Friday, May 30, 2008

And now, a chillier beverage

Just released this summer, T.G.I. Friday's Ready-to-Serve Flavored Mojitos, available in Passion and Berry flavors.

The drink that's an icon in Miami -- and carries that Latin twist -- has reached widespread popularity, but sometimes you might get the urge to have a sip, but don't have all the ingredients. For instance, anyone who's ever grown mint is probably afraid to keep any of it on their property. Or else they'll soon find themselves under seige by a plant that cannot be contained, with the exception of a nuclear waste repository.

TGIF's line has the mint, sugar and lime flavors, allowing for the perfect cocktail every time. And since the rum is already included, all people have to do is pour over ice and enjoy. T.G.I. Friday's Flavored Mojitos are available wherever spirit-based beverages are sold.

The suggested retail prices are $12.99 for the 1.75 L, $6.99 for the 750 ml and $1.99 for the 200 ml.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Louisiana coffee export

More food news from NOLA, and the familiar image of the French Market off Jackson Square is a classic representation of the Crescent City.

Current research shows that a moderate intake of caffeine, approximately two cups/200 mg per day, will not harm a developing fetus. It has also been suggested that heavy coffee drinkers who are expecting should decrease consumption of caffeine by turning to decaffeinated or chicory coffees. Expecting mothers have three options for coffee blends with a smaller dose of caffeine, while still maintaining the richness of a pure roast coffee.

Expectant mothers are asked to adjust their eating habits by eliminating foods such as lunch meats, mayonnaise and raw meats or seafood but are not required to give up a full-bodied cup of coffee. Doctors have recommended that caffeine products along with artificial sweetener are safe for both mother and baby when consumption is regulated.
From the folks at French Market Coffee comes a pitch for their chicory blends:

According to Jesyka Bartlett, fourth generation and Director of Marketing for French Market Coffee, “Coffee is ingrained into people’s lifestyles. It’s what makes a great morning and is a soothing luxury in a hectic day. Expectant mothers still desire, along with other cravings, a fresh brewed cup of coffee that serves as a delicious escape.”

Bartlett adds, “Moderation is the key to any dietary plan. The key is to find the balance between your favorite food and drink – without compromising on flavor or quality.”

There are now three options for expectant mothers who desire the full-bodied taste of coffee. The first being the standard decaf coffee which has been an option for expectant mothers for years.

The second option, to which many Southerners are devoted, is Coffee & Chicory, which is a combination of ground coffee beans and ground chicory, the root of the endive plant. This type of coffee offers less actual caffeine than pure coffee because of the combination.

Because of the natural decaffeination processes and the chicory, Decaf Coffee & Chicory provides an even less caffeine than pure coffee. The French Market Coffee blend is ideal for expectant mothers because the Decaf Coffee & Chicory still provides the full, rich flavor of fine coffee with a hint of a chocolate taste.

“Over the past century, French Market Coffee has perfected the art of coffee roasting.” says third generation coffee roaster, Fraser Bartlett, “Our Decaf Coffee & Chicory maintains the same standards that our consumers expect, while offering a full-bodied taste for those who prefer a less caffeinated option.”

The third option is a cold brew concentrate which is a shelf-stable product that when mixed with milk offers a serving of dairy. The cold brew can also be a refreshing alternative to the traditional hot coffees as a reduced acid option for expectant mothers whose stomachs are often sensitive to food acidity.

Expectant mothers now have more options than ever to still enjoy a cup of coffee while following doctor’s orders to insure the health and well being of both mother and baby, while not compromising flavor standards.

Can your diet fight a superbug?

A story released by the AP today discussed the recent rise in cases of a particular superbug – C Diff.

“The number of Americans hospitalized with the dangerous intestinal superbug Clostridium difficile has been increasing by more than 10,000 a year, and the germ was a factor in nearly 300,000 hospitalizations in 2005, more than double the number in 2000,” a new study says.

Superbugs have an incredible resistance to antibodies, thus causing digestive distress not only when the person is infected but after the harsh treatment used to kill the bacteria.

Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman, author of "The Gut Flush Plan," (Avery, 2008) is a well-known expert in superbugs and digestive health and has fabulous tips on how to avoid superbugs such as C Diff and MRSA:

Eat a high-fiber diet – broccoli contains an antioxidant that fights against superbugs
Cook with rhubarb –good for the intestines
Avoid milk and other lactose products
Use spices such as cinnamon, sage, tarragon and oregano that kill superbugs
Chew on licorice
Drink plenty of water

Should you be infected:
Increase probiotic intake – this good bacteria lives in your gut and can be killed by antibiotic treatments for superbugs. Up your intake before and after to avoid diarrhea and other unpleasant side effects.

How sweet it is: Honey's other uses

The time is right for sports "naturals" to make a comeback.

Players who favor natural training methods are part of a growing trend. That is why the National Honey Board has enlisted the help of former Major League pitcher Turk Wendell in support of a natural energy source: pure honey.
Wendell will step up to the plate and pitch the natural energy message to fans of Minor League Baseball this season. Wendell, known as much for his eccentricities in baseball as his pitching, is literally a "natural" for the Honey Board promotion. He prefers using honey as an energy booster. Providing 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, honey is a natural source of readily available carbohydrates which helps improves performance and speeds the recovery of muscles prior to, during and after exercise.

Preliminary data from the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory suggest that honey is as effective as glucose for carbohydrate replacement during endurance exercise.

"Nature provides one of the best energy boosters, and it is versatile and delicious," Wendell said. "Although I like using honey on my muffins, toast and pancakes, I really enjoy eating it straight from the bottle."

Wendell started out his professional career in the Minor Leagues as a relief pitcher for the Pulaski Braves. He eventually moved up to the Majors and played with the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Wendell appeared in the playoffs twice with the Mets, in 1999 and 2000, including an appearance in the 2000 World Series.

In addition to partnering with Wendell, the Honey Board is sponsoring three Minor League teams: -Durham Bulls, Raleigh/Durham Area, N.C., (affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays)-Iowa Cubs, Des Moines, Iowa, (affiliate of the Chicago Cubs)-Stockton Ports, Stockton, Calif. (affiliate of the Oakland A's).

Honey is the official natural energy booster for the three teams and will be featured in all training and clubhouse rooms. NHB's Minor League Microsite offers baseball club news, team standings, exclusive interviews with team mascots, great summertime honey recipes and downloadable recipe cards.

Sweet Sloppy Joes
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup grated carrots
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb. ground turkey or beef
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup honey
3 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
4 hamburger buns
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pan over medium heat, sauté onions, celery and carrots in oil until soft. Stir in meat; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until meat is browned and crumbly. Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer, covered, 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide mixture evenly between hamburger buns to serve.

Easy Honey Chicken Wings

Makes 8 servings
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 drops red pepper sauce
3 lbs. chicken wings or drumettes
Combine honey, soy sauce, chili sauce, garlic salt, pepper and red pepper sauce. Arrange chicken on a single layer in a 9x13-inch baking pan and pour sauce over all. Turn chicken over to coat with sauce. Bake at 350F for one hour, turning once. Cool slightly and serve.

Navigating fast-food, smartly

Fast food fills you up, and the price is certainly right. But it’s loaded with calories. Even some healthy-looking menu items like salads can weigh in at over 800 calories. Beware the add-ons for salads, and while chicken salad sandwiches and wraps might be popular, remember that most are loaded with mayonnaise and sodium.

ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, pored over the calorie counts of dozens of items at top fast-food restaurants to find out if there's a way to eat healthy.

The bottom line: No fast food is perfect (even lower-calorie options may be loaded with sodium; some have more than a third of the recommended daily amount) so you shouldn’t eat it every day. But it turns out that wherever you eat, you can make good lower-calorie and lower-fat selections.

The 12 rules of fast-food ordering, from the July issue of ShopSmart:

Look up nutritional stats at a fast-food chain’s Web site before you go there so you can plan your meal.

Ask if you can order that burger, chicken sandwich, or other item without the cheese and sauce. Or ask if you can get the sauce on the side, or order a half-portion.

Pass up combination meals. They’re designed to be filling. (Read: larger with more calories.)
Choose grilled or roasted meats over fried ones.

Split appetizers or turn a side into a main course.

