Monday, October 31, 2011

Broiled Clams with Garlic Herb Butter

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, "Bistro Cooking at Home" by Gordon Hammersley. The recipes are unique. The illustrations beautiful. And the binding of the spine is actually sewn, not glued.

The first time I served these, I spied a guest licking the shells clean. You will, too. The only deviation from the recipe is that I now place the opened clams on a bed of ice-cream salt. It keeps them stable and prevents the juices from tipping out. I omit the parsley garnish at the end.

Littlenecks are small and tender, not chewy like larger clams.

These can be made ahead and then covered in the fridge until ready to broil. The herb butter can be made a day or two ahead. If you have a few dozen, have a "shucking" party with guests helping. Always fun. Just have liquor on hand ...

Do serve with some torn pieces of artisan bread to sop up the juices. Sometimes, I just lightly toast a piece of bread and tear it into pieces. I eat the clam and then drizzle a piece of the bread with juice. And don't be shy, lick the shells all you want.

You will need a sturdy oyster/clam knife to shuck the clams. Look for one with a large, comfortable handle, preferably rubber so it doesn't slip in your hand.

  • 20 littleneck clams, scrubbed well under cool-running water
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Pinch or two of Cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh curly parsley, chopped very fine
  • Garnish: lemon wedges, 1/4 cup chopped parsley

MAKE the butter:

Chop/press the garlic. Sprinkle with salt and continue to chop, smearing it with the side of your knife until it becomes pastelike. You'll have about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Place garlic paste in a small bowl along with the soft butter, the Cayenne, lemon juice, rosemary, thyme and 2 1/2 tablespoons of parsley. Mix together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

(A quick note on chopping parsley: Nothing is messier than chopping parsley as fine as possible. I now use an old French "MOULIN" I picked up at a flea market. Most vendors have no idea what they are, so you can usually get one for a couple of bucks. It makes fast work of chopping all leafy greens. It makes "chopping" parsley a whole lot easier.)

SHUCK the clams:
Shuck the clams and place each clam on the deeper half shell. Place on bed of ice cream salt in a heavy pan or sheet tray. Place abut 1 teaspoon of herb butter on top.

HEAT the BROILER and place about 4 inches from heat. Broil until clams are sizzling and cooked through about 3 - 5 minutes depending on size of clams. Serve immediately with lemon wedge and a flourish of chopped parsley. I think five-6 clams per person is a great appetizer.

Clams on the half shell served on North Carolinian pottery.

Notes: For this demo I made a full recipe of herb butter, but only 11 clams, saving the rest for the following day. Remember, clams are live things and need to breathe. Do not store in a closed, plastic bag. Discard any clams that do not close when tapped. To shuck a clam, insert clam knife opposite the hinge between the crevice. Pry open and scrape the knife across the top and bottom of the shells to remove the meat. If the shells are particularly difficult to open, run under warm water to loosen the muscles a bit. Once you get the hang of things, it goes pretty quickly. 

UPDATE: I don't have a grill because building codes where I live don't allow it. But if I did, I'd put these on a grill for that extra smoky flavor. If anyone does, give me a holler.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Broiled Lamb Chops in Herb Marinade

The nice thing about working in a grocery store is that I get to see markdowns as they happen. In this case, it was lamb loin chops marked down to $2.34 for a package of 3. I grabbed two.

Loin chops are tiny, but the meat is tender and succulent. Marinated in fresh herbs and garlic then quick broiled in the oven made for an easy meal that would have cost ten times as much in a restaurant.

  • 6 loin lamb chops (about 1.5 lb. total)
  • 1 tablespoon pressed garlic or paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon all-purpose pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Several grates lemon zest, (optional)

Wipe loin chops witha damp piece of paper towel and place on a plate.

In a small bowl, mix the garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil and, if using, lemon.

Coat both sides of lamb chops with marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for an hour or two.

Broil about four inches from heat source for about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove to plate and allow to rest a bit before serving.

Notes: I always put a bit of water in the bottom of my broiler pan to prevent smoking and splattering.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ground-Beef Stroganoff

This is total comfort food and sooo difficult to photograph. It’s rich, satisfying and filling. I’ve made it countless times through the years, especially when money was tight when I was a young teacher in a small Indiana town.  It’s basic and easily lends itself to interpretations and additions, such as mushrooms. Even spinach. Or a pinch of caraway. I've known people who added corn. Leftovers make for a great lunch. Mashed potatoes with lots of melted butter are an alternative to the noodles. The recipe is easily halved.

