Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
As I started prepping Christmas dinner a few days ago, several ideas and emotions floated to the surface of my mind, reminding me what I love about cooking. Above all, I love getting lost in it. I find that when I'm cooking I'm happy and completely worry-free. I kiss my dog more, I laugh more, and I sing more - well, at least when I'm alone.
But also, there are those memories, very precise vignettes, that come along as I prepare dishes attached to stories and/or people, and truly, what dish isn't? For example, while skimming the fat and foam off of the top of the beef stock that will form the backbone for Saturday's French onion soup, I saw the faces and heard the words of my precious French chefs at Le Cordon Bleu, from many years ago. The words were in French, of course, but they translated nicely in my mind at the moment. "One must not trouble the stock," from one. "Don't forget this is not a vegetable soup. Stock is mostly about bones," from another. "Never salt, are you in love?," from yet another sly one.
Similarly, all those months of making tarts for Tart Love (Sept., 2011, Gibbs Smith) brought me right back to my cherished mother-in-law Dori's kitchen, or to the garden of my personal French queen of tarts, Simone Firtione.
Cooking is so wonderful that way. It's the gift that keeps on giving. When my guests and I sit down to Christmas dinner on Saturday, I hope we'll all forge new and delicious memories we can savor years from now, at the most pleasantly unexpected sips and stirs.
Here's what will be on our table this year:
Miniature Bagels with Cream Cheese, Scottish Smoked Salmon, Red Onion & Capers
French Onion Soup
Artisinal Greens Mixed Salad with Fresh Pomegranates and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Roasted Hubbard Squash Puree
Cornmeal and Oyster Dressing
Roasted Organic Free Range Turkey with Pan Gravy
and, for the first time: Persimmon Tart with Coconut Ice Cream
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and of course, Happy Cooking!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The results are smashing! The crunchy, pop-in-your-mouth pomegranate seeds form the first layer of the filling that is topped with a lemony, cotton-white mousse. Prepared puff pastry shells for the tart casings, while the coulis swirls around the plate in unrestrained regal splendor. All can be prepared ahead and plated at the last second, which makes this the perfect tartlet treat for your Christmas and holiday table. If scuppernongs are not available where you are, substitute Concord grapes or another full-flavored grape.
Super Sexy Scuppernong & Pomegranate Tartlets
(Makes 12 individual servings)
Equipment Needed: Parchment paper, baking sheet
2 packages Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells (or 2 Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets cut into rounds with a 2" round pastry cutter)
1 egg wash - yolk, pinch salt, splash water, blended together
For the coulis:
3 cups whole, fresh scuppernongs, rinsed
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons sugar
For the mousse:
1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon warm water
1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup honey, preferably local
1 cup cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the garnish:
Seeds from one pomegranate, flesh and pulp removed (see directions below).
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the thawed pastry shells on it, about one inch apart. Brush the tops (not sides!) of each lightly with the egg wash. Bake until golden and fluffy, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool when done.
Meanwhile, prepare the coulis. Combine the scuppernongs, pomegranate juice, water, cinnamon stick and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the scuppernongs have popped and the liquid has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the mousse. Combine the gelatin and water in a small glass or cup. Stir to combine with a spoon, or use your fingers. Once fully dissolved, whisk the gelatin in a medium bowl with the yogurt, lemon zest and honey. In a separate cold bowl, using a hand mixer or a whisk, mount the whipping cream with the vanilla. Whip until fluffy and firm. To finish the mousse, whisk one third of the cream into the yogurt mixture. Fold the remaining cream, in two batches, into the yogurt mixture. Chill, covered in the refrigerator. (Note: This can be made several hours in advance).
To finish the coulis, remove and discard the cinnamon stick and smash the cooled mixture with a masher or a fork to release as much flesh as possible. Drain the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing with the back of a ladle to release the juices, into a small bowl. Discard the grape skin/seed solids. The remaining liquid is your wonderful coulis! Chill the coulis.
Now, separate the seeds from the pomegranate. To do this, cut the pomegranate into quarters. Peel the seeds away from the pulp (also called aril). Do this with patience, it takes a little time. Your goal is to separate the bitter pulp away from the seeds and then discard it.
To assemble the tartlets, gently peel the "tops" off the baked pastry shells, along with some of the inside pastry, to form a "home" for the tart filling. Place one tablespoon of the pomegranate seeds into the bottom of each. Top with two heaping tablespoons of the mousse. Serve on individual plates with a generous swirl of the coulis, and a drizzle of pomegranate seeds. Keep cold until serving (up to one hour) or better yet, serve immediately.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
Adapted from Tart Love - Sassy, Savory, Sweet and Southern, by Holly Herrick (Gibbes Smith, Fall, 2011). Photograph by Helene DuJardin, www.mytartelette.com
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Every once in a rare while, a restaurant comes along that transforms the usually healthy eating me into a virtual glutton. Hubee D's is the latest cruelly delicious contender. I visited it three times this week, even in the fattening wake of Thanksgiving indulgence. I was so pleasantly and guiltily sated every time I started fantasizing about shouting Weee Weee Weee all the way home, just like Max the pig in the Geico ads.