Skip the fries. Instead, get a baked potato or some veggies on the side. A large order of fries can set you back as many as 600 calories. If you can’t live without them, split a large serving or order a small one and save 300 calories

Stick with “original” or “traditional” burgers and sandwiches, which tend to be smaller than newer menu items. And stay away from anything crispy, like Burger King’s Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich (790 calories).

Don’t eat the top bun or bread slice.

Steer clear of regular mayo and cream dressings. Instead, ask for mustard, salsa, and low-fat mayo.

Question the salad. Order a salad but not one that comes in a calorie-dense deep-fried shell or is covered with cheese, croutons, or deep-fried or breaded meats.

Have a glass of water or a sugar-free drink. Regular sodas can have up to 400 calories a pop.

For dessert, stick with frozen yogurt or light ice cream—the child’s cup or cone size.

And don’t think that some fast-food restaurants are better for your waistline than others. A recent study found that at Subway—famous for its ads featuring Jared “The Subway Guy,” who lost more than 200 pounds eating at the chain restaurant—people ended up eating about 350 more calories than they did at McDonald’s.

For everything, there is a season: shrimp

Anyone going to the Redneck Riviera has seen scores of signs for fresh shrimp to take home with "we pack to travel" signs scrawled on the sides of sheds. The Gulf Coast is all about shrimp. And few cities do shrimp as well and as varied as do the folks in NOLA.

Warning: Rant coming.

The Gulf Coast shrimping industry has taken a whacking in recent years -- not just from boats wrecked by Hurricane Katrina but by farm-raised, imported shrimp from Asia. Reports of pesticides, antibiotics, chemicals and bleaching agents abound about the import shrimp industry, and the foodie advocates who keep up with monitoring production are alarmed at the amount of laxness that goes into inspecting the factory farms that churn this stuff out and send it over here, as well as the way it is produced. One image from a foreign corresponent summed it up nicely: Here's your Asian shrimp "farm," which sounds bucolic, until you look next to the artificially "clean" water and see there's a dying rice field because of all the chemical residue from the shrimp vats.

Other reasons to be asking your grocer where your shrimp comes from abound.

End rant. Back to our story on shrimp.

The arrival of the season’s fresh shrimp is always a cause for celebration. Because shrimp is available year-round, it’s easy to overlook the pleasures of enjoying it at the peak of freshness. Locally caught Gulf shrimp boasts a distinguishing taste thanks to its native waters and the nutrients upon which it feeds in the wild. Summer is the perfect time to savor this “bayou gold.”

“This year, Louisiana is expected to bring in over 100 million pounds of shrimp for the season," said Ewell Smith, Executive Director at Louisiana Seafood Board. “I encourage everyone to purchase the freshest catch from a neighborhood source to help keep our regional economy strong.”

“Growing up in South Louisiana, I've always loved the flavor of Gulf Coast shrimp – and I can't imagine shrimp season without a traditional shrimp boil made with Zatarain's. Each year, the fresh catch reaffirms my passion for local ingredients and our regional cooking – and provides a natural excuse to enjoy them,” said John Besh, chef/owner at Restaurant August in New Orleans. (You might remember him from being on The Next Iron Chef on Food Network. He's also a promotional spokesman for the "My Louisiana" tourism spots that are just too cool.)

Besides the classic shrimp boil, there are other peak seasonal ingredients that make great complements to the fresh catch. Summer sweet corn beautifully mirrors

Gulf shrimp’s inherent sweetness in Chef Besh’s Shrimp and Crab Fritters with Creole Tomato Dressing. And, the delectable flavor of fresh green tomatoes are a perfect foil for his take on remoulade in Pan-Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade.

New Orleans-Style cuisine has always centered on fresh seafood caught in local waters, with rich and distinctive flavor combinations like traditional New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. There are many twists on this classic – and none would dare include barbecue sauce! A perfect way to celebrate shrimp season, this rich and zesty “Big Easy” favorite – bursting with the flavors of Worcestershire sauce, Zatarain’s Creole seasoning, cracked black pepper and beer – is perfect for sopping up with lots of crusty bread.

Shrimp and Crab Fritters with Creole Tomato Dressing

Recipe created by John Besh, Executive Chef of Restaurant August, New Orleans

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Refrigerate: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Creole Tomato Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 small Creole tomato, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons Creole Mustard
3/4 teaspoon Creole Seasoning

Shrimp and Crab Fritters:
1 cup (1/2 package) Hush Puppy Mix
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
1/2 cup water
1/4 pound claw crabmeat
1/4 pound cooked peeled small shrimp, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup thawed frozen corn
Vegetable oil (for frying)

FOR THE DRESSING, place all ingredients in food processor; cover. Process until smooth. Spoon into small bowl. Cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

FOR THE FRITTERS, mix Hush Puppy Mix, onion, garlic, chives and Creole Seasoning in large bowl. Add water; mix just until moistened. Gently stir in crabmeat, shrimp and corn.

POUR oil into heavy skillet, filling no more than 1/3 full. Heat to 375°F on medium heat. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls, a few at a time, into hot oil. Fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve fritters with Creole Tomato Dressing.

Makes 8 servings.

Pan-Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade

Recipe created by John Besh, Executive Chef of Restaurant August, New Orleans

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Refrigerate: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Shrimp Remoulade:
1 quart water
4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp (40 to 50 count), peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon Concentrated Shrimp & Crab Boil
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cupCreole Mustard
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon Prepared Horseradish
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon celery salt

Green Tomatoes:
1 cup Zatarain's Seasoned Shrimp-Fri
3 large green tomatoes, each cut into 4 slices (1/2-inch thick)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil, for frying
Creole Seasoning (optional)

FOR THE REMOULADE, bring water and salt to boil in medium saucepan. Add shrimp and Shrimp & Crab Boil; return to boil. Remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain shrimp well. Cool to room temperature. Coarsely chop shrimp. Mix remaining Remoulade ingredients in large bowl until well blended. Add shrimp; mix well. Cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

FOR THE TOMATOES, place Shrimp-Fri in shallow dish. Dip tomato slices in buttermilk to moisten. Coat on both sides with Shrimp-Fri.

HEAT 1/4 cup of the oil in large skillet on medium heat. Fry tomato slices, a few at a time, 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle tomato slices lightly with Creole Seasoning, if desired. Keep warm while frying remaining tomato slices, adding remaining 1/4 cup oil as needed. Serve Fried Green Tomatoes topped with Shrimp Remoulade.

Makes 6 servings.

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1 pound large shrimp (26 to 30 count)
3/4 cup beer, at room temperature

MELT butter with Worcestershire sauce, Creole Seasoning, garlic, pepper and rosemary in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook and stir 2 minutes.

POUR beer into skillet. Cook and stir 3 minutes longer or just until shrimp turn pink. Serve immediately with French bread.

Makes 4 servings.

Since 1889, Zatarain's has been an authority on the fun and flavor of New Orleans. From its humble beginnings producing root beer extract, the company has grown to make more than 200 food products from Rice Dinner Mixes, Pasta Dinner Mixes, Breadings, Seasonings and Spices to Seafood Boils, Creole Mustard and other products based on authentic New Orleans–Style foods and seafood preparation. Now, people around the world recognize that to capture the true flavor of New Orleans–Style cuisine, you have to "Jazz It Up with Zatarain's." For information, recipes and Zatarain’s online store, visit the Web site.

Restaurants: a younger perspective

Summer break is here -- or almost here -- for most schoolchildren. To that end, let's find out what they'll want to eat on those days when the dinner bell rings at a restaurant.

Our guest poster of the day is Reggie Cook, a 12-year-old student at Oxford Middle School:

The thing that I look for in a restaurant is a Dessert Counter. One with Cookies, Cake and ice cream of all flavors. Another thing I look for in a restaurant is a large variety of foods. One from lobster to hamburgers to Ribs and everything in between.

Something else I look for in a restaurant is a Soda Fountain. The fourth thing I look for in a restaurant is a lot of Booths. Becuase I don't like sitting in tables where it seems I am in everybody's way.

The fifth thing I like in a restraunt is a buffet. Because I like to not to stick to a menu. The final thing is that the resaurant has to be BIG. Just for the comfort.

That is what I think a restaurant should be like.