(Serves 4)
  • 1 lb. ground chuck
  • 3/4 - 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed with a garlic press
  • 2-3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 6 - 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon all-purpose pepper
  • 5 - 6 oz. broad, flat egg noodles of your choice
  • 4 oz. can sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (NOT Optional)

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil for the noodles.

Add a bit of olive to a medium pan and heat. Add the ground chuck to the pan along with the onions and brown, breaking up clumps with a spoon or fork. When cooked through, remove some of the grease (most will be water). Add the mushrooms, garlic, salts and pepper and just stir through.

Begin adding the cream cheese in small squares until it melts and then the sour cream (add more of both if you want it creamier and remember you will be adding pasta to it later). Taste for seasonings. Cover and keep warm on low heat.

Make noodles according to package directions. Drain. You have two options: butter the noodles to prevent them from sticking and serve separate in a bowl. Mound noodles on a serving plate and then spoon stroganoff mixture on top. OR, just mix it all together. Top with a bit of grated Parmesan, if desired.

I love this with canned, baby whole beets.

Note: Ground chuck is not that much more expensive than ground hamburger which contains a lot of fat. I try to buy ground beef that is actually ground at the store in which I buy it and avoid commercially-packaged ground beef. I prefer ground chuck since it has more taste than ground sirloin. I used Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese and Daisy Sour Cream. NO, they were were not low-fat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicken Provencal

Here's an amazingly simple recipe with a rustic, bistro-like flare and presentation. I've used fennel for pork, but never chicken. I was wildly surprised at the flavor. I used three very small chicken leg quarters I had on hand even though the recipe from Epicurious called for one whole chicken. Cornish Hens cut in half would be wonderful, though.

It also called for Herbs de Provence which I don't keep on hand. Instead, I used a bit of Fines Herbes, dried thyme and freshly-snipped rosemary. I seasoned the chicken with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning. That's it. I used "vine-ripened" grocery store tomatoes.

Serves 2

  • 3 chicken leg quarters, 1.5 lbs. total
  • 2 small tomatoes, cut into fourths
  • 1/2 large onion, cut into thirds, root intact
  • 1/4 cup black, pitted, brine-cured olives (Kalamata)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • Dry white wine
  • Butter (optional)
  • Several pinches dried thyme (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-snipped rosemary
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F degrees. Remove any extra fat from chicken, rinse, and pat dry as possible.

In an 11 x 7 casserole dish or pan, place the tomatoes, onions, olives, sliced garlic, fennel seed, dried thyme flakes. Sprinkle on a bit of Herbs de Provence or Fines Herbs. Drizzle with the tablespoon of olive oil, a few pinches of Kosher salt and several grinds of fresh pepper and mix gently to coat. Push to sides of pan.

Season chicken with seasonings of your choice, front and back, and arrange in pan, skin side up, re-arranging vegetables to the sides and then between chicken. Rub chicken with pressed garlic. Scatter rosemary on top and give another drizzle of olive oil. Splash in a bit of wine.

Colorful. Beautifully arranged.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and baste chicken with juices and, if desired, melt a  bit of butter over chicken pieces. Return to oven for another 20-25  minutes until chicken is nicely browned and crisp and register 165 in thickest part. (I usually remove at around 150 F).

Remove from oven. Give a final baste of juices. Cover with foil and allow to rest 20 minutes. Serve as in the pan along with plenty of crusty bread and French butter. A side of seasoned white rice goes well. 

Notes: Next time I'll tuck in the black olives a bit more since they can dry out during cooking. I could also see adding some fresh, thick-sliced mushrooms. This makes a great sauce as it cooks which would be great spooned over roasted new potatoes. Just because I had it, I used the leaves from one fresh oregano stem.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creamed Onions with Thyme and Gruyere Cheese (Onion Gratin)

Humble, simple ingredients. Elegant fare. Cooking at its finest.

