Cookin’ with Gas

27 01 2013

Whew!  What a week!  I have been at the stove a lot this week, which is a good thing if you’ve come here in search of new recipes.  Below, I offer a few.  But you know how I am – I like to take these opportunities to regale you with my unsolicited opinion on all sorts of things.  If you just want the recipes, you know what to do – scroll away!

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

I had three cooking events at the store this week, with three completely different menus.  Tuesday, we did a little Mexi-Cali Winter Feast, which featured a hearty, low-fat Winter Icebox Salad for a first course.  Yesterday, I took some inspiration from Spain and France to create a menu I called “The New South,” using common Southern ingredients in some new and interesting ways.  Finally, last night we served as the first stop of a Progressive Dinner hosted by Liz Biro, who is a freelance writer, tour guide, and all around woman-to-know on the culinary scene here in Wilmington.  If you visit Wilmington, check out her Culinary Adventures and grab a tour – it’s a great way to get familiar with the who’s who of the food world in the Port City while eating (and drinking) your way around town.

So while I was doing all of this cooking, I was thinking about the merits of cooking on a gas stove.  I am often asked about the performance of the two cooktops in our store – one gas, one magnetic induction – and how they compare with electric, which is what seems to be in most of the homes in Wilmington, especially the newer ones.  Those of you who are suffering through cooking with an electric stove know that there is really no comparison – it’s like apples and oranges.  I can say this only because I, too, suffered with an electric cooktop for most of my adult life.  Once you know your stove’s response time, you can cook anything you want on an electric stove, but it ain’t always easy.  The responsiveness of a gas stove is what most cooks with an electric stove long for the most.  You turn down the flame, and the heat diminishes pretty quickly.  You turn it up, it gets hot quickly.  With an electric stove, there is time to take a potty break while you await the temperature changes.  Preheating the pan for your morning eggs takes 5 minutes.  “I’m sorry I’m late, Boss; I was waiting on my stove.”  Really, who has that kind of time?

My crappy little tree house apartment has a gas stove.  It is half the size of the electric stove in my beloved and much-missed home that I sold last year, but it performs twice as well.  Aside from the abundance of windows, it may be the best feature of this dump.  The windows, as it turns out, are as much curse as they are blessing.  It is light, bright, and just a bit too airy in here.  Airy, as in breezy, as in much like not having windows at all.  I have had to shrink wrap my windows to keep the wind from blowing through, which reduced my electric bill from $129 to $29 per month (no kidding).  I wish I could say that this was the price you pay for living in a charming historic home like my friend Roberta’s house, but I cannot.  This place is a little rickety building behind another house; there is nothing charming or historic about it.  The lack of landscaping combined with a canopy of trees means that not much is growing around here but weeds; this means that the building (I can’t bring myself to call it a house) is sitting on the equivalent of a sand dune that is eroding like crazy.  I am certain that there are termites hard at work eating the guts of this place and fear that any day it may fall down; I am hoping that Buddy and I are not home when it happens.  Every time I step into the much-too-heavy-for-this-house-of-cards claw foot tub to take a shower, I hear the floor creak and wonder if I will land, naked, in the middle of my downstairs neighbor’s kitchen.  If the fall didn’t kill me, the embarrassment would.  The good news is that it’s just him and I back here, so no one else would hear us screaming – me from humiliation, him from sheer horror at the sight of me.  I could probably wrap myself in the shower curtain before anyone else showed up.  But I digress.

