. When the heart is broken beyond repair, the body physically hurts, as if almost to compensate for an unseen emotional wound. If you’ve ever known and lost love this strong, you feel my pain.

The love I’ve been withdrawing from for nine months was joyously rekindled on Friday night at 7:23. It’s as if we never were apart. No, it’s not a man or a best friend that I’ve been missing. It’s simply, and most powerfully, wine. Wine is a part of my business, my leisure, and a major factor in my sanity. From the moment I learned I was pregnant with my second child, there was never a doubt that this integral part of who I am had to be put on a hiatus until the baby arrived. As it should be, for the entirety of my pregnancy, not one drop of alcohol touched my lips.

On some nights, I felt like a chef without a spoon. I spent much of my time at dinners with my husband sniffing his wine while practically tasting the winemaker’s genius as I inhaled. I even taught a few wine pairing classes while I sadly sipped on sparkling water. Even at a much-awaited celebratory dinner, I raised my glass full of lemonade and toasted to my new business endeavor.

With our sweet and perfect baby now at home, I pour from my favorite bottle with the zeal and zest of a child in a toy store. I’ve been waiting, for what seemed like an eternity, for this lover of mine to return. After all, isn’t a love lost and found far stronger than one that was here all along?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quicker Frying

Breading vegetables takes the longest time of any of the steps of frying. While getting a batch of okra ready to hit the oil, I tried something a little different that did shave off some time. Most cooks that fry know that when breading, the steps are dry ingredients, wet, then dry again. The fancy term for this is "standard breading method." I just say, "dry, wet, dry."
I filled a sheet pan with flour and did the first step of dry ingredients on all the okra at one time. I think it went a little faster this time. But, no matter how long it takes, a piece of crispy, salty okra is worth it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pickled Okra and Fig Preserves

My weekend was filled with two of my favorite things. Pickled okra and fig preserves. Thanks to generous friends with gardens much larger than ours, I was overcome with fresh brown turkey figs. If there's one fruit I couldn't live without, it would be figs. We even bought a house once based mostly on the enormous fig tree at the end of the driveway. No wonder they are mentioned so much in the Bible; eating figs is the closest to Heaven many of us have been. I made a batch of preserves so I can enjoy them in the dead of winter. I cooked equal amounts (in weight) of halved and stemmed figs and granulated sugar. I cook my preserves for several hours before I begin the ritual of canning. While most people my age were out with a cocktail on Friday night, I was standing at the stove processing jars of liquid gold. No complaints here.

I also had a bag of fresh okra as large as a couple of watermelons. I saved some to fry for tonight and pickled the rest. I found the okra I pickled and canned last summer didn't last too terribly long on the shelf. It should be eaten within a few months to keep the pods from turning into sponges of vinegar. This time, I tried this recipe from myrecipes.com. It's spicy and goes straight in the fridge. I was eager to try a version that didn't need to be canned. The okra is fabulous and the recipe is now the one I'll use each time.
What's my next project? A huge batch of pepper jelly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Friends in Business

My friends, the Matonaks, have started their own business. They make very cool platters with tile and wood. Check them out and order one. You'll love it.
www.D3GTrays.com

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The First Tomato

You know those meals that are so incredibly good that you don't even want to talk in between bites? I just had one of the meals right here in my kitchen. Today was the day the first tomato from the garden was ready to become my ultimate lunch...a tomato sandwich. I picked the Mortgage Lifter Heirloom tomato moments before it hit the bread. As soon as I plucked it from the plant, I could taste it.
With some white bread, a slice of Vidalia onion and a little Duke's Mayonnaise, I created one of the God-given joys of summertime in about 3 minutes. The tomato was still slightly warm from the backyard sunshine and the onion was gloriously sweet from the South Georgia soil.
Life doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Get Frying!

It's a zillion degrees outside and even too hot inside to turn on the oven. If you're like me and still crave a big hot supper, heat up some oil and start frying. Frying is often overlooked as a fast way to cook with little residual heat to make the thermostat dance. Before the miracle of air-conditioning, frying was so prevalent in the South because it didn't heat up the kitchen like cooking in the oven.
During the most scorching hours of yesterday afternoon, I was frying up a batch of my grandmother's chicken for supper. We called my grandmother Tom, and her chicken couldn't be beat. Instead of opting for cold salad or a chilled soup tonight, pull out the cast iron skillet and relish in an old Southern tradition. I promise you'll be glad you did.