Rustic Italian dinner, cheep cheep

Usethose inexpensive chicken thighs (we've been harping on them all spring) for this simple, dish from Sicily. Adapted (and roughly translated) from "La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene.

Italian Braised Chicken

3-4 pounds chicken pieces
an herb boquet (1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs of parsley, 1 small branch of rosemary, tied with a clean cotton string)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 pounds red potatoes, diced
salt and black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, add the chicken, the herb boquet and enough water to cover the chicken; cover and cook over medium heat about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the plate; toss the herbs, but save the broth and keep it hot while you:

In the same pan (drained of the broth that you saved), heat the olive oil, the onion and the potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, but don't break the potaotes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken and barely a cup of the hot broth. Gently combine the ingredients. Cover and cook for about 15 more minutes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Peaches go beyond fruit tradition

There comes a time in almost every Southerner's summer when peaches stretch as high as a camel's eye. They call from roadside stands. They call from the back of a pickup parked on Noble Street.

And that doesn't even count the voodoo they work at the regular produce/grocery haunts.

The problem is, there are only so many peaches four people can eat during the day. The super-ripe fruit can go from tasty to terrible in a day or so. Turn your back, and your chucking out a basket that you'd once had high hopes for.

Ergo, the annual search for more uses for peaches.

They go great with pork, great with chicken. They're more versatile than we probably give them credit for being. Kind of a twist on familiarity breeding contempt... or ignorance.

Kick up your peaches this summer.
Healthy Oat Peaches and Cream Muffins
Prep time: 15 Minutes
Cook time: 20 to 25 Minutes
1 cup flour
1/4 cup quick oats
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar, divided
1/3 cup oat bran
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese
1 cup peeled, chopped peaches, divided
1 cup skim milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1/3 cup toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray 12 muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl, reserving 1 tablespoon brown sugar; mix well and set aside.

Stir together cream cheese and the reserved 1 tablespoon brown sugar. When well blended, fold in 1/4 cup peaches. Add milk, oil, vanilla and egg to dry ingredients, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Lightly stir in remaining peaches and walnuts.
Spoon 3/4 of the mixture into prepared muffin tins. Place a teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each then spoon remaining batter over the top.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Original Recipe Makes 12 Servings

Peach and Turkey Skewers with Ginger-Soy Sauce
Cook time: 10 minutes

1 pound boneless turkey OR large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium (3/4 pound) fresh peach, cut into large wedges
2 large zucchini, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Alternate turkey, peaches and zucchini on skewers. Mix soy sauce, honey, oil and ginger. Brush over skewers and grill over medium coals, brushing with sauce and turning once, for 10 minutes or until turkey is cooked through. Original Recipe Makes 4 Servings

Flank Steak with Grilled PPN Salsa
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

1 peach, pitted
1 plum, pitted
1 nectarine, pitted
1-2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 pounds flank steak
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2-1 teaspoon chipotle or ancho chili powder

Cut each piece of fruit into 8 slices. Place fruit and jalapenos on a well-oiled grill over medium heat and cook for a few minutes on each side to lightly char. Let cool, then chop and place in a medium bowl with onion, cilantro and lime juice. Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thoroughly tenderize the meat by pricking both sides with meat tenderizer or fork. Stir together garlic salt, cumin, oregano and chili powder in a small bowl and rub onto both sides of meat.

Place on grill over medium heat and cook for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until meat is cooked to your liking. Let stand for 5 minutes before thinly carving at an angle against the grain. Transfer meat and juices to a platter.

Serve with grilled PPN salsa.Original Recipe Makes 7 Servings
Per serving: 320 calories, 35g protein, 7g carbohydrate, 17g total fat, 90g cholesterol, 630mg sodium, 1g fiber.

Out of the fire and into the saute pan

Tired of chicken, but can't wean yourself from it, financially? Here are some new twists to perk up that bird.
Defined as “cooking food quickly in hot fat over moderate or high heat,” sautéing is usually done in a wide pan with straight sides. It is one of the easiest and most popular ways to cook chicken, as it imparts the delicious flavors of oils or butter directly into the meat. There is little technical difference between the sauté and fry methods of cooking, although sautéing usually involves using less oil.

It also helps give chicken a little crust -- and a boost in the flavor department.

Chicken Cutlets Sautéed with Arugula, Raisins and Shallots is a new twist on the Italian favorite, chicken marsala. Start with boneless skinless chicken breast halves that are either cut thin, or pounded to about one-half inch in thickness. Coat with flour and sauté. Add sautéed shallots and a sauce blend of marsala wine, golden raisins and chicken stock. Just before serving, add bittersweet arugula leaves to the pan and sauté to wilt. Serve the sauce poured over the chicken and greens. A side dish of rice is a nice accompaniment that will soak up the delicious marsala sauce.

Another beautiful dish is Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Edamame and Mushrooms. Begin by flavoring chicken stock with star anise, ginger, scallions, sesame oil and a packet of white miso soup mix. Bring to a boil, reduce down to about one cup, and strain. Coat pounded boneless and skinless chicken breast halves in panko crumbs and sauté in a combination of canola and sesame oils. Finish by sautéing sliced Portobello or shiitake mushrooms and shelled edamame (soy beans). This dish is also delicious served with white or brown rice, or with baby potatoes.

Chicken Cutlets Sautéed with Arugula, Raisins and Shallots
Serves 4
8 chicken cutlets (breast halves sliced thin), about 2 pounds ½ cup Marsala wine
3 TBLS golden raisins
2 TBLS butter, divided
2 TBLS olive oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsps salt, divided
½ tsp black pepper, divided
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups baby arugula (about 4 ounces)
In small bowl, combine Marsala wine and golden raisins. Set aside and allow raisins to soak.

In large sauté pan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Remove to small bowl.

In plastic bag with zip-close top, combine flour, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add chicken cutlets and shake well until coated evenly. In same pan used to cook the shallots, add remaining 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil; warm to medium heat. Shake extra flour from chicken and add to pan. Saute for 2 – 3 minutes; turn to other side and sauté for additional 2 – 3 minutes. Remove to plate.

In same pan, pour wine and raisins. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until wine is reduced by half, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add chicken stock and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Boil until stock is reduced to almost half, about 3 – 4 minutes.

Add arugula to pan and stir until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and shallots back to pan to warm well. Spoon sauce over chicken to coat.

Remove chicken and arugula to plate. Spoon sauce over chicken to serve.

Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
520 calories; 18 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 30 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 50 g protein; 1 g fiber

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Edamame and Mushrooms
Serves 4
4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (about 1 ½ - 2 pounds)
3 cups chicken stock
2 pieces star anise
1 package instant white miso soup mix (.50 ounces)
1 tsp sesame oil
3 pieces sliced fresh ginger, about 1/4” thick each
1 TBLS sliced scallions
1 egg
1 tsp soy sauce
1 cup panko bread crumbs
3 TBLS sesame seeds
3 TBLS canola oil
3 TBLS sesame oil, divided
¼ cup sliced scallions
5 ounces shiitake or Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shelled frozen edamame (soy beans), thawed

Preheat oven to 200 F. In large saucepan, combine chicken stock, star anise, soup mix, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ginger pieces and 1 tablespoon sliced scallions. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat slightly and cook until stock is reduced to about 1 cup (about 25 minutes). Strain solids from stock and set aside.

While stock is reducing, pound chicken breast halves to ½ inch thickness. If breasts are large, cut in half length-wise. In small bowl, beat together egg, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon water. In medium bowl, combine panko and sesame seeds. Dip each chicken piece in egg mixture and then in panko mixture, pressing crumbs to chicken to adhere.

In large saucepan over medium high heat, warm 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Place chicken in pan in one layer and sauté for about 4 minutes per side. Remove to oven-proof platter and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1 tablespoon sesame oil for second batch. Place all chicken in warm oven.

In same pan, add remaining tablespoons canola oil and sesame oil. Add ¼ cup scallions and sauté over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add mushrooms; sauté over high heat for about 3 minutes until mushrooms are softened. Add edamame and sauté for 3 – 4 minutes until heated throughout. Add reserved stock to pan; bring to a boil and cook 3 – 4 minutes to reduce liquid by about ¼ cup. Serve by spooning sauce and vegetables onto platter, topped with warmed chicken.
Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
620 calories; 34 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 23 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 52 g protein; 4 g fiber

Recipes and photos courtesy of the National Chicken Council.

