Mrs. Bentley’s Cooking Class

May 26, 2014

Quince de Mayo! OLE!

Cooking class #13

Grilling Corn Tortillas

I conducted my first cooking class at the home of a dear friend.  She asked that I put together a class for her networking group.  Since the class was scheduled for the 15th of May, I called it Quince de Mayo!  and came up with a Mexican menu.  Here’s what we made:

  • Corn TortillasCorn Tortilla Chips, Grilled with a Touch of Sea Salt for a No Fat, Crisp and Tasty Dipping Chip.  We laid fresh, uncooked corn tortilla chips on a hot grill and sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.  The heat of the grill causes the sea salt to stick to the tortilla.  Using tongs, we peeked at the undersides and when they had nice grill marks, we flipped them.  After just a few minutes, they were nicely charred and we tossed them into a bowl.  We kept grilling them until we had a nice big pile.  We cracked them by hand into approximate quarters.
  • GuacamoleSkinny Guacamole is Lightened Up by adding Roasted Tomatillos to Fresh Avocado – So Fresh and Yummy!  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes.  They come with a lose papery skin that feels like tissue paper.  They are very acidic and have a flavor similar to a lime, but a little more intense.  I discovered that if they are added to guacamole, the guacamole never turns that horrible grayish brown color.  Yeah!  Also, they are fat free and very low in calorie, so they thin down the calories in quacamole.  Yeah again!  Two problems solved!   Everyone loved this new twist on an old favorite!  It was so good, we had to make a second batch.
  • Roasted Tomato Salsa 500Roasted Tomato Salsa, Earthy and Surprisingly Light.  We grilled whole tomatoes for about 10 minutes, until they had nice char marks and the skin was beginning to peel off.  At the same time, we had pablano peppers on the grill.  The grill was set to high.  We grilled the pablano peppers until they were completely black on all sides.  Then, using tongs, we popped them into a zip bag and sealed it up so the pepper would steam.  After about 10 minutes in the bag, the blackened skin on the peppers slips right off.  We slipped them out of their skins over the sink because it can get a little messy.  Then, we cut the tops off the peppers and removed the seeds under running water.  The tomatoes and the peppers went into the food processor along with a few grilled tomatillos we had left over from the guacamole.
  • MoleChickenLegsSmallChicken Seasoned with Mrs. Bentley’s Secret Mole Spice Blend and Baked for an Aromatic Savory Treat!  I taught the participants how easy it is to make this delicious chicken, and it can me made for a crowd just as easily.  We had 30 chicken thighs in the oven while we made the other items on the menus.  Normally, a tray of chicken for a family dinner would cook in about an hour.  For 30 thighs on 4 trays, it took an hour and a half to cook.
  • GreenRiceI modified my basic Green Rice recipe by adding onions, peppers, garlic and cumin to give this dish a Mexican flair.

 

 

  • PannaCotta5My friend had asked that I make everything “healthy”, so instead of making a Mexican flan, I made Panna Cotta, the Italian gelatin based dessert.  This is another basic recipe that can be changed up in so many ways.  It is essentially, milk or cream and gelatin.  You can add any flavoring you like.  You can sweeten it with sugar or Splenda.  I’ve made chocolate, key lime, raspberry and vanilla before.  Look at the basic recipe and then use your imagination.
  • margarita2Everyone really enjoyed the Skinny Margaritas we made!  We made them with fresh lime juice, orange juice, tequila and the secret ingredient – Diet Mountain Dew!  I’m not kidding, we used Diet Mountain Dew and they were incredible.

 

Cooking class #1a

Participants Watching Intently As Salsa Is Being Made

Cooking Class #8a

Enjoying Skinny Margaritas!

PennySqueezingLimes

Our Hostess Squeezing More Limes Than She Has Ever Squeezed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Saturday Supper Club February – OPA!!!

March 9, 2014

ImageAnother hit dinner party!  Aside from all the good food and drink, I found out:

Tracey SexyTracey was a “Food Stylist” in a previous life!  And a damn good one at that.

TimTim used to hang out in Greek town, Detroit, and drink Retsina wine and shout OPA! every time anyone lit a match.  LOL!