So we can all agree that gas is preferred over electric as a cooking medium.  But have you tried magnetic induction?  It has been popular in Europe for quite some time, or so I am told by the appliance gurus at Atlantic Appliance. It has only become all the rage in my corner of the universe in the last few years.  I really like cooking on induction.  If it is possible for you to imagine, I find it even more responsive than gas to temperature changes.  It also does everything faster, rather like convection ovens do when baking.  The concept is that the magnets react to the pan that is placed on the “burner” and, through some sort of technology that is beyond my understanding, heats only the pan where it is in contact with the reactive surface of the cooktop.  This means that aluminum does not work on this cooktop, though cast iron, stainless steel, copper, and any other cookware that attracts magnets works just fine.  My experience has been that pans that have reactive metal layers all the way up the sides of the pan work best; those with magnetically reactive disc bottoms and aluminum sides just don’t perform as well on this cooktop; the heat doesn’t transfer up the sides of the pan.  Copper, or pans with a copper layer in them, really do the best job on induction.  I don’t understand the science of it all, but that’s what I have seen through my own cooking experience.  You can’t flambé on induction without the aid of a match, but otherwise it is a highly functional and responsive cooking medium.  So as long as you have access to matches when making Cherries Jubilee, I think induction is a really great choice.  If you don’t have natural gas where you live, it is a lot more economical to put an induction stove in your kitchen then to install a propane tank for a gas stove.  There are more attributes of cooking with gas and induction that I could discuss here, but I’ve had enough, haven’t you?  Anymore of it would be white noise.  Stop in for a demo and I’ll chat you up about it then.

Back to the food.  Among the other dishes I made this week, there seemed to be a fruit tart theme going on.  I made two different fruit tarts:  a rustic tart with fresh pineapple and mangoes, and another using a tart pan and jarred peaches and pears.  In both cases, I glazed the tarts with apricot preserves.  Almost every recipe I have found for this sort of tart calls for apricot preserves as a glaze.  Why apricot, I wonder?  I have some peach preserves in the store – I’m sure that would be equally good.  I understand why you would maybe not want to use blackberry preserves on a pineapple-mango tart, but it would be great with any kind of berry tart.  The preserves serve as a simple glaze to keep the tart moist and to aid in browning to a golden color.  Armed with that knowledge, use any preserves you would like to glaze your tart.

I think I’ve said all I have to say at the moment.  It’s my day off and I am going to spend it being a slug, watching a week’s worth of shows from my DVR.  Right now, “Must Love Dogs” is on…almost makes me want to sign onto one of those dating websites and roll the dice.  Or maybe not.

Until next time, try out these recipes.  The icebox salad will hold up for a week in the fridge, making it a great salad to tote along to work for lunches along with a bowl of the White Bean & Ham Stew.  You might want to chop the cabbage a little finer than I did so you don’t need a knife to eat it.  I’m just sayin’.

I am glad to be back at the stoves cookin’ with gas…it’s been a while!

IMG_1581Crunchy Winter Icebox Salad

3 cups fat-free Plain Greek Yogurt

½ cup Skim Milk

1 small clove Garlic, minced or pressed

1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

½ cup Chives, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon Mint, chopped

4 tablespoons fresh Lime Juice

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Hass avocado, thinly sliced

8 cups Green Cabbage, finely shredded (about a two-pound head)

8 Radishes, halved then thinly sliced

2 cups peeled Jicama, julienned

3 Scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup Celery, thinly sliced

4 ounces Cotija Cheese, crumbled

¼ cup Pepitas (pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted)

13” x 9” Glass or Ceramic Baking Dish

In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, milk, garlic, cayenne pepper, chives, cilantro, mint, and 3 tablespoons of lime juice.  Add the salt and pepper; set aside.

In a small bowl or dish, toss the avocado with the lime juice

In the baking dish, spread the cabbage in an even layer.  Top with layers of radishes, jicama, scallions, celery, and avocado, then sprinkle with the cheese.  Spread the dressing over the top evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Just before serving, sprinkle with pepitas, if desired.

Serves 8-10

IMG_1598White Bean & Ham Stew

This gorgeous winter stew, called “Garbure” in southwestern France, is inspired by a recipe from the French master Chef Jacques Pépin, who says that it is traditional to add some red wine to the last few spoonfuls of broth and sip it right from the bowl.

