Doin’ The ‘Cue The Slow Way

You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take her love of barbecue away. Barbecue fever runs in my family. My Uncle Bo told me the story of my grandfather and pulled pork. My grandfather was an engineer on the railroad in Memphis, Tennessee WAY back in the day. He didn’t have a car, but when he got paid every Friday he would take the bus to pay his bills in person and then would go to Leonard’s Barbecue and treat himself to a pulled pork sandwich and a beer.Leonard's Pit Barbecue Seems like a big so what, but with a large family to feed, cloth and educate it was a real luxury for him. The best gift to us all is that he passed his love of pulled pork down to his family

When people talk about barbecue they usually talk about barbecued ribs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like ribs just as much as the next guy, but they really aren’t that hard to cook. Pulled pork, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. Real pit masters spend years perfecting their rubs, sauce and technique to master cooking a pork butt to become a beautiful pile of mouth watering pulled pork. And to really do it the authentic way, you need a smoker that burns wood where the pork butt can be cooked low and slow to get that delicious, deep smokey flavor.Pulled Pork Sandwich

I will admit, I have been a little intimidated to cook a pork butt. First of all, I’m no pit master and secondly, I don’t have a smoker. So I considered myself at a real disadvantage. But, being a Type A personality, I was going to find a way to make pulled pork my way. One day I was looking around in Williams Sonoma and I saw a jar of Pulled Pork Starter to use in the slow cooker! Pulled Pork Starter What a great idea – it was worth a try.

Off to the store to buy a 5 lb. pork butt with the bone in. Every barbecue show I have watched always stresses that the bone in pork butt delivers better flavor in the final product. Next was to develop my own version of a rub – a blend of toasted spices, garlic powder, chili powder, dry mustard and brown sugar. After I applied the dry rub to the pork butt, I then browned it on all sides and put it in the slow cooker, poured the Pull Pork Starter around it and set the slow cooker to low for 9 hours. Here is a little “how to” video shot by my friend and videographer, Lorin Shamos.

All Clad Slow CookerI know it is a cardinal sin to open a slow cooker during the cooking process, but it is necessary because you need to turn the pork butt over since the Pulled Pork Starter doesn’t cover the meat entirely. I know 9 hours seems like a long time, but your patience will be rewarded. What I like to do is pull the pork apart into nice size chunks and shred it a little or you can chop it (that is what is usually done for Memphis style pulled pork sandwiches). I always save some of the cooking liquid to moisten the meat before serving. You can either serve it piled high on bun, topped with your favorite barbecue sauce and some tasty Green Onion Slaw or just by itself with barbecue sauce and your favorite sides. Pulled Pork Dinner with Green Onion Slaw Now that’s some good eats!

Pulled Pork The Slow Way

2 tsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp dry mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chile powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
4 tbs dark brown sugar
2 tbsp canola oil
4 1/2 to 5 lb. pork butt (shoulder), bone in
1 jar Williams-Sonoma Pulled Pork Starter
Hamburger buns
Your favorite barbecue sauce (I like Jack Daniels or Stubbs)

For the spice rub, in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the coriander, cumin and peppercorns until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from skillet immediately and using a spice grinder or a food processor, grind the toasted spices into a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and mix with salt, dry mustard, garlic powder, chile powder, cayenne pepper, paprika and brown sugar. You will have enough left over for your next pork butt.

Wash a dry the pork butt well and rub meat with a generous amount of the spice rub making sure all sides are covered. If you have time, let the meat rest for an hour or two at room temperature, or refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Heat a large skillet (or the insert in your slow cooker if it is removable and can be used on the stove top) with about 2 tbsp of canola oil and heat to medium-high. Place the meat in the hot skillet and brown well on all sides, about 2 – 3 minutes per side until completely browned. Remove from the skillet and place in slow cooker. If you are using the slow cooker insert to cook the meat, remove the meat to a plate, and pour out all of the cooking oil and wipe out the insert so there are no burned spices left in the slow cooker then place in the slow cooker. Once the meat is in the slow cooker, pour the Pulled Pork Starter around the meat (it will not cover the meat) and then place the cover on the slow cooker and turn on to low setting for 9 hours. After about 6 hours turn the meat over to let the other side cook in the Pulled Pork Starter liquid. When the cooking time has been completed, remove the meat and shred or chop, which ever you like. Reserve some of the cooking juice to moisten the meat before serving. Pile the moistened pulled pork on a hamburger bun, top with barbecue sauce and Green Onion Slaw and get ready to go to barbecue heaven!

