Friday, April 25, 2008

Bookstores Are Fun

Earlier today, Jeffrey and I got to meet Alton Brown, who was at Turnrow Books in Greenwood today, signing Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run which looks to be both a travelogue and cookbook.

Afterwards, we (Jeffrey and I, not Jeffrey, me, and Alton) had lunch at Giardina's at The Alluvian. I had a pesto penne with walnuts and chicken that was good and Jeffrey had a pork chop served with goat cheese mashed potatoes. I don't even like mashed potatoes and those were good.

For dessert we ordered tiaramisu and bread pudding. The bread pudding apparently was served with whiskey sauce, which I didn't realize until I took a bite swimming in the sauce and it just about took my breath away - it burned all the way down. Just haven't quite gotten my training wheels yet as far as whiskey/bourbon is concerned.

But. We managed to finish pretty much both desserts without too much trouble.

More to come!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Back to the Grill

For the second time in as many days, we cooked on the grill. One time with my very own grill that I removed the cover from. ALL BY MYSELF.

That meal was great - grilled chicken and grilled asparagus, which we made like we did last time. I could eat it approximately every single day.

Or so I thought until Saturday night when we grilled.

We made happy hamburgers, hamburgers that were made happy by the addition of pepper jack cheese smack dab in the middle of the hamburger patty. Man alive, as the burgers cooked, the cheese melted and was it ever good.
This is the bottom layer of the hamburger patty with the cheese. This was topped with a thin patty and the edges crimped together to keep all that preshus cheese in there. The end result was very moist and really tasty.

That spawned a lively discussion of any number of variations on stuffed burgers. It's going to be pretty great.

Before that, we snacked on cheddar and edam cheese, dusted with a homemade Cajun seasoning blend and crackers. It made me think of the Rendevzous.

This was late in the afternoon, after a day spent outdoors. My son played in the backyard with a disabled lawnmower deck. Something about the belt or chain or something interested him. He asked me where the fan went that turned the belt.


There is the aspragus, wrapped in proscuitto, sprinkled with Cavender's Greek seasoning, drizzled with olive oil; it was all kinds of good.
Seriously good.

If I needed an excuse to fire up the grill, which I didn't, but if I did, that would be it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Search is Over

Pizza and me go back a long way.

When I was in junior high, maybe earlier, I turned my nose up at things like roast, mashed potatoes, fried okra, black eyed peas (actually, I don’t much care for mashed potatoes or black eyed peas to this day), and I’d roll my eyes, because life was very, very hard, and fix something else, with my own little hands, for me have for dinner. Because it was difficult to adjust to the unfair reality that the world did not, in fact, revolve around my 12-year-old self as it should.

So. Pizza. And by pizza I mean either white bread or English muffins lightly toasted, then spread with jarred pizza sauce, topped with a slice of American cheese and toasted again in the toaster oven. Gourmet, ya’ll.

If there was a brand of frozen pizza, I tried it. I pretty well lived on them in high school, when I wasn’t eating chicken nugget baskets from our local diner.

Eating out, Italian was always my preference. I was all over that wood-fired pizza trend that started, in Mississippi anyway, in the 80s.

Then in graduate school, I thought I hit upon nirvana. Caramelized onions, whatever kind of tomato-based pasta sauce that sounded interesting, and goat cheese on a Boboli crust. Well. There is no telling how many times I made that. It was my quirky version of comfort food; the onions smelled incredible while cooking and the gooey cheese melded with it and it was all good. It was one of those you-can’t-mess-this up dishes.

I don’t know that I thought it could be topped.

And I, I would be wrong.

A couple of weeks ago we bought a pre-made pizza crust and spread it with basil pesto. We topped that with sliced sun dried tomato, caramelized onion, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, and shredded rotisserie chicken.

It was every bit as fabulous as it sounds. The only thing that could have improved it was roasted red pepper, which we learned a few days later when we made it again. From now on, they’re on the permanent ingredient list.