Jonathan and TraceyJonathan is a baklava loving Super Hero.  His secret power is “saving the day” before I even know anything needs saving!

Laura 2Laura and I burned our Weight Watcher point cards in the flaming saganaki – OPA!

Last Saturday January 015Chip FebruaryIf Angel didn’t keep Chip in line, he might get a job at the National Enquirer!  I’ll be your steno, Chip – OPA!

David is the best “morning after” wing man a girl could ever want.

And finally, Black Buca (Sambuca, Greek Liquer) should be drunk in moderation, if at all.  Ouch, my head still hurts!

saganakia I served Saganaki, the flaming Greek cheese, as an appetizer.  It was served with warm bread.  I made homemade French bread using the food processor method – no kneading.  I love that recipe!  I don’t usually serve appetizers at a dinner party, but how can you have a Greek dinner party without Saganaki??  OPA!!

Jonathan

While I was serving up the Cosmos, Martinis and Wine, the cheese was frying in the super hot pan on the stove.  La La, blab blab, oops, the cheese was getting a little over-melty.  Have no fear, Jonathan is here!  He swooped in behind me and effortlessly flipped all the cheeses and then helped me light it up – OPA!  Now, here is a man you want at every dinner party.

I had trouble finding the right kind of cheese and ended up ordering it from a Greek deli in Wisconsin, Parthenon Foods.  My research showed that three different kinds of cheese could be used.  Halloumi is a mild salty Cypriot cheese made from a blend of sheep and goat’s milk.  Raw, it is a little rubbery and sort of spongy.  Melted, it held it’s shape, but was still gooey enough to dip bread into.

The second most popular cheese is Kasseri, an ancient Greek cheese that is semi-hard, salty and made mostly from sheep’s milk.  This cheese made the best saganaki.  It fried easily and melted perfectly.  Not too melty, just enough to sink a warm hunk of bread into it and pull up some gorgeous stretchy, gooey cheese.  And really delicious.

The third cheese was Kefalotyri.  This Greek cheese is hard, made of sheep’s milk and it is aged.  It’s flavor is quite salty and very sharp.  A bit crumbly, but it still melted nicely.  This cheese is the best tasting without melting.  I would serve this cheese again, raw on a cheese platter.

Avgolemono SoupFor the soup course, I served a classic Greek soup, Avgolemono.  It is a lemony chicken and rice soup, thickened with egg yolks and served with dill.  I love this soup so much, I think I could eat it every day.  It is very easy to make, and despite it’s rich look and taste, it is actually quite light in fat and calories.

 

Sausage and OctopusI was a little nervous about the third course, grilled sausages and octopus – OPA!!  I wasn’t sure how my guests would react to the grilled octopus.  Apparently, my guests all have sophisticated palates.

No one looked the least bit squeamish, no one ran from the room screaming, and everyone tried it.  I served it on 2 platters, family style.  I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to pass on anything they may not have wanted to try.  As you can see from the gorgeous platter, it looked very appetizing.

Tracey SexyMy friend Tracey claimed to have been a “food stylist” in a former life, so she arranged this beautiful platter of goodies.  Very impressive, Tracey!

My friend and neighbor, Tim is quite the grill master and smoke aficionado, so he helped me with the octo-sausage grilling.  Great job, Tim, thanks!

Rack Of LambFor the entree course, I served my famous rack of lamb.  Easiest recipe ever, just make sure your oven is clean, because they cook at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.  If your oven isn’t sparkling, you are definitely going to get smoke in the house.

Greek Spinach Side DishI served the lamb with a spinach side dish I invented a while back.  I love Greek spanikopita, the little Greek pastries filled with spinach and feta cheese.  So I make the filling and bake it in a casserole dish, skip the fussy, fattening phyllo dough! It was the perfect compliment to the rich lamb.

Grilled Red PeppersI also served grilled sweet red bell peppers, dressed in olive oil, lemon and dill, served over white rice.  I make these grilled peppers all the time.  They are easy to make and look gorgeous on the plate.

 

 

BaklavaOh my Lord, the dessert I served, that baklava, I really think it was the best I’ve ever tasted.  I used a recipe from Mario Batali.  One package phyllo dough, 4 sticks of butter, 3 cups of sugar, 1 cup of honey and pistachio nuts and walnuts.  It makes for a beautiful presentation.  Everyone loved it.  I sent most of it home with my guests.

