Sunday, April 29, 2012

Salmon Cucumber Sandwiches (and an OXO giveaway!)

I have a minor obsession with things that are miniature. I can’t explain why but if I have the choice between an individual mini item and a piece of something cut from the whole I will choose the mini version. Every time. Sandwiches are no exception; finger sandwiches are unsafe around me.

I took my sister-in-law to afternoon tea at a local hotel recently. It was filled with mini scones, canapes and desserts. It was a miniature-lovers dream. One of my favorite things served was a salmon cucumber sandwich; I couldn’t stop thinking about the taste. I knew that I had to have this again, and soon.

It was right about then that I got a box dropped at the front door from OXO. I had completely forgotten that I was selected to be a part of their blogger outreach program. The tool that arrived was a handheld mandolin. I was intrigued. I already have a mandolin, of another brand, and it is incredible difficult to setup and use. This one is one piece, no setup required, and can be placed directly above a bowl to catch the slices. It’s genius! This is so thoughtfully designed that I gave my other mandolin to the local thrift shop.

The mandolin was perfect to slice up the cucumbers for my salmon cucumber sandwiches. The  three thickness settings are clearly marked allowing me to choose which was best for me and clear surface allowed me to decide when  to stop slicing. I put it directly on top of my bowl to catch the slices and drop them directly into the vinegar bath. The best part? I got 2 of these mandolins, one to use and review and one to give to you!

Giveaway details–

1. Leave a comment telling me what you would like to make using an OXO handheld mandolin.

Want some extra entries? Leave a comment for each of the following. Who doesn’t love more chances to win? Leave a comment for each extra entry!
1. Like Cats in the Kitchen on facebook
2. Follow us on twitter and tweet about the contest. Leave a link to your tweet :)
3. Like OXO on facebook
4. Follow OXO on twitter and tweet about the contest. Leave a link to your tweet.

The contest will be open until 10am CST Saturday May 12 when random.org will give me the wining number. So if you don’t win take your pitchforks and angry villagers on over to that way, but for heavens sake there will be more giveaways.

 

CONGRATS TO MANDA (COMMENT #11) FOR WINNING THE MANDOLIN. PLEASE EMAIL ME YOUR MAILING ADDRESS SO I CAN GET YOUR MANDOLIN IN THE MAIL. I HOPE YOU ENJOY!!

 

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. OXO provided me with a mandolin to use and review and another to give away to a Cats in the Kitchen reader. All opinions here are strictly my own.

Print

Salmon Cucumber Sandwiches

Yield: 6 sandwiches, cut any way you like

salmon cucumber sandwich

Note: If you aren’t a fan of cream cheese you can substitute butter, plain or compound with garlic. Keep in mind that this is really more than just for taste, it acts as a barrier between your bread and the things inside your sandwich. Having this barrier keeps your bread from getting soggy, no one likes a soggy sandwich.

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs salmon filets
Dash each salt and pepper
1 lemon (zested and sliced into rounds)
Handful sprigs of fresh dill
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
1 c vinegar (I used tarragon infused vinegar)
2 c water
8 tbsp cream cheese (at room temperature)
½ tsb garlic powder
12 slices of bread

Directions:

Prepare your salmon:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the salmon with a dash each of salt and pepper then add the zest of 1 lemon. Divide the 4 or so fronds of the dill along the salmon and then top with the rounds of cut lemon. Put this into the oven, covered, for 45 minutes.

While your salmon is cooking prepare the cucumber. Using a vegetable peeler score the cucumber twice, this will not only make it pretty but also help it soak up more flavor from its upcoming vinegar bath. Grab your mandolin and slice your cucumber into thin rounds (you could use a knife here but the mandolin makes this such easy work!). In a bowl large enough to hold the cucumber and bath combine vinegar with water and then add the cucumber. Submerge all slices and then let it sit for 20-30 minutes. Put your soaked cucumber slices between paper towels to drain, Combine the room temperature cream cheese with garlic powder and stir it to combine.

When the salmon flakes with a fork it is completely cooked, take it out of the oven to cool. When it is completely cooled throw away the lemon slices and flake the fish. You can choose to either take the dill out or leave it in, I prefer to leave it in the flaked salmon.

Smear the cream cheese mixture on each piece of bread. Top 6 slices with your cucumbers then top with salmon and place the remaining bread on top. You can cut the sandwiches any way you like them, I think that diagonally into 4 pieces makes them so much more fun to eat.


 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Biscrips Marshmallows & Holiday Card GIVEAWAY

Then weather in New Orleans has gotten decidedly cooler the past few days, dare I even say chilly. I get so excited at this time of year, when we bid adieu to the sweltering heat of summer and can once again enjoy the outdoors without worrying about heatstroke. The kitties have been happy because the windows have been open so they can sniff at all the things that they usually only see through their favorite perch.