We've made it with smoked mozarrella, which I really liked.

The pizza was baked on a pizza stone and actually, that’s pretty important. It makes a world of difference in getting a nice, crisp crust. If you don’t have one, before you preheat the oven, slide in the pizza pan or cookie sheet or whatever you’re going to bake the pizza on and let it get good and hot with the oven. That will help.

This weekend, we're planning a picnic with sandwich wraps having roughly the same ingredients. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IT WAS GOOD!!!!!! - UPDATED, Finally!!

Just a small teaser....stay tuned for updates on our day in Natchez, MS complete with photos!

Jeffrey and Keetha

UPDATE - Y'all I finally am able to sit down and update our lunch at the Magnolia Grill, which you may have heard about here. We started out with a nice appetizer of baked goat cheese in marinara sauce served with toasted bread.

It was amazing y'all! Could have made this the entire was that good!

Keetha decided she'd like a nice, small salad for lunch so she ordered a crawfish and spinach salad. It was a salad composed of baby spinach (yum!) topped with fried crawfish tails (we are in the South you know! We fry everything!!), bacon, cheese, and finished with a parmesan and peppercorn dressing. One small tidbit...the fried crawfish, there were AT LEAST 1-1 1/2lbs. of them on this salad!!!

Very tasty looking! Very tasty looking indeed!

That was what was left AFTER she finished eating! Way too big for a single meal. I mean, we could have shared this salad and both of us would have been stuffed!

I, on the other hand, opted for a grilled chicken bacon club served on a warm kaiser roll dressed all the way. By that I mean lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, mayo, and mustard. Oh, and the sweet potato fries as a side....they were every bit as good as they sound!!!

The aftermath...

Our waiter asked if we'd like to see a dessert menu when he cleared our dishes...HA! To paraphrase Dierks Bentley, WHAT WAS HE THINKING!!!! There is no way, and I mean NO WAY that we could have finished our Diet Cokes, much less a dessert, too!

Well, after this amazing lunch, we strolled around a small city park right on the river bank atop a high bluff in downtown. Go see some of the great photos from the rest of our morning here.

Oh, I almost forgot...on the way out to Windsor Ruins, we shared a pecan log roll (this was getting close to 5pm, so we needed a sugar pick-me-up!!!) but, alas, we failed to snap a photo of this jewel.

So that, my friends, was lunch in Natchez, MS. Stay tuned for more....we have a picnic planned for sometime this weekend featuring wraps made with most of the ingredients you read about here. It's sure to be great!!!

Y'all come back now, ya here!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Late breakfast at Natchez Coffee Co.

Stay tuned for updates from our weekend trip to the wonderful Natchez, MS!

Keetha and Jeffrey

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

As Advertised

I told Delta Dish* readers to look for a recipe for Banana Butterfinger Cupcakes:

Banana Butterfinger Cupcakes
This recipe came from a Bon Appetit issue that featured candy bar desserts. It was in the summer, about a hundred years ago. Actually it was about twelve years ago; same difference.

2 1/4 cups Cake flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 1/2 cup Sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dark rum
1 teaspoons Vanilla extract
3/4 cup Sour cream
1 teaspoon Baking soda
2 cup Ripe bananas; mashed (about 5)
1 1/4 cup Butterfinger bars; finely chopped (about 6 ounces)

For the glaze:

2/3 cup Whipping cream
7 tablespoon Unsalted butter; cut into -large pieces
1 tablespoon Light corn syrup
14 oz Semisweet chocolate; chopped
2 teaspoon Dark rum
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup Butterfinger bars; chopped -(about 7 1/2 ounces)

Position rack in top third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.

Line a couple of cupcake pans with the paper cupcake liner things. You know what I’m talking about.