Green Onion Slaw

 

1 cup coarsely chopped green onions, white and green parts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 Serrano chilies
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 small head purple cabbage, finely shredded
1 small head Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 green and red bell pepper thinly sliced
1/2 cup julianed carrots
1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (depending on you liking)

 

To make the dressing for the slaw, combine the green onions, vinegar, honey, chilies, mayonnaise, oil and salt and pepper to taste in food processor and blend until emulsified.

 

Combine the cabbages, bell peppers, carrots, red onions and poppy seeds in a large bowl, add the dressing (you may have more dressing than is needed so just add enough to coat and add more if needed) and stir until combined.  Fold in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

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It’s Greek To Me

I suppose this would tell you something about my personality, but sometimes I eat the same thing every day for weeks on end. A few months ago it was steamed mussels whenever I could find them. Before that it was a sushi kick. Recently we discovered a little coffee shop in East Hampton owned by a Greek family and I rediscovered the Greek Salad which became my new obsession. Horiatiki Greek SaladThe Greek salad is a pretty simple, fresh dish that represents Mediterranean cuisine at its best. Healthy, refreshing and balanced, every bite of what the Greeks call “horiatiki salata” invites a sensation — be it the saltiness of the olives and feta cheese, the sweetness and acid of the tomatoes, the bite of the onions, the richness of olive oil or the herbaceousness of Greek oregano. Add to that the vibrancy of the ingredients’ colors, the contrasting textures and the fact that the salad requires so little to put together, and the sum total is addictive.

Lakonia Greek ProductsNaturally, my quest for the perfect ingredients ensued. The most critical to a truly great Greek Salad is high quality olive oil, red wine vinegar, feta cheese, kalamata olives and Greek oregano. One item most everyone agrees does not belong in an authentic Greek salad is lettuce. However, I think that it is perfectly fine to have lettuce in a Greek salad.

After a little investigation, I found an olive oil made by Lakonia, an extra-virgin olive oil made from kalamata olives grown in the Lakonia region of Greece, and is considered some of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil in the world. The taste is velvety with a peppery finish. Lakonia is family owned and their products are very difficult to find, so I ordered it online at www.lakoniagreekproducts.com. Lakonia products include delicious Greek Infusions, Greek Olives, and Greek Oregano. After tasting all of their products I can truly say you won’t find anything better.

I am a red wine vinegar snob. The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills makes their own red wine vinegar aged in a wood cask and it has a deep and rich flavor and is a beautiful garnet color. The secret to great red wine vinegar is the quality of the wine that is used. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavor. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than white or cider vinegars. There are very good red wine vinegars that you can buy online. One that I would recommend is made by Delouis Fils. The house of Delouis was founded in 1885, with the purchase of a vinegar factory in Limoges, France, and they have produced high quality vinegar products ever since. Based on a tradition of “Natural Quality”, that is no additives, preservative or artificial flavors aggregated, Delouis produces some of the finest vinegars out in the market today. Delouis Fils red wine vinegar is distilled from the finest red wines available, and bottled after being aged in casks to produce a high-quality, fresh, and perfumed condiment. It might cost a little more than the grocery store brands, but it is well worth it.Delouis Fils Red Wine Vinegar

If you are a Greek Salad purest, feta is the crowning glory of a Greek salad, its quality makes all the difference. If you have a good cheese store near you, it is always a good to try a couple of different feta to see what appeals to you. There are a few good brands in your local grocery that would work just fine. Fage makes a feta that has a bright, lemony flavor without too much salt with a moist and creamy texture, yet firm and crumbly. Athenos feta comes in a chunk and has a sophisticated, aged flavor and is slightly drier. I look at it this way, sometimes you have to try on a lot of shoes to find the perfect pair, the same applies to feta and your personal taste.Feta

There are a lot of good kalamata olives available today. There are two types, kalamatas in a brine and kalamatas in olive oil. Either are fine.

Lastly, Greek oregano. Oregano was quite obscure in this country until after World War II. Returning GIs wanted their wives to make pizza, which they had grown so fond of overseas. Oregano was a key flavor note. This one dish actually caused the sales of oregano in this country to increase 5000%!Greek Oregano Greek oregano has a bright, sweet flavor with clean, lemony overtones. Lakonia has a wonderful Wild Greek Oregano that is robust and distinctive. Its leaves contain more oil glands than ordinary oregano giving it the potent and pungent flavor of the Mediterranean. The Spice House has a very good Greek Oregano as well.