I wasn’t really ready for this amazing weather, the cupboards are still in summer mode. I had cocoa powder and made a batch of plain hot chocolate with that but it just didn’t seem special enough to welcome the beauty of fall in New Orleans. Sigh. This mediocre cocoa feeling did not match the feeling of my warm fuzzy socks. Something had to be done.  I checked, rechecked and emptied the cabinets looking for something great to add but nothing called out to me. Then I saw it, the jar of Biscrips and I immediately knew that I needed to make myself some marshmallows.  (Biscrips is just another brand of speculoos spread like Biscoff, which I can not find in all of New Orleans.) This was it- just what I needed. If you’ve never made your own marshmallows before you really should do it immediately, it’s super easy once you understand one thing. Do not scrape the bowl and do not get your fingers in the mix (Deb from Smitten Kitchen shows and explains it best). You will never grab a bag of that dense tasteless crap from the store again after you’ve made your own marshmallows. I promise. The marshmallows don’t taste just like the cookies, but I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Print

Biscrips Marshmallows

Yield: 8x8 pan, cut to your size & shape preference

You can absolutely substitute Biscoff or Nutella for the Biscrips here :)

biscrips marshmallows

Ingredients:

Butter for greasing the pan
Powdered sugar for dusting
3 packets unflavored gelatin
½ c + ¼ c + 1 tbsp water separated
2 c granulated sugar
½ c biscrips
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Grab an 8x8 baking dish and generously butter it then dust it liberally with powdered sugar. This will ensure that your marshmallows set properly and come out of the pan cleanly.

Pour ½ c water in an electric mixer and sprinkle all 3 packets of unflavored gelatin overtop to start softening and working their marshmallow making magic.

In a nonreactive saucepan over low heat combine 1/2c + 1 tbsp water with 2 c sugar and ½ c biscrips. Whisk this gently until the sugar dissolves and then STOP whisking. Let it warm, but do not stir it, until a candy thermometer reads 240 F. (Side note: I don’t completely know the science behind this but it’s got something to do with sugar crystals forming in the same manner that would happen if you stirred while you were making caramel. It really does make a difference, I made a batch while stirring the entire time it was heating to 240 and those bad boys were gritty. No one likes gritty marshmallows.)

Pour the warm mixture over your gelatin and water. Fit your whisk attachment and turn it on low to just combine everything. Stop, scrape the sides and bottom. Now resign yourself to the fact that this is the last time you will do that. Beat again on high for 12 minutes until the mixture becomes much lighter in color, thick and fluffy. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, try and scrape the bowl again. Please trust me and save yourself the trouble. Add the 1tsp vanilla extract and beat that bad boy on high again for another 3 minutes.

Take your marshmallow mix to the prepared pan and scrape it all in. Do not even try to get it all, no scraping and carrying on, you will make a giant mess. Wet your fingertips slightly and smooth out the top of your marshmallows then set them aside to set for 8 hours or overnight. You don’t want to refrigerate it, the entire thing will seize up and be completely inedible.

After it sets you can gently invert the pan and release the marshmallows onto the counter dusted with powdered sugar. Cut it with scissors or a knife dusted with powdered sugar. If you're feeling extra ambitious you could use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of the beauties. Dust the sides slightly with powdered sugar if they’re sticking together when in your container. These will keep for about 7-10 days in an airtight container, but I promise that you won’t want to let them sit around uneaten for that long.

A Cats in the Kitchen Original

One of my other fall joys is getting ready for the holidays. Next to Carnival, the winter holidays are my favorite time of year. I love all of the decorations, the lights, the displays, the random acts of kindness, the get togethers with friends and family and the anticipation of opening the mailbox hoping there is a card. Yes, I have a not-so-secret love for holiday cards. I send them out every year to as many people as I can in the hopes that it makes them smile, that for one special moment things are ok and you remember that someone loves you. Sometimes I have time to write special personalized notes to everyone, sometimes not so much, but each and every one of those cards if filled with thanks for wonderful memories, love beyond imagination, heartfelt laughs and wishes for a joyous new year. For the past few years we have used Shutterfly for our cards and always have wonderful experiences. This year they have graciously offered to give 3 of my readers a chance to create their own cards, COMPLETELY FREE! Talk about getting into the holiday spirit! The lucky winners will get 25 free cards, any style on the website. Need holiday cards? They got ‘em. New years cards, they have those too. Are you super duper ambitious and think you can get around to sending cards for Thanksgiving? Well, more power to ya, Shutterfly can help you do that (even though I will secretly snarl at you for having time to even think about a Thanksgiving card!). Don’t forget to send your thank-you notes! The possibilities are endless with Shutterfly’s designs and your own photos.

I have 3 sets of codes to give away, all you have to do is ask for it. I will give away a code here on the blog, one on twitter and one on facebook.

Simple, just like the hot chocolate.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. Shutterfly provided me with free cards as well as  promo codes good for 25 cards each for 3 of my readers. The opinions expressed here, however, are completely my own.

What, your cats don't send out holiday cards?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gumbo and a GIVEAWAY

“What is New Orleans? New Orleans is Creole gumbo,
filé gumbo, cowan gumbo, chicken gumbo, smoked
sausage gumbo, hot sausage gumbo, onion gumbo.”

– Kermit Ruffins, New Orleans vocalist and trumpeter

Gumbo is the quintessential New Orleans dish; it bonds New Orleanians of all classes and cultures, gracing tables of the poor, wealthy and everywhere in between. It’s the most asked for dinner when we have out of town guests, there is hardly a restaurant in the area that doesn’t have at least one gumbo on its menu and every family has its own recipe to swear by. You know it’s a big deal when Alton Brown himself gets in on the action and an entire Disney movie is practically based around a family’s gumbo pot.