Win a dinner with Ted Allen

In celebration of the two-year anniversary of "My Circle," Alltel is giving one lucky "My Circle" customer the opportunity to reconnect with their "Circle of Friends" and family with a luxury vacation at one of the country's top vacation destinations in Alltel's "My Circle Reunion" text-to-win sweepstakes.

The grand prize package features an all-expenses paid "Circle of Friends" reunion at the winner's choice of three relaxation hot spots: Key West, Fla., Las Vegas, Nev. or Palm Springs, Calif. While enjoying four days and three nights in luxury accommodations, the "My Circle Reunion" winner and their guests will partake in their choice of entertainment activities. The entire party will also enjoy the culinary genius of celebrity chef Ted Allen as he prepares a special meal for the winner and guests.

"I'll cook for you, and you don't have to worry about how much it costs," says Allen, a regular judge on Iron Chef American and a star on Bravo's Top Chef.

To help the group keep in touch long after their lavish getaway, the winner and "Circle of Friends" will each receive a new wireless phone and a $200 Alltel gift card. Through Saturday, "My Circle" customers on eligible plans can enter by texting CIRCLE to 102102 or visiting; new customers who sign up before May 31 are also eligible to win the reunion prize package; see the official rules for more info.

Food trivia of a non-cancerous kind

Occasionally the folks from RealAge will fire something our way. This morning, they're touting vegetables that, some studies say, could reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer. The relationship between diet and health (specifically cancers) has been heightened in the last 10 years. It's only fitting that probably the most lethal of all cancers -- pancreatic -- is being studied to see if there's a food/diet change that might help stave off this deadly, deadly disease.

In an 8-year study, people who consumed the highest levels of three powerful flavonols -- kaempferol, quercetin, and myricetin -- reduced their risk of pancreatic cancer by 23 percent. Not too shabby. And no doubt due to the fact that this super trio of flavonols helps quell oxidative stress, a cell-damaging process that, left unchecked, may pave the way for cancer and other bad health news.

Onions and certain leafy greens like arugula (above. Thanks, Whole Foods) are one way to get these particular flavonols. Here are some others:
Kaempferol: kale, swiss chard, endive, raw spinach, chives, and white beans
Quercetin: asparagus, apples, buckwheat, and tea
Myricetin: fennel, blueberries, cranberries, and carob flour

Thrill of the Grill, an update on evil sauce

Andy and I have been watching the Thrill of the Grill week on Food Network. Last night, the focus was on the Bama-cue championship in Mobile. Watching some of the entrants brought to my mind a recurring debate I have with anyone who'll listen and, barring an available audience, myself.

A handful (OK, one team really stood out in doing this) of competitors made a big, big deal out of their sauce. When the camera crew went to the restaurants, the ribs or pulled pork were drowned in sauce. If there was any meat under there, it would have taken a jaguar to sniff it out.

My point: Good meat, whether it's a steak or a piece of chicken or a slab of ribs, should be able to stand on its own and not have to swim in sauce to get its flavor, its character. Food is not a conduit for sauce; if you're so hopped up for sauce, toss it in a bowl and eat it as soup.

I tell my friends, when they come over and eat my food, if I've done my job, it shouldn't need any sauce at all. I'll offer sauce (homemade, of course), but I expect it to be used as an enhancement only -- not as a baptismal dunking with which the diner hopes to wash away the sins of a bad piece of meat, poor cooking technique or inadequate seasoning before the food hits the grill/smoker/oven.

I love the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," but any self-respecting Southern barbecuer would never say, "The secret's in the sauce." That line always makes me mad.

Also last night, I was horrified when one woman put a seasoning on a brisket slab and said, "That's what gives it a smoke ring." No, ma'am. Prolonged exposure to smoke is what gives it a smoke ring. Andy, aka The Judge, mentioned that the Kansas City Barbecue Society was going off looking for "smoke rings" because people have figured out how to fake them. Shame, people. Shame.

In praise of church ladies

A culinary and horticultural odyssey has been under way in our back yard for the bulk of the spring. What started as a collection of thrown seeds -- and a makeshift green house cobbled together from an overturned soccer goal and a roll of leftover hardware plastic -- has turned into an herb garden that would make a Frenchman envious.

The 5-year-old (and thrower of the seeds) has been tending to her plants, which, in our rainfall bounty, form a lush collection of chervil, dill, sorrel, flat-leaf parsley, basil, thyme, cilantro (above right), a few zinnias and one bean plant she popped into a cup during Plant Week at preschool. It's now stretching four feet and in need of a larger support trelllis.

A few Sundays back, I lamented to one of my church ladies that we didn't know what to do with some of the seeds the little gardener had chosen to sow. I was all too familiar with the 15-year-old settings of rosemary, oregano, sage and other perennials up on the larger garden slope; the new stuff? Clueless.

Into our life comes a super cool book that, sadly, is out of print but was languishing in a lady's house and in need of a good home. That sorrel and borage that had been confounding me? In there. Same with ways to make all-natural potpourri, sachets, vinegars, herbal teas. Now that our cilantro is starting to go to seed (a process that's fascinating to watch a young person observe), we'll know what to do with the seeds that come from those flowers -- they'll turn into the herb we call coriander.

The basil isn't as robust as we'd hoped, but it's there. The dill, in her words, "Is growing like crazy." She's already forming her list for next year, and the herb book is rarely far from her.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Italian zing straight from the bottle

It might appear that Italy is on my brain today, but it's really just coincidence that the folks from Limonce passed these items along the same day we're cooking Italian in What's Cooking Tonight and Mario Batali is anchoring a grilling package in the Wednesday paper.

A gold medal winner at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Limoncé is crafted in Trieste, Italy, and created from the essence of Mediterranean sun-ripened lemons (cue sultry music), steeped in the finest spirits in order to extract the essential oils and aromas from the fruit. After extraction, the spirit is tempered with a bit of sweetness to produce this smooth lemon liqueur—the perfect balance between tangy and sweet. A bottle runs around $21, but a little goes along way, especially in cooking.

Lemon Almond Cookies
(far right)
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tsp. Limoncé Limoncello
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
2-1/3 cups all purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup raw almonds (with skin), chopped fine

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time until combined. Add in the Limoncé, vanilla, lemon zest, flour and salt. Mix until completely combined. Wrap tightly and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.

Separate dough into six equal parts and roll each part into a log shape. Next, roll each log in the finely chopped almonds. Cut discs from the log, a little less than 1/4 inch thick, and place on a non-stick cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet soon after cookies come out of oven and let cool. Makes 60 cookies.

Limoncé Glazed Sugar Cookies
(above, left)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
8 Tbs. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbs. Limoncé Limoncello
Limoncé Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbs. Limoncé Limoncello
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. heavy cream
Zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, then the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest and Limoncé. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined. Let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Take 1/4 of the dough at a time, and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place on a non-stick cookie sheet, making sure to leave about 1/2 inch between each cookie. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly golden. A few minutes after coming out of the oven, remove to a cooling rack and let cool.