This is really an "onion gratin." But who goes around saying "gratin?" I have no idea where I got this recipe. But since I took the time to type it up it means two things: a) I made changes and b) it was good. I know it was good because I included the following comment, "This was so good I licked the plate." I haven't made it in years. I'm glad I re-discovered it!

This is a beautiful side for any beef dish, especially beef tenderloin.

I love a dish like this that uses the simplest of ingredients and ends up both elegant and delicious. The first time I served it was at Christmas with my family. The star of the meal was beef tenderloin. I wanted something a bit different, but not too heavy, so I brought this along with my recipe for simple, baked carrots. (

I watched my niece's husband fork his way back-and-forth between carrots and onions. Finally, after a swallow, he accusingly smiled, "You've been holding out on us!" LOL.

I use regular yellow onions. Look for onions that are firm with tight skins and no blemishes. To avoid tears, use a very sharp knife and never cut an onion with a serrated knife. Onions that have been refrigerated produce the least amount of tears. Sweating the onions is the only time-consuming part of the whole deal. 

A word about black pepper. Compared to twenty years ago, we now have access to a wide variety of pepper, many we can grind ourselves. But for a recipe like this, I use regular table pepper. My favorite brand is McCormick. It's finely ground and I know I can depend on its consistent taste.

Serves 4-6 (or two piggies)

  • 2  - 2.5 lbs. yellow-skinned onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon (scant) dry thyme leaves, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 F. degrees. Butter or spray a shallow baking dish about 10 x 7 or 10 x 6. Set aside.

To cut the onions: Cut off stem and blossom ends from onion. Peel outer skins and discard or freeze for soup base. Slice onion in half. Place cut side down and slice into 1/2 inch-slices.

Peel and cut the garlic clove into very thin slices. Then slice into strips and mince. Set aside

Grate cheese using large holes a box grater. Set aside

Measure the cream, beef stock, thyme, pepper and salt into a micro-wave safe bowl or measuring cup. Add just a pinch or two of the minced garlic. Microwave for about 1 minute or just until warm. Taste for salt. Whisk in the tablespoon of flour. Set aside.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet. Add onions and cook over medium heat until they begin to brown. This will take a good 20-30 minutes or so. It's important to "sweat" them using a low heat. Don't hurry the process. Why are you doing this? You want to release the water from the onion which will intensify its taste. You can raise the heat a bit toward the end. You don't want to caramelize the onions, just sweat and brown them. Just before they're done, add a few pinches of the garlic (I never use the full one clove of garlic). Stir in for about one minute or so paying close attention that the garlic bits don't burn. You don't want the garlic to overpower the onions in this dish.

All wormy and yummy!

Remove onions from heat and layer into baking dish. Return pan to heat and add one tablespoon or so of dry, white wine to de-glaze the pan by scraping up the brown bits on bottom of pan. Drizzle over onions. Drizzle cream mixture over onions while stirring it at the same time to keep the flour incorporated and evenly distributed. Cream mixture will not cover the onions. Top with cheese.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until it is a bubbling and onions and cheese have browned a bit. It will not have a "crust." Remove from oven and allow to rest at least 20-30 minutes to allow juices to thicken. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. 

It's important to let this rest a bit so the juices have a chance to thicken up.

Notes: My baking dish was a bit deeper than I would have liked. I suppose one could use a good Swiss cheese, such as Jarlsburg, which is less expensive than Gruyere. In my "notes" I have half '1/4 cup grated Gruyere and 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan.' I went with all Gruyere. The last five minutes or so, I raised the oven temperature a bit. When I removed it, it was a bubbly mass.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Tales from the Grocery Store: The Produce Department

Who wouldn't want to work in this space?

I've always had my eye on working in the produce department. So when the produce manager went on vacation and the store manager asked if I'd help out while he was gone, I was more than eager to oblige.

Many employees loathe produce. They find it particualry boring with a captial B. Not me.

As an avid gardener, I felt right at home instantly. Everyday was a harvest without any work of tilling, weeding or fertilizing. Truckloads of boxes from all over the world. What could be more exciting? I even had a hose with a nozzle for watering down the plants to keep them fresh, green and crisp.

