Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Garlic, Wine & Goat Cheese, oh my!

Did you know that Chicago got it's name from the American Indian word for the wild garlic that grew around Lake Michigan - "chicagaoua"? No wonder it's my favorite city!

I think about the only thing I love more than goat cheese is garlic.
And every year in mid-October, I get to celebrate my love at the Wine & Garlic Fest in Amherst, VA at Rebec Vineyards. Last year, for the first time ever, a Virginian chevre maker sold his goods at the festival! My only complaint is that it was all frozen, he sold none ready to eat. He could've made a killing-- for what is better than goat cheese, bread, garlic, a good bottle of wine and fresh mountain air?

For more info, check out

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Couscous on the loose......

I always get alot of questions about couscous, so I thought I would devote a post to it. I kind of wing it when it comes to fixing this versatile side dish.
"Durum wheat is indigenous to North Africa, so it serves as the main cereal grain for many of the food preparations in these countries. The Portuguese introduced couscous to other parts of the world more than 400 years ago, although the grain has been around for nearly a 1,000 years. It remains a staple in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Because the process of making couscous can be done in the home, it is more common than pasta in these regions, and the ability to make it is an admired skill."

All I know is that my husband and I can eat a truckload of it per sitting, so I make a little more than 2 servings, a little less than 4 ;) Above, you'll note my preferred whole grain couscous w/flax seed. I think the whole grain lends to its tenderness b/c I get comments from friends all of the time about how moist it is.

Here's my basic weeknight couscous recipe:

1 garlic glove, finely minced or pressed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup couscous
1 1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Heat Garlic in sauce pan with olive oil. (I put garlic in when oil is still cold so it has a lesser chance of burning). Stir and cook until fragrant. Add couscous, toss until couscous is coated. Let it hang out for another minute or so and get "toasty" :)

Add broth, bring to a boil, place lid on saucepan, set to the side for 5 minutes. When 5 minutes is up, fluff with a fork and throw in parmesan (and S&P).

Great side dish for fish or grilled chicken (we usually serve this w/our marinated chicken kebabs). Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 people if you have a bunch of other sides.

Bella's Goat Cheese & Marinara w/Garlic Crostini

This recipe was inspired by my local pizzaria when I lived in the Ravenswood/Andersonville area in Chicago. My husband and I eat just this for dinner some nites when we are drop dead tired. It makes a great app as well, folks just suck it up! :)
You will need:
1 4 oz log chevre/plain goat cheese
1 jar marinara or your own sauce (I like Williams-Sonoma's Tomato Basil)
1 baguette
Garlic clove(s)
Small, attractive serving/baking dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice baguette in 1/2 an inch pieces on the diagonal.
Place on cookie sheet.
Lay goat cheese in bottom/middle of baking dish, surround w/marinara of your choice.
Do not cover cheese, leave a little peeking out at the top.
Place dish on cookie sheet or next to it if possible in the oven.

Bake everything for 10-15 minutes until crostini are golden brown and marinara is slightly bubbling.

Take garlic, slice long-ways, rub on warm crostini.
Put baking dish in the middle of a big platter, surround w/crostini and a few spreading knives.

Crap. I've been tagged.

Meg tagged me with the blogging game of 8 factoids about yourself.
Thanks Meg! :) **sticks out tongue at Meg**

1. I'm the messiest cook alive. I suppose that somewhere deep inside I think that if I dirty every single dish, pot and utensil in my kitchen, the dish HAS to taste good. Needless to say, this does not go over well with my dear husband as it has been our custom for me to cook and him to clean. ;)

2. My great uncle coached football at Ohio State, was a professor and still has a building named after him. He also coined the phrase "Intestinal Fortitude."

3. I was born in London during the height of the IRA bombings. My mom, very young and from the country in Arkansas, was not used to public transport to say the least. We were coming back from the zoo one day and my mom took the wrong train, with us ending up in Wales instead of London. Meanwhile, the train we would've taken was bombed and approx 250 people died that day.

4. My eyes are green, my mom's eyes are green, my dad's eyes are green(BOTH of them- step and bio), my brother's eyes are green, my brother's wife's eyes are green, my grandmother's eyes are green.

5. Almost everyone I know is lefthanded- my husband, dad, mom, grandmother, best friend. I'm the oddball right hander!

6. I have completely ruined my husband from ever enjoying a chain restaurant again- LOL! When we met, he was a sandwich, pizza, hot pocket kind of guy. Now, he says he can't eat at TGI Friday's b/c it "depresses" him. Yay! My job is done! Ha!

7. My hooker/stripper name is Tippy Fletcher. Nice, eh?

8. I drive like a grandma and still get into accidents all of the time. Minor ones though, usually no insurance involved. The last "incident" I had was releasing the clutch on my 5-speed and rolling back INTO another car. Just bumped him, no damage to either vehicle, but somehow managed to give myself a minor case of whiplash. What can I say? I'm talented! And, an awful driver.

Marinade of the gods.....

.......I'm normally a huge proponent of "do it yourself with fresh ingredients." However, where this marinade is concerned, I make an exception. I'm also sharing this, my best grilling secret, in the hopes that you will go out and buy it and thus keep it in production!(and maybe they'll pay me some coin for ad space!) It is beyond delicious when used on chicken.