Gumbo has been around long before written records and getting to the source of it is really impossible. Several cultures claim gumbo as their own invention, and who could blame them, but I like to think of it more as a shared experience.  Gumbo is a thick soup made with a roux (equal parts fat and flour), the trinity (bell pepper, celery and onions), stock and is thickened with either okra or file powder (ground sassafras leaves).  Folks of a creole heritage will put tomatoes in their gumbo, and that’s how I like mine, but this is just blasphemy to cajuns. The meats can vary from sausage, chicken, seafood or no meat at all. One of the most famous meatless gumbos is the Holy Thursday tradition of Gumbo Z’herbs.  I like to eat my gumbo with a side of steamed rice and warm buttered bread, my husband prefers crispy crackers and other folks plop a heaping spoon of cold creamy potato salad in their gumbo. Everyone has their own way both of making and eating this classic dish. What’s yours?

There is a controversial new trend in New Orleans- quick remakes of traditional dishes and gumbo is one of these Traditional gumbos take many hours and lots of attention to make, something that not every family is able to do. Single parents, folks working more than one job, students working while in school- why should they have to wait for someone to make them a pot of gumbo? I was excited to see 30 minute versions of the classics (gumbo, etouffe, stew, jambalaya) in the July/August edition of Louisiana Life magazine. While the end result certainly isn’t the same as the all day method it is absolutely delicious. I’m all for tradition but I also recognize the need to amend tradition to the time, so we’ll have traditional gumbo on weekends and holidays and the quick version during the week.

I was intrigued and decided to give it a whirl. What’s really great about this recipe is that it’s made with things most of us New Orleanians tend to have on hand all the time. I can’t remember a time when my freezer didn’t have seasoning mix, sausage of some kind (usually andouille) and the spice cabinet always has bay leaves, thyme and cayanne. The end result was pleasantly surprising.; it was honestly better than I thought it would be and would make a great addition to our dinner rotation. The taste certainly doesn’t have the complex, obviously slow cooked taste of a regular gumbo but for a bunch of things that came together in half an hour this is bliss.  You could boost the flavor profile by making sure your sausage is the seasoned variety (don’t skimp on quality here!) and if you can get a cajun roast rotisserie chicken opt for that instead of plain (or sprinkle the meat with some seasoning as you pick it from the bones).  And it’s so easy that even my can’t cook hubby would be able to toss it all together! WIN!

gumbo!

I followed the recipe as written until the very end, I used up all the file powder a few weeks prior and forgot to restock, so I tossed in 2 heaping cups of okra and all was well. (Remember, you’ll need one or the other to use as a thickener or your gumbo will be more liquidy than normal. This isn’t a deal breaker though, try it out and see if you like it brothy. I certainly find this comforting and purposely leave out the thickening agents when I’m sick!) Like most things in cooking though, this is more method than recipe and once you get the hang of it you can change it up according to your family’s likes and what you have on hand at the time. Isn’t that the beauty of a gumbo afterall :)

Now for the giveaway…

It’s just rude to do all this talking about food and not share some, don’t ya think? So I’d like to give one lucky reader a chance to make their very own New Orleans-style food. I will send ya a copy of the Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook as well as a one year subscription to “Louisiana Life” magazine. There will also be some other goodies in there that are essential to making a good New Orleans meal. You’ll certainly need some Tabasco sauce, Jazzmen rice and other amazing local yummies! No tourist trap crap here, just great local products.). All you have to do is leave a comment telling me if you’ve ever had gumbo and what you thought. If you haven’t that’s ok,  which gumbo do you think will be your favorite and why?

Want some extra entries? Leave a comment for each of the following. Who doesn’t love more chances to win? Leave a comment for each extra entry!
1. Like Cats in the Kitchen on facebook
2. Follow us on twitter and tweet about the contest. Leave a link to your tweet :)
3. Subscribe by email or RSS feed

The contest will be open until 10am CST Wednesday November 9 when random.org will give me the wining number. So if you don’t win take your pitchforks and angry villagers on over to that way, but for heavens sake there will be more giveaways.

 

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I am sending you products that I have purchased because I love them and strongly(!) believe in supporting my local businesses.

 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Food Blog Forum Nashville 2011 – Success!

A Note from Beth Anne -  Hey yall… we have something really fun tonight- our very first guest post! If you have a food blog then you probably know all about Food Blog Forum, but if you don’t you should absolutely check them out. This place is stuffed full of information on all aspects of the food blogging world, from how to start things up and why to how to make yours the best blog it can be. They also host workshops from time to time and while I really wanted to attend the latest one in Nashville it just wasn’t possible. Lucky me though, because my friend Melinda from Gastronomy Adventures went and she graciously offered to give us the scoop. (And when I say scoop I really mean she sent me the most AMAZING box of goodies from the event that I greedily opened and immediately started playing with before I took a single picture. I’m a bad girl. THANK YOU, MELINDA!)

