Friday, April 29, 2011

Eggs. Cheese. Fat. Salt. Your Basic Food Groups.

I'm not saying I tried to kill everyone at that baby shower I hosted recently, but I didn't exactly serve a lot of healthy food.  Oh but wait, there were celery sticks with the pimiento cheese.  Don't I get points for that? 

Nonetheless, no one died.  At least not so far.  Hopefully their blood pressures are back to normal after my not-so-healthy but absolutely delicious offerings which included a healthy (no pun intended) infusion of eggs, cheese, butter and salt.  You know you want to know  keep reading.  I won't tell.

Don't laugh.  Yes, I do have one of those silly egg platters!
Doesn't every Southerner?

We Southerners love our deviled eggs.  Most are made with mayonnaise, usually Duke's or Hellman's (don't even mention Miracle Whip; that stuff ranks in my book as the worst product ever, maybe even worse than jarred chopped garlic or bottled lemon juice).  Some also include spicy mustard or sweet pickle relish.  Those basic versions (sans Miracle Whip or pickle relish) can be pretty good but they pale in comparison to a recipe I pilfered from the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) which incorporates both capers (always good, even on cardboard) and butter.  BUTTERIn deviled eggs?  You bet your sweet and now expanding you-know-what!  Here's the recipe:

DEVILED EGGS WITH CAPERS (adapted from Margaret Anne Mitchell's recipe in the AJC)

6 eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped chives or small sprigs of parsley for garnish

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil over high heat.  Add eggs and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 13 minutes, then remove eggs to an ice bath.  Tap each one against the side of the bowl to crack lightly.  This helps release the sulphur to prevent yolks from turning green around the edges.  As soon as eggs have cooled, peel immediately.

Cut eggs in half lengthwise and remove yolks, reserving whites.  Press yolks through a fine sieve or strainer.  Stir in mayonnaise, butter and mustard, adding more if necessary to make a smooth puree.  Add capers, salt and pepper and stir to blend.  Taste to adjust seasonings.

Spoon or pipe into reserved egg whites.  Garnish with chopped chives or small sprigs of parsley.  Serve immediately

Yield:  12 stuffed egg halves

*  I can be a purist about some things and one of those involves mayonnaise.  As far as I'm concerned, it's easy to make and much, much better than what you can buy in a jar.  I'll share my recipe with you in the next post.  Of course, you don't have to emulate my OCD;  Hellman's or Duke's will work just fine if you're not as crazy as I am.

*  Have you ever tried peeling a hardboiled egg and the shell just doesn't want to come off, leaving you with a pock-marked egg that looks like it has acne?  The trick is to use eggs that are older (yep - believe it or not, this is one time when I'm not advocating fresh farm eggs).  That's because older eggs develop an air pocket at one end which makes them easier to peel.  If you know you are going to make this recipe, buy your eggs a week or two ahead and let them sit in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

*Depending on the size of your egg yolks, you may need to use more or less mayonnaise.  Use enough that the mixture is smooth but still holds its shape when piped or mounded into the egg whites.


Now comes pimiento cheese which is another southern staple.  Extra-sharp cheddar, homemade mayo, roasted red peppers and a healthy dose of cayenne pepper.  Serve it on little toasts, scoop it up with celery sticks, tuck it into toasted brioche for a sandwich or just stand in front of the refrigerator and eat it straight out of the container with the largest spoon you can find.  Fat grams be damned!

PIMIENTO CHEESE  (from Scott Peacock's "The Gift of Southern Cooking")

2 1/2 cups (10 oz.) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or to taste; I like a little more)
3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 red pepper, roasted, skin removed and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste, if needed

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until well-blended and creamy.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Yield:  2 cups

*  I realize that I am the least likely person to say this, but resist the temptation to add too much salt.  In fact, depending upon the quality of your cheddar, you may not need to add salt at all.  Taste carefully!

*  Speaking of cheddar, use the sharpest cheddar you can get your hands on.  Since there are so few ingredients in this recipe, they need to be of the highest quality.  Yes, that means homemade mayo is better!

*  You can buy roasted red peppers in a jar, but why would you do that when it's so easy to do it yourself?  Place the pepper over the flame on a gas stovetop or grill until skin is blistered and black in places.  Turn several times to blacken all sides.  Let cool slightly, then use your fingers to peel off skin and remove seeds. 

*  I don't like to serve this directly from the refrigerator.  While I don't recommend leaving it out at room temperature all day (lest you kill someone with salmonella), I think it's best when you leave it out for an hour or so before serving.  Taking the chill off enhances the level of flavor.

*  If necessary, you can console yourself that this is low carb ...  but only if you eat it with those celery sticks!