So be it. Hubee D's is just that delicious, or "Deelicious!" as their logo accurately deems this exclusively chicken - of the (mostly)fried kind - palace. Co-owners John Ferguson and Dana Sinkler, both Charlestonians and seasoned veterans of the restaurant scene here, wanted to come up with a restaurant concept that reflected Charleston. At first they thought about burgers, given Five Guys and others success, but then the idea morphed into all chicken, until finally they winnowed it down to their winning formula: fried chicken and wings, according to Sinkler. The unusual but highly memorable name comes from Ferguson, a collector of old trucks, like the one pictured above. When he saw it, he declared that it looked like something that should be called a Hubee. After that they tagged on the "D" for delicious.
Back to delicious! You've never had wings or sauces this good, anywhere. They come from Sinkler's family reipe file are honed with his talent to perfection. All of the sauces (save the Honey Mustard) are his creations. I cannot get enough of the Lowcountry Buffalo Hot (it also comes in mild and very hot) or the Black Tie Bourbon. The first plucks at your tongue with deep notes of vinegar and its rich coral color is a feast for the eyes, while the latter is deeply sweet and savory all at once. All the chicken comes from a SC chicken farmer and can be mixed and matched at the succulent "sauce bar".
The fried chicken (either tenders, nuggets or sandwiches) takes a long bath in buttermilk before getting dipped in a thick batter that crisps to crunchy perfection in a fryer - all made to order along with the hand cut fries that are served heaping and hot in every basket. The Hubee Sauce that comes with all of these is another huge Hubee winner. All smoky and slightly sweet, it reminded me of a smoke-infused Russian dressing. It's highly unusual and entirely irresistible. Sizes and prices for the items range from an easy $3.99 to $6.99. And, Hubee's throws in a crispy, tangy red cabbage, green cabbage and carrot slaw, cake-like sweet cornbread for added delicious good manners.
Hubee's has successfully usurped my long-standing wings King (Buffalo South)and sent it tumbling from its still tasty throne to mere Prince status. Hubee's are more meaty and come either slow smoked in hickory wood or simply dry rubbed style or "naked". Then there are all those delicious sauces for dipping.
Hubee's joins new restaurants Yobe yogurt and Pizza Pie pizza at the newly formed mini-strip mall at the renovated St. Andrews Shopping Center in West Ashley. A kind of celebrated food courts of sorts, Hubee's looks so franchise-like and impersonal from the outside (save for that cute truck) that I automatically wrote it off as same and thus avoided it until I kept reading all of Marion Sullivan's (Charleston Magazine's Food Editor) enthusiastic tweets about it. Even though it has the franchise look, it doesn't have the franchise taste. Not by a long shot!
It is a little like Five Guys in that sense, except it tastes extremely homemade and real. There is no production-line aura and nobody screams at you when you place your order. Indeed, service is extremely pleasant and personable, the restaurant is spotlessly clean, and the food comes fast (but not rushed), even when it's busy. Sit back and nosh on the salty boiled peanuts and take in the nostalgic country mural while you wait. The biggest mystery of all to me is how Hubee's smells completely clean and fresh, even with all that frying going on. The only answer is very clean and well-tended fryers, which makes being bad taste so very good.
Speaking of baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, so bad I haven't yet done it, dig into D's Famous Fried Banana Pudding ($4.99). It's Sinkler's "de-constructed" version of a Charleston dessert staple, banana pudding. His version pools a cloud of cool vanilla pudding with a beignet batter-dipped banana that is fried and served hot with a dusting of crunchy vanilla wafers and hot chocolate and caramel drizzled over the top. C'mon now! As Sinkler says, "It's a great dish to share with friends."
If you want to be a little kinder to your waistline, Hubee's also serves three knock-out fresh salads and you can take that sandwich grilled, if you like. Kids will revel in the kids basket ($3.99) while the assorted size platters will likely be the hottest ticket in town come Super Bowl Sunday.
975 Savannah Highway
St. Andrews Shopping Center, West Ashley
Culinary Cost-Cutting 101
When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.
It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.
The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like couponmom.com) which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.
Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.
The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!
My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"
Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.
One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals
With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.
In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).
For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.
Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!
Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!
Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.
Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!
Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.
Chicken never tasted so good for so little.