Friday, July 29, 2011

a unique rice salad

 The idea of making a rice salad had never occurred to me until I read this post on America's Test Kitchen's new website. For some reason I disassociate rice from other grains, so while a barley or quinoa salad recipe wouldn't seem odd to me, rice salad did. Anyone else feel that way? No? Just me?

Regardless, I'm glad I came across the post, because the slightly adjusted version of the salad I made was absolutely delicious, and perfect for summer. The combination of flavors--sweet mango and coconut, cool mint, and sour lime--was refreshing and completely different from anything I've had before. I liked the whole thing so much that I made it again for a group of friends two days later.

I mostly stuck to ATK's recipe but substituted brown rice for white, added fresh mango, and adjusted the amounts of a few ingredients. I also omitted the shrimp and served mine with seared tuna. (Okay, so maybe I changed it a lot.) This version is perfect for a summer picnic or cookout, or if you just want to try something a little different. You won't be disappointed.

a unique rice salad
adapted from America's Test Kitchen
4 main-course servings or 8 side dish servings
per large serving:  380.4 cal, 18.2g fat, 48.9g carb, 8.1g fiber, 7.2g protein, 10+ weight watchers

1/2 c mango chutney
1/4 c fresh mango, mashed
2 tbsp lime juice, about one lime's worth
1/4 c olive or grapeseed oil
2 c cooked and cooled brown rice (I recommend this method of cooking
   brown rice--it turns out perfect every time!)
2 c fresh or frozen green peas (thawed if frozen)
4 scallions, minced
1/3 c chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c toasted coconut

Whisk together mango chutney, fresh mango, lime juice, and oil to make dressing. Toss with rice, peas, scallions, and mint. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with toasted coconut.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

grilled pizza, my new obsession

Although I've expanded my culinary horizons quite a bit since I was a child, I remain the same as my ten-year-old self in one respect:  pizza is still my favorite food. It's bread, cheese, vegetables, and (usually salty and fatty) protein all rolled into one--so how could I have found anything better in the last 15 years?

For most of my life, my pizza intake was limited to what I could find in restaurants and the freezer aisle of the grocery store. Eventually I graduated to baking homemade pizzas in the oven, adding better-quality ingredients along the way--a little whole-milk mozzarella here, some fresh basil there, perhaps a dash of Italian red pepper flakes to top it off. But I always baked my pizzas in the oven, partly because that's all I had and have, and partly because no other method occurred to me.

Then three weeks ago, my life changed. I grilled pizza for the first time.

Okay, so maybe "life-changing" is a bit of an overstatement, and maybe it wasn't the first time I had thought of grilling pizza, but for some reason I had never gotten around to trying it. Over the 4th of July weekend, the perfect opportunity presented itself:  I was at the beach with a giant gas grill, my dad to man it, and two impulse-bought balls of pizza dough from Whole Foods.

I was amazed at how easy it was; the whole thing went off without a hitch. I liked it so much that despite not having a grill of my own, I have found ways to grill pizza two more times in the two weeks since.

So if you have a grill, have a friend who has a grill, or can afford to buy a grill, you should try this. As long as you're prepared when you actually start grilling, it takes very little effort. The only special equipment you need is something to brush the crust with oil and tongs to flip the pies. Make sure to have your ingredients and equipment ready and waiting when you put the dough on the grill. The pizza cooks amazingly fast, so you won't have a lot of time to get everything on there.

Yep, that's my foot.

You can top your pizza with whatever you like, but here are a few of my favorite combinations:
-olive oil base with mozzarella, feta, tomatoes, bacon, & basil
-tomato sauce base with mozzarella, sausage, mushrooms, & spinach
-barbecue sauce base with mozzarella, blue cheese, chicken, caramelized onions, &
-olive oil base with brie, pear, brown sugar, and arugula

grilled pizza
inspired by The Kitchn and Serious Eats

pizza dough (I've made my own using Peter Reinhart's recipe, but Whole Foods has
  very good white, wheat, and multigrain versions)
olive oil (nothing fancy, although I like to infuse mine with garlic)
toppings of your choice

Preheat the grill. Depending on whether you go with charcoal (better flavor) or gas (more precise), the specifics of this step vary.

If you're making more than one pizza (which you should), preheat your oven to 200 degrees to keep the first pizzas you make warm while you grill the others.

Prepare the dough by stretching or rolling it into thinnish circles. You don't want to dough to tear when you put it on the grill or flip it, so you might want to make it a little thicker than normal. Since I've been making a few pizzas at a time, I stack my rounds of dough on a cookie sheet with foil in between, making sure to brush each layer with oil so they don't stick to the foil or to the grill!

Prepare your toppings and put them all together, so you can put them on the pizza quickly. Also have a small bowl of oil to brush the pizza with if it looks dry when grilling or sticks at all.