BTW, I did not manage to avoid The World of Coke.  My shoes  will never be the same after walking around in that tasting room with those sticky, sticky floors!  Nonetheless, anything for those adorable and amazing nephews of mine!

See what I mean?  Oh, and when it comes to food, they are willing to try anything,
 even  fried shrimp and mackerel heads at Nakato, courtesy of Chef Kaki.
Unlike my own  kids, these two actually friended me on Facebook. 
No wonder I'm so willing to walk on sticky floors for them!

Monday, April 25, 2011

April Showers

Aren’t they supposed to bring May flowers? Maybe so, but in my case, that April baby shower I hosted recently brought the need to get my back yard and patio cleaned up pronto. After a long winter and a series of serious April showers, this resulted in a few day’s work, but it was oh, so worth it!

The event was held on a warm and lovely Saturday afternoon. It was my hope that guests would drift outside in the backyard and indeed they did. When I sat down to plan the menu, I decided it should be simple, yet reflective of true Southern hospitality. Here is the end result:

Pimiento Cheese
Celery Sticks, Little Toasts

Deviled Eggs
Capers, Homemade Mayonnaise

Tea Sandwiches
Smoked Salmon, Herbed Butter
Cucumber, Goat Cheese, Fresh Dill

Southern Cheese Straws

“Reverse” Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Carla’s Lemon Bars

Honey-Pecan Bars

It ended up being perfect fare for a lovely afternoon. Despite a warning from a friend and co-host that guests don’t eat much at showers, this was not the case. They mingled … they ate … they talked … they ate … they stayed … they ate. In my mind, that’s what Southern hospitality is all about!

Alrighty then. Which of these recipes should I post first? You already know about the Honey-Pecan Bars (always a hit), so I think I’ll start with the cookies. Eat dessert first, right?

"REVERSE" CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES" (adapted from Ina Garten)

1/2 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature (I used extra-large)
2/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Valhrona)
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 11-oz. bags white chocolate chunks (available at Whole Paycheck Foods)

Place butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream well until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl several times.  Add the vanilla and beat well, then beat in eggs, one at a time.  Scrape down bowl then add cocoa and mix briefly to blend.

Sift flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl.  Add to the mixer bowl and beat on low until just blended.

Using a spatula, fold in white chocolate chunks. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill, at least 2 hours.

When dough is chilled, use an ice cream scoop to roll dough into small balls.  Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then place in freezer. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Line a baking sheet (or sheets, depending upon how many cookies you want to bake) with parchment paper or a Silpat (silicone baking sheet).  Place frozen balls on pan, spacing 2 inches apart.  Bake for 15 minutes (cookies will not appear to be totally baked).  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes in pan, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

*  As you already know, if you wrap the unbaked "balls" well, they will keep in the freezer for up to six months and you can bake them off whenever needed.  Freezer to oven!  This is extraordinarily helpful when unexpected guests show up or you have to provide something sweet on a moment's notice.

*  I am not necessarily a fan of white chocolate, but I happen to like it in this recipe.  It needs to be in chunks, though.  If you can't find them in the store, you can always chop up a couple of white chocolate bars.

*  I used a 1-oz. (1 3/4-inch) scoop which yielded 10 dozen cookies.  Needless to say, the overflow are resting comfortably in my freezer, awaiting the arrival of my teenaged nephews tomorrow. 

More recipes to follow ... if my nephews don't wear me out, that is.  The next couple of days will be filled with CNN Tours, a turn at the Mario Andretti race car facility and teaching them to drive a stick.  I just hope I can avoid the Coke Museum!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Passed Out After Passover

Sorry I've been absent from the blogosphere.

 Between a baby shower I hosted the other day and the laborious cooking for Passover, I am pretty much passed out right now.  I think I may be getting too old for this kind of intensity, especially given my crappy kitchen.  With no counter space, I might add.

Maybe my new blog should be about how to cook in a cramped kitchen. With no counter space (yeah, I'm repeating myself).  I'm just sayin'..... (listen up, Henry).  

Despite that, I have lots to post about and lots of recipes to share with you.  Things like Pimiento Cheese and Deviled Eggs with CapersReverse Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Oh, and Cheese Straws!  I made all of these for that baby shower, but I just don't have the energy to post it right now.  Bear with me, okay?

I am not going to give you any Passover recipes.  Been there, done that last year, and I don't want to go there again.  Next year in NYC where I can order out!

For now I will just leave you with a "recipe" (if you can call it that) for a lovely beverage concoction I served the other day at that baby shower.  It lends itself to both children and adults and it works well for a party because it's remarkably versatile.  Just don't give the vodka version to the kids.


2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 6-oz. cans frozen lemonade, thawed
Chilled sparkling water, Prosecco or vodka

In a blender or food processor, combine strawberries, water and sugar until blended and smooth.  Remove to a pitcher and add lemonade.  Stir well to blend.