There were  a few hiccups hosting this dinner, but nothing worth writing about.  My advice to anyone hosting a dinner party, is to relax, let your guests help, and serve everything with a big smile and pretend it all turned out perfectly.  Generally, your guests will not notice the missteps.  And, even if they do, the good company will make up for it.  Enjoy yourselves and be fearless in the kitchen!

Baklava 2


Mrs. Bentley’s Last Saturday Supper Club

February 2, 2014
Image

Cheers! to Tracey and Chip

2014 ushers in my new project – Mrs. Bentley’s Last Saturday Supper Club.  I am hosting a dinner party once a month at my home.  I decided to hold the dinner party on the last Saturday of every month, thus  The Last Saturday Supper Club.  For now, I can only manage dinner for 8, so in addition to David and I, there is room for 6 dinner guests.  I am publishing the menu for each month at the beginning of the month.  The first 6 people that can get through to me have the seats.

Carol and Tracey

Carl and Tracey

The first dinner was held on the last Saturday of January, just a week ago.  I think it was a big hit! I chose a menu that was light and fresh.  I was thinking that after all the rich and plentiful holiday food, people would appreciate lighter fare.  I named the menu “Refresh”.  While the menu was packed with vegetables and seafood, I tried to make the dishes luscious and satisfying.

I served:

Steamed Mussels with White Wine and Garlic

Steamed mussels with white wine and garlic.  I had tested the recipe earlier in the week and it was delicious.   Too bad I didn’t prepare it the same way for the dinner party.  I guess I was feeling a bit anxious and I failed to double check my recipe notes.  I used too much wine, too much garlic and I forgot to add the celery all together.

Toasty Home Made French Bread

Toasty Home Made French Bread

Thank God I  decided to make my own fresh French bread to go with the mussels.  The bread turned out great.  Oooh but, I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I took the first taste of the broth.  It was nothing like what I had tested earlier in the week.  Then, one of my guests, a restauranteur and fabulous cook himself, whispered to me, “not to worry, the mussels are delicious, and don’t say a word about the broth.  No one will be the wiser”.  What an angel!  I calmed right down and got on with the rest of the dinner, which was fabulous.

Wilted Greens with Chorizo, Chilis, Cashews and Pecorino Romano Cheese

Wilted Greens with Chorizo, Chilies, Cashews and Pecorino Romano Cheese

For the salad course, I served warm, wilted collard greens.  I know what you’re thinking -collard greens??? Really?? I thought you said this was going to be fine dining???  Ha!  They were so delicious, guests wanted to lick their plates.  It’s all in the toppings.  First, I made the toppings by sauteing spicy chorizo sausage and red chili peppers together.  Then, I added raw cashews and toasted them in the chorizo and chili oil.  I set that mixture aside and added a lemon and olive oil dressing I had made to the pan.  I Added the collards and tossed until they were nicely wilted but not overly done.  I served them, topped with the chorizo and cashews and with a healthy sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese.  Oh my goodness this combo is both unexpected and delicious.  Some of the guests said it was their favorite dish.

Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing

Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing

I mentioned a lemon and olive oil dressing I used for the greens.  This dressing is a new discovery to me and I am crazy about it.  I took a whole lemon and cut it into 8ths.  I removed the seeds.  Threw the rest into a blender and whizzed it up, skins, pulp and all.  I got it as smooth as I could, it was still pretty chunky.  I slowly added two cups of olive oil and kept blitzing until it was very smooth.  I added salt and whizzed some more.  It was a beautiful pale and creamy yellow color.  It was tart and a little sweet, balanced by the bitter of the rind and so creamy from the emulsified olive oil.  This dressing is great on a cold green salad, or drizzled on a piece of fish, or used on steamed vegetables.  Try it – it is so simple and so yummy!  I made extra and sent each of my guest home with a bottle.