4 meaty Ham Hocks, about 3.5 lbs

½ lb dried Cannellini Beans, picked over and rinsed

3 quarts Water

2 medium Red Skinned Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 large Leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large Celery Rib, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 large Parsnip, cut into ½ inch pieces

½ pound Savoy Cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Eight ¼ inch thick slices of Peasant Bread, lightly toasted

2 cups shredded Gruyere or Comte Cheese

In a large pot, combine the ham hocks, cannellini beans, and water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.  Add the potatoes, leek, celery, parsnip, cabbage, and ½ teaspoon of salt.  Cover the stew and simmer over low heat for 1 hour more, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the ham hocks to a plate.  Simmer the stew uncovered over moderate heat until thickened and the beasn and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the ham hocks and discard them.  Chop the meat into bite-size pieces and add to the stew.  Season the stew with pepper.

Preheat the broiler.  Ladle the stew into oven-proof crocks or ramekins and place the ramekins on a baking sheet.  Top eachIMG_1603 ramekin with the bread and spread the cheese on top.  Broil on the top rack, 4 inches from the heat, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Serve right away.

Serves 8.

Note:  If, like Chef Jacques, you would like to enjoy the last of the broth in your bowl with some red wine, try a few tablespoons of Beaujolais or pinot noir.

Easy Peachy Pear Tart

This is the perfect dessert for the winter – made from luscious jarred fruit, you can toss it together in 30 minutes whenever company calls.

1 sheet of Prepared Pie Dough

½ quart Pear Halves, sliced

½ quart Peach Halves, sliced

¼ cup Apricot Preserves, heated in the microwave, for brushing the tartIMG_1602

For the Streusel Topping:

½ cup Brown Sugar, packed, plus 2 tablespoons

½ cup salted Pecans or Walnuts, chopped

4 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted

Arrange the prepared pie dough in a tart pan or spring form pan with a removable bottom.  “Dock” or pierce the dough all over with the tines of a fork.  If desired, weight the pie crust down with pie weights or dried beans to prevent bubbles.  Place in preheated 400oF oven and bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and slice the fruit about ¼” thick.  Toss the streusel ingredients together in a bowl until well combined; set aside.

Arrange the sliced fruit decoratively in a single layer, overlapping, in the baked tart shell.  Brush the fruit and exposed crust with the apricot preserve.  Top with streusel topping and return to oven to bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Remove from oven, cool, and unmold from pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Serves 8

Tribute: The Perfect Memorial Day Salad

27 05 2012

After 9/11, all of our lives changed in some way.  For some of us, it was as simple as removing our shoes at the airport.  For me, it was being recalled to active duty a few years later to work a special project for about a year at Fort Bragg.  I had the skills they needed.  I was blessed to work in an office with some really great people, some of whom I still count among my friends, and some who I knew for only a brief time but will never forget.

This salad recipe comes from a woman in the latter category, Rebecca, who was a young officer in the Army.  I have no idea where in the world she may be now, whether she is still serving our country, or whether she has moved onto other pursuits.  Our office had a tradition of celebrating all the birthdays of the employees – military, civilian, and contractor – with a pot luck luncheon once a month.  We were in the people business – sending people into harm’s way, processing the promotions and awards earned on the battlefield, and making arrangements for them when they didn’t make it back.  It was sometimes difficult work, so the luncheon was a nice chance for us to crawl out of our cubicles and enjoy some fellowship.  This dish was Rebecca’s signature contribution and everyone wanted the recipe.

Rebecca’s husband was also a young military officer, and together they were raising two great kids.  He was assigned to one of our Special Forces teams and deployed numerous times on short missions while I was assigned with her.  Rebecca’s husband was among those heroes who didn’t make it back.  Her family made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us could continue to enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted, like a barbeque with friends on a sunny afternoon.

This is an easy and awesome salad and will be a hit with most everyone.  It looks really pretty too, so put it in a clear glass bowl or pyrex baking dish to show off the colors.  You could embellish it with a layer of chopped, seeded Roma tomatoes if so inclined.  If you need a delicious dish to share with friends and family for Memorial Day, I can think of no more fitting tribute than to make Rebecca’s 7 Layer Salad and share her family’s story with your friends.