This is the base.  I served it in pitchers, alongside opened bottles of chilled sparkling water and Prosecco, next to a bucket filled with crushed ice.  Instruct your guests to fill a glass halfway with crushed ice and sparkling water, Prosecco or vodka, then top off with a very generous helping of the strawberry lemonade.  


Now really, how could anyone NOT like this????

Monday, April 11, 2011

When You Just Can’t Justify Mac and Cheese

I’ve maintained this blog for so long, I can’t always remember some of my previous posts. This is partly due to the fact that I suffer from CRS Disease (Can’t Remember Sh_t) and of course I’m too lazy to go back and research some of those earlier entries. So I will just assume that, at some point, I published a rant about how I abhor fast food and chain restaurants.

That said, I have to eat my words about one chain restaurant and that would be Seasons 52. Yes, it’s owned by the Darden Group (which also owns the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains, places where I would never darken the door, food snob that I am), but it is a fairly small brand (I don’t know if they have even 20 locations) and it is really, really good. In fact, it’s one of my favorite places to go for lunch on Saturdays after an intense workout at the gym. Why? Because it is very civilized dining, I can make a last minute rez on Open Table, racking up an easy 100 points and EVERY MENU ITEM IS 475 CALORIES OR LESS. My kind of place!

We ventured there over the weekend and as usual, ordered one of their flatbreads to start. These are very (VERY) thin rectangular crispy crusts with various toppings. Ours included plum tomatoes, basil and provolone. It was delicious and it satisfied that “pizza craving” we sometimes experience.  Ha, and for less than 250 calories each, we didn’t do that much damage.

Which brings me to the following recipe. While it won’t take the place of mac and cheese (what could?) it is nonetheless satisfying and full of cheesy goodness. I’m betting your kids will like it – even if they hate cauliflower. That’s right, I said “cauliflower.”

This is another one of those recipes that I’m embarrassed to give you because it is ridiculously easy. Ouch, and it even involves a microwave. However, just like my affinity for Seasons 52, don’t let your food snobbery get in the way of a good plate.


1 large head cauliflower, leaves removed and trimmed so that it sits flat
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Place cauliflower in a glass pie plate or shallow dish.  Pour water into dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Nuke on high for about 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender.

Remove from microwave and carefully remove plastic wrap (be careful of escaping steam).  Drain any remaining water in pan.  Spread mustard evenly over the entire head of cauliflower, then place grated cheese in a pile on top.  Nuke again for about 1 minute, or until cheese is just melted.

Slice and serve.  That's it!

Serves 4 - 6

*  Although I am the salt queen, notice that there is none called for in this.  For me to say that - well, then you can trust me.

*  I will also tell you that I have been known to use reduced-fat 2% pre-grated cheddar.  Ouch, again.  But as long as you use sharp cheddar (don't even think about using "American cheese" ) and a good quality dijon mustard, you'll be okay here and you will save a few calories.

*  The genesis of this recipe comes from Glenn Powell and Elise Griffin-Hughes of the original Peasant Restaurants a million years ago here in the ATL.  They concocted a version of it at the long-lamented Country Place.  I think theirs involved mayonnaise, but in the interest of caloric content, I have dispensed with that here.  You'll never miss it.

*  And no, don't worry.  I haven't sworn off posting fat-laden, delicious recipes.  Just thought we all needed a break.  Here's to the Skinny Cook Quest!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Little More Lee

Perhaps you read my posts back in February when I wrote about “re-discovering” some of my old Lee Bailey retro cookbooks.

One of my (very observant) friends read those posts also, and when I saw him shortly thereafter, he surprised me with a copy of Lee Bailey’s “Cooking for Friends.” He had noticed from the pictures I posted that this book was missing from my collection, so he (very thoughtfully) went out and bought it for me. Now, that’s what I call a friend – thanks, Kenn!

Oh, and at least I now know that someone reads this blog!

As I read through this newest acquistion, I made note of several recipes I wanted to test, including one that called for yeast in the cake batter. More about that shortly.

Fast forward to this past weekend. It was springtime in Atlanta and I was in one of those “I want to bake” moods. What I wanted to bake was a recipe in my arsenal for Rhubarb-Ginger Cream Cheese Bars (you’re welcome, Henry) but alas, there was no rhubarb to be found. Guess it’s still too early, so I had to go back to the drawing board. That’s when I remembered Lee Bailey’s Gateau Norman and those Granny Smith apples I had recently purchased.

The recipe piqued my interest because it called for yeast, but not in the normal way of proofing it, letting it rise, etc.  Uh-uh, it just called for it to be dumped into the mixture and incorporated without any thought of rising or temperatures between 105 – 115-degrees. Really?

At the end of the day, it was something like a clafouti with a richer “crust.” Suffice it to say Henry liked it. So did I.