Now make the glaze. Mix all ingredients for the glaze together. The glaze consistency should be slightly thick.
When cookies are well cooled, glaze them by dipping the cookie tops into the mixture so they are completely covered. For a more stylized look, put the glaze into a pastry bag and squeeze onto the cookies in a decorative pattern (this can also be done by putting the glaze in a zip lock bag and cutting a small opening in one corner where you can squeeze the glaze out). Let dry thoroughly, about 1 hour. Makes about 30 cookies.
Grilled Shrimp Risotto

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 Tbs. Limoncé Limoncello
1 lb. raw medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined 6-8 skewers

7 cups chicken stock, low sodium
3 branches of thyme
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. butter3 shallots, finely diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup parmesan, grated

Parsley Sauce:
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 bunch parsley
1/4 cup Limoncé Limoncello
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime

Make the marinade for the shrimp. Heat a small frying pan to medium heat then add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, lower the heat and add the sliced garlic. Cook garlic slowly and do not brown, as it will give a bitter taste. Remove the pan from the heat, pour the garlic oil into a bowl and let cool. (Can be made ahead.)
Add the Limoncé, salt and pepper. Place the shrimp into the marinade. Let marinate for 30 minutes.
Now start the risotto. You will need two saucepans. Add the chicken stock and thyme to one saucepan. Keep the stock just below a simmer.
In the other saucepan, turn the heat onto medium and heat the olive oil and butter. Add the shallots and sauté till translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and then stir the rice in the pan until ONLY the very center of the rice grain is opaque, about 2 minutes or a little more. Then slowly add about 2 ladles of stock, and stir until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add stock 2 ladles at a time, slowly stirring, until all of the stock has been absorbed. Finish the risotto by stirring in the parmesan at the very end.
Cover and let rest while preparing the shrimp.
Preheat a barbeque, grill pan or indoor grill. Skewer shrimp, using 2 skewers at a time, so the shrimp do not flip around when turned. Approximately 8-10 shrimp can be placed on each set of skewers. Grill shrimp, about 3 minutes per side. Let the shrimp rest for a few minutes while you make the parsley sauce.
In a food processor, chop up the garlic first. Add the parsley, and chop again. Add the remaining ingredients and run the processor until everything is combined. Place the risotto in a bowl, arrange the grilled shrimp on top and spoon the parsley sauce over the shrimp. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Herbed Pork Tenderloin with Limoncé
2 Tbs. rosemary, chopped
3 Tbs. sage, chopped
1-1/2 Tbs. thyme, chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
3 lemons, 2 very thinly sliced, 1 used for juice
1/3 cup Limoncé Limoncello
1/2 cup Chardonnay
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 pork tenderloins (about 2-1/2 to 3 pounds total)
1/2 lb. pancetta, thinly sliced (or 6 slices of bacon)
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, and parsley and put aside. Thinly slice 2 lemons. Mix together the Limoncé limoncello, Chardonnay, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and the juice from one lemon. Marinate the pork tenderloins in the Limoncé and wine mixture for 30 minutes.
Take the pork tenderloins out of the marinade and place in a baking dish. Liberally spread the chopped fresh herb mixture over both tenderloins.
Next, lay slices of lemons over the herbs and then put the pancetta over the lemons. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes.
Drape a piece of foil over to tent while the meat rests. Slice the meat and serve with new potatoes and asparagus.

Sharpening our knife-buying skills

Chicago Cutlery is introducing the Fusion Collection, a line of professional stainless steel forged blades featuring non-slip, thermoplastic polymer handles. The black non-slip, cushion-grip handles on the utility knives are designed with contrasting stainless steel end caps for a sleek, contemporary look.

The blades are crafted of high-carbon forged professional stainless steel—for stronger, harder blades that resist stains, rust and pitting—and are engineered with Chicago Cutlery’s signature Taper Grind edge for optimum sharpness and easy resharpening. Forged bolsters—the raised area between blade and handle—provide weight and balance and keep fingers safely away from blade edges.

The centerpiece of the Fusion series is the 18-piece block set that includes a 3” peeler; 3¼” parer; 5” utility; 5” Granton-edge partoku (an Asian-style knife that melds a parer with a santoku); a 7” Granton-edge santoku; 7 3/4” chef knife; 7 3/4” reverse scalloped bread knife; 8” slicer, all with black non-slip handles, plus eight 4¼” fine-edge steak knives and a sharpening steel with stainless steel handles.

The knife block is made of sturdy, eco-friendly bamboo with a stainless steel faceplate. Edge-saver polymer slot inserts protect and preserve blades. The 18-piece block set carries a suggested retail price of $179.99.
The Fusion series also includes cutlery sets and open stock items. They are: 4-piece set of 5” fine-edge steak knives ($39.99); 3-piece set that includes a 3¼” parer, a 5” utility and a 7 3/4” chef knife ($39.99); 2-piece set of a 3¼” parer and 5” Granton-edge partoku ($24.99); a 7 3/4” chef knife ($24.99) and a 7” Granton-edge santoku ($24.99).

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion collection, which carries a full lifetime guarantee, is available now at select department stores. For local outlets, call 1-800-999-3436.

Mango mania

The other day in the grocery, where I seem to live, there was a collection of fresh mangoes. Naturally, the food-freak children who live with me were drawn to these bits of tropical goodness. However, I was over budget for May on food, and I knew I didn't have anything to go with a mango, therefore, if I wasn't going to just slice it and eat it, I'd need to do a little "research." offered up the history of the mango, as well as some easy recipes that take advantage of fresh mango. The recipes titles may not be inspired, but the results are, especially the salmon.

Mango Chicken
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup mango slices
2 pounds chicken thighs
In oil, brown chicken on all sides. Place in baking dish. Season with soy sauce, wine, garlic, salt and peppers. Cover and bake at 350 until almost tender, about 30 minutes. Add mangos and bake 10 minutes longer.

Mango Pork
2-4 lb. pork roast
3 medium onions, halved
3 small potatoes, quartered
4 carrots, in chunks
1 mango sliced
1 tsp. salt
Salt roast and cook in covered electric fry pan with enough water to cover bottom for about 1 1/2-2 hours. Add vegetables around roast for last 30 minutes. For last 15 minutes, place mango slices on top of roast. Slice roast and serve with vegetables and mango slices.

Mango Salmon
fresh filet of salmon, thick
fresh garlic
olive oil
seasoning to taste
1 mango, firm, ripe, peeled and sliced
Saute salmon in olive oil and garlic. Do not overcook. Add seasoning. When lightly seared on both sides, saute fresh mango in with salmon and serve with all ingredients. According to the original author of this recipe, "If it is overcooked by accident, it still tastes good. The best is tender fresh salmon and mango pieces that have juice combined with firm, ripe, whole slices."

Soup for summer

Yeah, we know it's hot, but sometimes a bowl of soup hits the spot. Prudence Hilburn offers a summertime chowder in Wednesday's Gourmet Touch, and here's the Okra Soup that's always on offer in Cuban households -- either on the island or in Miami. Okra (right, in its semi-natural habitat) loves hot weather, so Okra Soup is right at home when the thermometer makes us see red.

In Cuba, this classic, homestyle soup is known as Quimbombo. It uses our Southern okra, bacon (or ham) and some tangy vinegar. The effect is surprisingly complex, but the preparation is simple. This is from "Cuban Home Cooking" by Jane Cossio and Joyce LaFray.

Okra Soup

2 cups okra, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup bacon or ham, chopped
1/2 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
good pinch of oregano
1 cup chicken stock
1 peeled plantain
1/2 cup boiled shrimp, save 1 cup of the water the shrimp was boiled in to flavor the soup

Soak the okra with the lemon juice, covered with water, in a large bowl for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse.

In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, cook the pork, pepper, garlic and onion, adding enough olive oil to keep it from sticking. Cook about 5 minutes; add the tomato sauce, vinegar, sherry and oregano. Cook 2 minutes; add okra, 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup of the shrimp water. Bring to a boil.

In a separate pan, boil the plantain until it is tender enough to mash. Shape into small balls, using a little cooking oil to hold them together, if necessary. Add plantain balls and shrimp to the soup and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

On the thrill of the grill

As was Andy, we, too, were enticed by Thrill of the Grill last night, after an afternoon episode of Memorial Day grilling (chicken breasts, boneless, rubbed with chili powder, sprinkled with garlic powder and black pepper and doused in beer near the end of their cooking.)

Part of our attention to TOTG came because the 5-year-old keeps wanting Bobby Flay to come down here for a cornbread throwdown with her. She wrote him a letter to that effect and got an autographed picture in return; a big hit. Her cornbread is good, real good, by the way, especially with a side of pulled pork barbecue.

Anyway, the grilling culture in the U.S. continues to be a source of fascination and cookbooks. In Wednesday's food section, we've got a slew of grilling recipes that are a little different from the traditional fare. Mario Batali lends an Italian twist to grilling, and it's an interesting result.

Grilled cheese of a different nature

Grilled cheese is a classic American dish, when paired with some bread. But what about Grilled Cheese.

Jon Ashton, Cabot Creamery Cooperative’s celebrity “Chef of Staff,” recommends a menu of delicious and healthy grilling recipes that are sure to become your family’s favorites this summer.