As an artist, produce creates the best palette. It's all about color and shape and design. When I was a teacher, I often had students bring in a fruit or vegetable and we spent the entire period studying that single object. Just as no person has a "single personality," no fruit or vegetable has a single color. An apple is not merely red or green. It is composed of different shades and hues, especially when sliced in two. Even in a display of dozens, each is a unique face.

And, of course, from a mere Freudian point of view, produce is just sexy. Everything in the department can be reduced to the shape of a penis or a breast. Really. It is the only department where the merchandise is "fondled." Now you know why. Most fruits are breasts. Most vegetables a penis. But there are always exceptions, such as the banana.

The banana is the single most purchased item in any grocery store. The banana cart is filled several times a day. And I did get the obligatory comment about finding large poisonous spiders in the boxes. But I was ready with a response: "Nope. No spiders. But sometimes we find alien midgets trying to smuggle their way illegally into the country."

Banana boxes are the most sought-after boxes in a grocery store. We are forever saving them for customers. They are great for moving because they have a slide-on top, side 
handles and are sturdy. Apple boxes are also great, but most people don't know about them.

The produce department is pretty much the Zen Center of a grocery store. It appeals to the contemplative nature of a person's personality. There'a reason most entrances to a grocery store begin with produce. People have to slow down. One can't just zip through the produce aisles grabbing items from shelves to throw into a cart. One has to pause and observe. Check things out. Compare. It's quiet shopping. Almost like being in your own backyard. Items are slipped into their own bags and lovingly placed into a safe part of the cart to avoid the violence of canned-good grenades and crushing bruises from 50-lb. bags of animal feed. In produce, all items are revered and pampered. Like babies. In many ways, the produce department resembles a hospital nursery, all the newborns tucked away in cribs.

Customers in the produce department are usually subdued and hushed. Low-key. Even when they talk, their tone is usually softer. It's sacred territory, like a church. A spiritual space. Each display is an altar and it even has flowers! It's not uncommon to hear people hum or whistle amongst bins of grapes and peaches as they find their inner OM and re-center their unbalanced lives after a hectic day. They leave happy and blessed.

Whatever you buy in the produce department will make you healthy. It's great for one's ego. And body. What's not to like? You enter it feeling good about yourself and you leave feeling even better. That won't happen in the frozen food aisles of ice cream and frozen pizza. There is no cholesterol in the produce dept.

Our produce department isn't the largest. But everything is wonderfully organized, clean and fresh. Our department outsells all the others in our district. All of our leafy vegetables are pre-washed and picked over. The celery is washed, scrubbed and trimmed. All are baptized. And in the case of onions, circumcised. I hate loose onion skins, so I remove all the papery outer shells before displaying any of them. 

What customers never see is the back-room cooler. When you open its heavy, insulated steel store, you're immediately welcomed by a rush of spring air that is at once cool and green and alive. A modern-day root cellar, for sure. The temperature is automatically controlled so that it is never summer or winter. It is always inviting. Produce is safely packaged and washed and sometimes encased in ice to keep it fresh as possible for as long as possible. All that's missing is a rainbow.

I was fortunate and didn't have to work the morning shifts. As I've said before, there is no easy job in a grocery store. Produce involves a lot of lifting and stacking, most of which occurs early in the day when trucks arrive with their deliveries. A box of apples isn't light fare, nor a box of bananas.

After two days, I was on my own and had the entire department to myself. I felt like a monk in a cloistered garden. A holy space.

On Monday, I was awarded "Associate of the Quarter." I was thrilled all my hard work was recognized and I love the people I work with. My brief stint in the produce department was mentioned. I hope they ask me back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lazy Baked Shrimp

Succulent shrimp seasoned with a rosemary/thyme infusion of olive oil. And it's easy!

You know the feeling. You want something good for dinner. But you don't want a lot of prep. And you especially don't want a mess to clean up. That's how I felt when I made this dish. I was going to have it with a side of rice, but even that was too complicated for the mood I was in. I boiled some garlic/parsley dried pasta, instead. Perfect. 

This recipe gave me a reason to begin using my fresh herbs before they're hit by frost. And I was (finally) able to use my old Fire King, 10" x 6" ecru dish I bought at a flea market. It was the perfect size. I purchased two pounds of frozen shrimp on sale for five dollars!!! They were smaller than I would have liked, but they worked out just fine. The herbs were free! So, all-in-all, this was pretty inexpensive but elegant fare. Serve with a cold, white wine, and a bit of bread to sop up the extra oil.