Tom's Fried Chicken

3.5 lb. Cut up whole chicken
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Place chicken in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt and cover with cold water. Cover and soak chicken for 45 minutes.

Remove chicken from salt water; drain on paper towels.

Heat shortening in an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a large deep skillet to about 360 degrees.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Coat each piece completely with flour and gently place chicken in hot shortening. Fry 10 to 12 minutes per side or until golden brown, about 25 minutes total.

Check the temperature of the oil occasionally. If the oil is too hot, the chicken will be too brown on the outside but not fully cooked through.

Fry chicken in batches to prevent the skillet from becoming crowded.

Drain cooked chicken on paper towels or the more traditional folded brown paper grocery bag.

Serves 4-6

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vacation Cooking

After a week at the beach, I'm relaxed and practically high from lingering scents from the kitchen. Most vacationers use the time away to get out of the kitchen and into a restaurant. Not us - we cook more on vacation than in a normal week at home. I spent some time in advance to pick all the recipes I wanted to try while I was gone, knowing I'd have time to cook as much as I wanted. Of course, I turned to my favorite site, myrecipes.com, for some new recipes. My favorite new recipe on the trip was Cucumber Dip. With grated cucumber, rice wine vinegar, and chives, it was refreshing and an ideal appetizer for hot weather. I made some pita chips for scooping and it's now in my go-to entertaining repertoire.

Every vacation should include homemade ice cream on the porch. We indulged in peach ice cream, right out of the ice cream maker, until we could hold no more. Most recipes call for ripening the ice cream in the freezer for an hour or so after it's made. I prefer the soft frozen mixture the minute it's ready. Try my quick version for a homemade treat.

Peach Ice Cream
3/4 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup half and half
3/4 cups sugar
1 cups chopped fresh peaches
1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Whisk all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

Pour mixture into the freezer container of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: 1/2 gallon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Friday Night with Commander's Palace

My Friday night was spent celebrating the food of Commander's Palace. During a class with Michael Nix, a superbly talented wine buyer for Sherlock's Wine Merchant and Cook's Warehouse, we served eight recipes from the famous New Orleans restaurant. The Cajun spices were flowing as much as the wine. For a taste of our class, try this truly spectacular gumbo. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Commander's Palace's Gumbo Ya Ya

1 large roasting chicken (about 5 pounds), disjointed
Salt
Cayenne pepper
Powered garlic
2 ½ cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped celery
2 cups coarsely chopped green bell pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 pound andouille sausage, finely diced
4 cups fluffy cooked rice

Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise. This will give you 10 pieces of chicken. Season with salt, cayenne pepper and garlic and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Measure flour into a large paper bag. Add chicken pieces and shake until well coated. Remove chicken and reserve the flour.

In a large skillet brown the chicken in very hot oil, remove and set aside. Stir oil remaining in skillet with a wire whisk to loosen all the lovely brown particles from the bottom and the sides of the pan.

Whisk in 1 cup reserved flour and stir constantly until the mixture of oil and flour (the roux) becomes dark and brown. Remove from heat and add onions, celery and green bell pepper and stir constantly so that they do not burn. Transfer roux and vegetables to a large heavy saucepan or dutch oven.

Add stock to roux and vegetables and bring to a boil while stirring. Lower heat to a quick simmer and add garlic, sausage and chicken. Continue cooking until chicken is tender,
1 ¾ to 2 hours.

Adjust seasonings and serve in gumbo bowls over steamed rice.

Serves 8

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I love Mother's Day! The stars aligned this morning and our 3-year old slept until 8:30. We then enjoyed a fabulous brunch at a popular local restaurant only to be followed by my favorite activity...napping. I hope everyone one of you has the day of your dreams too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Favorite Fried Chicken

I just taught a super-fun fried chicken class at Whole Foods. We made three very different recipes of chicken and some unforgettable tomato gravy to spoon over our crispy drumsticks. While we devoured the array of chicken, I took a poll. I was dying to find out which chicken everyone liked best. I must admit, I did have a stake in this contest - my grandmother's recipe, Miss Tom's Fried Chicken, was among the three.
I couldn't have been prouder when the hands rose towards the ceiling in favor of Miss Tom's famously good chicken.