There are many different recipes for the classic Horiatiki salad, but I’ve put my own twist on my version. Have a loaf of hot crusty bread to sop up the tasty dressing. Apoláf̱ste (enjoy)!

Not So Classic Horiatiki – Serves 6

2 pints cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 English (seedless) cucumber cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
5 radishes, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded if you like, cut into thin slices
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 8 oz. block feta cheese cut into 2 inch chunks

Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, bell pepper radishes, jalapeno, olives, salt, vinegar, 1/2 tsp. oregano and 1/4 cup olive oil in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly.

Divide evenly among 6 plates. Top each portion with feta cheese chunks and sprinkle the cheese with the remaining oregano and drizzle with remaining olive oil.

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The Bread of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's DayCan you believe it? I have never made a traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage meal! Unbelievable. This year I decided to get in the spirit and cook some Irish soul food. Many years ago I had a neighbor, Peg McGuire, that was from Donegal, Ireland. I loved having St. Patrick’s Day dinner at her house. She was a quick wit and made some mean corned beef and cabbage, but my favorite was her Irish Soda Bread. Corned Beef and CabbageI never asked her for the recipe and I was kicking myself last weekend when I wanted to make the real deal Irish Soda Bread. It was a hearty bread with lots of plump raisins and plenty of caraway seeds.

For days I searched the internet for various Irish Soda Bread recipes – some seemed to simple and didn’t sound like what Peg made and some to “Americanized”. So, that left me to take the elements of several recipes that were fairly consistent to make my own recipe. I have to say that on my first try my Irish Soda Bread was truly delicious and was close to my memories of Peg’s bread – thus her name as my recipe. Peg's Irish Soda BreadThis is a great bread for breakfast with some Kerrygold Irish butter or for any winter meal, like a hearty stew.

Peg’s Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 2 1/2 cups raisins
2 tbsp caraway seeds
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup low fat sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 8 inch round baking or cake pan.
Combine 4 cups of flour (reserve 1 tbsp), the sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, raisins and caraway seeds into a large mixing bowl.
In a smaller bowl, blend eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture just until flour is moistened. Combine the ingredients with a large rubber spatula and combine only until the dough comes together – it will be very sticky. Place the dough in the prepared pan and pat down. Cut a 4 x 3/4 deep slit in the top of the bread – it will be more like dragging the knife through as the dough is so sticky. Dust the top with the reserve flour.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 65 to 75 minutes – the top should be a beautiful golden brown. Let cool and turn bread out onto a wire rack. Enjoy with plenty of irish butter!

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A Perfect Saturday

Louise and Selena at the Getty.Today I went to the Getty Museum with my friend, Selena. It was a cold and brilliantly clear Saturday morning here in Southern California. We had a great time seeing the visiting Vermeer, “Woman In Blue Reading A Letter” and viewing the extensive collection of the Getty. After having lunch and visiting a while with Selena it was time to get home and get dinner started. On a cold day like today, I wanted to cook something that would make the house smell cozy as it cooked and would be a “one pot meal” as well…roast chicken it is!

So that brings me to my quest for the perfect roast chicken. We have all roasted chickens, but they can turn out somewhat dry and tasteless. After doing a lot of research, it seems that the size of the chicken and the temperature of the oven are the most important factors. I first set out to buy at least a 5 lb. chicken, which believe it or not, is not easy to find. When looking for a larger chicken, you will most likely find one that is organic. It may cost a little bit more, but the end result is more flavorful and juicy.