“Grilling over an open flame in the great outdoors is one of my favorite things to do,” says British-born Ashton. (We all know the Brits refer to grilling inaccurately as "barbecuing," so he gets points for the correct terminology. “Grilling brings out the flavor of food like no other cooking method because of the direct contact with fire and, in the case of charcoal grilling, the added flavor of smoke, and it just doesn’t get better than that.

“But there are some trade-offs and things to consider when grilling, because it’s far different from cooking on a stove top,” he cautions.

Adjust cooking times. Foods cook more quickly on a grill, and can dry out more quickly, too, so be sure to adjust cooking times accordingly.

Second, when grilling outdoors, be prepared before you put the food on the grill. Remember, you aren’t in your kitchen, and items you need may not be at hand in the backyard. Make sure you have all your spices, seasonings and cooking utensils ready and within easy reach. You don’t want to have to run to the kitchen and return to burned food.

“A little preparation on the front end goes a long way in creating a fabulous grilled meal,” Ashton says. “So take your time, do your prep work, watch the grilling temperature and flame height, and you’ll end up with a smashing good meal every time you grill.”

Now, that last part sounded British. Cherrio!

Cheddar-Bacon Burgers with Chipotle Aioli
Makes 4 servings

1 pound ground beef (round or chuck)
1 cup grated Cabot Extra Sharp or Sharp Cheddar (4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 strips bacon
4 split buns

Prepare hot fire in charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to high.
In large bowl, combine beef and cheddar; scatter salt and pepper over top. Gently work mixture together until well combined. Shape into 4 equal patties, about 3/4-inch thick. Wrap each patty with two side-by-side strips bacon.
Place on grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side or to desired degree of doneness.
Toast buns toward end of grilling time. Serve burgers topped with Chipotle Aioli.

Chipotle Aioli
Makes 2/3 cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper or chipotle hot sauce

In small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Orange-Mint Dressing
Makes 4 servings

1 1/4 pounds large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 (10-inch) metal or bamboo skewers
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups mesclun mix, baby arugula, torn frisee (French curly endive) or other greens
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and diced
1 cup garlic-flavored croutons
1 cup grated Cabot Monterey Jack or Mild Cheddar

Prepare hot fire in charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to high.
In medium bowl, toss shrimp with 1 tablespoon oil. Thread shrimp on skewers. Place directly over heat and cook until pink, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat; slide shrimp off skewers onto plate.
In small bowl, whisk together orange juice and zest, vinegar, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, honey, mint, salt and pepper.
Divide greens among 4 plates. Top with tomatoes, croutons and shrimp. Drizzle each with one fourth of dressing. Top with cheese.

Grilling on the TV

If you see me this week and notice bags under my eyes, Food Network is to blame.

This week is Thrill of the Grill week, on the channel and I stayed up past midnight watching the shows yesterday. Last night they showed a barbecue tour of Memphis, a show about various restaurants, two episodes of "Unwrapped" showing how various barbecue and grill-related things are made (who knew Charbroil grills are made down the road in Columbus, Ga.?) and a goofy special on tenderloin.

Tonight at 9 p.m. central they are airing "Bama-Que Cookoff" which documents a competition in Mobile. Once I watch that, I'll be hooked until I pass out.

Coming to Your Table Wednesday

The food section in the Star covers most of the culinary bases. We've got the South's favorite summer sport -- grilling -- paired with a plethora of girly drinks in honor of the Sex and the City movie that opens in theaters Friday.

Couple that with some summer desserts, breaking news of the beer beat in Pitcher This, and you're good to go for another week of at-home dining and entertaining.

Enjoy. Life's too short to eat bad food.

Gazpacho by another name

To save the food purists the trouble of pointing out what "classic" gazpacho is, I'll confess right up front that this isn't gazpacho, by definition. It is a cold, tomato-based soup, however. It's also fabulous, easy and is the only gazpacho I ever served to a guy that didn't make him want to drive past a burger stand on the way home.

This recipe came from a friend nearly 10 years ago (after a night of cards and red wine), and it's just as timeless now as it was then. Clip and save, folks, clip and save.

Diane's Bean Gazpacho
1 15-ounce can of pinto beans, undrained
1 quart V-8 juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
16 ounces thick and chunky salsa
1-2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped, seeded cucumber
1 cup thinly sliced celery
To serve:
1 1/4 cup peeled, cubed avocado (fix immediately before serving)

In a blender or food processor, process pinto beans with their liquid, along with the V-8, oil, lime juice, Worcestershire and garlic. Puree, then remove to a glass or non-reactive bowl. Stir in remaining stuff, except the avocado. Chill at least three hours. To serve, ladle into chilled bowls, then top with the avocado.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sharpen that knife ... for precision cutting

Dull knives? Maybe it's time for an investment sharpener.

Note: This isn't for folks who buy their knives at Big Lots. (And I love Big Lots.)

This sharpenr is engineered to provide astonishingly sharp edges using highly precise knife guides that automatically position the knife. Multi-stage sharpening system features 100% diamond abrasives and patented flexible stropping polishing discs that create a “gothic arch” edge structure recognized for incredible sharpness and durability.

This advanced technology electric sharpener can restore and recreate both, a 20-degree edge for European and American style knives and a 15-degree edge for Asian style knives. It will quickly and easily sharpen virtually all quality cutlery including American, European or Asian style household knives; fine edge or serrated blades; Santuko and traditional Japanese style single bevel edges including the thicker Deba style blades; as well as sports knives, pocket knives and serrated edges.

According to retailers, 50 percent of cutlery sales are Asian style knives. These same customers often own the traditional European and American knives.

“Many consumers own both 20 degree Euro/American knives and 15 degree Asian style knives for which they want to maintain the original edge geometry. The revolutionary and versatile Model 1520 allows them to put a better than factory, original edge geometry on virtually all cutlery with just one versatile sharpener,” says ChefsChoice Company President Sam Weiner.

This week the Model 1520 is being shipped out to leading department, cutlery, hardware, specialty and cookware stores, mail-order catalogs and online retailers at a suggested retail price of $199.99 for cast brushed metal covering or $169.99 for white plastic molding cover.

Calorie-counting poster ideal for health classes

With all the information out there on how overweight our country is, anything that helps point out the nutritional value of food is handy. Into this comes a poster, easy to read and brightly photographed, looking at food pitfalls many people may not be aware of.

Dips and sauces complement a variety of foods served at almost every meal. An easy way to reduce calories is by choosing low-calorie alternatives. The Dips and Sauces Poster by Learning ZoneXpress highlights great tasting, low-calorie choices to common high-calorie dressings, sauces and dips.

This poster features eight foods and provides calorie comparisons to the dips and sauces often served with them.

Ordering nachos? Opt for salsa or guacamole on the side instead of higher calorie choices such as cheese dip or sour cream.

Reaching for a bagel or toast in the morning? Try low-sugar jam instead of cream cheese.
How about chicken nuggets or chicken strips? Ketchup or barbecue sauce is a great low-calorie alternative to ranch dressing.

Compare the calories in the dips and sauces in your next meal to find the healthiest option.
The Dips and Sauces Poster is available online or by calling toll free (888) 455-7003. It's 23" x 25". Laminated. $16.95.

Indy-vidual cocktails for the holiday

Fully recognizing that this is NASCAR country, the Midwesterner in me feels compelled to point out that the great American car race -- The Indianapolis 500 -- is this weekend. The race, complete wiht its milk bath at the end for the winner, is an American icon. (It's also the only reason we'd have for not trying to trade flat, character-free Indiana to Canada in return for Nova Scotia.)

For Indy week, here are some cocktail recipes that might get your Memorial Day cookout into a higher gear.

In case you are working on anything regarding the Indy 500...Limoncé was just chosen to be used in two of the official Indy 500 Victory Banquet cocktails: Pit Lane Lemonade and Winners Choice (recipes below). Sorry for the short notice, but this was all just confirmed….

Curtis Parker, mixologist of Mudsocks Bar & Grill, was asked to come up with the official Indy 500 cocktails and chose award-winning Limoncé Limoncello because of its fresh citrus flavor and bright color which also plays up the victory party’s yellow theme this year.