Chilean Sea Bass with Fennel, Peppers and Citrus Slices

I think the entree was the star of the show.  I served Chilean Sea Bass on a bed of roasted fennel, red bell peppers, thinly sliced Meyer Lemons and Blood Oranges and fresh dill sprigs.  I sprinkled some freshly ground coriander seeds over top of everything.  Oh my!  The visuals on this dish are stunning.  The aromas of citrus, fennel, dill and coriander are swoon worthy.   The recipe is perfect for entertaining because it is slow roasted in the oven first.  Then, when you are ready to serve, it is put under the broiler for about 5 minutes and, voila!, everything is warm, with a nice bit of char, and ready to serve.

Chilean Sea Bass Plate

Chilean Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Citrus. Served with Orange Scented Black Rice.

Since the sea bass and the fennel are both pale colored, I thought a side of black rice would balance the plate nicely.  Black rice, also known as, the Emperor’s Forbidden Rice, has a nice chew, sort of like brown rice and the color is actually a very dark purple.  For the cooking liquid, I used half orange juice and half chicken stock.  I topped each serving with a bit of orange zest.  The flavor and the color was a perfect pairing for the Sea Bass.  Jonathan said this rice was his favorite dish.

ChocolateTartSo, ok, everything was nice and light, healthy, good for you food.  Time to break out the chocolate!  I made a tart.  A chocolate tart.  So rich and chocolaty.  The chocolate flavor was surprisingly intense, but so smooth and silky.  And just to “gild the lily”, I topped each piece with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and a drizzle of my homemade caramel sauce.  Well, it wasn’t exactly a dollop of whipped cream, Jonathan made gorgeous quenelles of whipped cream.  A quenelle is an elegant way to give a dollop a more formal and uniform shape.  They are oblong and sort of football shaped.  Well, he went to town and made each dessert plate look like it was from the finest dining establishment anywhere.

Last Saturday January 019

David and Rozana wishing they had room for more chocolate tart

I was a little surprised that my guests made very few comments about the tart.  I was wondering if maybe they didn’t care for it.  After discussing it the next day with my husband, David, we decided that they were just too stunned to comment.  Ha ha!  I really think so.  Stunned!

Mr. Bentley with that Martini Grin

I started the party off with a choice of cocktails, Martinis (my personal fav), Limoncello Spritzers (in keeping with the light menu), Cosmos (in honor of my friend Tracey) or Wine.  I did not serve any appetizers.  I don’t believe in appetizers at a dinner party.  One of my secret ingredients to any dinner is a pinch of  “hunger”.  Keep the guests waiting just a bit more than they expect.  Bring them to the table ravenous!  Not actually ravenous, but really hungry.  I know it sounds mean, but it works every time.  Try it.

Angel’s first time at Mrs. Bentley’s house. I think she’ll be back!

With dinner, I served a Barone Fini Pinot Grigio Valdadige that went well with the greens and the seafood.  David had the wine merchant help with this selection.  It was yummy.  With the chocolate tart, I served Sandeman Ruby Port.  I had read that chocolate and port made an amazing pairing.  I thought I might faint when I tried it.  I’m no expert on the art of beverage and food pairings, but I would like to learn more about it.  I would say, this pairing of chocolate and port went a long way toward giving me a good understanding.  After dinner, David served up some 18 year old Dewars to a few hearty souls.  There were no takers on the cigars.  Maybe next time.

Rozana and Angel enjoying Chip’s joke

I like to have seat assignments for a dinner party.  I like to mix up the guests, separate spouses, boy girl, boy girl, but not with their mates.  For this party, I took care to seat big talkers next to great listeners.  Carl and Rozan are “love birds”, and I thought Rozana might be nervous away from Carl, so I made sure they sat across from each other so they could gaze and one another all evening.  Everyone had a grand time, so I guess the arrangement was a success.   Odd, but there wasn’t a single photo of Jonathan.  You’ll have to use your imagination…..

Thanks to everyone for making the first Last Saturday Supper a huge success.  I can’t wait for the February party.  Menu to be posted soon!

Last Saturday January 010

Flaky and Silky Chilean Sea Bass with Fennel and Citrus Slices


Holiday Sides Lightened Up

November 17, 2011

Does the thought of facing Thanksgiving dinner have you dusting off your elastic waist pants?  I’m here to tell you, no worries if you use some of my tricks for taking out the calories but leaving in the flavor.