This makes for a great appetizer. Place several on a plate with crusty piece of bread and lemon wedge.
  • 3/4 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes--just a pinch (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh lemon

Place all ingredients but the shrimp, salt and lemon in a baking dish. Turn to coat the rosemary. Roast for about 10 minutes in a 400 F. degree oven. About halfway, turn the herbs.

My rosemary sprigs were the last of the season and pretty sparse.
 I should have added a bit more.

Remove dish from oven. The oil will have absorbed the essence of the herbs. Add shrimp in an even layer.

Return dish to oven and bake for about 10 minutes or so, depending on size of shrimp, turning once halfway through the cooking process. (Once shrimp begin to turn pink and coral, they're pretty much done, so don't overcook.)

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze some lemon juice over it. Give it a stir.

Serve with a side of pasta/Parmesan, being sure to drizzle the flavorful oil over all.


Notes: Next time I'll use a bit more olive oil because I really loved the taste of the herb-infused oil. I wasn't crazy about the little pieces of rosemary left behind, but that's just part of the recipe and my own peccadillo. I was really, really, really tempted to add garlic to this dish. But I'm glad I didn't. It may have overpowered the subtle rosemary/thyme-infused oil.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Easy Ham and Bean Soup

Loaded with savory, smoky broth and filled with beans, ham and veggies.

Bean soup (like most homemade soups) is a labor of love. And time. First, there is the all-important ham bone which is one reason people don't make bean soup more often and usually only around the holidays. It's not like we all have meaty ham bones laying around the refrigerator. And then there's the soaking of the beans. And rinsing. And soaking some more. And chopping. Scraping the bone of meat, etc.

There has to be an easier way, I thought. And this recipe is it. Begin with a meaty ham shank and a can of cannellini beans. Throw is some canned chicken stock and veggies and you have great, wonderful tasting soup in two hours. Really. Trust me on this.

If you follow KB, you know how much I love ham shanks. A ham shank is NOT the same as a ham hock. A ham hock is the the pig's ankle. It's bony without much meat, but it's great for flavoring stews and soups. The shank, on the other hand, is like a mini-ham. It's kind of like the pig's "calf" (that's funny--pig and calf). Both are wonderfully smoked, but the shank yields a lot more meat. Unlike ham, the meat is more gelatinous, so it's great for stews and soups and can take long simmering or braising. And they're inexpensive.

Smoked ham shanks are meaty and gelatinous. Perfect for soup and stews.
These were about three dollars, total.

Pork hocks are usually easier to find than shanks. When I lived in Michigan, my local grocer carried large, meaty shanks wonderfully smoked. Ironically, here in the South, they are difficult to find. Even more ironic, the only place that sells them is my local Target Super Store under the brand name "Cooks."

  •  1-lb. meaty, smoked ham shank
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1, 19 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (I use Progresso)
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium canned chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion or leeks (or a combination)
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or a few pinches dried, whole thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (do not omit)

Place all ingredients but the smoked paprika into a 10-cup pot or Dutch oven with lid. Bring just to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for two hours.

Remove thyme stems, clove and ham shank. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shank and dice. Discard bones and fat. Return meat to soup and mix in. Add the 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika. Stir. Taste for seasonings. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Notes: Paprika and smoked paprika are not the same, so don't substitute. If you really want to make this easy, buy carrots, celery and onions already cut and diced for you in the produce dept. of your local grocery store. Had I a fresh Roma tomato or two, I would have cut them up to add along with the veggies. But the smoked paprika gives a nice color to the soup.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Garlicky Pimento Cheese

Failure really does breed success, especially in cooking. This recipe is the perfect example.

Pimento cheese (P.C.) is a culinary staple here in the South. I recently viewed a short video for a pimento cheese recipe via Saveur and thought I'd give it a try. It was okay. But since it's not something I grew up with, I really didn't have a "past experience" to compare it. I almost threw it out. But ingredients these days are dearly priced.

