07/22/2011

Infused Oils from Basil, Garlic & Chipotle

    It’s hot outside, you don’t really feel like cooking but you want something with flavor.  Or, it’s hot outside, you’re tired and dinner needs to be quick and easy.  Around here, the best way for me to perk up a single dish or meal is with infused oils, you know, oil with something special.  They are easy to make, can help you stretch a dollar and can really kick up the flavor of an ordinary dish. My guys love to have the garlic oil, add a few flakes of red pepper, salt and Parmesan cheese with a big hunk of crunchy bread, yes ma’am!  I mix it up and have it out on the counter for them to snack on while I cook dinner.  I love to serve the Chipotle oil (this stuff is wicked good) with roasted chicken.  Of course, the basil oil is awesome with fish.

The thing is….these oils can be used on just about anything!  I’ve used them as a base for salad dressing and also put them on sandwiches.  All you need to do is set aside a little time, gather your ingredients and have fun with your food.  Probably my biggest challenge with these oils is remembering all of the ways I have used them and new recipes I want to try….duh – maybe a notebook in the kitchen would help?  That suggestion came from my Sweetie because he was tired of hearing me stomp around the kitchen talking to myself about dishes that I couldn’t remember.  Oh well, I’ll think about that tomorrow… So, back to the oils….give them a try! 
You don’t need any special equipment, just a standard blender or a handheld “boat motor” and a few mason jars for storage.  Once you’ve made them, just seal ’em up and store in the fridge for about a week but I’m not sure they’ll last that long.  Here they are, three of my fav’s…

Chipotle Oil
*this recipe is from George, the Chef at 1618 Seafood Grill. I’ve loved this infused oil, the restaurant and George’s dishes for years and so has Picky Sweetie!!

  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 1Tbs salt – make sure to taste, you might want to add more
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs fresh garlic
  • 6 canned chipotle peppers soaked in adobe sauce. Put all ingredients in a tall metal or glass container and process with hand blender until smooth.  You can also use a standard blender.

Basil Oil

  • 2 ounces fresh basil – abut 2 cups packed
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/8 tsp. of salt
  • In a small bowl, prepare an ice bath – water and ice cubes.  Bring about 2 cups of water to boil in a small sauce pan.  Add the basil leaves and make sure they are all submerged.  Cook for about 10-12 seconds.  Immediately scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice bath.  Once they have cooled, remove to paper towels to drain.  Gently squeeze the paper towels to remove as much of the liquid as possible.  Pour oil into large metal or glass container add salt and mix with hand blender.  Add 1/2 of the basil leaved and process briefly.  Add the remaining leaves and blend until all leaves are pureed.  Add a few fresh basil leaves, blend well.  This will brighten the flavor to total freshness. 

Garlic Oil

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • In a small saucepan, gently heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant but not colored, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Cover and let steep for 1 hour. Strain into a bottle or jar and discard the garlic. FYI – this stuff disappears right before my eyes….not quite sure what these boys use it for but everyone seems quite happy…along with their friends!
I hope you make at least one of these recipes and find new ways to enjoy them.  Be bold and go for it or just sneak them into dishes….you’ll be amazed at the outcome.  Have a great weekend!
Counting my blessings,
07/20/2011

Homemade Tomato Soup

OK – I know my last post was about tomatoes but I just couldn’t resist.  I am getting so many sweet friends from my own plants and then there are the ones that I can’t pass up from the farmers market so, here’s another recipe with tomatoes being the star of the show. 
A couple of years ago I went on a quest to find a great tomato soup recipe.  This was a bit more of a task than I expected.  At this point, I can’t remember how many pots of soup I made and of course, I had my family taste each one.  Some were too bland, some were too spicy and some, well, were just awful.  I kinda felt like Goldilocks….searching for one that tasted “just right.”  Finally, my boys had had enough….”just make up your own recipe, for Pete’s sake!”  So, after a few more tries, I found just the right fit.  I have taken this soup to many luncheons and covered dish events and it always gets rave reviews. I put it in a crock pot to keep warm and away we go.  You may be thinking…tomato soup in summer?  Well, I like it chilled with a little dollop of sour cream and fresh basil.  You can also partially make the soup and freeze it for the cooler months to come -more about that later.  There’s the story….let’s get cookin’…

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs of tomatoes – a blend of several different kinds work best.  I use fresh, Roma, and grape tomatoes
  • 1 medium to large red onion, sliced
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 bay leaves, 3 if small
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • Pinch of cayanne pepper
  • 3 T. butter
  • Hunter the Helper!
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and quarter the tomatoes.  Take out seeds.  If using cherry tomatoes, you can just leave them whole.  Put tomatoes, onion and garlic on baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, coating well.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for approximately 30 minutes or until you see the tomatoes start to caramelize.  Remove from oven and place into a stock pot.
Add the chicken stock, bay leaves, cayanne pepper and butter.  Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by about 1/3. Puree the soup until smooth using an immersion blender (the boat motor as the boys call it) or a blender.  ***If you plan on making this soup for future use, cool and put into airtight containers for freezing.  When ready to use, thaw the soup and pick up the recipe where you left off.***  Add half and half and return to a low simmer.  At this point -stop and taste!  Adjust the salt and pepper.  Serve with fresh basil – Enjoy!!