1 small head Iceburg Lettuce or 2 Hearts Romaine, chopped

*6 Hard Boiled Eggs, sliced or chopped – your choice (see note below)

1 16 oz bag of frozen Baby Peas

1 bunch Scallions, chopped

1 lb Bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 cups Mayonnaise mixed with ½ cup Sugar

2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Mix the mayo and sugar together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Cook the bacon, cool and crumble.  I like to do this on a baking sheet in a 400F oven – it’s just easier and less mess.

Layer all items into a clear glass bowl or square glass baking dish in the order listed, lettuce on bottom.  Spread the mayo mixture over the bacon and top with cheddar. Refrigerate until ready to serve or overnight (it is best if it sits overnight).

Serve as a salad or with chips as a dip.  Serves about 12, and can be easily doubled.

*My method for perfect hard boiled eggs with moist, yellow yolks:  Place eggs in a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  As soon as water boils, remove pan from heat and cover with a lid.  Let eggs sit in hot water for 6 minutes for large eggs, 7 minutes for extra-large eggs.  Transfer pan to sink, run cold water over the eggs, add several cups of ice to the pan to create an ice bath.  Let the eggs sit in the ice bath for 5 minutes.  Remove eggs and refrigerate.

Vote for Me! I Clearly Need Help

15 05 2012

A few weeks ago I posted my recipe entries for the Stonewall Kitchen Blogger Mustard Recipe Contest.  If you haven’t seen my recipes yet, take a look – they really are good eats.  I am confident in my cooking skills.  My blogging skills, well, not so much.  I’m a total rookie in the blogosphere.

I am shamelessly writing this post to beg a moment of your time to surf over to the Stonewall Kitchen Facebook page  or place a comment on the SK Pinterest page on the photo of one of my dishes to vote for me.  Just me.  Not those other guys.  I don’t have very many followers, and if my odds of getting some props for my recipes depend upon the number of “likes” the photo gets, I am screwed.  So have mercy on a baby blogger and give her a “like.”  At least it will save me from the utter embarrassment of being the no-vote contestant. Thanks!

This is my first cooking contest, as I have been too busy running a business, teaching cooking classes, and feeding people all these years to enter a contest.  Until recently, that is.  It’s just my luck that my first foray into competition happens to be a “virtual” contest.  I have no doubt whatsoever that if you put me in a kitchen with these competitors and cut me loose with the clock ticking – al a Top Chef – that I could kick some serious butt.  Garnering votes on a picture on a website – not my fortè.  So it is up to you, my dear readers, whether I will get some sort of honorable mention or not.  So please take pity on me and click through – you can just use this cute button right below (now that I figured out how to insert it – rookie!).

Vote for me!

Being a rookie at the contest thing as well as blogging, I was very careful with my entry.  I made sure to follow all the rules exactly and make the submissions on time and in the format required.  I posted to my blog, to Pinterest, and via email as instructed.  It occurred to me at one point that I really had two recipes, though they were intended to be eaten together and both used the same mustard from Stonewall.  So I sent SK a message asking if this was allowed.  I was told that it was allowed, but that each recipe would be judged separately.  Thus, when I put the final tweeks on the recipes and took my photos for the contest, I photographed them separately and submitted them.


This week I received an email message from the SK staff announcing the finalists, of which I was one.  The message stated that they couldn’t narrow it down to their usual top 10, so they have 11 finalists.  I suspect I might have been #11 – I probably didn’t have any votes, but they tested the recipes in their kitchen and maybe they included mine because my food was good.  It’s just a guess, but mine IS the last (11th) picture in the line-up on Facebook which otherwise doesn’t seem to have a set order (such as alphabetical by Blog name or recipe title).  I don’t really care, it’s just nice to be recognized – I didn’t expect to make the list of finalists because of this whole rookie blogger thing.  So this is great!

