Our Summer Favorites of 2011

Hello Readers, new and old.  We have missed you!
As we relaxed and soaked in the diminishing days of summer, we traveled to connect with friends and families, experienced wonderful meals and allowed our creative juices to simmer.   M.C. baked the cake for her cousin’s wedding; a laidback, outdoor affair backed by the gorgeous Lake Ceour D’Alene in northern Idaho, and Elisa was able to go back to her roots to a New Orleans City Park wedding where they drank spicy Bloody Marys and ate a traditional brunch of Grits and Grillades.

In our absence, we have been brewing up some new ideas and concepts because we are ready to take our blog to a new level this Fall.  We really love featuring friends’ recipes and are excited to make this a continuing theme.  If you are interested in sharing recipes with us, please let us know.  We are also inviting you, our readers to comment with suggestions, ideas, or requests on the recipes that you would like to see.

Sure, the days are still hot, the leaves are still green, and the summer season has not said its goodbyes just yet. But as we send our husbands and children back to the routine of the school year, a change is in the air.

Want to hear more about the favorite tastes we came across this Summer? Each of us has reflected on the summer’s most treasured highlights- dishes we savored and couldn’t stop thinking about, blog recipes we read, tried, and loved, and other good stuff.

As always, thank you for reading!

M.C.’s Summer Favorites, 2011:

Nick’s Caprese Salad Appetizer– Nick’s Fine Foods, Highlands, NC- http://www.nicksofhighlands.com/
Using local, brilliantly colored red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, this fine foods restaurant located in an old house atop the lush green peaks of Highlands, North Carolina, put together the simplest of appetizers that satisfied immediately. Thick, juicy slices of tomato were topped with soft, tangy, buffalo mozzarella cheese and drizzled with a basil-infused oil and swizzled with a balsamic vinegar, marrying these simple flavors to perfection. This appetizer was the perfect commencement to a romantic anniversary dinner out, yet could also suit a laid back family meal at home.

Pioneer Woman’s Artichoke Diphttp://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/06/hot-olive-artichoke-dip-yummy/
We had a potluck to close the summer the other day. Friends we haven’t seen all summer came to our house, hands full of delicious homemade food. While most of what they brought was ready to throw on the grill, I found myself especially thankful for those who brought appetizers…something this hostess had not exactly thought about. Our friend, Kat, brought the most incredible, rich and creamy artichoke dip I have ever put in my mouth. I feel like every time I make an artichoke dip, I find a new recipe from who-knows-where. No more! Thanks to Kat, this recipe, which came from the oh-so-talented Pioneer Woman’s blog, will forever be the one.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Grilled Chicken with Peach Barbeque Sauce from Bon Appetite, June 2011- http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2011/06/grilled-chicken-with-peach-bbq-sauce
You should have seen our car heading out to Montana; packed to the gills like a fairly well-played Tetris game, a toddler tucked in there somewhere, covered in Cheerios. I brought every kitchen item I could possibly use during the course of a summer, but sadly, I couldn’t very well pack the grill. There were a few picnic-style charcoal grills scattered around our campus housing. We spent one windy evening trudging across campus with salmon and other dinner affects in hand, trying to find a grill we could light in such conditions. Finally we were somewhat successful, but picnicked much farther from our apartment than I would have liked. Grilling wasn’t a regular thing for us this summer. So when my family joined us for the wedding in Idaho and we spent several nights in a grill-equipped lake house together, I had to try this Peach Barbecue Sauce I had been eyeing all summer. We had fresh peaches and juicy free-range chicken breasts, not to mention a crisp salad and sweet corn for accompaniment. I loved the way the peaches sweetened up this sauce and made a traditionally simple recipe just a little different.

Bozeman Community Food Co-op http://www.bozo.coop/home
Our Montana Summer proved to be a true adventure in many ways, one of which was providing new explorations in grocery shopping. Imagine my excitement when I came across this food co-op filled with organic groceries, locally grown produce, Bozeman-baked bread, and local, hormone-free meats! Added bonus? I could easily ride my bike there! This whole place was a summer favorite and it provided groceries for some delicious and simple homemade meals.