As a special treat she also shared with us her Pumpkin Bar recipe that is so damn good it was featured at one of the trendiest eateries in downtown Nashville. Swanky, swanky. Read, go to the store for supplies, make pumpkin bars (don’t come crying to me when your pants are suddenly too small though!) and then go visit Melinda over at Gastronomy Adventures. You can thank me later for introducing you :) … Love, The Cat Lady

 

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Food Blog Forum in Nashville, Tennessee, thanks to Beth Anne at Cats In The Kitchen.  Thanks Beth Anne!!  (Psst! I sent her some goodies from the event!)

As a home cook food blogger, an instructor at the Viking Cooking School/Franklin, Tennessee, and member of the newly formed Nashville Food Bloggers, I was anxious to attend with fellow culinarians and learn the tricks of the trade.  Held at David Lipscomb University Campus, there were approximately 100 food bloggers in attendance eagerly listening to the voices of experience and those who blazed the trail before us; needless to say, I was not disappointed.

What better way to start out an event for foodies than a Friday night mixer, A Taste of Tennessee, at the Nashville Farmers Market with sponsors and vendors sharing their tasty treats, wines, tools of the trade, and even a local distillery, Corsair Artisan Distillery, and local brewery Yazoo Brewing Co., sharing their yummy creations with all in attendance!  Chef Arnold Myint, a former Top Chef contender and local restauranteur concluded the evening with a cooking demo while we indulged on gourmet crostini’s from his gourmet grab-and-go, named AM & PM located inside the Farmer’s Market.

The Saturday morning Forum kicked off with a beautiful presentation of breakfast items, juices, and coffee from Whole Foods Market.  Lunch was provided by the local Nashville food truck scene, Riff’s, Yayo’s O.M.G. Mexican Gourmet, and Happy Eating/Japanese. The door prizes and swag bags caused lots of love with jealousy!  I’ve never seen such generosity in the quality and quantity of gifts provided by the Loveless Cafe Nashville, OXO, Kitchen Aid, Calphalon, just to name a few.

A year ago, I attended the Food Blog Forum Atlanta when my blog was still a baby.  A year later, I’m in process of reevaluating where my blog is going, content, as well as assessing my audience.  The timing was perfect for me to hear:

  • “It’s not about what you can do, but about the decision to do it.  Have the undeniable belief in yourself that you can do it.  Build a better community and a better place to live, share and make a difference”
  • “Don’t compare yourself with others; be yourself, and be proud of it”
  • “Network like crazy!”
  •  ”Authenticity is beautiful”
  • “Let it start in your heart”
  • “Your eyes are your lens, your heart is your shutter”– in your writing, in your photography.”
  • “Tell your story.”

The great line up of speakers enthusiastically gave us insight, motivation, and encouragement for our craft.  The White on Rice Couple, Todd Porter and Diana Cu have never failed to inspire me with their simple instruction on food photography and styling in addition to Diana’s eloquent, poetic way with words.  My favorite aspect of the Forum was the ‘Expert’s Round Table’ , 20 minute small group sessions led by the experts in ‘Food Photography and Styling’, Blogging Etiquette’, ‘Social Networking’, ‘Technology and Design’, ‘Recipe Development’, ‘The Business of Blogging”, as well as various other topics.

My take away from this event is  to continue to do what I love, what I’m passionate about, and share it with others…that’s really the bottom line.  I was encouraged, motivated, inspired, and ready to continue allowing my blog to grow in quality of content and design as I grow.  It’s my baby and I’m watching it grow up and become a reflection of what I love and who I am. I made new friends and appreciate how special not only my local food community is, but the food/culinarian community all over the nation.

A BIG ‘thank you’ to Beth Sachan of Eat-Drink-Smile.com, Lindsay Landis of  Loveandoliveoil.com, and their team for bringing Food Blog Forum to Nashville 2011.  Next March 2012….Orlando!  Hope to see you there!

Melinda Knight/@MelindasKitchen

www.gastronomyadventures.net

 

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Knight's Signature Pumpkin Bars

Yield: 16 servings cut into squares

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: Preheat Oven 350º Bake 50 minutes

While one of my three son's was manager of a local 'hotspot' eatery in downtown Nashville, my frequently requested Pumpkin Bars were on featured on their Halloween menu. The pastry chef added local whiskey to the batter to kick it up a notch, then, served with sprinkles of powdered sugar, garnished with candy corn and candied pumpkins. Wow...$5 a serving! Hmmmm....am I missing something here?

I obtained this recipe from a friend many, many years ago and have adapted it to fit my family's palate. Sometimes I will enhance the bars with pecans or walnuts sprinkled on top, or I have made a cheesecake-type filling, and top with the pumpkin filling, then bake for a scrumptious pairing resembling the taste of pumpkin cheesecake. This taste-of-fall recipe has been taken to many parties, gatherings with friends and family, co-workers, and an on the counter grab-and-go for my boys...their favorite fall treat.

Knight's Famous Pumpkin Bars!