As I was reviewing my competitor’s pictures, I was frozen in my virtual tracks at picture number one.  WHAT. IS. THAT.  One of my competitors had prepared a compound (two-recipe) dish like mine but plated them together.  I referred back to my picture on the page and noticed that they listed both of my recipes in the text on the picture, though the picture is of the Southwest Salad alone. Well, OF COURSE IT IS, because I was told they would be judged separately and photographed them separately.  Had I been informed of the rule change (was there one?), I could have made the dish again and taken a new picture showing both items – the way I wrote it to be served originally.  Or perhaps the other contestants should have been informed of the single-recipe rule.  Either way, since it is a competition, shouldn’t all of the contestants have been informed of ALL the rules so we could compete fairly?  If that other compound recipe submitter wins because of that pretty picture including BOTH of their dishes, I’m gonna be really pissed!  It’s so unfair!  This is a lesson in begging forgiveness being better than asking permission.  Arg!

Yes.  Well.  My reaction to this is yet another sign that I have too much time on my hands – I really need to get a life.  More fodder for my therapist.  Who cares?  There is no money at stake here, just a gift basket and 0.5 seconds of fame amongst people who follow mustard recipe contests.  I’m guessing that’s a relatively small audience, of which you are now a member since you are reading this post and have so kindly surfed out to vote for my under-represented contest entry.

Sorry about the characterization as a  mustard recipe contest follower and thanks for the vote.

I’ll let you know if I win, place, or show, since I doubt it will be on the evening news.  I’m just sayin’.

Mustard Rules! Crunchy Tilapia & Southwest Salad

23 04 2012

Dear Readers,

Below you will find two recipes I entered in the Stonewall Kitchens Mustard Recipe Contest for Bloggers.  I saw a tweet about the contest and thought, “What the heck?  Why not?”  Choosing which mustard I would use was a bit of a challenge, but I had a few sample size jars in the fridge.  So I dug them out, had a little taste test, and my dilemma was solved.  The Roasted Garlic Mustard was waving wildly, saying “Pick me!”  So I did.  I don’t know if these are contest-winning recipes, but they are really good eats – so give them a try!  If you like them, I would appreciate you stopping by the SK Pinterest Page to “like” them there – thanks!

Like fried chicken, one is tempted to eat this crunchy fish with one’s hands (guilty!).  It really doesn’t need any accompaniments – it’s that good! But I have created a balanced meal by adding a Southwest-inspired salad embellished with the same delicious Stonewall Kitchens Roasted Garlic Mustard that puts the ‘yum’ in the fish – it brings everything together on the plate beautifully.

You will want to begin preparations at least a solid 6 hours ahead – it is essential to the crunchiness of the fish.  I know that this requirement may put this recipe into the “fussy” category for some of you, but it takes only 10 minutes.  Later, you will simply cook it and serve – another 10 minutes.  I assure you it is totally worth it!

With dueling fry pans and a double recipe, this is great for a casual dinner party – make the salad ahead, and 10 minutes in the kitchen is all you will need to serve your guests a beautiful, affordable plated meal.  Take one of them into the kitchen with you to dice the avocado and plate the salad while you fry the fish.

An added bonus:  The salad can stand alone as a high-protein meal for your vegetarian guests, perhaps topped with some crumbled cheese.

Crunchy Roasted Garlic Mustard Tilapia:

4 fresh or frozen (defrosted) Tilapia Fillets (or other mild, white-flesh fish)

2 Eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon Water

½ cup +/- All-Purpose Flour

4-5 ounces Stonewall Kitchens Roasted Garlic Mustard

Panko Bread Crumbs, to coat the fish thoroughly (3-4 ounces)

Canola Oil, for frying

On the day before serving, prepare the fish.  Set up a dredging station with the beaten eggs and water in a wide, shallow bowl; the flour in another; the panko crumbs in another; and a cooling rack positioned over a sheet pan or platter that will fit in your refrigerator.  Dip the fish in the eggs then dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess.  Brush the floured fish with mustard liberally, coating completely.  Dip the fish into the panko, pressing a bit to coat the fish completely and help the crumbs adhere.  Transfer the fish to the rack.  Place the fish, uncovered, into the refrigerator and chill 6 hours or overnight.