I have been transforming my holiday and party recipes into delicious, low fat, low calorie dishes.  I had to take a big leap to try recipes that don’t start with bacon fat, but I promise, you won’t miss it!  Honest!   Here are a few I’ve already tested:

Fresh Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Instead of green bean casserole, try green beans with caramelized shallots.  I am very pleased with how easy this recipe is, but, wowee-delicious!  I caramelized the shallots in a teeny tiny bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan.  I cooked them over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.  They became lusciously browned with a bit of crunch.

GreenLine Trimmed and Washed Green Beans

I used the pre-cleaned bagged green beans that come in a microwavable plastic bag.  If you haven’t tried these yet, I must insist – try them – immediately!!  They have become my go-to vegetable, holiday or no holiday.  You poke a few holes in the bag with a fork and microwave them for four minutes.  Instant farm stand green beans with no fuss, no muss.

After I caramelized the shallots, I nuked the green beans.  I added them to the shallots and tossed to coat the beans with all that yummy shallot flavor.  Add a sprinkle of coarse ground sea salt and a bit of black pepper and serve.  I can’t believe how good these are!  And the best part, you can do the shallots ahead of time.  Let them hang out on the back of the stove until you are ready to serve.  Nuke the beans, toss together and this dish is ready in a flash.  Click here for the recipe.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries

How about fresh Brussels sprouts roasted with fresh cranberries?  Look how gorgeous they are.  And this is another, super easy side dish.  I tossed the Brussels sprouts with a tad bit of olive oil and spread them out on a foil lined cookie sheet.  I tossed the cranberries with a dressing I made from honey and orange juice (a tablespoon of each).  I sprinkled the coated cranberries over the Brussels sprouts and sprinkled everything with smoked sea salt.  Smoked sea salt??  Yeah baby, it’s all the rage and it has become my new favorite “tastes like bacon” ingredient.   You can find a wide variety of smoked salts in gourmet shops and online.

Hot from the oven and perfectly browned and beautiful!

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and put them cut side down on a foil lined pan.  This way, they get evenly browned and beautiful.  Roast the sprouts and berries for 20 minutes at 435 degrees with no turning or stirring.   When you turn them into the serving bowl, give them a light spray of Pam and a fresh sprinkle of salt.  This dish will be a crowd pleaser!  Click here for the recipe.

Butternut Squash with Sage and Onion Brown Butter

Wait til you try this twist on the classic butternut squash side dish!  How about kicking up the flavor with sage and a hint of onion?  Who needs all that butter when you have those yummy holiday herbs and flavors added?  And my super-secret short cut for this dish – use frozen cooked butternut squash puree.  If you’re afraid you might be smited by the ghost of your great grandmother, then by all means, buy the fresh squash.  You can peel it, seed it, roast it and mash it if you like.  I tested the recipe both ways and couldn’t taste the difference when I used the frozen squash.  Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!  I think I was just poked by an ancestor!

Another trick to boost the flavor using less fat is to use “brown butter”  In a medium sauce pan, heat 2 teaspoons of butter until it becomes toasty and browned.  Be careful not to burn it, just lightly toast it until you can smell the nuttiness and see the slight browning of the butter.

Meanwhile, grate half of a large sweet onion.  Grate the onion on your box grater.  I guess you could use a food processor, but it is really easy to use the box grater.  You’ll end up with lot of onion juice and some onion pulp.  I like to use grated onion when I don’t want the onion chunks, but I want the fresh onion taste.  Add the grated onion and onion juice to the browned butter.  Saute over medium heat until most of the onion juice has evaporated.

Add a tablespoon of dried rubbed sage and saute for another minute or two.  I don’t recommend fresh sage for this dish.  I find fresh sage is good if it is cooked for a long time, but in a quick dish like this, fresh sage can taste bitter and has a medicinal flavor.

Add the pureed squash (fresh or frozen, I’ll never tell) to the onion sage mixture and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with a garnish of fresh sage leaves.  Delish delish delish!!  Two measly teaspoons of butter for the whole dish is plenty, thanks to the flavor boost from browning the butter and the onion and sage.  Added bonus – this dish can be made ahead of time and reheated.  Yay!!  I love make ahead holiday dishes!!  For the complete recipe, click here.