When the grill is preheated, use the foil to pick up a round of dough, and flip it onto the grill. Cook until the bottom looks done and begins to char just a little, anywhere from 2-8 minutes, depending on how hot your grill is.

Using your tongs, flip the dough over, then arrange (or throw, depending on how much time you have) your toppings on the cooked side. If your grill has a cover, cover the pizza during this part so the cheese melts more thoroughly.

Once the bottom is done, slide the pizza off the grill and onto a cookie sheet. If you have more to go, keep your already-made pizzas in the oven until ready to serve.

Friday, July 15, 2011

hummingbird cake

If I had to name my favorite cake, hummingbird might be it. While I love Texas sheet cake, and coconut cake, and caramel cake...okay, most cakes...hummingbird really, well...takes the cake (forgive me).

For those of you who aren't familiar with this dessert, it's sort of a combination of ambrosia and carrot cake...the tropical but often packaged components of ambrosia combined with the hint of spice and cream cheese frosting of carrot cake. That description doesn't do it justice at all, though. While the ingredients by themselves are humble, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The origin of the cake's name is debatable; some say it's called hummingbird cake because it is so good it makes you hum with pleasure. In my opinion, the more convincing explanation is that it is sweet enough for hummingbirds, who are apparently very picky eaters; they only drink nectar that is at least 10% sugar.

I can guarantee this recipe is more than 10% sugar.

But take heart! One thing I like about this cake is that even though it's chock full of fat, sugar, and refined carbs, I can half-convince myself it's healthy because of the large quantity of fruit and nuts it also contains. Also, cake is good for your soul, so this has that going for it. I say eat up.

hummingbird cake
adapted from Southern Living
makes one three-layer cake (about 16 servings)
per serving:  536.3 cal, 23.4g fat, 78.8g carb, 3.5g fiber, 6.0g protein, 15+ weight watchers (hey, it's cake)

  1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  1 tsp baking soda
  1 tsp salt
  1 3/4 c sugar
  1 tsp cinnamon
  3 large eggs
  1/2 c vegetable oil
  1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
  1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1 (8-oz) can crushed pineapple
    in juice
  1 c chopped toasted pecans
  3 large bananas, mashed
  1 (8-oz) package light cream
    cheese, softened
  1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
  16 oz powdered sugar
  1/2 c toasted coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and coat with flour.

Whisk together first six ingredients (flour through cinnamon) in large bowl, then mix together all other cake ingredients (eggs through bananas) in medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together until combined.

Pour into prepared pans and bake approximately 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes then flip onto wire rack. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: beat cream cheese and butter with a mixer medium speed until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar and continue beating until smooth and creamy.

Spread frosting between cake layers and on top and sides of cake. Top with toasted coconut.

Forgive the background...this was for an office birthday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

charleston [food] bucket list

The countdown is on. I'm moving to Nashville in just over a month, and every day the prospect of leaving Charleston is becoming less surreal and more...well, real.

When I moved here almost three years ago, I had just begun to develop a strong interest in food and cooking. I think it's safe to say that my interest (some might call it "obsession") has grown exponentially since then! I attribute much of this development to the vibrant and, more importantly, accessible food culture in Charleston.

One great example:  a few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I went to a cooking class at The Coastal Cupboard, a kitchen store in Mt. Pleasant. Jeremiah Bacon, the executive chef at Oak Steakhouse, who has worked at such Michelin-starred restaurants as Per Se and River Cafe, led the four-course class. Sounds expensive, right? 

The price was $60 a person...including wine!

There aren't many places where you can spend $60 to watch a world-class chef cook a four-course meal for you, not to mention answer all your questions and offer to chat after class. 

Yeah, I'm going to miss it here.

And this is only one example. The breadth and frequency of food-related opportunities and events in this city absolutely blows my mind. From the Charleston Wine + Food Festival to the weekly downtown farmers market to monthly beer dinners at Ted's Butcherblock (another super-affordable gourmet option), the hardest part about eating is Charleston is deciding where to go and when.

And the restaurants. Oh, the restaurants! I've had amazing meals at places as fancy and traditional as Peninsula Grill (their coconut cake = perfection) and as quirky and cheap as Party Kingdom (basically Chuck E. Cheese with pho).

But I'm not done. I intend to make the most of my last month here by checking off as many items from my "food bucket list" as I can. When I first moved here I started one list and have carried it in my wallet ever since. I'm a little embarrassed by a few of my choices, but I was new in town and basically picked all the places with positive reviews in Charleston City Paper (a great source for all things Charleston, including restaurants). Please be kind.