GATEAU NORMAN (Adapted from Lee Bailey’s “Cooking with Friends”)

3 tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled, cored and quartered
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
¾ cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
2/3 cup sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola)
½ package active, dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten (I used extra-large)
Softly whipped cream or good vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Butter a 10-inch tart pan and set aside.

Place quartered apples in a small bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Stir in the salt, milk, vegetable oil, reserved lemon juice and lemon rind. Sprinkle the yeast over and stir to blend well. Spoon into the prepared pan and arrange apple quarters over, rounded side up.

Combine remaining sugar, melted butter and egg. Spoon this over the apples in the pan. Place into oven and bake until apples are tender and cake is puffy and lightly browned, about 40 – 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Serve with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6 – 8

• Lee served this for breakfast. (Good call, I say. I could eat this for breakfast in lieu of leftovers any day of the week).  Dammit, Lee, why wasn't I one of your good friends?  We would have had SO much in common!

• Of course, this is also pretty good as a simple dessert. It’s not overly sweet and it’s not heavy. If serving as dessert, however, I would recommend adorning it with some softly whipped cream or a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. If you are lazy like me, then a drizzle of heavy cream over the top will suffice quite nicely.

• I will also tell you that this is better served warm. If you need to bake it ahead, have at it. Just cover it with aluminum foil and rewarm in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

That's it for now.  It was a good spring weekend here in the ATL and we walked our usual 10 miles today.  Anything in my quest to become a skinny cook you can trust.  Haha, that is SO not happening, but at least I try.  Here's to another carb-less week ahead for me.  Cheers!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Forbidden Fruit

Bananas are a thing of the past around here. Poor Henry used to consume one every morning along with his cereal and morning coffee (unlike me, he will not eat leftovers for breakfast) until I did a little research and discovered that bananas are extremely high in both sugars (28 g) and carbs (51 g). Now granted, they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium, so I don’t want to give them a bad rap but they no longer grace our breakfast table. Sigh.

Ah, but when we find ourselves on vacation, all bets are off.  Remember that trip we took recently?

We needed a quick get-a-way, so we headed for the Turks and Caicos. We had never been there, but it was a pretty straight shot from Atlanta (less than 2 hours on a plane, unless you travel in the midst of severe thunderstorms, which happened on the way back), we found a lovely, quiet place to stay (no big, all-inclusive resorts for us) and it looked like a good place for a five-day sojourn.

Indeed, it was. While Provo isn’t a hotbed of activity, it was lovely and easy to navigate. We spent time on the beach, kayaked, explored an iguana-inhabited island, relaxed and enjoyed some lovely dinners at local restaurants. As these islands are under British rule, this last one was a surprise!

Nonetheless, we found good food on the island. Our favorite restaurant was Coyaba which is helmed by Chef Paul Newman (I’m not making that up). We were lucky enough to meet him and he shared some insights as to the difficulties involved in running a successful restaurant on the island. Unfortunately he did not share his recipe for Banana Caramel Eton Mess, but I am determined to re-create it. Stay tuned.

The other memorable dessert we encountered was Magnolia’s Banoffee Pie. I stumbled across the recipe while perusing one of the local dining magazines and figured it was reason enough to have dinner there. Well, why not? We had to make up for our banana deficiency somehow, right?

BANOFFEE PIE  (adapted from Chef Matt Gaynor, Magnolia Restaurant, Providenciales)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups dulce de leche (or salted caramel, which is what I used)
2 bananas, sliced
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Place graham cracker crumbs in a large mixing bowl. Add melted butter and stir until combined. Press into a 9 or 10-inch tart pan, or 6 individual tart pans with removable bottoms. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until just set; remove from oven and set aside to cool.

When crust is cool, pour the dulce de leche over and smooth top. Place in the refrigerator to set up and cool completely.

Just before serving, layer banana slices over the caramel layer. Whip the cream to soft peaks with the confectioner’s sugar and espresso powder. Spread evenly over the bananas. Cut and serve immediately.

Serves 6 – 8

• I will admit that I am a snob when it comes to graham cracker crusts. I normally eschew them in favor of some other type of cookie, as you know from my prior cheesecake posts. But, since this is a traditional British recipe, I elected to just go with it and you know what? I liked it!

• I had some leftover salted caramel from making one of those Sweet and Salty Cakes so I subbed it for the dulce de leche. This was a good decision; so much so that if I make this again, I would venture so far as to make some salted caramel specifically for this dessert. Make your own choice: here are the links for both:

• F.Y.I., when I made this (for that potluck recently where I took the mac and cheese), I used an 11 x 7 ½ -inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom. Use whatever you have.

• Yeah, we had both mac and cheese and banoffee pie that night. What was I thinking????????