Jun 29, 2009

Gracie's Pickles


Growing up in the South you come across a lot of pickles. Dill cucumber pickles, sweet & sour pickles, pickled okra, chow chow, and let’s not forget – pickled pig’s feet! Great with cocktails, or as the finishing touch on a Bloody Mary, these green beans are pickled with Thai & Indian flavors. They’re tangy and gingery with a chili kick – bring a jar for your hostess or break them out at a BBQ... 

2 pounds thin green beans
One bag carrot chips
10 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
9 garlic cloves, peeled & thinly sliced
3” piece of ginger, peeled & slivered
4-5 Thai chilies, sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons mustard seeds, cracked
One teaspoon ground coriander
Half-gallon apple cider vinegar (you won’t use all of it)

Divide the green beans into five clean pint jars and add a handful of carrot chips to each one.

Put the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger & chilies and fry for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mustard seeds and coriander.

Spoon the spices and oil over the vegetables, dividing it evenly. Add vinegar to each jar, pouring in enough to completely cover the green beans. Using a small spoon, push the garlic & ginger pieces down into the jars to help evenly distribute the flavors. Put on the lids and stash in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The pickles will be ready to eat in a few hours but are really best after a few days.

NOTE: I’ve added cauliflower florets, sliced red bell pepper, jalapenos and sliced shallots to the mix and they’re all delicious.


Gracie Who?
Gracie (Ms. Grace if you're formal) is my sweet black lab – the best kitchen partner a gal could ask for. And she LOVES pickles.

Jun 24, 2009

In So Many Words

I have a theory.

I think the sum of a person’s life can be found in the notes of gratitude they receive from others. What better proof that they were thoughtful, gracious and kind?

When I was a kid, the end of every holiday was marked by my mother’s insistence that my brother and I sit down and write thank you notes to anyone who had given us a gift. We thought it was torture, of course, and struggled to fill a note card with complete sentences. We often resorted to using absurdly large handwriting to fill the space. Three sentences was the minimum and I'm willing to bet that every note I wrote followed the same template: "Dear ____, Thank you so much for the _______. I really love it. Hope to see you soon."

My grandfather passed away earlier this year and as we are sorting through eighty-five years of his life, we’ve come across stashes of old correspondence. It seems he saved every piece of paper he ever got – including every thank you note that my brother, my cousins and I ever sent him. My notes to him were mostly the stiffly-written ones of my youth, but they speak of his generosity, his support and his love – all the best parts.

I may not have kept every thank you note I’ve gotten over the years, but I have kept the ones that really meant something to me. What sets these apart? They are each written with humor, love, and a sense of the sender’s personality. They are all so thoughtful and personal that they remind me of why I went out of my way to do something for these friends in the first place. And when it’s all said & done, I hope that’s how I’m remembered: as a gal who went above and beyond for the people she loved.

From the mother of one of my oldest & best friends. She’s wasn’t feeling so hot so I sent her a batch of Spicy Brownies. My “West Coast Mama” sent back this sweet note in which she says I’m “like one of her own.” I couldn’t be more honored.








From a dear college friend. She married the most wonderful fella earlier this year and honored each of her friends at the wedding with a special note. As one of the founding members of our  cheese & cracker dinners, it was only appropriate that she included a shipment of cheese with her note!



This one is from three grown men - I swear! For years I worked for a small firm where I was the only girl – their “princess”. When I left for another job the guys sent me off with this sweet note.









A surprise from a childhood pal. She snuck away during a get together at my house and left this card in my room. At the end of the night it was so gratifying to realize that she’d known she was going to have fun before the party even started!








Hands down the most well-written thank you note I have ever received. From a dinner party participant, it details not only the dish I brought, but comments I made and stories I told that night. Her attention to detail illustrated that she was truly appreciative of my presence and my contributions to the evening.





There are more, and chances are if you’ve written me a thank you note in the last few years I’ve held on to it. I like to read through them occasionally as they remind me of fun parties, great gifts and acts of love and compassion I've shared with friends and family. So thank you all – for giving me these wonderful, tangible mementos. I treasure them all.

xo, TSG

Jun 19, 2009

Rethinking Dinner

I have a group of girlfriends that likes to get together, drink wine, gab, and eat cheese for dinner. It may not be nutritionally sound, but it’s a time-honored tradition among us – and we spend all night grazing on a huge platter of different cheeses with crackers, meats, olives, spreads and sometimes even a vegetable or two.

Scenes from our last Girls’ Night In

I got home late one night this week and just didn’t have it in me to fix dinner. As I stood in front of the open fridge, waiting for divine intervention*, it occurred to me that I didn’t need to have my friends around to eat cheese and crackers. I started grabbing bits and pieces and ended up with my own meze plate full of different tastes. Half of a cucumber, a lone peach, knobs of cheese, the last slice of proscuitto… I was basically cleaning out the fridge, but slicing everything up and putting it on a pretty plate made a quick, fun dinner in the same spirit as my treasured nights with the gals.