(You can certainly bake these as a layer cake - two nine-inch round layers - which is what the original recipe called for. Then you have all that business about stacking the cakes and coating the sides with the crushed Butterfingers, blah, blah, blah. Cupcakes are easier.)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in dark rum and vanila extract. Combine sour cream and baking soda in medium bowl. Add mashed bananas to sour cream mixture and stir until well blended. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with the banana mixture, beginning & ending with the dry ingredients. In other words, add one-third of the dry ingredients, half of the wet ingredients, one third of the dry, the remaining half of the wet, and finally, the last third of the dry ingredients. Stir in the chopped Butterfinger bars and ladle into the prepared cupcake pans.

Bake until center of cake feels firm and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 min. Cool in pans on rack 10 minutes.

Combine cream, butter and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until butter melts. Remove from heat; add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in rum and vanilla. Pour glaze into small bowl. Cover and refrigerate just until cool and thick, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Spread on cooled cupcakes. The icing isn’t all that thick but it won’t run off the cupcakes. THEN top with the crushed Butterfingers.

They keep well, especially if they’re refrigerated and seem to rather taste better the day after they’re baked.

* Delta Dish is a monthly e-newsletter I do. You, too, can get a free subscription! Leave a comment here with a way to get in touch with you via email and I'll add you to the list.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Girl and Her Grill...Part I - Stuffed Pork Chops with Grilled Asparagus

Hi all! Jeffrey here. I thought I'd try my hand at this blogging thing, so please be patient with me as I work on my first ever post! As you may have read, Keetha decided that she (we, I should say) needed a place to share the things that we cook in the kitchen as well as outside on the grill, so here we are.

Friday night we christened her brand new charcoal grill with a dish that has been a frequent visitor to my grill over the years...with a twist that I hadn't thought of trying before.

We began by deciding on a mutually agreeable stuffing for the pork chops. I've routinely used sausage (various types ranging from smoked venison, beef, or pork to Andouille), boudin, crawfish tails, and rice dressing, all of which tasted wonderful! On this occasion, the stuffing of choice was a spinach and shrimp dip (sort of) placed inside a small slit cut into the heart of a boneless pork loin chop. And if that weren't enough pork fat, we wrapped the entire chop with bacon to keep everything nice and moist!! (I know, I know...all I can say in my defense is that when it comes to pork fat, the more the merrier!)

Spinach and Shrimp Dip Stuffing

10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
1 envelope Knorr vegetable recipe mix
1/4 pound cooked peeled shrimp (20 to 25/lb count)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I'm sure you could use reduced- or no-fat. Um, we didn't.)
couple of tablespoons of sour cream
1/4 cup or thereabouts freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl of a mixer, adding some sour cream to thin it out a bit. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Most likely better made the night before, although we didn't. You'll have leftovers, which go perfectly with crackers.

Stuffed Pork Chops
2-1 1/2" thick boneless pork loin chops
worcestershire to taste
Montreal Steak Seasoning to taste
Approximately 1/4 cup of freshly chopped parsley
2 sprigs of freshly chopped rosemary
6 slices of bacon (we used Wright's Pepper Bacon)

Cut a small slit in the chop side oppisite of the fat layer. Cut deeply, but be careful not to cut all the way through to the other side. You just want to create a pocket similar to pita bread. Stuff as much stuffing as will fit inside the slit and press firmly.

Wrap the stuffed side with 2 slices of bacon so that the entire chop is circled with bacon, and if that weren't enough...wrap 1 more slice of bacon across the chop in the opposite direction.

Add worcestershire sauce (we prefer Lea & Perrins) & Montreal Steak seasoning to taste on both sides of the chop. Finally, add the chopped parsley and rosemary to both sides of the chop, and this my friends, is what I would consider to be a beautiful sight!

After preparing the above "ingredients", we progressed outside to prepare the grill for cooking! Now, I must digress just a moment to say that The Lady had been told by well-meaning family and friends to not purchase a charcoal would be "too much trouble" and "too hard" to get just right for cooking. Well...

