Southern Caprese

Caprese is possibly one of the best little things you can throw together in five minutes or less that tastes spectacular and is a feast for the eyes. The key to a good caprese is quality, fresh ingredients. Don’t go cheap on the mozz and use the freshest tomatoes you can. And make sure your extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar are up to par.

I just adore green tomatoes and the market just happens to provide me plump and delicious ones in the late spring/early summer. I get bored easily so I couldn’t bring myself to make the typical fried green tomatoes. I had a vague recollection of seeing a green tomato caprese in some food magazine and decided it would make for the perfect light lunch. My tomatoes were from Johns Island and the mozzarella from the Charleston Artisan Cheese House.

Here’s the recipe:

2 large green tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T brown sugar
About 1 lb fresh mozzarella (keep refrigerated until ready to slice)
Whole basil leaves (large)
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl combine olive oil, balsamic, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper.
2. Add sliced tomatoes and make sure all are thoroughly covered by the vinaigrette. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
4. Remove basil leaves from stalks and rinse.
5. Remove tomatoes from refrigerator and grill tomatoes for three minutes on each side. (If a grill is not available, feel free to use a pan for the same amount of time.)
6. Slice mozzarella.
7. On a serving dish, evenly arrange the warm tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, removing the tomatoes from the bowl one at a time. Tomato, mozz, basil.
8. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette.
9. Serve immediately. Great served with sliced French bread.

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(Note: I had to cheat and use tubed basil  because I ran out of fresh leaves. However, it is best when made with whole basil leaves.)

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Tuna Steaks & Fava Beans: The Stars of the Show

On the menu:
– Seared Peppered Tuna Steaks – topped with diced tomatoes, capers, basil, lemon juice and olive tapenade, served on a bed of beet greens
– Red Quinoa with garlic butter
– Fava Bean Salad

This is one of the many times I regret not taking pictures of my food because everything looked so amazing on the plate. The tuna is pretty self-explanatory, as is the quinoa.  Red quinoa, by the way, is only different in color; the taste, texture and nutritional value are the same, I just like a colorful plate.

With that said, the fava bean salad was my absolute favorite part of this dinner. Fresh fava beans are such a treat, partially because their season is quite short. When buying, you must remember that although the pods are large, they only contain four to five beans. Typically one pound yields one serving.

Fava Bean Salad
1 lb fresh fava beans
1 can cannelini beans, drained
5-6 large fresh beats
1 c Fresh mint, finely chopped
Feta, to taste
Olive oil
Lemon juice

How to:
1. Thoroughly wash beets and roast in preheated oven until tender. Remove skins and thinly slice. Set aside.
2. Shell and cook shelled favas in boiling water for four minutes. Remove from water and remove the tough outer skins from the beans. Set aside.
3. Drink cannellini beans and heat through in sauce pan.
4. In serving bowl,  combine favas, cannellinis and beets.
5. Make a simple vinaigrette using lemon juice and olive oil.
6. Toss with fresh mint and feta. Add salt and pepper to taste.

A Little About Me Part I

Personal story time. My mother was raised by people who cooked up calorie-rich and cholesterol-heavy meals on a daily basis. Pork chops with a side of grease? Sure thing. Lasagna? Of course, except forget ricotta and fresh vegetables. This lasagna consisted of cottage cheese, overcooked pasta, ground beef and American cheese singles. Yes. They considered that lasagna. When she was married at age 18 and whisked off by my father as he completed nuclear power school in the Navy, she had little knowledge of all world that is offered by food. It’s hard to believe that she grew up on what she did and has branched out so much. With all that said, I grew up in a household where meat was always overcooked and vegetables were often canned. This is where my abhorrence for canned foods developed. Sure, there are some canned products out there which are very useful and I definitely use them. But on the whole, they’re pretty nasty excuses for food. This has typically included the cloyingly sweet jams produced by such brands as Smuckers. These burned my throat because they were so sugar-packed.

My affair with culinary exploration began with my mom’s quest to shed baby weight from myself and my younger brother. She has always loved good, colorful cookbooks and I would pour over them with her and give my child’s input on the meal menus she would plan. I was always keen to be mommy’s little helper and my reward for being good while grocery shopping would be to pick one item that wasn’t on the list. I’d push my little buggy and reach all the things down low. Grocery shopping was just as exciting to me then, just as it is now. I couldn’t wait to find something new to try.

This desire to try new things extended to eating out. While we did not eat out infrequently, I was always thrilled by sitting in a restaurant and reading the menu. (This is coming from the person who as a child would sit outside reading the dictionary for fun.) I was continually dissatisfied with the options on the kid’s menu. Everywhere you go, it’s the same boring thing. I wanted to eat what the grown-ups got to eat; there was so much more flavor.