Naturally Fresh makes this lip smacking lemon pepper marinade that can now be found on the marinades/condiments aisle at the grocery store (if your store sells this brand, that is). I found it by accident in the refridgerated/jar type dressings area in the produce section. Then, one day it wasn't there anymore- I panicked! Went online and found out it was shelf stable, so went hunting by the dry good marinades and voila! There it was, almost hiding on the verrrrrrrrrry top shelf.

Look how moist these are!

If I'm grilling for company, I also like to use these short, bamboo skewers b/c they are easy to handle and everyone always comments on how cute they are.

If you do manage to find and use this marinade-- I'd love to hear about it, so come back and see me with a comment!

Monday, August 27, 2007


Got this off of the nest a looooooong time ago. I'd love to give someone credit, but alas I do not remember who posted this. BUT! It has quickly risen to favor in our home as far as salmon preparation goes. Had it for dinner tonite and fell in love with it alllll over again. (also served Giadia's sweet potato fries w/basil salt and garlic mayo and steamed asparagus)

Salmon with White-Wine Mustard Sauce

1/4 tspn salt
1/8 tspn black pepper
4 (6 oz) salmon filets (abt. 1" thick)
1 tbsp butter (we use smart balance)
3 tbsp minced shallot
2 tbsp dry white wine
3/4 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3/4 tspn cornstarch
4 tspns minced fresh tarragon

Season fish with salt and pepper.
Melt 1 1/2 tspn butter in a large non-stick skillet over med-high heat.
Add fish and cook 7 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily w/fork.
Remove from skillet, keep warm.

Melt 1 1/2 tspns of remaining butter in skillet over medium heat.
Add shallots and saute for 1 minute.
Add wine, cook for 30 seconds.
Combine 1/8 tspn salt, broth, mustard and cornstarch w/a whisk.
Add to skillet, bring to boil.
Reduce heat, simmer until reduced to 3/4 cup (approx 1 minute).
Spoon sauce over fish and sprinkle w/tarragon.

(I add tarragon w/broth etc. so the full herb flavor is released)

A tip about herbs like tarragon:

When I buy fresh herbs, I chop them up, put them in a baggie, roll it up (to get the air out, then seal it) and stow them in the freezer for approx 3 months. I do this with almost every herb except basil, which will turn brown and gross. I've been told you can freeze basil w/a little water in ice cube trays. That's too much work for me :) I'll just go steal a little off of my neighbor's out of control basil bush if I need some! LOL! (yes, her plant is so big, it's a BUSH!)

Caramel Cake

I find it more than a little ironic as well as amusing that I'm starting my food blogging journey with a baking entry. Let me state for the record that I am not a baker. I am merely an enthusiastic consumer of baked goods. But, our family friend at some point told me about her mother (who has since passed) making her a caramel cake for every birthday growing up with such wistfulness and longing, I just had to make it for her this year.
"Did you know that this sweet favorite of the American South actually has European roots? The American Caramel cake can be traced back to the France. The earliest American caramel cakes were iced, but not multi-layered like the typical ones we have today. Southern bakers immediately took to this French import, using their handy cast-iron pans to slow cook the caramel icing."

While I did not use cast iron for my recipe, I certainly used every nook and cranny of my stove. I would suggest using a tad bigger pots than they dictate in this recipe b/c boiling over is inevitable. At a certain point the glaze and frosting do "simmer down" - but not before they destroyed my smooth top range!

In the beginning stages, where there is a danger of overflow.

Final product at 230 degrees.

I would also suggest putting a layer of aluminum foil on the rack under your cakes as spill over is inevitable there as well. My third suggestion, when assembling layers-- first slice the top off the cake to make it even, then put rough cut side down so you can easily apply the glaze.

I also used cardboard cake rounds and a wooden cutting board to flip flop the delicate layers over without significant breakage. My last suggestion-- save icing the sides for last. I iced each layer a little bit, but by the time I got to the top-- it was all runing toward the bottom. I'm also going to try dipping my frosting spatula in hot water and smoothing the icing for an eye pleasing end product.

Final product!

Hopefully you will benefit from my hard won wisdom! But, any way you put it together, this cake is slap your grandma good!
Caramel Cake

Let the cake sit for two hours or so after icing it so that the frosting firms.

12 oz. unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 1⁄2 cups self-rising flour
1 1⁄2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. light corn syrup
5 cups sugar
12 oz. unsalted butter
2 1⁄2 cups buttermilk
3 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg at a time, then beat in flour. Combine buttermilk and baking soda and beat into flour mixture. Add lemon juice and vanilla and beat well. Divide batter evenly among three greased and floured 8" round cake pans and bake until centers of cakes spring back when lightly pressed, 30–35 minutes. Let cakes cool in their pans.

2. For the glaze and frosting: Boil corn syrup, 1 cup of the sugar, 8 tbsp. of the butter, 1/2 cup of the buttermilk, 1 tsp. of the vanilla, and 1/2 tsp. of the baking soda together in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove glaze from heat. Boil shortening and remaining sugar, butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda together in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until temperature reaches 230° on a candy thermometer, 25–30 minutes. Remove frosting from heat, let cool for 5 minutes, then beat with a wooden spoon until it loses its shine, 5–7 minutes. Keep frosting warm over a pot of hot water.

3. Remove cake layers from pans. Put 1 layer on a cake plate. Brush one-third of the glaze over top and sides, let rest for 2 minutes, then ice top and sides with one-third of the frosting. Set another layer on top and repeat glazing, icing, and layering process, then repeat process again with remaining layer.
First published in Saveur, July 2004