28 September 2013

Outdoor Scones



Making Plans

Moving from Washington to Tennessee last year I was really looking forward to the Mid-south’s long seasons of sunshine and dry weather. I imagined laid-back meals cooked on our outdoor grill and eaten on the patio. I sifted through pictures of unique patios and pretty outdoor settings and pinned them to my boards on Pinterest.

Once the moving truck pulled away and we began to settle into our new home most of our projects seemed to focus on that end. Our first project was designed to transform the existing yard, a narrow strip beside the house and the main driveway that was paved with a long sloping second driveway and concrete patio just off the back door. Instead, we drew up plans for a terraced garden, patio and outdoor cooking space. After the second driveway was removed and boundaries and bones of the yard were in place, we hired a landscaping specialist to construct the patios, install the garden and pave an area designated for a BBQ grill.


Out With the Old

As soon as the designated stone pad was in place on the side of the house my husband began to shop for a new BBQ grill to fill the space. His old grill, a hideous-looking sixteen year old Ducane that was fueled by natural gas, was left behind in Washington. It was plumbed to the house and so old it did not seem reasonable, at the time, to have it converted to a new fuel source. Our mistake was to think that a similar grill would be easy to come by. Though we looked, we could not find another gas grill with ceramic charcoal briquettes for sale anywhere. What we did find for sale were Big Green Eggs and fellow customers who were passionate about cooking on them.

If you are as in the dark as I was a short time ago, a Big Green Egg is a kamado-style ceramic charcoal cooker. It reaches high temperatures which can be effectively stabilized and maintained by adjusting several air-flow controls while using a relatively small amount of natural charcoal. With the use of some pricey accessories, most especially a ceramic plate setter but not forgetting the functional cast iron grate, it can be used as a brick oven as well as a grill.


In With the New

Honestly, I have never used our BBQ grill. Prior to our move last year the general understanding at my house was that I do the indoor cooking and my husband takes care of the outdoor cooking. At times I have prepared Kebabs for picnic grilling or marinated meat to be cooked on the grill but I never do the actual outdoor cooking. As we looked for a new outdoor grill I attended to the process with only a mild interest and was frequently distracted by other items on display like outdoor furniture and gardening books.

Even from the bookshelf, however, I couldn’t help but overhear the change in tone when the men in the barbecue zone began to share tales about the Big Green Egg. Joy began to infuse their voices and the texture of legend began to frame their words. As I was drawn into the conversation I detected a twinkle in the eyes of other customers, grilling compatriots not paid salesmen, as they talked about methods of starting the charcoal, length of time they devoted to cooking a pork butt, or the latest gadget they used to light charcoal or time and check the internal temperature of what they put on the grill.

Then they touched on the subject of baking. They had baked pizzas on this grill and claimed there was no better way to cook them. They compared the Big Green Egg to a brick oven, then shared rumors that it was great for baking bread and biscuits too. They mentioned blogs and websites devoted to cooking on the Big Green Egg along with series of YouTube videos.


Discovering the Passion

As I pondered these claims over the next few weeks I have to admit that I was intrigued and far from disappointed when my husband suggested we buy a Big Green Egg rather than some infrared shiny aluminum gas grill. He told me he thought it was time to try something new. He suggested it might be fun for us to cook together in our newly renovated back yard garden and cultivate a few specialties beyond Grilled Salmon and Greek Feta Chicken. I agreed.

On a Wednesday The Egg was delivered. On Thursday we grilled chicken breasts and by Saturday morning took it up a notch and tested the brick oven theory. While still a little shaky in our skills to maintain a stable oven temperature (mostly due to an insuppressible desire to open the lid and see what is going on in there) we made a batch of our favorite Buttermilk Scones and put them on a baking stone in the Big Green Egg.

While they took a little longer to get done in the middle than in a conventional oven (again, most likely due to indiscreet peeking) the added time allowed for a little extra delicious browning. What emerged were some gorgeous scones, golden and crispy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside. The taste had a pleasing touch of smokiness from the barbecue that complemented the crispiness of the golden crust as well. Spread with butter and strawberry jam they were exceptionally delicious. I’d have to call this adventure a success! Now what will we cook next….