Ingredients:

Crust:
1 Box of yellow cake mix (I prefer butter flavor)/minus 1 Cup (set aside for topping
1/2 Cup unsalted butter melted
1 Whole egg slightly beaten

Filling:
3 Whole eggs slightly beaten
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 Cup evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed)
2 TBL. Whiskey or Bourbon (optional)

Topping:
1 Cup reserved cake mix
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
1/4 Cup softened unsalted butter

Directions:

Butter and dust with flour a 9" x 13" baking dish or pan

1. Remove and set aside 1 cup of cake mix for topping in small bowl.
2. Crust: In large bowl stir reserved 1 cup cake mix, melted butter, and 1 slightly beaten egg.
3. Press mixture into bottom of baking dish or pan.
4. Filling: In large bowl, add pumpkin, 3 slightly beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, brown sugar, evaporated milk, and cinnamon. Use a whisk to mix all ingredients until they are completely incorporated.
5. Pour pumpkin mixture over cake mix crust.
6. Topping: In medium size bowl add 1 cup of reserved cake mix, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, chopped nuts, and softened butter. Mix with fork until crumb-like; do not over mix.
7. Topping: In medium size bowl add 1 cup of reserved cake mix, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, chopped nuts, and softened butter. Mix with fork until crumb-like; do not over mix.
8. Bake for 50-60 minutes; check at 45 minutes. Bars should jiggle slightly in middle; do not overcook. Check with toothpick or skewer until it comes out clean.
9. Cool on wire rack in pan for an hour.
10. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temp.

Who needs a candle to fragrance the air when these bars are baking? Mmmmm....the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon will fill the air!

 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Grammy’s Red Gravy

I love my husband, but I must admit that I may have married anyone just to marry into his family. I adore them all, but Grammy in particular. Bryan’s paternal grandmother is the most amazing woman that I have ever met. Family means everything to her and she doesn’t let anything come between her and her family. She came to Mexico with Bryan and I in the summer of 2010, did shots with everyone at a cousin’s 30th birthday party, tailgates for Tulane football and during a certain Journey concert may have had a few too many bourbon and waters; how many grandmothers do you know that would do that? Grammy’s grandmother, affectionately called “Momo” was from Sicilly and taught Grammy how to cook the Italian way; Grammy in turn has passed along many of these traditions to her children and grandchildren.

 

Collage of my favorite Grammy related memories through the years...

We have made many fond memories together but one of my favorites is the year that we all gathered in my in-laws kitchen and Grammy taught us how to make her usual Good Friday feast. When her children, my father-in-law Bryan Sr (Pops) and his sister Kim, were young Grammy’s father owned a fish market in what is now Central City New Orleans (on the corner of S. Galvez and Third Streets). Since a vast majority of the folks living in New Orleans are of the Catholic faith Fridays were busy in the fish market during Lent, especially Good Friday. So while the rest of the family worked the market supplying the city it’s traditional meatless fare Grammy was at home preparing her family’s traditional feast. When everyone finally gathered around the table that evening they were greeted with Pasta Milanese, tuna, peas and carrots topped with biscuits, eggs poached in peas, pasta with red gravy and all manner of fresh fish and local seafood. The red gravy recipe is one that I have used over and over again for everything from pastas to redfish courtboullion to eggs in purgatory, eggplant parmesan and topping pizzas. It is such a great base that I make sure there is aways some in the freezer :) I know that you will love it as much as I do.

In New Orleans we call anything you pour over something a gravy. I asked the experts – Grammy and Pops- what the difference was between gravy and sauce and we couldn’t come up with a good explanation. We’re a funny bunch down here. What do you consider the difference between the two?

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Grammy's Red Gravy

Yield: I get 3 quart (24oz) sized Mason jars of sauce, you can get slightly more or less depending on how long you let this cook

Cook Time: 3 hours

Bryan’s paternal grandmother taught me this recipe. Grammy is an amazing cook and uses this recipe as her base for anything with red sauce (spaghetti and meatballs, pasta Milanese, eggplant parmesan, penne with Italian sausage, etc.) Grammy’s mother was born in Sicily and this is the way she taught Grammy who taught her children and now her grandchildren.

red gravy

Ingredients:

Olive oil

2 sweet green bell peppers, diced

4 stalks of celery, diced

Medium sized onion, diced

Garlic to taste (Grammy used 3 cloves and it gives a nice mild flavor)

12oz can tomato paste (or 2 6oz cans)

2 boxes chicken stock

1 tsp sugar

2 28oz can crushed tomatoes **

Any herbs your heart desires

Directions:

Put a heavy-bottom pot on medium heat. Put in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

Sauté the veggies until they are mush. I'm telling you, take them beyond anything you’ve ever done to veggies. Cook these puppies like you’re punishing them for talking ugly about the Saints.

Add your garlic. Saute just a minute or so , you don’t want it to burn.

Add the tomato paste. Stir it constantly for 2 minutes. Raw tomato paste is no bueno. Add your stock and stir until it is well incorporated.

Add the sugar and cans of crushed tomatoes. Stir again so that everything gets mixed together.

Cover the pan and walk away. Trust me. Watch some tv. Play with the critters, just don’t take that top off for at least an hour.

After that hour check it every 20-30 minutes, stir the sauce and make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom. If it starts to burn and stick to the bottom turn the heat down. Cook this way for about an hour (yep, it’s been 2 hours already) then take the top off the pan and cook for another hour with the top off.