Pumpkin Pie Custard Cup

If you don’t have the calorie budget for pumpkin pie, or you can’t find your elastic waist pants, try this amazing knock off.  No-crust pumpkin pie custard cups with a dollop of fat free cool whip or fat free frozen vanilla yogurt.  You won’t miss the crust.  I tested this recipe by making a batch of the standard pumpkin pie filling, except I made a few substitutions.  I substituted fat free evaporated milk for the full fat kind.  Also, I used a little bit of real brown sugar and the rest Splenda artificial sweetener.  I used whole eggs because you need the yolks to make a good custard.  I added the standard spices and poured the mixture into custard cups that had been sprayed with Pam.  I baked them for about 50 minutes at 350.  Really really good.  Try the recipe by clicking here!


Moroccan Surf and Turf

June 23, 2011

Lamb and Shrimp Kebabs with Spicy Harissa Dipping Sauce

The inspiration for this exotic menu was the July, 2011 issue of Bon Appetit.  Bulgarian born chef, Silvena Rowe took a play on American classic, surf and turf and gave it a wonderful Moroccan twist.  She combined ground lamb with chopped shrimp to create these whimsical kebabs.  I followed her recipe exactly as written and it came out beautifully.  She includes fresh chopped cilantro, ground cumin, garlic and grated red onion for a fabulously aromatic kebab that had us all swooning when I brought them in from the grill.

I made her harissa sauce and didn’t care much for it.  Harissa is a spicy red pepper sauce or relish made with a variety of red chili peppers, vinegar and spices.  The Bon Appetit recipe had a very “raw” taste, so I cooked it for about five minutes in a saute pan.  It still tasted too harsh for me, so I added some Greek yogurt and that mellowed it out more to my liking.  I also made a different dipping sauce, altogether.  I made a creamy yogurt sauce seasoned with the Arabic spice mix Za’atar and cumin.  Everyone liked that sauce better.  However, when I served the remaining kebabs the following day as an appetizer, the harissa had mellowed out and we liked it much better on day two.

I paired the kebabs with a classic Moroccan side dish, couscous.  While shopping at Fresh Market, I found an amazing couscous.  The brand is Marrakesh Express, and the version is CousCous Grande, “creamy pearls of pasta”.  Instead of the teeny tiny little couscous granules, this was great big pearls of couscous.  I thought it complemented the kebabs perfectly.

Couscous with Fresh Oregano and Moroccan Glazed Baby Carrots

Fresh Market had beautiful baby carrots, so I decided to make my morphed version of Julia Child’s glazed carrots.  I followed her recipe except I added garam masala, an Indian spice mix that includes cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and ground coriander seeds.  There are a million variations of garam masala and some people make their own.  I prefer to buy a good quality prepared version.  It is very aromatic and adds a touch of exotic to whatever you put it on.

Pound Cake with Peaches and Cream

For Dessert, I opted for a fabulous, super-easy recipe from the July, 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine.  She used store bought pound cake (I know, isn’t it scandalous?!), fresh peaches and whipped cream.  When I saw that recipe, I thought, “now here’s a dessert I might be able to make”.  My regular readers know I struggle with baking.  It’s way too exacting for me.  But, store bought cake with fresh fruit?  It doesn’t get any easier.  The recipe delivered.  It was beautiful and delicious.  Of course I can never leave well enough alone, so I added a pinch of cinnamon to the peaches.  The cinnamon sort of tied it into the whole Moroccan thing.

The menu:


Jamaican Jerk For Cousin Jane

June 12, 2011

My husband’s cousin Jane flew in from New York for a sunny break from the miserable weather up north.  She  came in with David’s sister, Mary Anne, who lives in Connecticut.  Mary Anne and Jane are like sisters.  They grew up together and get together often as adults.  My regular readers know I like to put on the Florida/Tropical/Caribbean dog when the yankees come to visit.  I like to make sure my guests know they are not in “Kansas” anymore.

Jerk Chicken On The Grill, Whole Split Chicken Plus Extra Legs

So, in that vein I came up with the following menu for Mary Anne and Jane’s visit:

I was doing my no-carb thing, so everything was made with no or very little carbs.  For the coconut rice, I used my “mock coconut rice”  recipe.  It is actually made out of fresh cauliflower that is riced in the food processor.  Most people can not tell the difference and are truly amazed when I tell them it is not rice.  Jane was no different, she was shocked!