Another secret is giving the chicken a good “bed” to sit on while it roasts.IMG_0957 A combination of onions, fennel, carrots, thyme and lemons are wonderful flavors and is a delicious side dish to the roast chicken. Also, a simple mixture of lemon, thyme and a whole head of garlic stuffed inside the cavity of the chicken is a subtile seasoning throughout the bird.Ready for the oven

My inspiration from Ina Garten for her Perfect Roast Chicken. The final secret is roasting in a 425 degree oven for about 2 hours.Roasted Chicken The high heat gives the chicken a golden skin and ensures that the chicken is completely cooked through. So, set the table, open a bottle of wine and enjoy a perfect roast chicken on a cold winter evening.A Plate of Perfectly Roasted Chicken

The Perfect Roast Chicken

(5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
2 lemons cut into quarters
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
6 – 8 cipollini onions, peeled
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
8-10 fingerling potatoes
Olive oil
2 cups chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle liberally again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, lemon wedges, fennel, cipollini onions and a hand full of thyme sprigs in the bottom a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Total roasting time is 2 hours. First roast the chicken for 1 hour and then add the chicken broth and the fingerling potatoes and baste the chicken. Roast 1 more hour, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. If you like, make a gravy from the pan drippings with a roux and serve along side the roast chicken.

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Musings About A Cat’s Life and My Life

SONY DSCThe best thing about having your own blog is that you can write about whatever you want to. Today I do not want to write about food.

WinstonIt has been a while since I have posted … the holidays, family, celebrations…I was really busy and happy. However, yesterday Howie and I went for a quick lunch and as we left the little restaurant to walk to another store, we came upon a woman with a cat carrier at an outdoor table at the same restaurant who was crying. I stopped to ask about her cat and she said that she had just come from the vet and her cat of 19 years had been diagnosed with cancer of the stomach and he was having a little treat of hamburger for his lunch. My heart dropped and I gave her a long hug and told her that it never is easy to lose someone you love, especially after 19 years. It was one of those moments that you never think will happen, but they do if you let them. I asked Howie if he was embarrassed that I hugged someone I didn’t know. He said he was touched that I reached out to a stranger and he hopes when our time comes with one of our three little kitties someone will understand like we do.

We love our three cats, Muriel, Winston and Wallis. WallisThey all have their personalities and individual connection with both of us. Life is short and our pets lives are shorter…enjoy each moment!

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Two New “Friends” For Your Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving is with out a doubt my favorite holiday. I have great childhood memories of our Thanksgiving dinners. They always included special dishes that we only got once a year and there were never enough leftovers to satisfy everyone. Growing up in the South, even something that today we consider ordinary like broccoli, was a treat -even if it was frozen. While there are many traditional dishes that always need to be a part of your Thanksgiving feast, we all develop our own take on old favorites. My two favorites are cornbread dressing and cranberries.

Any cook worth their salt in Tennessee would NEVER dream of making dressing with anything other than cornbread. My grandmother would use Martha White hot-rise cornmeal and a black cast iron skillet to make her cornbread. When she would pull it out of the oven it was always so hard to resist cutting a piece of the hot, crusty cornbread, slicing it in half and spreading it with gobs of butter. Cornbread in the South is not sweet. I’ve never considered cornbread like is served at Marie Callendar’s real cornbread – it is more like cake to me. Southern cornbread is a little tangy because you use buttermilk in place of milk. In developing my own take on a Southern classic I have added ingredients that combine sweet and savory, dried cherries and cranberries, chestnuts, italian turkey sausage and fresh herbs. The great part about this recipe is that you can make it vegetarian friendly by eliminating the italian turkey sausage.

Next is cranberry sauce. The type I was raised on was prepared more like a chopped relish with orange peels and chopped pecans. It wasn’t until much later in my life did I learn about the cranberry sauce that most of us are familiar with. I found a recipe in Gourment magazine over 30 years ago and I have never tried to change it because it is just perfect the way it is. The only thing I do now is reduce the sugar it calls for, but it is just delicious either way.

So as you starting planning your own Thanksgiving meal, give these two new “friends” a place on your Thanksgiving table this year.

Savory and Sweet Cornbread Dressing

1 medium green apple, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 medium red apple, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
1½ cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter, plus 2 tbsp cubed
2 bunchs fresh sage, leaves minced
¼ cup dry white wine
1 (6 oz.) bag dried cranberries
½ cup dried sour cherries
½ tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
l lb. sweet Italian turkey sausage, meat removed from casing
8 oz. jar steamed whole chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 cornbread (large skillet) NOT sweet, cut into ½ inch cubes (this can be prepared a day or two ahead)
1 tbsp poultry seasoning, or more to taste
½ tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 eggs, beaten
1½ qt. chicken stock
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium sauté pan add the apples, onion, celery, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter and cook over a medium low heat for 10 minutes to soften. Add the wine, cranberries, cherries and salt and pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and turkey sausage meat and break up with a wooden spoon and cook until browned and cooked through, approx. 10 to 12 minutes. (This can be done a day or two ahead)

In a medium bowl, toss together the fruit and onion/celery mixture, sausage, chestnuts, cornbread, sage, poultry seasoning, eggs and red pepper flakes. Combine all ingredients. Add the chicken stock and parmesan cheese and stir well to consistency desired – add more chicken stock and break down cornbread for a more traditional stuffing – this is the way I do it. Also, taste to make sure it has the right amount of sage, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper for your taste.
Place into a baking dish. Dot with butter cubes, and bake about 45 mins to 1 hour until top is brown. Check during baking process if additional chicken stock should be added.