Pit Lane Lemonade
Created by Curtis Parker, Mixologist/Bar Manager, Mudsocks Bar & Grill, Noblesville, IN
1oz Limoncé Limoncello
1 oz Grey Goose Vodka
3 oz fresh lemonade
Lemon wheel – garnish

In a shaker filled with ice mix Limoncé, vodka, and fresh lemonade. Coat the rim of a tall rocks glass with yellow sugar and pour mixture from shaker to glass (ice included). Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Winner's Choice
Created by Curtis Parker, Mixologist/Bar Manager, Mudsocks Bar & Grill, Noblesville, IN
1.5 oz Limoncé Limoncello
1 oz Stella Citrus Gin
1 oz fresh lemonade
1/2 oz sweet and sour mix
Lemon twist – garnish

Pour all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a tall rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Please let me know if I can get you any additional information regarding the cocktails or perhaps a sample of Limoncé so you can mix up your own winning cocktail this weekend. Images from the Indy 500 Victory Banquet will be available early next week and we may be able to offer pictures of the cocktails ahead of time.

For additional information on Limoncé, please visit

Rainy day doldrums? Piece of cake

Here's reason No. 964 on why I don't like cake mixes: Relying on them removes the possibility of random acts of cake.

Case in point. It's a rainy Saturday (for the past year, this hasn't been a problem around here, but it's been moist this spring). Everyone's cooped up. Nerves are getting frayed. You have no money to go shopping or to the movies or anywhere else, for that matter. You don't want to get out in the rain and burn that liquid gold called gasoline.

Got flour? Got some eggs? Rummage a little deeper in the cabinet and find baking soda or baking powder, and you've got the bones for a cake.

Nothing brightens a day like a spontaneous baking project. It's not hard to make a cake from scratch. In last week's food section, there was a story on the art of old-fashioned cakes; they were easy. A real cake is denser than those pre-fab, chemically enhanced crumb puddings that come from cake mixes. They stand up to icing, decorating, and a smaller piece goes along way, because the dominant feature in the real, homemade cake isn't chemical leavener and... air.

Here's one of the recipes we ran last week. Give it a go.

Aunt Nettie's Orange-Nut Cake
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 servings

1 unpeeled orange, washed, coarsely chopped
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
2 eggs
3/4 cup each: buttermilk, chopped nutsConfectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 . Combine the orange and raisins in a food processor; pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Pour 1/4 cup hot water over the mixture; set aside.Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Combine the sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the sugar-butter mixture, beating until smooth with each addition. Stir in the reserved orange-raisin mixture and the nuts.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.Bake 40-50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert it onto a wire rack; cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reusable shopping bags get a bounce

Now you can carry your groceries in high fashion style, with a new line of colorful reusable shopping and grocery bags. There's been a lot of talk recently about trying to find reliable sources of practical, reusable shopping bags. Here's another idea to toss on the pile that's different from canvas bags.

The ‘its-laS-tik’ line utilize a special flexible nylon and lycra fabric blend in a wild array of colors and patterns.

They are manufactured totally by Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans.

The bags are designed to stretch and take the shape of the contents you place inside. Big, small, heavy, light… they move with you and STRETCH, making it feel like you aren’t really carrying much.

What’s more, they move up and down when you walk, springing up and down, as you walk. It’s a whole new experience as the elasticity and flexibility of the bag reduces the stress on your body and makes the load easier to carry.

The bags are washable, reusable, economical and fashionable. The bags spring back into shape when emptied and roll up into a very compact little configuration.

Five percent of all sales are donated to Hope House in New Orleans, LA. Bags (above) are 12" x 13"and cost $12.99; pouches (right) are 5"x 9" with zipper & wristlet and cost $11.99

How to store food? Harder than it looks.

According to a new poll featured in the July 2008 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, American women spend about $100 per year on disposable food storage and wrapping items, have an average of 22 plastic containers for food storage and use them to refrigerate nearly four leftover meals per week.

The poll also found that three quarters of women (73 percent) actually use all or most of their refrigerated leftovers, most (84 percent) do so within two days, well before the recommended maximum four days.

Conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, the food storage poll is part of ShopSmart's feature on food storage tricks to slash grocery bills and also includes the “11 Worst Food Storage Mistakes.”

“We’ve come up with food storage tricks that will keep everything in your fridge and pantry tasting great – and save you money at the supermarket,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “In addition to saving money, proper food storage can be a health issue, so it’s important to know how to properly wrap items.”

Food Storage Items
· Four out of the six top food storage items that women use regularly are plastic; the two most popular are bags that seal (88 percent) and containers specifically for food storage (87 percent).
· 71 percent of women who regularly use plastic containers voiced some frustration. The leading complaints were container lids/tops get lost (22 percent) and that they stain easily (16 percent).
· When tossed, plastic food containers have about a 50/50 chance of landing in the recycle bin. Half (51 percent) of women who regularly use plastic containers for food storage know which of their plastic containers are recyclable.
· In the microwave, more women use glass or ceramic containers (77 percent) than plastic containers purchased specifically for food storage (58 percent).
· Disposable water bottles are widely used among women (80 percent). The majority (54 percent) of women who use water bottles refill them at least one time and 31 percent refill them 3 or more times.

In the home
· Nearly all women (91 percent) use the age or expiration date to determine if a food is still good to eat. Women also engage their senses for this task with (86 percent) using odor/smell to make the determination.

ShopSmart’s warns that even food that doesn't smell can still get someone sick. But only 6 percent of women report a household member actually falling ill from spoiled food at home.
· 23 percentof household members always or often disagree on whether a food is good to eat.
· Women have multiple food storage challenges to deal with at home, including food packages not being carefully resealed (37 percent) and food not being put back in the refrigerator after use (30 percent).
· Who is to blame for these food storage challenges? Among married women, it’s the spouse (58 percent) and among those with children, it’s the kids (69 percent).

The 11 Worst Food Storage Mistakes

· SLOPPY WRAPPING allows air and moisture to seep in. Easy Fix? Make sure lids are on tight.
· NOT REMOVING STORE WRAP can expose the contents to air through tiny holes or a loose flap and can expose the contents to chemicals from the store wrap. Easy Fix? Rewrap meat, poultry, and cold cuts that come in flimsy wrapping.
· OVERSIZE CONTAINERS leave too much “headroom”—air between the food and lid—spreading spoilage and freezer burn. Easy Fix? Match the size of the container to the contents.
· REUSING FOOD CONTAINERS that are meant for one-time use, like cottage cheese cartons or deli containers, may not hold up to wear and tear or be safe to re-heat leftovers. Easy Fix? While not good for cooking, freebie containers can be used for dry pantry foods.
· INCORRECT FRIDGE TEMPS even just a few degrees too warm can spoil food faster. Easy Fix? Keep the fridge at 37°F and the freezer at 0° F.
· FRIDGE-DOOR STORAGE can leave food 3 to 5 degrees warmer that the shelves inside. Easy Fix? Keep eggs, milk and fresh deli condiments in the back of the fridge, vinegar based items like mustard, relish and ketchup can stay on the door.
· REFRIGERATING RED-HOT LEFTOVERS will warm the food around it, increasing the rate of bacterial growth. Easy Fix? Cool food before refrigerating by transferring large items into smaller containers.
· THE SNIFF TEST is unreliable because food that doesn’t smell can still make you sick. Easy Fix? Pay attention to use-by dates and when in doubt, throw it out.
· UNDERWRAPPING SMELLY STUFF will allow their strong odors to spread to other foods. Easy Fix? Use tight containers and if you can smell it, wrap it until you can’t.
· LOSING TRACK OF LEFTOVERS could leave you eating spoiled foods. Easy Fix? Label and date containers, which should be in the fridge no more than three to four days.
· WAREHOUSE OVERLOAD is only good if you can eat what you bought before it goes bad, otherwise it’s just a waste of money. Easy Fix? Repackage food into meal-size packages to avoid waste and freeze what you cannot use immediately.

Heavy-duty blender for summer fun

Most American households have blenders buried somewhere in them. The question is, when is a blender worth becoming a kitchen investment piece? Last night on Good Eats, Alton Brown and W looked at stick (hand-held) blenders.

Here's another contender that looks like something a sci-fi fan would like.