Apparently Jane does not eat vegetables because she hates them.  I wasn’t aware of this, so I felt pretty pleased when she absolutely loved my mock rice and – shock of all shocks –  she had seconds on the creamy Jamaican greens!

Callaloo - Jamaican Greens With Smoked Turkey and Coconut Milk

I was wanting to stick as close as possible to my Jamaican theme, so I used Jamaican Callaloo, a hearty and sturdy green native to Jamaica.  You can easily substitute Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Kale or whatever you normally like.   The method is to boil the greens with a smoked turkey wing, leg or neck, whichever you can find.  The salty smoked meat imparts a fabulous flavor to the greens.  Callaloo takes a long time to get tender, so I boiled it for about an hour.  I drained it, and drizzled a little coconut milk over it and tossed in some of the turkey meat that I pulled off the bone.  It was really delicious.  Jane proved it!

Mock Coconut Rice Made With Cauliflower

The mock coconut rice is a synch to make if you have a food processor.  I put the ricing blade on and pushed the cauliflower through it to get the small, rice-like pieces.  I pulled out the bigger pieces and set aside for another use.  It cooks really fast, so I brought some chicken stock with some coconut milk to a boil and added the cauliflower.  I only cooked it for about seven minutes.  I drained it, added my secret ingredient, a couple of drops of coconut extract.  I seasoned it with salt and onion powder.  I added chopped green onion and fresh cilantro, reserving some of both for garnish.  I swear, you will fool your guests and yourself with this clever lo-carb side dish!

I found the dried hibscus flower buds at a large Jamaican market in the Fort Lauderdale area called Broward Meat And Fish Company.   It is an amazing market!  The first time I went in, I was so overwhelmed I left without buying anything.  Everything was so exotic, so foreign to me, I didn’t know where to start.  But I went back, and now I go all the time.  They have tons of specialty food items from Jamaica, Haiti, Brazil, as well as other places.

Refreshing Jamaican Cocktail

They have a huge fresh seafood counter, another huge meat counter and a fabulous prepared food counter.  You can buy goat meat or oxtails along with the usual chicken, beef or pork.  They sell fish I’ve never even heard of!  I found a package of what I thought was dried morel mushrooms.  When I got them home, I realized the package said, Dried Sorrel – oops!  It turns out dried sorrel is Jamaican hibiscus flower buds.   So, I did a little research and came up with a very refreshing cocktail made with Hibiscus/Sorrel flower tea and ginger ale.  I used Splenda to sweeten the tea and sugar-free ginger ale, but you could use sugar if you like.  I offered the cocktail “virgin” or “slutty”, as I am want to do.  The “slutty” version had a bit of Jamaican rum added – yummy!  As I recall, we were all “slutty” that evening.

Key Lime Panna Cotta

When I’m doing the no-carb thing at my house, everyone has to do the no-carb thing.  So, for dessert I made a sugar free panna cotta and flavored and colored it with key lime extract.  It was very pretty and everyone loved it.

It was great to see Jane and Mary Anne and I hope I may have inspired Jane to eat a vegetable once in a while!  Come back soon, gals!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Hot Off The Grill


Fabulous Thanksgiving Menu

December 1, 2010

Oh my God, I love Thanksgiving!  For the menu, I think what most people really want is the traditional fare; Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy and Pumpkin Pie.  I imagine the favorite sides are whatever sides your family traditionally serves, i.e., green been casserole,  creamed onions, cranberry sauce, etc.  So, I decided to stick with the traditional dishes this year.

WHAT??  Are you kidding me??  Well, sort of.  I decided to kick everything up with superb ingredients, painstaking techniques and artful presentation.  My menu:

  • Roast Turkey, brined and stuffed with aromatics
  • Sage Stuffing with Homemade Pumpernickel and Sour-Dough Croutons
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Gravy made from 48 hour turkey neck stock
  • Mixed Roast Squashes on a bed of greens
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi sauteed in Brown Butter and Sage
  • Crisp Browned Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
  • Cranberry Relish with a splash of Chambord
  • Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream and Cinnamon Sugared Pecan Crumble
  • Mince Apple Pie with the same topping as above

Brined Turkey Stuffed with Aromatics

I wasn’t having a big crowd, so I had to take care not to prepare too much food.  I tend to err on the side of cooking for at least a full regiment, so this was no easy task for me.  For the turkey, I bought a small (ten pound) fresh, free range turkey from a great Italian specialty grocer, Doris’.  They always have the best meats, seafood and produce.