Your veggies will literally cook down and you will have a deep red colored, smooth sauce. It’s a thing of beauty and versatility.

Now that you have your base you can add whatever herbs you want. I usually put it in large mason jars (the kind that hold 3 cups of sauce each) and freeze them for later use, the leftovers I use for whatever I’m making that night. You can also add other veggies if you like a chunky sauce but I would never hear of such a thing.

Examples of herb and vegetable combinations I like:

Add chopped or torn basil leaves, sautéed mushrooms and meatballs for spaghetti sauce
Oregano for penne with mild Italian sausage
Rosemary for bread dipping sauce
Thyme for eggplant parmesan

** If you like sweet sauce you can use a can of San Marzano tomatoes; they are by nature sweeter tasting than their regular counterparts.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let’s Talk Football — Tulane Tailgating

We’ve already chatted about how serious football is in New Orleans and all of the rituals, rites and traditions that surround our beloved game, but this goes not just for our professional team the New Orleans Saints. New Orleanians love all of their football and everybody has their personal favorites but there’s only one team for our house. We are all about Tulane football and live for tailgating before games.

My friend and sorority sister Fergie (aka Mrs. Hullabaloo) invited me to join the newest Tulane booster club, The Greenie Gals. These ladies sure know how to throw a party! The usual beer, burgers and other assorted crappy foods are nowhere to be found at these tailgates and of course each one has a theme. Not even tropical storm Lee kept these gals away from the usual pre-game party, we just brought it into the parking garage instead of on top of it as usual.

This weekend we played Syracuse and since it is the first weekend of October decided on an Oktoberfest menu. Think brats, pretzel rolls, cabbage salad, black forest cake and of course German potato salad. I grew up with a German grandmother but I have no memories of her ever making this dish so I scoured the internet for days and days to find the perfect recipe. After much trial and error I decided to come up with my own and absolutely LOVE this combination. I hope you make it for your next tailgating experience and think of us Greenie Gals when you do!

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German Potato Salad

Yield: 8-10

It’s perfect for picnics and pot lucks because there’s nothing that needs refrigeration or heating. It’s also much lighter than traditional potato salads since there’s no mayonnaise to weigh you down.

german potato salad collage

Ingredients:

3 pounds Yukon Gold or yellow potatoes, unpeeled
1 pound bacon
1 med white onion, chopped (approx 1 cup diced onion)
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons spicy brown mustard (I used Tabasco brand- PERFECT!)
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Boil potatoes in a large pot until tender, you don’t want them to become mashed potatoes so keep a close eye on them. This dish comes out significantly better with firmer, less mushy potatoes. You want definitive potato shapes and not German inspired mashed potatoes when you’re done. When the potatoes are done take them out and let them cool, then slice into your desired shape. I prefer to cut them into rounds; they soak up the flavors with more surface area exposed.

While your potatoes are boiling cook bacon until crisp; drain excess fat on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble into small pieces. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet, then return to medium heat. Add white onion and cook until lightly browned.

In a small bowl whisk together your canola oil, mustard, apple cider vinegar, green onion, salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, gently toss together warm bacon, potatoes and white onion with oil/mustard/vinegar mixture.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cats in the Kitchen original recipe.

 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Whitney Miller

It’s no secret that I love being from the south. I’ve been elsewhere and don’t get me wrong, there are things that are pretty cool anywhere but the best things in life come from the south. Where else are you going to find red beans & rice on Mondays, the streetcar, folks who call you “honey” and “sugar” and ask about ya mom and them? Our women are a breed unlike any other, lovingly nicknamed Steel Magnolias for our unique combination of strength and femininity. I knew the moment we first met Whitney Miller on season 1 of MasterChef that she was going to be my favorite. Not only is she the epitome of a southern woman but she was never afraid to let that light shine. She gave every dish that she made a modern, southern twist and did it all with grace and humility. Week after week I cheered her on, celebrated her successes and am not ashamed to admit I even cried when the chicken fell. So when word of her first book started I knew that I wanted had to have it. I missed her when she came to New Orleans a few months back for a book signing so when I saw that she was coming back I counted my blessings and cleared my calendar. Is there a patron Saint of missed opportunities or second chances? In should find out and light a candle of thanksgiving.

 

Maybe missing her the first go round was a blessing in disguise. That signing was at a large chain book store, there is no way it could have held a candle to this experience. Whitney was absolutely everything that I had hoped for and then some. She sat down, signed my book and didn’t batt an eyelash when I plopped down next to her and started chatting away. We talked for about 20 minutes and honestly I only stopped because some other folks had come over to get their books signed. Whitney doesn’t just answer the questions you ask, she engages in conversation with everyone. For that time you are her friend and it is obvious that she cares more about you and your enjoyment of the experience than anything else. She really is such a southern bell.

I can’t figure out how to embed the video but  if you click here you can see the segment that Whitney did on Fox 8 news New Orleans.

Whitney said that it only took her 4 months to complete her book, starting it last July and finishing in October. We chatted about what it was like writing a book and Whitney confessed that the most difficult part for her was measuring her ingredients. All of the recipes in the book were born in her family’s Poplarville, MS kitchen and tested by the MasterChef herself, several times each. She laughingly said that there were some nights that she served her family 3 entrees for dinner. Whitney is quick to credit her family with offering inspiration and encouragement.