Buttermilk Scones

2½ cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter

2/3 cup buttermilk

1 egg


milk

additional sugar

Preheat grill (or oven) to 425 degrees.

Mix flour, 2 Tablespoons sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt, in a large bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles course meal. Stir in the buttermilk and egg.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Dough will be moist. Roll dough out into a circle 1½ inches thick. Transfer to a round baking stone. Cut into wedges. Brush top with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.


Bake at 425F until golden brown, about 15 - 25 minutes (in the oven, I start checking at 15 minutes. On the Big Green Egg it has taken as long as 25 minutes.) Serve immediately with an assortment of jam, butter and honey, or fruit and cream.

Enjoy!

19 September 2013

Fried Nuts with Rosemary



Rosemary in the Garden…

As autumn approaches, rosemary has become the star of my garden. In my new yard in Tennessee the serpentine retaining wall near our small vegetable garden is topped with a row of five rosemary bushes. As the other herbs and vegetables begin to play out these resilient plants remain dense and vibrant as their branches reach for the wall. Their sturdy foliage is thick and fragrant, heavy with pungent oil. Gathering a few twigs for cooking, I find the resinous scent clinging to my skin and bathing my senses in its rich perfume.

Rosemary is an asset in early fall cooking. Its woody twigs make great skewers for grilled kebabs and a few tender sprigs tied together make a pretty brush for basting meat or vegetables. You can also add a few twigs to the barbecue to impart flavor in the smoke or to the fire pit to add fragrance to a special event. Or place a fresh twig in a warm oven to add a wonderful touch of scent to your home.

…and at the Table

The tender tips of rosemary branches make a beautiful garnish. They can also add a natural touch to your table décor. These brighter more pliable strands of rosemary are especially beautiful when in bloom. Weave them loosely into napkin rings or tuck them into table bouquets or wreaths. The flowers are small but pretty. They are also edible and can be added to salads or used as a garnish.

Here rosemary is used to add flavor and texture to cocktail nuts. These nuts are first oven toasted and then, at the last minute, fried with a large fist full of chopped rosemary leaves until the nuts are browned and the rosemary leaves are crisped. The smell is heavenly and it alone is worth the small effort devoted to turning out this recipe. Try it now and keep it in mind throughout the coming holiday season.



Fried Nuts with Rosemary
Based on a recipe for Party Nuts at Kitchen Parade, with quantities adapted

3 cups mixed nuts
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
3-4 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne or other red pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt


Preheat oven to 350F.

Spread nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven on a middle rack. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring to redistribute nuts once or twice during the process. Remove from the oven and set aside until just a few minutes before serving time.

Just before guests arrive, or even just after, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. (Any type of skillet can be used, preferably one without non-stick coating, but somehow using my cast iron skillet for this one really adds to my personal satisfaction with this recipe.) When the skillet is hot add the olive oil.

When the olive oil is hot and shimmery, add the chopped fresh rosemary. How finely you chop the rosemary is a matter of personal preference. I like having bits of rosemary that are all different sizes. The longer bits of rosemary leaf separate into their own savory bite in the bowl. Many of the finer pieces will adhere to the ridges of the walnuts and especially the pecans while frying which adds a boost to the appeal of those when you are eyeing the bowl for the best nut to target. Then again, a few leaf clusters from the tips of the rosemary stems you chop are a nice addition to the mix, adding some visual interest and variety. Not that I thought this all out in advance or anything. It’s just the sort of rustic chopping that comes about naturally most of time.

Stir the rosemary in the oil for about one minute. (If you have a handsome wooden utensil for stirring, all the better.) Breath deeply! The scent of the rosemary alone, as it crisps in the hot oil, is reason enough to prepare this recipe often.

Add the brown sugar and chili pepper to the oil and stir in quickly. Add the nuts and continue stirring as you fry the nuts over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until coated and hot throughout.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the salt and toss with the nuts. Scoop nuts (and every last bit of rosemary and salt you can) into your favorite serving bowl.

Serve and Enjoy!

12 September 2013

Salmon Croquettes



Mid-Century Favorites…

Reading about William Faulkner and Rowan Oak, his home in Oxford, Mississippi, I came across several references to what was said to be his favorite dish; Salmon Croquettes made from a recipe on the back of the can.