The check marks mean I've been, the lines mean the places have closed or I changed my mind. Three years later, I'm a little older and a little wiser (at least in regards to Charleston restaurants), so I've edited my list a bit. Here are the places I really want to go, with a few particular highlights:

181 Palmer:  arguably the best lunch deal in town, $15 for three courses prepared by students at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.
Avondale Wine & Cheese:  $5 tastings? Yes, please.
Bowens Island:  a Folly Beach legend.
Closed for Business:  two words:  pork slap.
Dave's Carryout:  preferably at 2am.
Husk:  I've actually been here twice (delicious), but their famed cornbread was not on the menu either time!
Kim's:  have also been here, but apparently the stone bowl is where it's at.
McCrady's:  whenever you're ready, Hailey. 
Mia Pomodori: ordered takeout before, but I need to have a Sicilian slice in-house.
Oak Steakhouse:  that cooking class left me wanting more!
Poe's Tavern: although I'm not a fan of the pictures of bugs on their menu (yeah, I know, "gold bug" and all that) I've heard the burgers and fish tacos are amazing.
Trattoria Lucca:  have to go for the Monday family supper...authentically Italian!
Wildflour Pastry:  from what I've heard, sticky bun Sunday makes it easy to get up at 8 on the weekend.

Okay, Charlestonians...what do you think? Anything you would add? Subtract? I have a limited amount of time but am willing to put in the effort!

Soon to come:  the places I'm saddest to leave behind...and there are a lot of them!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

1402 palmetto shrimp & grits

First, a confession:  although I've lived in the Carolinas my whole life, until this weekend I had never made shrimp and grits. (I still haven't been to a NASCAR race or seen Gone with the Wind...I have a long way to go.)

Although I grew up in the South, my mom was an Air Force kid so we didn't eat your typical southern cuisine. We called our evening meal "supper," but it was more likely to be Chinese stir fry than chicken-fried steak.

If you know southern cooking, you probably know the Lee Bros...and if, like me, you have just started to get acquainted with it, their Southern Cookbook is a great introduction.

My recently wed sister and brother-in-law used this as a guestbook at their wedding this spring, and lucky for me they also gave copies as bridesmaid gifts. This is the kind of cookbook you can actually read, with stories to go along with every recipe and pictures that make you want to jump in and eat what's on the page.

I'm making my way through the recipes slowly but surely, and I thought I'd start with an essentially Charleston dish: shrimp & grits. My family changed it up a little to suit our tastes and what we had on hand, so for now, in honor of our beach house, I'm calling it 1402 Palmetto Shrimp & Grits.


1402 palmetto shrimp & grits 
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook (83 East Bay Street Shrimp & Grits) 
4 servings

shrimp stock
   1 1/2 lbs headless large shrimp
   3 c water
   1/2 tsp peppercorns
   1/2 tsp celery seeds
   1 bay leaf, in pieces
   1 tsp kosher salt
   1 tsp ground red pepper (if you like things spicy) 
   1 1/2 c stone-ground grits (recommended:  Anson Mills)
   1 1/2 c whole milk
   3 c water
   kosher salt and black pepper to taste
   kernels from 3 ears of sweet corn 
   1 lb tomatoes (about 3 medium tomatoes)
   1 tbsp olive oil
   1/4 lb andouille sausage, diced
   1 small green bell pepper, chopped
   1 small yellow onion, chopped
   1 tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
   kosher salt and black pepper to taste
   handful chopped chives, to garnish (optional)

Peel shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add shells and rest of stock ingredients. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve. Discard shells.

While stock simmers, stir grits into a bowl of cold water and allow to settle. Corn hulls may float to the surface. Skim off hulls and drain grits. In a medium saucepan, bring milk and 3 c water to a boil over high heat. Add grits, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce heat to medium, add salt and cook, stirring occasionally

Once grits thicken (about 10 minutes), reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently and adding water if grits become too stiff. Cook until grits are fluffy and creamy, 35 to 45 minutes. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper and stir in corn kernels.

While grits cook, place tomatoes in a medium roasting pan or cast-iron skillet. Broil them about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, turning as their skins blacken, until they’re blackened all over, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer tomatoes to a food processor or blender and pulse to a soupy liquid, about three 1-second pulses. Press the liquid through a food mill or coarse strainer into a medium bowl.

Pour olive oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add sausage, and with a slotted spoon move the pieces around until they are browned, about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and onion and sauté until they just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the shrimp stock into a small bowl, add the flour and whisk until it becomes a smooth paste. Pour remaining shrimp stock into the skillet with the sausage, pepper, and onion. When the mixture reaches a simmer, reduce heat to medium and cook at a vigorous simmer until vegetables have softened.

Add flour paste to pan, whisking vigorously to distribute flour evenly. Add sieved tomato mixture to skillet, stirring, and return to a simmer. Cook until the mixture turns into a gravy thick enough to coat the back of a spoon heavily, 10 to 12 minutes more.

Add shrimp to gravy and continue cooking until they are pink and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide grits among 4 plates and ladle the shrimp and gravy on top. Garnish with chives.