Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mountain Delights

Derek and I were lucky enough to spend a long weekend with some of our closest friends in the mountains of western North Carolina.  One of the many perks of the weekend was the continuous supply of delicious food and drink that everyone made all weekend long.  For our part, my friend Taryn and I made a brunch of homemade biscuits, veggie scramble, a wide array of breakfast meats, and some zingy bloody maries.  Later in the weekend, Derek and I put together a dinner of plum-goat cheese-prosciutto-arugula toasts, barbequed pork sandwiches, peach-tomato-corn salad, and peach slump with burnt sugar brandy ice cream for dessert. 

Bloody Maries
The last time I was back to visit my parents, and my mom had me go through her pantry of can goods from their garden to see what I would want to take back with me, I debated for a while about taking tomato juice.  What would I use juice for that I couldn’t just use stewed tomatoes for instead?  The, it struck me, bloody maries.  How great would a bloody mary be with homemade tomato juice canned from tomatoes fresh from the garden?  No added flavors, no vast excess of sodium, no preservatives like the store-bought kind often has.  The recipe below is where that dream landed me.  I put exact amounts as a starting place, but feel free to change it up if you like yours spicier or saltier or horseradishier.  

-1 quart tomato juice (I am lucky enough to have my mom’s home-canned, but store-bought works too)
-1 Tbsp celery salt
-1 tsp pepper
-1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
-3 Tbsp horse radish
-3 Tbsp hot sauce
-1/4 c green olive juice
-juice of 2 lemons
-green olives

->Mix first seven ingredients in a large pitcher and pour over ice in glasses, leaving room for vodka.  Add vodka to your particular taste and state of mind and mix…  Garnish with green olives threaded on straws or your other favorite pickled veggies.  

Goat Cheese Toasts with Plum Jam, Prosciutto, and Arugula
These are a great quick bite to throw together as you begin cooking your main course so that you can keep your dinner guests occupied and satisfied in the meantime.  Switch up the cheese or the jam for all different combinations. 

-1 baguette
-olive oil
-4 oz goat cheese (herbed or plain)
-4 oz plum jam
-1/4 lb prosciutto

->Heat oven to 400.  Slice baguette on an angle in ¾-inch slices.  Place on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.  Toast in the oven until golden brown.  
Remove from oven and slather with a smudge of goat cheese.  Add a dollop of jam.  Top with a leaf of arugula and a sliver of prosciutto.  Plate and use to fend off hungry guests until dinner time.  

Tomato-Corn-Peach Salad with Balsamic Glaze
This salad utilized our small late crop of sweet corn and the tomatoes and peaches that are at their peak in our area in the late summer.  The three flavors of the sweet corn, peaches, and cherry tomatoes are great compliments to one another.  The salty feta and sweet tangy balsamic glaze are a nice added contrast. Best of all, it’s not just tasty, but very easy to throw together. 

-1/2 c balsamic vinegar
-1 Tbsp brown sugar
-5 peaches, pitted and cut in chunks
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
-2 ears corn, kernels shaved off
-1 bunch basil, chopped
-3 oz feta cheese
-salt and pepper

-> Place balsamic and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Simmer to reduce by about half. 

Meanwhile, combine peaches, tomatoes, corn, and basil.  Crumble feta cheese over the salad and mix gently. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with balsamic reduction when ready. 

Peach Slump
This recipe is a twist on a pin[test] for a blueberry slump.  After trying it out, I would highly recommend it.  The topping is like a sweet biscuit with crunchy and chewing bits on the outside and a moist dough interior.  The fruit topping is built-in, but lives on the bottom for this dish.  The biscuit topping sops up all of the sweet peachy juices for a perfect bite every time. 

-2 c flour
-1 3/4 c sugar + more for sprinkling
-4 1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-4 Tbsp butter, frozen
-1 1/4 c milk
-6-8 peaches, pitted and chunked
-juice of 3 lemons
-ice cream of choice (we used Burnt Sugar Bourbon)

->Mix flour, 1/4 c sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Grate frozen butter on the largest size of your grater.  Quickly add to flour-sugar mixture.  Mix in with pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers until the mixture is the texture of rough cornmeal.  Add milk and stir until just mixed (i.e. until all of the dry mix is wet with the milk).  Do not over mix.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine peaches, remaining sugar, remaining salt, and lemon juice in a medium skillet that is oven-proof.  (If you prefer less sugar here, I think you could get away with less.  Our finished product was very sweet.)  Bring to a boil and then simmer until sugar is dissolved and peaches are tender. 

When peaches are ready, turn off stove, put large spoonfuls of the biscuit mixture on top of the stewing peaches.  Sprinkle with sugar.  You may want to put the skillet on a shallow pan before placing in the oven in order to catch any potential overflow.  Bake in the oven until biscuits are browned on top and peach mixture is thick and bubbly.  Top with ice cream and serve. 