BEHOLD THE FIRE THAT KEETHA BUILT!!!!! (with just a tiny bit of coaching I might add) :-)

Then it was just a matter of reclining in our favorite lawn chairs (honestly, I just don't know any more Southern a term for chairs out on the lawn, or yard as we lovingly refer to them down here!) with beverage of choice and waiting for the coals to burn themselves down to a nice ashy white color for cooking. But wait, it's not quite time for those chops to be tenderly placed on the grill just yet. No true Southern grilling would be complete without first seasoning the grill with a nice appetizer. We decided on grilled boudin complete with a nice selection of Edam and cheddar cheeses.

Yes, my dear reader, it's FINALLY time! Once the boudin was removed from the grill and plated for enjoying in front of the grill with another beverage of choice, we placed the stuffed pork chops on the grill, slightly off center for a nice indirect cooking.

After the boudin and cheese were casually consumed (actually they were ravenously devoured...we were getting rather hungry by this point!), we moved back into the kitchen to prepare the asparagus.

We simply used these ingredients... a nice olive oil fortified with rosemary, thyme, garlic, and other tasty treats, worcestershire, and Montreal Steak seasoning (anyone picking up a pattern here?)

When the chops were getting close to being done, we placed the asparagus on the grill atop a grilling pan. This would be a small foil pan similar to a cookie sheet, but had perforations in the bottom to allow the charcoal to add a nice smokey flavor to them. The asparagus only needed roughly 5-7 minutes and they were done. Nice and tender with just a hint of dente` if you will.

And this is what we ended up with after fixing a small accompanying Salad (Keetha & I chose wine & cheese dressing this time for a different take on The Salad). This was paired with a very nice Pinot noir (hey, give us a break! We're new to this wine thing so we just drink what we like! Ha!). Oh, I almost forgot about the bread. You may have remembered reading about it here.

After time spent enjoying our creation while engaged in great conversation, we retired back to the aforementioned lawn chairs around the grill to enjoy a civilized nightcap...(who could stand dessert after all that food we just scarfed down!) The dishes could wait for later!!!

So that, in a nutshell, was Keetha's and my evening. Stay tuned for the next installment of "A Girl and Her Grill" where we'll be enjoying....... (now you don't think I'd let the cat out of the bag that easily do you?!?)


PS... I'd be rather wrong if I didn't acknowledge Keetha's assistance with this post.... THANKS KIDDO!!!!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Text message to The Boyfriend 4/03/08 6:45 p.m. "That meal was so bad I'm going to have to blog about it."

I mentioned here the writers group meeting tonight at a local restaurant. (I'm sitting on my hands to keep from putting the sarcastic quotes around restaurant.)

If I had mentioned the name of the restaurant in that post, I wouldn't write this.

But since I didn't...I am spewing forth my venom. I have a headache now, that's how the food affected me, is what I'm saying.

We've met at this restaurant several times before. I've had the salad with chicken, which was good, and the crawfish poboy, which was fine. I've had the gumbo, which was not bad at all.

This time, I ordered the special, which was a choice of an entree, a side dish, salad, and dessert.

I opted for the salad, grilled chicken, pasta "alfredo," (BELIEVE ME, I have full right to use those quotation marks) and white chocolate bread pudding.

On a positive note? The salad with wine and cheese dressing was entirely edible, after I set aside the half of it that was those hard, white pieces of iceberg. (Who eats that stuff??)

You know those pre-grilled chicken strips that come in a bag at the grocery store? That are compacted and taste all processed? I know what they taste like because I occasionally purchase them. There. I said it.(See, I am no gourmet.) They're fine for chicken quesadillas; put enough monterey jack cheese and green onions and it covers up the taste and texture of the chicken.

That's what the grilled chicken was. Somebody in the kitchen grabbed a bag of those abominations from the freezer and threw one in the microwave.

The pasta "alfredo," judging from the taste, texture, and appearance, was sour cream with a spoonful of butter, or rather margarine/oleo swirled into it and tossed with gummy, overcooked spaghetti. The grilled chicken breast was floating in a pool of that wrongness that was congealing on the plate.