Cranberry Sauce with Bardolino Wine

2 cups Bardolino or Chianti wine
2 cups sugar (or a little less if you don’t like your cranberries too sweet)
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice
2 pounds cranberries

Heat wine, sugar, cinnamon, whole cloves and allspice in a heavy large nonaluminum saucepan over low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until sugar disolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Discard spices with a slotted spoon. Return liquid to boil. Add cranberries. Cook until berries begin to pop, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead). Let sauce stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.

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Friday Night Supper With Flank Steak and Friends

It started with our friend Connie offering up a chilled bottle of Hafner Chardonnay for drinks at our house. Great idea! So I add a simple Friday night supper to the invitation and a couple of more friends, Tom and Sally, to join us for good measure. Now….what to make for dinner??

I’ve watched almost every cooking show imaginable. My favorite chef, Bobby Flay, is always extolling the wonders of a flank steak. I’ve never cooked one and thought it looked kind of tough and unappealing. A month or two ago I asked Howie, my husband, if he liked flank steak. He said it was one of his favorite cuts of beef. Okay, that does it. I will figure out how to grill a flank steak. After a bit of research and talking to my butcher I felt like I was ready for the challenge.

Two things about flank steak. It needs a good marinade to sit in for at least 4 hours and better if it is overnight. Second, it doesn’t need to be cooked very long. I’ve made it a couple of times now and the best result is when you sacrifice a really good bottle of red wine for the marinade. It is also important to let the flank steak rest about 10 minutes after you grill it and then to cut it on the bias. The result is a extremely favorful piece of steak with very little fat. It doesn’t need any adornment other than a simple salad, green beans and pee wee potatoes to round out a delicious meal, including the extra bottle of red wine to enjoy with friends!

Fancy Flank Steak

2 lbs. flank steak
1 bottle good, hearty red wine (preferably Merlot)
4 shallots, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
8 – 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Pour the bottle of wine in a two gallon zip lock bag and add shallots, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Add the flank steak and make sure that garlic, shallots, rosemary and thyme are evenly distributed on both sides of the steak (you may have to get your hands a little messy here.) Seal the zip lock bag and place in a large shallow dish and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning a couple of times in the process, but preferably marinate overnight.

Remove flank steak from the marinade and brush all the garlic, shallots and herbs off of the steak and pat dry with a paper towel. Don’t leave any on the steak because the garlic and shallots will burn during the grilling process and impart a bitter flavor. Season well on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Preheat the grill for at least 10 – 15 minutes on high heat. Reduce grill heat to medium high and cook the steak for 5 to 6 minutes (depends on the thickness) on each side. DO NOT OVER COOK! Remove flank steak to a cutting board and let the meat rest about 10 minutes. Using a knife with a wide blade, cut thin strips of steak on the bias of the grain of the meat at a slight angle. Place the sliced meat on a platter and pour the accumulated juices over the steak and serve.

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In The Soup With Cherry Tomatoes!

As we head into late August here in the Hamptons, every farm stand you pass is loaded with BEAUTIFUL tomatoes of all description. It is hard not to stop at every stand and buy everything in site. However, I do have my favorite farm stand, Pantigo Farms, owned and operated by Sam and Hillary Lester. On Friday I was driving by their farm stand and stopped for some heirloom tomatoes. But, of course, there were freshly picked cherry tomatoes of several varieties, including sungold. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but I bought a quart and headed home with my cooking wheels turning.

I wrote a blog last summer about making Marinara Capresse Style, so that was out. I looked in the refrigerator at what I had in the vegetable bin and what else was an odd or end that needed to be used. The light when on – even though it is summer, why can’t I make a soup? I love soup no matter what time of year and I could think of nothing better than the sweetness of these diamonds of the vine teamed up with a lot of great supporting players. Out came the carrots, garlic, shallots, thyme and the remainder of some chicken stock in the fridge.