To cook, preheat about a ¼ inch of oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  The oil is ready when it ripples – if it’s smoking it’s too hot.   Place the fish in the hot oil and cook until a medium golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

Serves 4

Southwest Salad with Roasted Garlic Lime Vinaigrette

For the Salad:

2 cups Fresh or Frozen (defrosted) Corn Kernels

1 can (15-16 ounces) Black Beans, rinsed and drained well

4 Scallions, sliced crosswise

1 cup Roasted Red Peppers, diced small

1 Banana Pepper, seeded and diced small (or a jalapeno if you like big heat!)

1 Avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed (do not cut avocado until right before serving)

1 tablespoon Cilantro, chopped fine

Crumbled Cotija (Mexican Crumbling Cheese) or Goat Cheese, optional, for garnish

Roast the corn kernels in a dry non-stick skillet that has been preheated over medium heat, tossing or stirring to avoid burning.  You want to heat the corn to release its sugars and unlock the full flavor, browning it just slightly.  Your nose will tell you when it is done; just 3-4 minutes is all it takes.

Cool the corn to room temperature then toss all the ingredients except the cheese together in a bowl.

For the Roasted Garlic Lime Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons Stonewall Kitchens Roasted Garlic Mustard

3 tablespoons Lime Juice (about 2 limes)

1 tablespoon Honey

½ cup good quality Olive Oil

Pinch Sea Salt

½ teaspoon Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Mix the mustard, lime juice, and honey in a bowl and drizzle in the oil while whisking; the dressing will become creamy (emulsified).  Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.  Toss the salad with the dressing.

Sprinkle with cheese if desired, and enjoy!

Serves 4 as a side dish; Serves 2 as a vegetarian entrée

Confetti Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

14 04 2012

This colorful, crisp salad was named for its appearance.  It has a mild kick from the peppers and is sturdy enough to stand up to the addition of hot or cold meats.  Use it as the base for a summer supper with grilled chicken!

I don’t need to tell you how easy it would be to swap out any of these ingredients for others that you prefer.  I try to have a full range of colors – not only is it enticing to look at, but healthy – the more colorful your food, the more varied the nutrients.  Eat the rainbow, friends!

Try to chop all the ingredients the same size so that it really looks like confetti.

2 Romaine Lettuce Hearts

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced small

2 stalks of Bok Choy (or celery)

1 Yellow Bell Pepper, seeded and diced small

1 Carrot, peeled and diced small

4 radishes, diced small

3 Scallions or 1 small sweet onion, diced small

2 Banana Peppers, seeded and diced small*

*Note: Even banana peppers can be hot enough to burn our skin, so use gloves when seeding and chopping them.

For the Dressing:

½ cup good Olive Oil

2 tablespoons Lemon Juice

2 tablespoons Orange Juice

2 tablespoons Honey

2 tablespoon good Dijon mustard

Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste

Crumbled Cheese for garnish (optional)

Wash and dry the Romaine and chop it into a medium dice.   Place in a large bowl. Seed the tomatoes by simply slicing them lengthwise and using a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Add to the bowl.  Dice the remaining vegetables and add to the bowl. Toss well.

In a small bowl, combine the juices, mustard, and honey and whisk.  Whisk in the olive oil a little at a time.  The dressing will begin to emulsify.  Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. If the dressing is too acidic, add a touch more honey.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to distribute, or serve in a gravy boat for your guests to dress themselves. Serve the salad in a pile on the center of a plate.

Garnish with your favorite crumbled cheese, if desired, and a slice of lemon.

Serves 4-6.

(NOTE:  On the day this particular salad was made, someone tossed in some radicchio that was on hand – it was great!)


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