I used the classic brining recipe from the new cookbook, “The Essential New York Times Cook Book”, by Amanda Hesser.  (This is a must-have book.)  It was brined in water, sugar, salt, carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, chili flakes, fennel seeds, star anise and fresh thyme.  It was brined for 48 hours and then, to make sure the skin was nice and crispy, I tried a new technique I heard about.  I pulled the bird from the brine and rinsed it thoroughly.  I patted it dry as much as I could.  It sat UNCOVERED on a platter in the fridge for another 24 hours.  This helps the skin to completely dry out and cook up nice and crispy.  It worked great!  I will use this little trick from now on.

I stuffed the bird with apples, onion, celery, fresh sage and fresh thyme.  This stuffing is for an aromatic and flavor boost, you don’t actually eat any of the stuffing.  I rubbed the whole thing with olive oil and dried sage and baked it at 325 for about 2 1/2 hours.  All the meat, even the white meat, was tender and juicy.  The brining sees to that.  The skin was golden brown and crispy.

Stuffing Baked with Turkey Wings on top keeps it Moist

The stuffing was the best I’ve ever had.  I made my own croutons from a loaf of pumpernickel and another loaf of sour-dough white bread.  I made the croutons big, about one inch squares.  I wanted to cook the stuffing outside the bird and sometimes stuffing can get a little dry when you cook it this way.  I heard another amazing little trick to ensure moist and tasty stuffing.  The trick is to place two turkey wings on top of the stuffing and then bake it.  While it baked, the juices from the wings dripped down into the stuffing.  It came out moist, aromatic and delicious.  Even better than the kind you make inside the bird.  An extra bonus – the wings were also delicious!

Roasted Mix of Squashes on Bed of Greens with Dried Cranberry Scatter

My best side dish was the platter of mixed squash, roasted and decorated with dried cranberries.  Look at them!!  You have to make them just to look at them.  I bought one acorn squash and one small sugar pumpkin.  I cut them in half and seeded them.  I put them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, just long enough to soften them slightly.  Then I took them out, sliced them thin, drizzled butter and salt on them and returned them to a high heat oven, 425 degrees for another 30 minutes or until just turning brown on the edges.   I arranged the slices on a bed of greens that I had lightly dressed with a shallot vinaigrette and I scattered a few dried cranberries around just for good looks!  This recipe is from the 2010 issue of Food And Wine magazine.  My version looks way better than theirs.  Ha!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

My second favorite side dish was the Sweet Potato Gnocchi sauteed in brown butter and sage.  Can you stand it?  I’m not really a big fan of sweet potatoes and I’m certainly not a fan of sweet, sweet potatoes.  I wanted to make a savory sweet potato dish.  I saw Giada, the Italian chef on the Food Network make a sweetened sweet potato gnocchi, so I stole her idea and cut out everything sweet.  I added some savory spices like; cumin, Chinese Five Spice powder, onion powder and black pepper.  They were pretty straightforward to make, gorgeous to look at and really tasty.  A definite keeper.

For my green veggie, I decided on Brussels sprouts.  I used the fresh ones.  I washed trimmed and cut each one in half.  I put them in a saute pan with a tablespoon of bacon fat and a cup of my turkey neck stock.  I simmered them, covered for about ten minutes.  Then I uncovered them and let the liquid cook off completely (about 15 minutes more).  After the liquid cooks off, they get browned on the edges from the bacon fat.  I promise you, even Brussels sprout haters will love this recipe.

Cranberry Relish with a Splash of Chambord - Raspberry Liqueur

I also made cranberry relish with orange, granny smith apple, walnuts and chambord, a raspberry liqueur.  The chambord dressed up the standard relish and everyone loved it.  With all the rich foods on a Thanksgiving Day menu, a sweet tart cranberry relish cuts through the richness and balances everything perfectly.


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