I decided to roast them all together to intensify the flavor and sweetness of my ingredients. I halved the cherry tomatoes, peeled and quartered 3 large carrots, sliced up 4 large shallots, tossed in 12, yes 12, whole cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves and put it all on a sheet pan. Drizzled a little olive oil over it and seasoned with salt and pepper. After mixing it all around with my hands to make sure the olive oil was well distributed, I baked it in a 350 degree oven for a little over an hour – until the carrots are tender, so you have to test it about 45 minutes into the cooking time.

While that was cooking I put about 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock in a large sauce pot. Once the vegetables were roasted I put them in the sauce pot with the chicken broth and added 1/2 teaspoon of 1/2 sharp Hungarian paprika and 1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika and let it simmer about 15 minutes. At this point you can either let it cool and process until smooth in a food processor or use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup. I used an immersion blender, but it took a little more time to make sure it was properly pureed. I then checked for salt and pepper and adjusted it a bit.

The end result was unbelievably good. I let the soup sit in the refrigerator overnight so that the flavors could develop and it was well worth the wait! The 1/2 sharp Hungarian paprika gave it a good “kick”, but if you don’t have any, just put in a little cayenne pepper. If you don’t like any heat, just use double the amount of sweet Hungarian paprika.

This is a perfect lunch for two any time of year. Add a little greek plain yogurt to your bowl of soup – it mades it even a little richer without a lot of calories.

Cherry Tomato & Carrot Thyme Soup

1 quart whole cherry tomatoes, halved
3 large carrots, peeled, quartered and cut in half again
4 large shallots, cut each shallot into 8 quarters
12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
olive oil
3 1/2 or 4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon 1/2 sharp Hungarian Paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian Paprika
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add cherry tomatoes, carrots, shallots, garlic and thyme leave on a large sheet pan. Drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables and seasoned with salt and pepper, mixing it well with your hands to make sure the olive oil is well distributed. Bake in a 350 degree oven for a little over and hour – until the carrots are tender – test the carrots about 45 minutes into the cooking time.

While the vegetables are cooking put the chicken stock in a large sauce pot. Once the vegetables are finished roasting, put them in the sauce pot with the chicken broth and add the sharp Hungarian paprika and sweet Hungarian paprika and let it simmer about 15 minutes. At this point you can either let it cool and process until smooth in a food processor or use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup. If you use an immersion blender, make sure to take a little more time to make sure the soup is properly pureed. Check for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary. It is best to let the soup set overnight so that the flavors can develop.

Serve with a dollop of greek yogurt and enjoy!

Serves 4

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Who’s A Chicken?

In the summer we love to have family and friends join us for a casual meal outside. Usually that involves a barbeque of some sort, but I have to admit that I am a little burned out on grilling chicken on the barbeque. Some people have a real knack for how to grill chicken perfectly, but it usually involves standing like a sentry at the grill the entire time so that the chicken doesn’t get burned or over cooked. That’s just not me. So, I started searching for a different cooking method that comes up with a similar result.

There are many recipes out there extolling the virtues of cooking a whole butterflied chicken with a brick on top of it in the oven. I like the idea of cooking it in the oven since you can control the heat and you don’t have to “guard” it the entire cooking time. Chicken under a brick is a great way to cook a whole chicken in the oven. It starts by butterflying the chicken or “spatchcock” it, which is to flatten the chicken by removing its backbone. Doing this allows you to make the chicken all the same thickness. I wanted to try it without using the brick, so I decided to go a step further and remove the thigh and leg bone. When you do this, the breast meat and the thigh meat can cook at the same pace and eliminates the need for the brick.

First, start out with a whole chicken that is about 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. Ask the butcher to remove the backbone and remove the leg and thigh bones while leaving the skin of the chicken in tact. It will look a little weird, but well worth it. The most important step is to marinate the chicken for at least 3 or 4 hours. This will not only give it great flavor, but will make it juicy and moist. I have a great standby marinade that I use that is simple and usually things you have in the refrigerator – lemon, shallots, fresh thyme and olive oil. Easy.