(left) Whitney Miller and Beth Anne after lots of chatting. (right) (Top) Gorgeous display of books and goodies. (Bottom) Clockwise Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Blondies *recipe in book*, cupcakes, No Name Bars *recipe in book*, cupcakes, strawberries & brownies

Of course we chatted about her time on MasterChef, where we all first got to know Whiney Miller. She said that it was really difficult to keep the results of the show a secret between the time they finished taping and the July premier. She also said that she found Joe more intimidating than Gordon during the show, mostly because his quiet nature made him so hard to read. Whitney said that she knew that he liked something when he kept that dish to finish eating it, like with her profiteroles and bread pudding. She said that watching the episodes on tv was fun because she got to see comments that the judges and other contestants made that she hadn’t been privy to when it was actually happening. I assumed that the contestants would have seen the edited episodes prior to airing but I was wrong, Whitney said that watching it with her friends and family on tv was the first time she saw any of the footage.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of Whitney Miller’s Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm you really should order one soon. This is one of the books that you will find yourself reaching for over and over again. The combination of traditional southern staples like fried chicken, collard greens, glazed ham, cornbread and grits with a decidedly modern twist make them fresh and exciting. The way that Whitney does southern food will make you fall in love with your roots all over again.

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No-Name Bars

Yield: 8

Whitney calls these No-Name Bars because "they're really too good for words." She suggests topping these with fruit or chocolate sauce, but she prefers hers with fresh cooked cherries.

Ingredients:

Crust:
1 1/2 sticks (6oz) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Filling:
1 pkg (8oz) cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x13 baking dish.

To make the crust: Mix the melted butter and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until combined. Stir in the vanilla. Spread the mixture into bottom of the greased baking dish.

For filling:
Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Stir in confectioners sugar. Spread on top of crust.

Bake until set, about 38 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes before cutting into squares.

Recipe printed with permission from Whitney Miller's Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm

Special thanks to Yvonne LaFleur who graciously opened her beautiful shop for us all to enjoy this amazing event. As we walked around I saw several things that I hinted to my husband in a not-so-subtle manner that he should purchase for our upcoming anniversary. If he doesn’t come get that Breakfast at Tiffany’s inspired sleep mask soon I may just have to come splurge myself :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ice Cream Cake

A family friend has a birthday today and he requested an ice cream cake. I could have ordered one but I thought it would be fun to try and make it. Shane is a good sport, so I decided to go for it. This was surprisingly easy and way less expensive than a store bought cake and most importantly I got to give Shane something special.

Here’s the run down:

Step 1- Prepare the ice cream layer. Grab your cake pans and line them with plastic wrap. Defrost the ice cream just enough so that it’s spreadable and put it inside the lined cake pan. Return this to the freezer and let it freeze. After it is hardened you can remove it from your pan, making sure it is completely wrapped in plastic, and leave it in the freezer.

Step 2- Make your cake. I went with a chocolate cake.

Step 3- Cool the cake and level one of the layers.

Kal came over to make sure that all was going according to plan. See that missing piece of the cut-off cake? I had to taste test it. Don’t judge.

Step 4- Assemble the cake. Put your leveled cake layer down, then the ice cream layer then the next layer of cake.

Step5- Level and pretty it up. Make sure all of your layers are even and smooth. Just use a knife and trim as needed. I was running low on time so I skipped this step and opted for the swirley icing to mask the imperfections. Work fast and put it back in the freezer when you’re done.

Step 6- Ice your cake. I used this whipped cream icing and tinted it gold. It’s delicious, easy to make and freezes well. Make sure you pay attention to your cake while you’re working and put it back in the freezer if it starts to defrost too much. Put it back in the freezer when you’re done.

I was working too fast to get a photo of actually icing the cake but here's the frosting remnants in the sink. I sent my husband a text of this picture titled "goodbye, lover." Sad, I know.

Step 7- Decorate. I grabbed a large cookie cutter and placed it on the cake for as a guide for my colored sugar.

You can decorate this like you would any other cake. I used this cookie cutter as a cheaters guide.

 

Enjoy your cake! With the money you saved on making vs buying you can get the birthday person a great gift! While slightly time consuming making an ice cream cake really isn’t difficult, you should absolutely give it a try! Once you get the hang of it there’s no limit to what you can do, more layers, different shapes, who knows!

Happy birthday, Shane! We love and miss seeing you!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Superbowl Brownies

Football in New Orleans is serious business, it’s really more of a lifestyle than a game. Even before our beloved Saints won Superbowl XLIV it was a tradition in most homes. Folks schedule life around these games.

We’re also very superstitious. If you do something one game and the team wins you simply must do it again for the rest of the season. I wore the same #51 (I LOVE Jonathan Vilma!!!) jersey and jewelry every game last year, without fail, even though I have a closet full of Saints accessories. You don’t want to be the reason the boys in black & gold lost, right? Can’t point that finger at me, I did my job.

Turns out, even the players and their families have their own rituals. Punter Thomas Morstead’s family makes sure he has a batch of brownies for every game. His mother, Isobel, even gave her recipe to our local newspaper before the Superbowl.