Clockwise from top: the last Green Market peach, a slice of proscuitto torn into bite-size pieces, shards of paremesan, feta and white cheddar, thick slices of cucumber with salt and lots of pepper, buttery crackers.

Call it a cheese plate, an appetizer, or a glorified snack... this Dinner For One doesn't require a recipe - just a change in mindset. 

* It’s been scientifically proven that if you stand in front of the open refrigerator and stare long enough, something delicious and easy to prepare in mere seconds will magically appear.

Jun 18, 2009

Got Milk?

Move over Oreo, there's a new cookie in my kitchen. 

These "Grown-Up" Oreos are incredible - soft, chewy cookies with a sweet Oreo-creme frosting. Plus they couldn't be easier - the cookies are made from a store-bought cake mix so you really don't need any true baking skills at all. And while I love a good shortcut, we're getting semi-dangerously close to Sandra Lee territory here...

Clockwise from top left: Inauspicious beginnings; Ready for the oven; Whipped into a frenzy; Begging for a glass of milk...

There are lots of recipes on-line for Devil's Food Cake Cookies - I combined a few to create a cookie with deep chocolate flavor and a frosting that makes you want to "double stuff" them! The amounts below make enough cookies and frosting for 24 sandwiches.

Grown-Up Oreos

What you'll need:
2 18oz. boxes Devil's Food Cake Mix
4 Eggs
2/3 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Cocoa Powder

1 Envelope Unflavoured Gelatin 
1/4 cup Cold Water
1 cup Crisco
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 pound + 1 cup Powdered Sugar

How I made them:
Combine cake mix, eggs, oil, and cocoa powder until well mixed. Form into 48 balls and place on greased cookie sheets. Flatten each ball gently with your fingers. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-9 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

Soften the gelatin powder in the cold water. Place in microwave, heat until transparent (approximately 40 seconds) and set aside to cool. Beat the shortening in a stand mixer until fluffy, slowly adding the vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat in cooled gelatin mixture until completely combined and smooth. 

Sandwich two cookies together with a heaping tablespoon (or two!) of frosting and store in an airtight container for up to a week - if they even last that long.

**UPDATE**
I took these to work and a fight broke out over the last one! They're that good...

Jun 16, 2009

Sweet & Salty


The arrival of summer means it's peach season in Georgia. This easy summer salad is a great way to enjoy the sweet, juicy fruit - just add a tall glass of iced tea and find a spot in the cool shade!

Sweet & Salty Salad
1-2 peaches, sliced
1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 slice prosciutto, torn in strips
4-5 fresh mint leaves, torn or sliced

Toss everything together. That's it.

Jun 12, 2009

Posole


Posole (or Pozole) is a soupy Southwestern corn stew made from hominy. From what I can tell there’s no one “right” way to make it and there are thousands of variations on-line. This is a green chili variation I came up with that’s quick and easy to make on a weeknight.

Dinner For One: Posole Verde

I tend to eat mostly vegetarian at home, but this would be great with shredded, cooked, chicken or pork added at the end.

What you’ll need:
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ of a large white onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
14 oz. can chicken broth
1 large can (about 28 ounces) white hominy, drained
8 oz. mild tomatillo salsa (canned or jarred is great)
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes (use any or all):
Chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced radishes
Thinly sliced cabbage
Finely chopped white onion
Lime wedges

How I made it:
Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno and cook until onions are translucent. Add spices, stir, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the chicken broth and bring to strong simmer, stirring and scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Add hominy and salsa, bring back to a simmer; reduce heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes until liquid begins to thicken. Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.

*Be sure to try it topped with the radishes and cabbage (I used the ever-present pre-made coleslaw mix!) – it really rounds out the flavors and adds great crunch to the chewy hominy kernels.

Jun 10, 2009

Herbalicious

A lovely and generous friend shared some of the abundant harvest from her herb garden with me this week. It’s a huge bouquet of every herb under the sun – cilantro, sage, thyme, rosemary, basil, and on, and on…

I find myself opening the bag and sniffing at the contents a few times a day… the combined fragrance of all those herbs is intoxicating!

To use up some of my booty, and as a thank you for my sweet friend, I decided to make some savory shortbread “crackers” to share with her. I know she likes to relax with a glass of wine after work and these will make the perfect cocktail snack.

Before & After

I started with Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa recipe (below) for Parmesan & Thyme Crackers and it was so easy I decided to mix up a variation with blue cheese and rosemary. I can’t decide which one I like better…

Barefoot Contessa’s Parmesan Thyme Crackers
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces grated Parmesan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until creamy. Add the Parmesan, flour, salt, thyme and pepper and combine.

Dump the dough on a lightly floured board and roll into a 13-inch long log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the log crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a sheet pan and bake for 22 minutes.


Notes:
I had to add a few drops of water to my dough to get it to pull together and if you don’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer you’re going to get quite an arm work out - this dough is heavy.