The real key to this soup is the roasting.  Make sure that you caramelize the tomatoes, onions and garlic so that the intensity of their flavors come out. One more thing – No, you cannot use skim or 2% milk!  You are only using a cup and will lose the richness of the soup if you cut corners – just saying.  I most often make a double batch to use throughout the week for lunch and as an after school snack.

07/15/2011

Oh How I Love Some Mater Pie!

Hey Friends….call me crazy (it’s OK – some do) but Tomato Pie is one of my favorite things ever.  Crunchy, buttery crust filled with cheese, FRESH friends of summer, basil and vidalia from the garden then more cheese…I feel faint just describing it!  I can fit this pie into any time of day.  For breakfast, give me a piece of toast, slice of pie and a poached egg – Oh Mercy!  Just break that egg open and sop up all that love.  Then, for lunch, mix a few fresh leaves of lettuce, add a couple of slices of avocado with a splash of olive oil/lemon juice, S&P then place your pie on top…..I am gettin’ giddy!  If there’s any left over, grill some fish or chicken, add sauteed squash to your plate with your piece of pie and sit back – all is right with the world.  Honey, there is no question, I am in LOVE with Tomato Pie.  It’s easy to make, full of big flavors, is good hot, great at room temp or special right from the fridge.

What got me on this mission was this..yesterday, I received these beauties from one of my best buddies….Peggy, aka, Margaret/Peggers/Mom/Mrs. Brown. She stopped by with 6 Alabama maters that her sweet father in-law brought in.  Well, with a gift like that, I got to thinkin’, what should I make?  Tomato Pie of course.  Let’s cook!

  • Slice about 4-5 medium to large tomatoes with skin on.  Place on paper towels to drain – about an hour or longer if you have time.
  • Set oven at 425 degrees.  Roll out pie dough and place in your dish.  About the dough….in the fall/winter I make my own, I get lazy in the summer and buy it from the grocery – it’s great!  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork so it doesn’t rise up too much while baking. 
  • Bake for 8 minutes (lightly golden) and remove.  Turn down oven to 400.  Cool pie shell for about 20 min.or so.  Do something interesting – sing, dance, read, call a friend, you know what I mean.
  • Bottom layer – sprinkle grated mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese (if you don’t have both it’s no big deal, just use what you have) enough to cover the bottom of pie shell.
  • Layer the tomatoes, in a circular pattern overlapping each other.
  • Sprinkle on fresh basil, ( I roll mine up and slice into thin strings) chopped vidalia, lots of fresh cracked pepper and salt.
  • Last layer….mix 1/2 cup of good mayo with grated cheddar cheese.  Spread on top of the pie, sealing in the tomatoes. 
  • Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.  If the edges get brown early, put a pie ring on top or use a homemade one  – that’s what I have….made out of tinfoil (yes, tinfoil is one word)
  • Take out of oven and rest at least 20 minutes.
  • Dig IN!!

So friends….there you have it!  Doesn’t sound like much but once you put that bite in your mouth….woohoo!  Can a sister get an Amen?  Yes!  Amen!

A humble thank you to a friend….
Mr. Barney Brown who brought these wonderful tomatoes to NC all the way from Alabama just lost his wife of over 45 years. Janey Brown died 2 weeks ago and Barney is staying with his son’s family.  My prayers for Barney are for peace, comfort and a renewed energy for life without his beloved.  May my marriage be as blessed as the Brown’s for as many years. 
Counting My Blessings,
Donya

07/12/2011

The Wedge is BACK!

Y’all, I am loving a Wedge…of course the shoe but more importantly, THE SALAD!  Most lettuce lovers know of the classic steakhouse wedge.  A big slice of iceberg lettuce covered in a creamy dressing starting out a meal of steak and potatoes.  This American creation started sometime back in the 60’s and lately has made a great comeback!  It can now be seen on many high end restaurant menus as well as some of the chain joints. Now…there are some folks who would turn up their nose at iceberg lettuce.  “No taste” or “too bland” yet, this veggie has character – it’s cool, crunchy and stands up to great “accessories.”  So, I thought I would try out The Wedge on my family.  It was met with RAVE reviews. Here’s the story…

Get the best looking head of iceberg you can find at the grocery.  A tip from my mom…if the head is too hard, then the leaves will be very tight and the flavor bitter.  Try to find one that is light and a little pliable.  When you get your treasure home, unwrap, take out the core, rinse, shake off the excess water and store with a paper towel wrapped around it in a zip lock bag, a salad crisper works well too.  Next, make the dressing.  I changed it up a little – I had no blue cheese but did have a large piece of Parmesan, which I processed into small bits of goodness. Then, I made a creamy dressing that my boys are now eating with their veggies!  Check out the recipe below.  About 15 minutes before dinner was to be served, I cut the iceberg into wedges, sprinkled on salt, cracked plenty of fresh black pepper on top then drizzled on the homemade Parmesan dressing.  To put a little “southern” on it, I broke up piece of divine swine (bacon) on top with a few chives from my garden. YUM!  Welcome back old friend……I think you are here to stay!

Creamy Parm Dressing

  • 1 cup of mayo – not salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup of Parm cheese – freshly grated (the store bought stuff loses it’s flavor really fast)
  • 1/2 cup of Half and Half
  • 2 Tablespoons of sour cream
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (more if you like a lively taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper taste – I use about 4 to 5 turns of the pepper mill