Meal Inspo

 

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If you can’t tell, I adore peaches. Peaches encompass all the goodness and sweetness I associate with summertime. I’ll bet you didn’t know that South Carolina is the #1 peach producing state in the country. (If you’re including commercially grown peaches, California tops the list.) Historically, I am not a fan of canned goods of any sort, preserves/jams/jellies included. However I’ve recently had a change of heart and have developed a great appreciation for homemade preserves and I couldn’t resist snatching up these spicy peach preserves from the Waxhaw farmers market. This jar of tantalizing goodness inspired last night’s supper. I cook our supper every night (at least on weekdays, weekends we scrounge or eat out) and I’m not one of those foodies who puts a gourmet meal on the table every night. But what I fix is always well thought out and pretty darn delicious. Last night was one of those unspectacular evenings. I seared and sautéed a few thick, lean pork chops (seasoned with herbes de provençe and salt) in olive oil, roasted carrots and turnips with orange peel and fresh oregano and served up leftover Brussels sprouts and brown rice (garlic and chile powder) on the side. And to top it off, I added the spicy peach preserves to the pork while it rested in a covered pan. Let me tell you, the peach preserves and the pork chops? SO GOOD. The spice in the preserves was perfect with the chile powder and garlic in the rice and the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts balanced it all out so nicely. The carrots were key because pork and root vegetables are classic.

Although it wasn’t an exciting meal full of brilliant culinary innovations, it was balanced and satisfying and isn’t that the goal for every home cooked meal? I’d say it is.

America’s Thai food takeover

One of my favorite cuisines to eat and experiment with. Like most foods of the world, I hate seeing it commercialized and Americanized.

Eatocracy

(Travel + Leisure) — If you’ve eaten at a neighborhood Thai restaurant, you’re likely familiar with pick-your-protein Technicolor curries. Odds are you’ve tried papaya salad, spring rolls, and pad thai improbably made with ketchup and maybe even peanut butter.

While many ethnic cuisines are domesticated to Western palates, Thai food may be the most bastardized in America. “We have the same basic Thai dishes over and over again, many of which have nothing to do with Thailand,” says Andy Ricker, the James Beard Award–winning chef behind the bicoastal restaurant empire Pok Pok, known for authentic dishes like charcoal-roasted hen with lemongrass and tamarind.

But for as many sugarcoated Thai restaurants operating in the U.S., there’s an appreciable number of spots doing it right—especially in immigrant-heavy cities like Houston, where Asia Market encourages diners to personally adjust their dishes with condiments like pickled peppers, fish sauce, and chili sauce (nam prik)…

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Summer Fruit Cheesecake Pie

Most of the things I make are unplanned and I have a habit of making delicious concoctions that I never record and thus can never quite replicate in their original perfection. Hopefully this blog will remedy this problem. I’m notorious for eye-balling my measurements so if that part isn’t listed, don’t be think I forgot.

I spent this past weekend at my future in-laws home in Waxhaw, NC. They grow vegetables, have a number of fruit trees and raise a good many chickens. Since my favorite Saturday morning activity is exploring the farmers market, I ventured to the little one in Waxhaw. Although it is very small, I didn’t leave without some yummy treasures; the star being white peaches. Since I cook when I’m bored (or happy, sad, angry or basically any old time) and my Mr. Wonderful was busy staining my bench for our dining set, I decided I’d make a pie.


 

Ingredients

2 peaches (1 chopped, 1 sliced)

2 cups raspberries

8 oz cream cheese

Honey

Fresh mint

Bourbon

2 jumbo organic eggs

Whipping cream

Pie crust (homemade is always best but store-bought will work just fine)

How To:

– Bake crust for 15 minutes at 325.

– In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, honey and eggs.

–  Add peaches and bourbon. Thoroughly combine.

– Stir in raspberries.

– Bake at 325 for 25 minutes or until done (cheesecake-like texture).

– Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes.

– Whip cream and then add in honey until well mixed. Chop mint and stir in.

– Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with sliced peaches and a few sprigs of fresh mint.

– Cover and refrigerate.

It is best served the next day and just so happens to be the perfect summer pie.

 

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So it begins..

To sum it all up, I’m obsessed with food. The growing of it, harvesting, selecting, preparing, eating, the nourishment it provides, everything.

It all started with my little two-year-old self wandering downstairs at midnight and telling my mommy that I couldn’t sleep and was hungry. Being the wonderful mommy she is, she fixed me up some fried potatoes and onions. BOOM. My first truly discernible memory was born. Why it’s this that I remember more than anything else, I’m not quite sure but I do know that ever since then, my most vivid memories are of food. I think it’s because all the senses are involved: you smell it, you see it, you touch it, you taste it. Food is an experience. It’s the transmittal of nutrients, culture, love and so much more in one sitting.

I LOVE food. Everything about it fascinates me. The question of what is my favorite food is possibly one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. In general, I have trouble picking one favorite of anything. When it comes to food, this is doubly true. I can’t even tell you my favorite type of food to eat or make. What I can tell you is that although I’ve never even been on an airplane, I travel through my food. I read about its origins, its traditions and how it came to be used in a certain manner. I’ve been a lover of history my whole life, so its only natural that I approach food with this perspective.

While I could go on and on about my love for food in one post, I’ll refrain from doing so. The purpose of this blog is for me to organize my thoughts including but not limited to: discoveries, , recipes, meals, frustations, ramblings, etc.

For now, I’ll conclude with a little free-verse poetry from yours truly.


From A Foodie

A pan, a pot.
An ingredient put to knife.
Still the endless working, commuting.
Thinking, so much thinking.
To make, to create.
The nourishment of our bodies
created by my hands.
Combining, crafting
To dance upon your palette,
To fill your stomach
and feed your soul.
Give you health, strengthen
muscle and bone.
Energy, comfort.
A time to relax and enjoy.
The goodness from the ground,
that walks the earth, flies the sky
or swims the sea.
All the history, stories, culture.
Ideas of those who came before
an amalgam with the here and now.
Amazing..
This sustaining of life.