Curiously, my plate with the grilled chicken and pasta "alfredo" also had a serving of rice. Did whoever put together that plate think I needed two servings of carbohydrates? Maybe he knew how awful the pasta "alfredo" was and considerately gave me another option.

It was our waitresses third night on the job, if I had to guess, which didn't help matters a whole lot, although I know she can't be held responsible for the kitchen.

Then there was dessert, which she forgot for a very long stretch to bring us: Two folks at our table ordered lemon icebox pie, which I had carefully considered. I love the tartness of creamy lemon filling with sweet crunchy graham cracker crust. (I don't know that they fared any better; their pie appeared to have been on a plate, uncovered, in the back of the refrigerator for a long, long time.) The allure of warm white chocolate bread pudding was strong. I've had stellar bread pudding and I've had mediocre bread pudding. I don't know that I've ever had bad bread pudding before. But I have now!

It was served in a cup brimming with the white chocolate sauce (take note of the restraint I displayed there, what with the lack of sarcastic quotation marks). I detected little - or no - white chocolate flavor, artificial or genuine, in the sauce. You know the plastic container of icing that comes with the refrigerated cinnamon rolls? I think that's what it was. There was a ring of yellow goo collected on the sides of the dish that I suspect was margarine/oleo swirled into the icing before they heated it in the microwave.

My Diet Coke was good, though.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Salad

It’s not called The Salad because I think it’s the salad to end all salads (actually, I do kind of think that but that’s not why I call it that). It’s because we almost always have this salad with every meal. Calling it The Salad is shorthand. Generally it’s just, “Do you want salad?” and we both know what we’re talking about.

Start with whatever kind of lettuce you like. I prefer a mix of romaine and spinach and who cares what other mixed greens, as long as their color is rich and deep. You could add chopped broccoli, leftover roasted asparagus – whatever you like and have on hand.

Next, cheese, preferably Edam. If not, sharp cheddar. Just a bit grated over the top.

Then either chow mein noodles or croutons, if you like.

If we have pecans or walnuts on hand, those go in there, too. I like to toast them first but that’s not strictly necessary.

This part is what defines The Salad: The dressing.

First up, Honey Dijon Vinaigrette. It’s divine – simple and excellent.

Then you also have Wine and Cheese. I don’t know that it tastes all that much like either wine or cheese but whatever. It’s good.

There you have it. The Salad. Basically, it hinges on A) Good greens, whatever your personal preference, and B) Your dressing of choice.

Naturally, there are any number of variations on The Salad. Like a couple of weeks ago, Jeffrey made a Sunday night meal of A Big Salad, with the greens, Edam cheese, shredded chicken, pecans, fresh cooked bacon, and croutons, dressed with Wine and Cheese dressing. It was an excellent Sunday evening supper, particularly following the big dinner we’d had: honey baked ham, hash brown potato casserole, carrot soufflĂ©, and seven layer salad.

Ultimate Easy Vinaigrette

Like most food folks, I am all about the Food Network. When I turn on the TV, day or night, weekend or weekday, nine times out of ten, it’s on Food TV.

Even shows I’m initially not all that crazy about, like The Ultimate Recipe Showdown, eventually grow on me.

Then there are evergreens like Everyday Italian, Barefoot Contessa, Nigella Cooks, and finally, Tyler’s Ultimate. I don’t catch it all that often, but when I do, it’s always enjoyable. Every recipe of his I’ve tried turned out wonderfully.

This IS, well, the ultimate:

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

1-2 shallots, finely minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine ingredients, which I usually do in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake until mixed well.

This version is actually one where I doubled all the ingredients because I like to have it on hand.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect the dressing would also make a nice glaze to brush on chicken, maybe even pork chops, before grilling.

I keep thinking I’ll mix it up a bit (Ha! Am ever clever with the puns.) by using sherry wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar and maybe I will, but at the same time, I almost hate to mess with a good thing.