It had been years since I last thought of Salmon Croquettes, longer since I ate one.  It is an old fashioned concept, popular mid-century, when Faulkner was still writing and a time when canned goods had become widely available to most Americans but fresh seafood had not. Canned tuna and salmon were staples in many southern kitchens and recipes for tuna casseroles and salmon croquettes were popular with homemakers and widely shared in local cookbooks from that era.

It was Salmon Croquettes that I remember my midcentury family eating with some regularity.  I never really trusted the creaminess of a Tuna Casserole, or any mixture of uncertain white ingredients.  Salmon Croquettes were more straightforward.  Not that I knew what was in them at the time, but they were shaped like hamburgers and tasted like what they purported to be, fish. 

And then there were the bones. Canned salmon contained tiny circular bones that looked like beads or tiny puka shells.  What’s more we were encouraged to eat them if we liked, unlike any other bone.  They were easily chewed and were dense with calcium.  I found them uniquely intriguing and loved finding one or more hidden inside my Salmon Croquette.

…Revisited

Drawn by memory or tradition, and my childish fascination with those bones, I tried to recreate the charm of eating Salmon Croquettes a time or two after I was married.  I followed the recipe Aunt Hen gave me and I remember that they turned out fine.  Somehow though, the charm was lost or the habit didn’t stick.  Whatever the reason, Salmon Croquettes fell out of my menu rotations for decades.

Lately, though, I have read of croquettes several times in various contexts. The word seems to have come back into fashion or at least pulls at a comforting nostalgic chord with those of us who remember those mid-century dishes from our childhood. Spurred on by the rumor that Salmon Croquettes were a favorite of Faulkner, a true Southern Literary Giant, I was inspired to make them again.

This time, instead of using canned salmon I used leftover salmon, something we often have on hand after baking or grilling a Simple Salmon fillet. What it lacked in intriguing bits of bone it made up for in it’s firmer texture.  I am a bit picky about the ingredients so after looking over several recipes I finally decided to adapt something of my own that is a little like Crab Cakes and a little like my memories of Betty Crocker. I feel sure this recipe would work well with canned salmon too, though the quantities would need to be adjusted according to the size of the can.



Fresh Salmon Croquettes
Makes 4 croquettes

8 ounces cooked salmon, flaked (about 1½ cups)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped shallot or green onions
1 egg, slightly beaten
½  cup panko crumbs or toasted bread crumbs
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or dill
pinch of salt and pepper
more panko crumbs (for dredging)
butter and olive oil (for frying)

In a large mixing bowl combine the flaked salmon, chopped shallots, egg, crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, mustard, fresh parsley or dill, salt and pepper. Mix until combined.

Form croquettes using ½ cup of the mixture for each.  Dredge in panko crumbs and arrange on a plate or small baking sheet.

Place the formed croquettes in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before frying. (They can be wrapped and frozen for later use at this point. If frozen, thaw completely before frying.)


When ready to cook:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot add 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot, place the Salmon Croquettes in the skillet and cook over medium heat until golden brown, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Serving suggestions:  

Serve on buns with lettuce and/or tomato, like Crab Cakes.  
Smother in delicious Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.  
Serve for brunch with eggs and grits.

Enjoy!

07 September 2013

Peach Cup-pies


The Littlest Peach Pie

A few years ago I posted a recipe for A Little Peach Pie. Some might call it a Galette. Some might call it a Rustic or Folded Pie. It was simple, delicious and just the right size for a weeknight dinner or a casual treat. That Little Peach Pie was one of my favorite desserts. When peaches are in season, there is nothing better.

Sometimes, though, even a Little Peach Pie might seem like a lot. Sometimes there is just a peach or two sitting on the counter and the thought that it would be delicious in a little crust with a few toasted pecans on top or tucked into its sweet-tart filling. Sometimes, just the thought will make your mouth water.

I think that’s what happened as we were cleaning out my kitchen. A couple of peaches were sitting on the coffee bar. We weren’t really cooking, there was no stovetop. I wasn’t sure where to find a pie plate. But I had a pie crust and I knew where the muffin tins were and the oven was still in place. Next thing I knew I had cut a few circles of dough, tucked them into the muffin tins and put a loosely constructed peach filling together. A little streusel and a few pecans later and those ripe peaches were ready to be baked into six of the cutest little Peach Cup-pies ever. 