I went back to my southern roots and used a cast iron skillet as my cooking vessel. When I was growing up I didn’t know there was any skillet other than cast iron. It is great at holding a very high heat and searing the meat. The oven needs to be very hot. Preheat it to about 475 degrees and heat the cast iron skillet on top of the stove until it is smoking hot. Once you have the chicken in the skillet, the entire cooking time is about 40 minutes, 20 minutes on each side with the final 2 or 3 minutes turning up the heat to broil with the skin side up to get the final crisping the way you like it.

I tried this recipe twice last week with a simple green salad and corn on the cob. My husband, Howie, thought it was the best chicken he had ever eaten. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Lemon & Thyme Butterflied Chicken in the Oven

1 – 3 to 3 1/2 lb. whole chicken, butterflied with the leg and thigh bones removed and skin side in tact (have your butcher do this for you)
2 tsp. lemon zest
3 lemons, juiced
1 large shallot, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves roughly chopped
1/2 – 3/4 cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Zest the lemons before you juice them. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot, fresh thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a one gallon plastic zip lock bag. Seal the bag and shake well to combine all the ingredients. Put the butterflied chicken in the plastic bag with the marinade and make sure it is sealed tightly. Turn the bag over several times to make sure that the marinade covered the entire chicken. Put the marinating chicken bag on a plate and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning it once or twice during that time.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet on top of the stove until it is very hot. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place the chicken skin side down into the cast iron skillet and put the skillet immediately into the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook skin side up in the oven for 20 minutes . Check the crispiness of the skin and it you want it a little crispier, turn on the broiler and let it cook another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the skin is to your liking.

Remove the chicken from the oven to a cutting board and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the chicken in half or into quarters and serve!

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Summer Time and the Pesto Is Easy

Summer is finally here! Days at the beach, hot weather and a garden that is beginning to give us the fruits of its labor.

I don’t have enough space to plant much of a “garden” at our home in the Hamptons….herbs are just about all I can do (besides, we have such amazing organic farmers in the area how can I compete?) When we were here in May I planted some basil in pots because the tomatoes that come from the local growers are unbelivable and you can buy fresh mozzerella in just about any store you drive by. When we arrived here last week, the end of June, my basil was going to seed and was looking a little limp and leggy. Howie was determined to clean up the garden and pulled my basil plants out of their pots and put it in the trash bucket! I went into the kitchen and got a bowl and sat there and pulled all the limp leaves off to see if I could save them for a batch of delicious pesto. I washed the leaves and wrapped them in paper towels and put them in the refrigerator overnight. Today when I checked on them, they were plump and ready to become pesto for our dinner.

The last time we were in Italy I remember the amazing pasta dishes that we had and the ones that stand out in my mind the most are those that were made with pesto. It is such a simple sauce. The real secret is not only the fresh basil, but the right combination of garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sometimes when you purchase pesto in the grocery store, it can be very oily and doesn’t really have a very fresh taste. Pesto is so easy to make, even if you don’t grow your own basil, why compromise if you want the real deal and you can buy the fresh basil in your grocery store?

My pesto sauce takes about 10 minutes to make. Most of what you need is in your pantry or refrigerator. The key, I believe, to a good pesto is that you need a good olive oil, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, not a ground version, and don’t go too heavy on the garlic. Using the shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano gives the pesto a more prominent flavor in the end product and, therefore, doesn’t require anymore to be added to the dish. In my dinner tonight, I added grilled shrimp to make it a complete meal – just toss the shrimp with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper and put them on the grill for a few minutes until they are golden and delicious. I served my pesto with linguine and the grilled shrimp with a simple side of sliced fresh heirloom tomatoes and farm stand onions dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bellissimo!

Pesto with Grilled Shrimp and Linguine

3 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, salt, and pepper and process for a few seconds until the basil is chopped. Add the cheese, pine nuts, and garlic and, while the processor is running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream until a mostly smooth sauce is formed. Transfer pesto to a bowl and set aside. (Note: Pesto may be made 1 day in advance and kept, refrigerated, in an airtight container, until ready to use. If making in advance, be sure to cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent the pesto from darkening. Pesto may also be frozen in the same manner in small quantities for use at a later date.) Grill 1 lb. of large shrimp tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper and set aside.

Boil 4 servings of linguine (either fresh or dried) according to the package instructions. Drain and add 4 to 5 heaping tablespoons of pesto sauce and toss to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve in pasta bowls and add grilled shrimp and enjoy!

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