I put it in the fridge and went to bed thinking about it. (Yes, food bloggers are always thinking of food, ingredients and recipes.) The next day I tweaked it some. Then some more. Then some more. Finally, I realized I was in a no-man's zone and had no idea what I was looking for or tasting. And I was stuck on that bloody ingredient "pimento." I was tempted to add even more, but why??? Finally, I returned to the roots of my tastebuds: more garlic. But that didn't seem to work either. Disgusted, I covered it and thrust it back in the fridge.

The next day I thought I'd have one last taste before it hit the garbage. WOW! Time was all it needed. One night in the fridge and all the ingredients got their act together and put on one taste show. Is it a standard, southern pimento cheese spread? Probably not. Purists would guffaw at the addition of cream cheese. But it's good. Hot-damn good. And that's all that matters for this Yankee.

I LOVE the little jars!

  • 15 ounces sharp white cheddar, divided
  • 3, 4-oz. jars diced pimentos, drained (save some of the brine)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 habanero pepper, seeded*
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1, 8-oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce and/or to taste
  • 2 medium gloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce, but no more than 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Using the large holes of a box grater, grate 10 ounces of cheese and add to a bowl. Grate remaining five ounces and set aside.

Using gloves, remove seeds and rib from 1/2 habanero pepper. Dice as finely as possible.  Add to a small bowl. Add drained, diced pimentos to bowl and mix. Using a micro-plane or the smallest holes on a box grater, grate the garlic and add to pepper mixture. Stir. Mix in the mayonnaise and then add to grated cheese and mix through. If needed, add a bit of the pimento brine, but no more than one tablespoon.

Place softened cream cheese in a mini food processor and pulse until smooth. Remove and add to cheese and pepper mixture. Add Tabasco and Worcestershire. Mix. Salt to taste. Return about 3/4 of mixture to processor and pulse on and off several times to mix well. Return to bowl and add remaining five ounces of grated cheese.

Cover and refrigerate for at least one day. Taste and re-adjust seasonings as needed.

Notes: This spread is not over-powering in its heat. If you like it insanely hot, add more peppers or hot sauce. Also, purchase name-brand pimentos. Some of the generic brands lack taste.

*Each pepper differs in heat. Be careful of hot peppers and use plastic gloves when dealing with them. Be sure to rinse cutting surfaces that come into contact with them. Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, when dealing with any hot pepper.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Mushrooms

This dish blew me away. It's a keeper and my new go-to potato dish. I kept going back for more and more. The depth of flavors was incredible. It's a classic and simple pairing of leeks and mushrooms tucked between thin-layered potatoes and cheese.

It's important to use a mixture of mushrooms for this recipe. I used a pre-packaged blend I bought from the grocery store that included crimini, shitake, and oyster mushrooms. They have a woodsy flavor you can't get from white button mushrooms alone. And don't sub onion for the leeks.

Serves 4-6

  • 2 cups mixed, chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped leeks
  • 1 small garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
  • 1.5 pounds potatoes
  • 3/4 cup cheese (I used half white cheddar and Parmesan)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Cut off root ends of leek and slice off to area that is just beginning to turn green (see picture above). Slice in half lengthwise. Peel apart and check for sand and grit. Wash if necessary. Pat dry and chop. 

Add about 2-3 teaspoons olive oil to a pan and sautee leeks just until they begin to brown. Remove to a plate and set aside. 

Add a bit more olive oil to pan and add mushrooms. Cook just until they begin to give up their juices, 5-7 minutes. Add leeks to pan. Stir. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant, about one minute. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper and to taste.

Microwave cream just until warm, about 1 minute. Set aside.

Peel and slice potatoes into 1/8-inch rounds using a mandolin. Save largest rounds to be placed on top last.

Butter or spray an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Gently layer half of the potatoes into dish in overlapping rows, like shingles. Do one row horizontal, the other vertical. Give a slight sprinkle of Kosher salt and pepper. Spoon mushroom and leek mixture over potatoes. Sprinkle with half the cheese and then layer rest of potatoes on top, ending up with largest slices. Drizzle in the cream being sure to coat top layer of potatoes. Cream will not rise to cover the entire dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 400 F. degree oven for 35 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake uncovered for another 30 minutes or so until potatoes are tender and top is golden. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes to allow potatoes to re-absorb juices. Cut and serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Notes: if you use a shallow dish, spray the foil so the cheese doesn't stick.