I used a very mild blue cheese and had to use about 10 oz. (one large container of crumbles from the grocery store) to get a nice, balanced flavor and I sprinkled a few walnut pieces over the uncooked rounds, and gently pressed them in, to add another layer of flavor and texture.

This are so, so easy and take no time at all to prepare so mix up an extra batch and leave a roll in the freezer. A few minutes before your guests show up just turn on the oven, slice a few & bake!

Jun 8, 2009

Weekend Round-Up


My Weekend Highlights: 




























































From Top to Bottom:

1. Finding this new Le Creuset 5.5 quart cast iron dutch oven on sale for less than $100. I think I'm in love.
 
2. Eating this loaf of fresh bread from the Green Market.  So delicious and perfect for sandwiches. 

3. Digging out my collection of pretty dessert plates from flea markets and yard sales. An inexpensive and original china set that cries out for a tea party. Don't you think?

4. Opening a new jar of Herbs de Provence - the flavors and packaging are classic and chic. Try it as a rub for grilled chicken or bring one over as a cute hostess gift. You'll get invited back for sure.

Jun 1, 2009

Dinner for Two

You’ve met a cute fella – now what? Why not invite him over for a sexy, simple, delicious meal that’ll show him what a fabulous catch you are? Nothing too fancy or fussy… prepare easy, man-friendly food with big flavor. And nothing too heavy! You don’t want him so full that he needs a nap after dinner… especially if you’re dessert!

The Menu
Steak
Risotto
Roasted Broccoli

The Shopping List
Assuming you have:
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper
Butter

You’ll need:
Rice (Arborio rice makes great risotto but it’s not a requirement)
Onion
Chicken Broth
Steak (Hanger or Flank are my favorites)
Broccoli
Lemon
Parmesan Cheese
Fresh Herbs: Basil, Rosemary, Thyme

Clockwise from top left: humble ingredients yield a decadent risotto, fresh flavors give broccoli a big boost

The Game Plan
Keep the evening casual…no special canap├ęs or cocktails. Offer him a beer or a glass of wine when he arrives and if you need more time to finish dinner, put out what I like to call The Man Trap – sliced Italian salami, any kind of cheese and crackers. I’ve used this trick more times than I care to confess… the combo is always a hit and he’ll think you’re a cool chick. Trust me.

Risotto has really become my go-to dish. It’s the simplest ingredients and so, so easy to make but the results are decadent and mind-blowingly good. I’d use the same basic recipe I first wrote about here. You can start it first and once it’s ready just put a lid on the pot and keep it over really low heat until everything else is finished.

I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about Ina Garten’s Roasted Broccoli recipe – and they’re all well deserved, it’s fantastic. You can find it here. I didn't include the pine nuts called for in the recipe and it was still really great. If you’re not sure he’ll like broccoli or want to make it even easier on yourself, serve a great Caesar salad. You can buy the dressing (I would!), just be sure to top it with big shavings of good-quality parmesan.

I like to use a hanger steak and the ones sold in grocery stores are so much bigger than restaurant cuts – you’ll easily be able to share one. Bring it out of the fridge about twenty minutes before you’re ready to cook & let it sit out – you don’t want to put it in the oven cold. When you’re ready, brush the meat with olive oil, sprinkle liberally salt & pepper and add some chopped fresh rosemary or thyme. Place it on one end of a large baking sheet & prep the broccoli. Roast the steak & broccoli on the same pan – it’ll keep clean up to a minimum.

It’s actually a great idea to clean up as you go – it’ll give the impression that this was all effortless. Plus, nothing ruins the mood like a pile of dirty dishes!

If you have a grill and are so inclined – fire it up and grill the steak. Or better yet, ask him to be in charge of the meat. It will give him something manly to do and a chance to impress you with his fire skills…

If you’re sticking inside, roast the steak and broccoli at 425 degrees, pull the steak out after 10-12 minutes and let it rest on a cutting board while the broccoli finishes it’s 20-25 minute time in the oven. When the broccoli is browned and crispy at the ends, pull it out, toss with the toppings called for in the recipe, slice the steak, pour two glasses of red wine and serve everything up!

When dinner’s over and its time for dessert, pull out a bottle of good scotch and suggest a move over to the couch. After that, you’re on your own… this isn’t that kind of site!

A few tips about ambiance:
1. You can have ONE candle lit if you want. One candle creates a mood, too many more than that and not only will you have created a fire hazard, but it will be totally overwhelming – you don’t want to come on too strong or make your house look like a catholic altar.

2. Put away the girly stuff. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, stuffed animals, cheesy romance novels (you know you have one), and tampon boxes. These things freak men out, just hide them.

3. Put on some music, something that will fade into the background and nothing too sappy. Seriously, put down the Sade CD. I think 60’s soul is perfect, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for Otis Redding…sexy without being too obvious.

p.s. – Big thanks to my friend Jeremy for bringing home the Italian parmesan pictured above – it’s incredible.