Miss Tom’s Fried Chicken
3.5 lb. Cut-up whole chicken
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Place chicken in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt and cover with cold water. Cover and soak chicken for 45 minutes.

Remove chicken from salt water; drain on paper towels.

Heat shortening in an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a large deep skillet to about 360 degrees.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Coat each piece completely with flour and gently place chicken in hot shortening. Fry 10 to 12 minutes per side or until golden brown, about 25 minutes total.

Check the temperature of the oil occasionally. If the oil is too hot, the chicken will be too brown on the outside but not fully cooked through.

Fry chicken in batches to prevent the skillet from becoming crowded.

Drain cooked chicken on paper towels or the more traditional folded brown paper grocery bag.

Serves 4-6

Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting The Garden Ready

It’s that time again. The weather is warm, the pollen is swirling in the wind and the garden is calling for some attention. I spent the weekend planting my herbs and getting my tomatoes in the ground. Planting your own herbs is not only fun, it's smart. One package of herbs at the grocery store costs the same as one plant. Save money and grow your own.
We are growing only heirloom tomatoes this year. I can already taste the sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise. I bought two plants called “Mortgage Lifter” that produce a tomato so large that one slice makes a sandwich. It’s looking like a delicious summer already!
Before planting, I had the soil in the garden tested by The University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service. I received a graph of the nutrient levels in my soil. Thanks to the organic matter we added last year, my garden needs almost nothing. The test costs a few dollars and very simple. Remember that good soil makes a good gardener.
Click here to find your local extension service.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clip Those Coupons

In my recent newsletter, I mentioned my miraculous savings at the grocery store with coupons. I've been clipping coupons for months and each week, my savings keep adding up. Emails have poured in with coupon advice from my readers. Clip coupons and go to stores that double coupons. Look for store specials to combine with the coupons. In addition to clipping the coupons out of the Sunday paper, try surfing the net for savings. Here are some of the sites that my readers and I recommend for cutting the grocery bill.

Couponsuzy.com
www.e-mealz.com
Coupons.com
Shortcuts.com
Couponmom.com

How do you save?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hand Model "Moonlighting"

Most of us in the food business do a wide array of jobs to make a living. One of my most unusual sources of income is pretty surprising. I work as a hand model about twice a year on food commercials. A good friend of mine gets the job often (her hands are much prettier than mine) but when she's unavailable, I get the call. Last week, the call was for a commercial for a fast food restaurant's new breakfast items.
I spent most the day working on my computer in an "office" the crew set up for me. When I was called to the set to do my job, I flipped an omelet about 25 times.
If you've never been present for the filming of a 30 second food commercial, it's hard to imagine the effort that pours into making you want to head out for a meal.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

White Wine Sangria

video My class last week in Greenville, South Carolina was a blast. All the students sat around the counter so it was like cooking for friends at home. With the cold weather in full force outside, we sipped on a White Wine Sangria in hopes of an early Spring.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Only in the South

On a return trip from Sapelo Island this weekend, we stopped in Jesup, Georgia for a huge Sunday lunch at Sybil's Restaurant. Right in the middle of the dining room is a country buffet so long you almost need to stop for breaks between the deviled eggs at the front and the fluffy biscuits at the end. We were near starvation by our arrival at 10:50 am. After planning to sit in the parking lot until the doors opened at 11:00, we noticed locals trickling in minutes before the Sybil opened for business. In hopes of getting in line early, we waltzed in and found several tables filled with people just waiting on the food to emerge from the kitchen.
We, as well as everyone else, watched the buffet tables pouring out steam like a good sauna. It was torturous! As the hotel pans, filled with Southern food that only a Sunday lunch can justify, came out one by one, the others at their tables sat patiently. Once each and every pan was out, a tall, slender woman in an apron stood near the swinging kitchen door and asked everyone to rise for the blessing. After we were all up with our heads bowed, she eloquently asked the blessing. I've eaten out my fair share and certainly have partaken in countless Southern country buffets, yet I've never been a part of a formal blessing in a restaurant. Just for a minute, it was easy to forget that all the others in the room were strangers. We were all there for the same reason, good food, and we were grateful for it. That's a blessing in itself.