Peach Cup-pies


Pastry for a one crust pie (You can use the recipe for Nearly Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a ready made pie crust.)

Streusel Topping

1 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoons butter

Pie Filling

2 or 3 ripe peaches
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 Tablespoon flour
pinch of cinnamon

1 -2 Tablespoons toasted pecan or almond pieces

Pastry: Roll out pie pastry and cut into 4-5 inch circles using a small cereal bowl or fruit bowl as a guide. Carefully fit one circle into each section of a cupcake tin, filling as many as you are able. (I lined six sections.)

Make the streusel topping: Place 1 Tablespoons each of flour, brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl. Mash together with fingers or fork until crumbly. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the filling: In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, ½ Tablespoon flour and cinnamon. Slice the peaches and sprinkle the sugar mixture on top. Toss gently until the peaches are coated with the sugar mixture.

Assemble the pie: Spoon the peach mixture evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the pie filling. Scatter toasted nuts evenly over the streusel. Loosely fold any pastry dough that extends above the filling in each cup back over the filling.

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.

Remove from oven. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Enjoy!

02 September 2013

Basil and Butterflies

Walnut Pesto on Pasta with Flowering Basil Leaves

Gardening in Discovery Mode

One of the things I love about living in Tennessee this summer is my garden. My yard here is small and my vegetable and herb gardens are too. I have two small raised beds dedicated to vegetables, a rosemary hedge border above my retaining wall, basil plants tucked into the edge of one shrub bed and tomatoes tucked into some gaps in another. Then there is a rogue garden on the side of the driveway that has everything from blueberries, to jalapenos and another basil bush growing in it.

Tomato plants and parsley in the garden

This year we are planting the beds in discovery mode. We are taking what we remember from gardening in Texas and Virginia and blending it with our experience in the garden from the latest chapter of our lives in the Pacific Northwest. What we have found so far is that tomatoes like it here far more than they did my backyard in Washington. We have also learned that basil THRIVES here and parsley is happy enough to grow in its shade.

Basil plants in garden border

Keeping up With the Basil

I could scarcely be more pleased. I love to make Pesto and have missed having it stored in my freezer these past few years. This year I can’t seem to keep up with the basil growing around my yard. Every variety I planted is growing vigorously and flowering before I can fully use it’s fragrant leaves.

Flowering basil plant in garden bed

The last time I went into the garden to gather the herbs for another batch of Pesto, I pushed aside the branching basil to find my parsley was not faring quite so well. While the leaves were growing thick and full there was evidence that I was not the only one who enjoyed their fresh flavor. Many leaves were chewed on and some down to the stems. I cut what remained and brought it in with the basil.

parsley eaten by caterpillars

Handsome Intruders

Inside, as I rinsed the herbs, I found the culprit. Clinging to the fronds I had cut were two fat green caterpillars. They were so handsome I hardly knew what to do with them. I felt bad about disposing of them and finally relocated them to the side of the house.

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on parsley

I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one to have fat green caterpillars on my parsley. In fact, from the photos I saw, I seem to have been lucky to have any parsley left at all! Fortunately I was able to gather enough to make my Pesto and the parsley plants growing in my second garden seemed nearly caterpillar free.

Swallowtail butterfly with torn wing on butterfly bush

Parsley with Purpose

Reading beyond the photos I learned something new. Those handsome green caterpillars were not just pretty worms but were actually the predecessors of Swallowtail Butterflies. Though I have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar enough times to have memorized it at some point in my children’s development I still did not realize that the caterpillars crawling on and munching my parsley were the same guys Eric Carle had featured in that book. Call me a slow learner, but it just hadn’t dawned on me before.

Swallowtail butterfly on Butterfly Bush

Now I have new purpose in planning next summer’s herb garden. I will be sure to plant more parsley, and quite probably a little less basil. While I am making Pesto to freeze I will also be ready to share my parsley with caterpillars that will delight me in a few short weeks as they visit my butterfly bush on painted wings.