So when we were planning on what to bring to my Mom’s house for the Saints/Raiders game it seemed only right that I make these brownies. Afterall, if they’re good enough for Thomas Morstead and the New Orleans Saints they have to be good enough for us.

Enjoy.

 

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Brownies #6

This is the recipe given by New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead's mother, Isobel. She makes sure that he gets a batch before every game.

These brownies are incredibly moist, almost cake-like in consistency. They are the perfect way to celebrate a black & gold victory and a fun way to share in the Morstead family game day ritual.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated, whites beaten until stiff but not dry
4 1-ounce squares melted chocolate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup milk
2 cups flour

Directions:

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and chocolate. Mix in flour. Add milk and vanilla. Fold in egg whites. Spread in a lightly greased 8-by-8-inch or 9-by-9-inch pan. Bake 30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Use It or Lose It- Red Fish & Maque Choux

I haven’t been feeling well and woke up today only to realize that I haven’t been to the store in days. No farmers market in two weeks. Things were looking pretty bleak in the cupboard and I’m ashamed of the state of my fridge. There was a pint of cherry tomatoes that were about to need tossed, some SAD green onions along with redfish filets that someone gave to us.   If I didn’t figure out what to do with this fish poor Bryan was going to eat yet another lunch meat sandwich and throw it all in the trash. Sigh.

I hate throwing away food. Despise it. It upsets me for reasons that I’m not even going to elaborate on, so I certainly wasn’t going to just head back to bed. How was I going to sleep knowing that beautiful redfish gave its life for me to be lazy? How could I accept another gift of fresh seafood from our friend again after just throwing this away? Not today, yall. Not this gal. So I stand there, just staring at it all wondering how to use up everything that I’m about to have to toss. I remember maque choux and how easily that can be modified to whatever you have on hand.

If you’re not from around southern Louisiana you probably have no idea what maque choux is, right?  Essentially it’s a stewed or braised tomato and corn dish that evolved from after the Acadian exodus to South Louisiana when they were introduced to the Native American corns. Maque choux (pronounced “mock shoe”)  can be served as a side or main dish, either vegetarian or with a variety of meats, served hot or cold, braised in the tomato juices or stock. This is traditional Cajun fare yall. I’ve never had an actual recipe for maque choux, it’s always been one of those things that everyone does differently and involves a “bunch” of this, a “handful” of that and a “heaping amount” of the other.

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Use It or Lose It- Red Fish & Maque Choux

Yield: 4 servings

Ever looked in the fridge and realized that some of your food is about to go bad? I had one of those days and this is what happened ...

Ingredients:

Maque Choux-

bacon grease (I save mine when I make breakfast; it comes in handy for making cornbread, maque choux and others!)
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
12oz bag frozen corn
1tbsp minced garlic
1tsp crushed black pepper
1 bunch of green onions, chopped (greens and whites)
pinch salt (to taste)
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Baked Redfish

4 redfish filets (2-2.5lbs,skin on)
2tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
1.5tbsp minced garlic

Directions:

The easiest way to do this is to get the redfish in the oven and then work on the maque choux so that it's all ready around the same time.
***
Baked Redfish

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Lay your fish skin side down on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle them with your olive oil making sure each piece gets a good coat. Get your hands in there! Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and finish with the garlic on top of each piece. Stick those fishies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Your fish should flake when you put your fork in it. The skin will be delicious and crispy, sometimes I nibble on small pieces for the crunch.
(You can serve it with lemon if you want but I think the maque choux is the perfect flavor so I use one or the other.)

***
Maque Choux

Grab your cast iron skillet (or any other heavy bottomed pan) and melt that bacon grease. Can't you just feel the love already? When the grease is good and hot toss in the celery and stir them around for a few minutes until they just start to cook. You don't want them to get mushy and lose texture so be careful here! Add your tomatoes and toss them around so the hot bacon grease coaxes out some of the juices. (If your tomatoes are dry and don't give off any liquid just go ahead and splash in some stock or water to get things moving.) As soon as you see those juices swimming around add the corn to the pan and incorporate it all. You're really just warming the corn and melding all the flavors. Add your garlic and pepper then take it off the heat. Mix your green onions in now and step away for 2 minutes just to let the residual heat make those onions happy. Taste it and add a pinch of salt if you feel like it needs one, but the bacon grease will impart some smoky, salty flavor so I don't normally add any.
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Grab your plates- pile on some rice, add the maque choux and top it off with the fish filet. Enjoy!

You’ll never let random veggies go to waste in the fridge again if you use this as a base method. You can add onion, bell peppers (which is traditional), use fresh corn (make sure you milk the cob!), omit green onion, really do whatever you want. If you don’t have bacon grease already in your fridge (Gasp! How do you make your cornbread?) then go ahead and fry some real quick to get those drippings and top the whole thing with crumbled bacon at the end. The possibilities are endless.

If you take nothing else from this please remember this: save your bacon grease.  Let it cool a bit and put in in an airtight container in the back of your fridge. You’ll thank me later.

 

I ate the leftover maque choux for lunch a few days later with some crawfish tails mixed in. If you have some crawfish left over from a boil just use them as they are but if you bought them at the store toss them with some seasoning first.

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