Elisa’s Summer Favorites, 2011:

Grits and Grillades from Ralph’s on the Park in New Orleans, LA, August 2011
When you look back on your summer months, which foods do you remember the most?  The ones that had you savoring each bite – of course; the ones you shared with loved ones –  of course; and the ones you hope to make yourself one day.  I am starting with the one that I will remember for years to come because not only was it a memorable occasion, not only was I with my all of my grand family for the first time in too long, but it also took place in one of the best places in the world, New Orleans.  The wedding was in August, in City Park, among the Live Oaks – truly a special place – and the reception was held across the street at Ralph’s on the Park, a restaurant owned by the Brennans family of New Orleans.   Imagine being on a beautiful Spanish style balcony, over looking all those grandfather oak trees, sipping spicy Bloody Marys with a cheerful and rowdy crew.  We have just witnessed a whole-souled ceremony and the ladies and gents are dressed in their nicest attire, the groom’s party in their elegant Scottish kilts, and the sweetest of children are running and laughing afoot – it is right out of a book. And yes, it is hot and the thick aromatic breeze carries the smells of the timeless dishes they are getting ready to serve.

Finally it is time to eat. The buffet table is abundant with a beautiful fruit plate, homemade southern biscuits and fresh jams, and then, the most important, a culturally significant dish of Grits and Grillades.  The flavors are rich and spicy and the meat is tender and it is served with slowly cooked grits.  It is impossible not to return to the buffet for seconds.  I am eager to try and recreate this dish for all of you but I have to admit is it is a little intimidating.  I just want to see it done, the way a local chef or typical New Orleans family would make it – do you know what I mean?  Anyway, the spirit, culture, and food of this region are my own, so I will dare to try it up here in the Georgia mountains, all on my lone, without guidance or the advice from a chef.  I am pretty sure I can do it – that is what being a cook is all about anyway –  going for  those favorite dishes and doing your best.  It is definitely a great way to learn, in my opinion.

Smitten Kitchen’s Zucchini Breadhttp://smittenkitchen.com/2007/07/summer-of-the-bats/
My must do again and again recipe that I found this summer comes from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  Talk about a perfect loaf – and the muffins puffed up like the perfect little domes they should aspire to be!  My girls are still asking if we have any left (its been a few weeks since I have made them), and it will fill your house with an aroma that you would buy in a bottle if you could.  So don’t even hesitate – it is a winner!  Thanks, Deb.

Mr Chen’s Chinese Cookinghttp://www.mrchenschinesecooking.com/
We were in Birmingham one night, on our way to New Orleans, and we wanted to have a nice meal out on the town.  My daughter wanted Chinese food so my patient husband spent about 30 minutes reading reviews on the local eateries and what he found was amazing!  Small, quaint, and and extremely clean, Mr. Chen’s is a true gourmet, Chinese – and Taiwanese – experience.  The food is outstanding – light and fresh. We indulged in homemade dumplings, light and crispy egg rolls, shrimp fried rice, and traditional Lo Mein noodles with vegetables.  Every morsel vanished from our plates.  Keep it in mind next time you’re in Alabama – you won’t regret it.

Take it on the Lake’s Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Lake Burton, All summer long, 2011

My friends have the best gourmet sandwich shop, Take it on the Lake, out on Lake Burton.  I have enjoyed working out there with them this summer because it is a beautiful and relaxed atmosphere and its just good fun.  It is great when you work with friends, rock your favorite beats and have the pleasure to make tasty foods for hungry boaters.  My favorite sandwich of the summer was definitely the Tomato Basil.  This delicacy is stacked with the best local tomatoes you can find.  It is served on a ciabatta roll with homemade basil mayonnaise and Havarti cheese.  The specialty is then placed on a panini grill for a few minutes and served with a handful of potato chips and two dill pickles – need I say more?