TIP:  If you don’t have an oven-proof skillet (because the handle is plastic or rubber-coated), cover the handle completely with aluminum foil, and it will be safe in the oven. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eggplant Stuffed with Sausage and Rice

I finally harvested a huge pile of eggplant from my 5 Udumalapet plants outside.  They are star producers!  Aside from a few nibbles in the leaves by flea beetles, they have given me no trouble at all and now are producing like crazy!  Their striped skin with purples, white, and yellow make a great presentation. 

I wanted to use up a bunch of small ones (each a little smaller than a tennis ball) and show off their beautiful skins, so I decided to try some stuffed eggplant.  Much like stuffed peppers, I could leave them whole and fill them with a tomato-sausage-rice mixture, topped off with generous slices of fresh mozzarella. 

-8 small eggplant
-2 Italian sausages
-1 onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 bell pepper, chopped
-1 quart (32 oz) tomato sauce (we used my mom’s home-canned spaghetti sauce)
-1.5 c rice
-2 balls of fresh mozzarella
-fresh basil leaves for garnish
->  Remove tops from eggplant and a small amount from the bottoms in order to get them to stand up straight.  Use a paring knife and spoon to scrape out the insides of the eggplants, leaving about a quarter inch thick shell.  Chop up removed eggplant flesh to use later.  
Squeeze sausage from casing and brown in a skillet at medium heat.  Once sausage has browned and released enough fat to coat the skillet, add onion.  Sauté until soft and then add pepper, chopped eggplant flesh, and garlic.  Once vegetables are softened and well mixed, add rice and allow to sauté with vegetables for a couple of minutes.  Then add tomato sauce, and season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes if you like a little more heat.  Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat.  Simmer on medium-low until liquid is mostly reduced and absorbed and rice is al dente.  
Fill carved out eggplant with rice mixture and arrange eggplant in a baking dish.  If you have extra rice mixture, tuck it in around the eggplants in the dish.  Top each eggplant with a generous slice of fresh mozzarella.  Garnish with a fresh basil leaf, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted, bubbly, and just beginning to brown. 

TIP:  One down side of Udumalapet eggplant is that they can be a little on the seedy side.  In order to reduce the seeds in this recipe and to eliminate any of the bitterness sometimes found in eggplant, I recommend the following:  As you scrape out the eggplant, soak both the scraped out eggplant “cups” and the flesh in heavily salted water until you are ready for them.  The salt water bath will keep them from turning brown and reduce some of the bitterness.  An added bonus is that much of the seeds will soak to the bottom of the bowl, but the flesh will float.  This way you can skim off the flesh from the top of the water when you are ready to use it, but leave the seeds in the bottom to dispose of or to prep for seed saving! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thai Thighs and Broccoli Fried Rice

This meal was easy to throw together and resulted in juicy, flavor-packed chicken and a side filled to the brim with nutrient-rich veggies and whole grains.  Broccoli may just be coming into season for many of us now.  Feel free to substitute broccoli raab, cabbage, or another one of your favorite green veggies.


For thighs:
-4 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)
-1/4 c soy sauce
-1/4 c vinegar (apple cider or rice wine would be best)
-4 tbsp jam (I used plum jam)
-1 clove garlic, peeled
-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
-1-2 handfuls cilantro
-juice of 1/2 a lime
-fresh lemon grass or lemon verbena

For Broccoli Fried Rice:
-1/2 medium union, sliced in thin slivers
-2 cloves garlic, peeled
-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tsp fish sauce
-3 small heads (~4 c) of broccoli, floret divided into pieces and stems peeled and chopped
-1 carrot, cut into match sticks
-1-2 c brown rice, cooked
-1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped

->Place thighs into a small roasting pan or casserole.  Coat with soy sauce, vinegar, and jam to begin marinating a bit as you prep the rest.

 *NOTE:  I used leftover brown rice for the broccoli fried rice, but if you need to cook yours, you'll want to get it going before you start with the rest of your prep, as it can take 30-40 minutes to cook. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  At this point, I placed the garlic, ginger, cilantro, lime, and lemon verbena in a small food processor to make a paste.  However, you could also just mince and chop these ingredients and then combine.  Add this paste to the marinating thighs, rubbing it under and on top of the skin.

Place in oven to roast until the thighs reach 165 degrees in internal temperature and/or juices run clear (about 30 minutes).

->  While thighs cook, start the the broccoli fried rice.  Bring a large skillet or wok to medium heat, and coat with oil.  Saute onions until tender, and then add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce.  Allow to cook until onions absorb the sauces.  Add broccoli and cover to steam until almost fork-tender.  Just before broccoli is ready, add carrot.  Saute for a short while more until carrots and broccoli are just tender.  Add rice and toss.  Top with chopped fresh cilantro.

TIP:  Because I was lazy and left my broccoli in the refrigerator without placing it in a bag first, it had gotten a little floppy.  I soaked my chopped broccoli pieces in some ice water before cooking to bring them back to life, making them crisp and new again.