Our Kid-Friendly Meal: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with Cheddar Puff Pastries and Roasted Green Beans

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Our schedules are hectic. Days are full and crazy, but everybody in the family appreciates a hearty, homemade meal, and this “go-to meal” gets all-around approval. We are entering this post into Kitchen Corners’ May Cook-off , which challenged us to “bring it” with our kids’ favorite dish, so we could help moms and dads tackle the hectic job of dinner by sharing a recipe that ensures that the kids are going to smile…and so are they.

Elisa grew up in New Orleans, and if you’re not already excited about this blog, get there, because she has some AMAZING food to share with us all, I kid you not. She recently made the Louisiana favorite, red beans and rice, for a get-together, and not only was it outstanding, it was cool to see all the kids gobble it up and ask for more. This is our kid-friendly, go to meal.
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It’s always a parent’s favorite thing to see some healthy green on their tot’s plate. These roasted green beans have flavor that typical steamed beans can’t match. And just wait until you say the words, “Cheddar Puff Pastries” to your five-year-old and see if their eyes don’t light up like twinkle lights. Elisa showed me how to make these tonight, and I guarantee I will be making them again real soon…because naturally, there are no leftovers.

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They eat it, moms and dads. They really do. Even Harper came in, exhausted from an outing with Nana tonight, having already snacked herself silly, but we fixed her a plate anyway, and I don’t think there was a bean left on it. She’s 14-months-old, people. 14 months.

The trick to pulling this meal off without a hitch is doing enough planning ahead to get your beans soaking. That is pretty simple. After that, your tasks include chopping veggies and simmering. Not. hard. The green beans are absolutely easy, and the cheddar puff pastries, you can make ahead of time. Use canned kidney beans in a pinch. I hope you will have as much fun with this as I did today, and maybe your kids will offer their gratitude with a Justin Bieber dance party after dinner, just like ours did!

LOUISIANA RED BEANS AND RICE

Adapted from Joy of Cooking

INGREDIENTS

1 pound red kidney beans

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 med. onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 cup celery, chopped

8 cups water

3 cubes vegetable bouillion

2 teaspoons creole seasoning

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

PREPARATION

  • Sautée vegetables (pepper, onion, celery, garlic) in butter in large dutch oven or pot until soft
  • Add the creole seasoning and the thyme and oregano while stirring
  • Add soaked beans* to the pot and add the water, bring to a boil, add bouillion
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 1- 2 hours
  • Serve over cooked rice
* Once you have picked over and rinsed dried beans, place in container and cover with water by 2 inches. Soak in fridge overnight.
 

ROASTED GREEN BEANS

INGREDIENTS

1 pound fresh green beans, washed and snapped

drizzle of olive oil

salt and pepper

garlic powder

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 450°
  • Drizzle beans with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Roll the green beans to coat.
  • Roast for 10-15 minutes, or until tender
  • Turn oven to Broil, roast another 3-5 minutes until beans develop a bit of a crisp texture on the edges.
 

CHEDDAR CHEESE PUFF PASTRIES

Adapted from the Beechwood Inn‘s recipe for Gourgeres

INGREDIENTS

7 tablespoons of Butter

1 Cup Skim Milk or Water (or a combo of the two)

1 1/4 Cups Flour

1 Tablespoon Sea Salt

Dash of White Pepper

Dash of Sugar

1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg

4 eggs

1 Cup Cheddar Cheese, grated finely

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 450°
  • In a medium saucepan, combine butter and milk/water, sugar, salt, white pepper, nutmeg and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium, add flour, and stir constantly with a strong wooden spoon for 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, transfer to a mixing bowl (you can use an electric mixer or by hand) and continue stirring for 30 seconds to allow it to cool slightly. Add in one egg at a time – mixing each one thoroughly.
  • Mix in Cheese
  • Spoon onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper (use 2 oiled spoons for scooping the dough – it will make a perfectly sized puff) and bake for 7-8 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for 18-20 minutes more.