The ultra-sleek, 20-piece stainless steel Magic Bullet Platinum Pro is slightly larger than the original and boasts a motor 40 percent more powerful. Its manufacturer says it can be uses for everything from protein shakes, to salsa, homemade guacamole, pasta sauces, decadent desserts like chocolate mousse, in addition to serving as the ultimate kitchen prep device – as it blends, chops, slices, dices, mixes, whips and purees in seconds.

A complete recipe book (right) is included in the set.

The Platinum Pro luxury edition is a countertop model. Its makers hope it will replace your food processor and blender. All parts are microwave and dishwasher safe (OK, that part's impressive).

Watch a clip from WXXX-TV in Salt Lake City, which recently tested the product in the “Does it Work” segment.

The newly-launched Magic Bullet Platinum Pro Blender is available for $99.99 online and at Macy’s stores nationwide.

'59 Cadillac Margarita
A truly classic margarita recipe - just like its namesake. You may want to mix up a double batch, because these are sure to be popular.
3 oz. premium tequila
1 ½ oz Grand Marnier
4 oz sweet and sour
6-8 ice cubes
Blend until smooth.
Makes 2 margaritas.

The Orange Fruit Smoothie
1 banana, cut
1 cup raspberries1 peach, pitted and cut½ cup fresh squeezed orange juiceIce
Blend all ingredients with 1 cup crushed ice until firm. Pour into your favorite poolside cup and enjoy.

The Authentic Summertime Daiquiri
1 1/2 oz light rum
1 tbsp triple sec
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 peeled banana
1 tsp powdered sugar
Blend all ingredients with 1 cup crushed ice until firm. Pour into a cocktail glass, and serve. Garnish with small slice of pineapple.

Citrus Garlic Marinade
1 lemon, skinless
1 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp of minced garlic
4 large basil leaves, divided
¼ cup olive oil
Place all ingredients in blender and pulse until well blended. Place raw shrimp, chicken or beef in a sealable container. Pour citrus garlic marinade over top, and place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes, or until your desired cooking time.

Flavored vodka peps up a martini

Liquor, wine and beer companies are always jostling for position in the adult beverage marketplace. With the release of Sex and The City this month, there'll no doubt be a surge in cosmopolitan orders... or have Carrie and the girls grown out of those pink froufrou drinks?

Here's an idea hot off the bar and is another entrant into the flavored varieties of hard liquor: Three Olives Flavored Vodka and drinks such as the Gummy Worm martini (right).

Three Olives comes in 17 flavors including Original, Cherry, Grape, Mango, Passion Fruit, Pomegranate, Green Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Berry, Vanilla, Citrus, Raspberry, Watermelon, and new flavors Root Beer, Tomato and Triple Shot Espresso.

Ecstacy Martini
2 oz. Three Olives Grape Vodka
.5 oz. Blue Curacao
.5 oz. Grenadine
Splash of Tonic Water

Gummy Worm Martini
(Pictured at the top)
1.5 oz. Three Olives Mango Vodka
1.5 oz. Three Olives Raspberry Vodka
.5 oz. Blue Curacao
1 oz. lemon-lime soda

Cherry Cola
1.5 oz. Three Olives Cherry Vodka
4 oz. cola
Cherry garnish

Pickles on a stick?

Flashback to fouth grade. A bunch of us were hanging out at a friend's house after school. Naturally, there was a snack opportunity. We scrounged all the kosher dills from the jar -- then divvied up the juice for a quick shot of vinegary-salty elixir.

It was only a matter of time before this stuff took root. (OK, maybe it's been almost 30 years...) but it seems Bob's PicklePops pickle juice treats are growing in popularity.

They are frozen treats made, not from just the brine left over from pickling, but from freshly squeezed pickles, much like an apple or orange is pressed. (Next hot wedding gift: a pickle press.)

The USDA was so intrigued by the distinctive frozen "vegetable" product they granted Bob’s Pickle Pops their blessings to distribute them to the schools across the country.

“We use 100% of the pickle,” says Bob's Pickle Pops Co-FounderDavid Millar. “We realize it is hard to imagine that someonethought of the idea of creating a frozen treat made from picklejuice,” he says. “But once people try them they are hooked – andwe are happy to supply them with this refreshing treat.”

The product was created by John Howard owner of Outerskateroller skating rink and arcade in Seguin, Texas. He has been freezing pickle juice for the kids and adults and sells out every night. Surprised by the sales, he decided there was a market worth investigating. The company is also creating flavored offerings such as Spicy Pickle Pops that are proving to be popular.

But it isn’t just to quench the craving, it is to provide the heretofore little-known health benefits

Health Benefits: A recent study (the release doesn't tell us who did the study, we'll keep looking for more info) revealed that pickles blunted the blood-sugar spike by as much as 30 percent after a high-carb meal. Studies revealed that vinegar, much like that used in the pickling process, provided a balancing benefit to combat harmful insulin spikes. The spices used in the pickling process are also healthy. Pickling ingredients like garlic and dill help to control the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the body. And many other spices involved in the pickling have been known to have wide-ranging health properties as well.

Bob's Pickle Pops have no fat and have lessthan 1 gram of sugar.

Bob’s Pickle Pops are available in packages of 20, 40, 60, 80 and 120. They range in price from $19.95 to $60 including shipping. The 120 count sells box for $60. Pops are all pre-packed in poly bags of 10.

Mail-order meat

One of the cool things about the Internet Age is this idea that you can pretty much have the world at your fingertips. Spices in bulk? Click. Clams shipped overnight on dry ice? Click, drag, Click.

However, ordering meat through the mail has been around for several years. One of the best wedding presents we got was a cooler full of Omaha Steaks. That was 15 years ago, and every time I see a really, really good steak, I think of thoe ribeyes and filets that came tucked in styrofoam.

A company called The Tender Filet is pitching its summer campaign around the idea of getting more value for the money you spend on meat. Gary Schwager, president of The Tender Filet, passed along some tips:

1. “When buying beef, look for meat that has been appropriately aged. While you might think aging beef sounds strange, it’s during this process that the juices are absorbed into the meat, enhancing the flavor and tenderizing the steaks.” For example, his company ages its beef for 21–28 days.

2. “Another important consideration is the cut—you don’t go just anywhere to get your hair cut and the same goes for meat. Experienced meat buyers know they get more use and flavor out of their beef if it’s cut to restaurant-quality specifications. Most meats found in supermarkets are not cut with that level of care and can be less economical due to increased waste.”

3. “A final tip is to plan meals ahead of time and buy meat in larger quantities to take advantage of deals. For holidays like Memorial Day, we find customers buy in large amounts so they can portion use throughout the summer.”

For more information or to order from The Tender Filet, call 1-800-228-1214.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Award-winning cornbread

Cornbread is an American classic, and every year up in South Pittsburg, Tenn., they pick the best new recipes of the year that use main-dish variations using cornbread. I'm not sure you'd bake a pan of cornbread to accompany these entrees, but I could be wrong.

Well, the 2008 National Cornbread Cook-Off winners have been chosen, and, good Lord Almighty, they've done some fabulous things with that pone that should be in every home. (Of course, the corn bread purist in me always objects to the use of mixes instead of good, plain cornmeal, but I don't run the contest. Given my anti-mix bias, the third-place winner will be the first one I try.)

Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes (right) took home the coveted cast iron skillet crown as the Grand Prize winner of the cookoff, sponsored by Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron and held in conjunction with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg.

As cornbread enthusiasts (yes, we're out there) watched and cheered, 10 finalists mixed, chopped, fried and baked their main-dish cornbread recipes for the tasting pleasure of an expert panel of judges.

From Las Vegas to Arkansas to Ohio, this year’s finalists proved that cornbread isn’t just for Southerners. The 10 finalists were chosen from a group of almost 1,000 entrants nationwide. Entrants were asked to submit original, main dish recipes.

“For the 12th year, good cooks from all over the country continued to be inspired by the perfect marriage of cornbread dishes cooked in cast iron,” said the Martha White baking expert Linda Carman. “We are so pleased to share this year’s winning recipes with cornbread lovers everywhere, because they are innovative and delicious, but also easy to make.”

Lori Stephens of Hendersonville, Tenn., created this year’s Grand Prize winning recipe - Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes. Cook-Off judges were impressed by the way Lori focused her creativity on the delectable corncakes dressed up with corn, green onions and smoked Gouda cheese. To serve, the corncakes are topped with a simple shrimp and tomato sauté flavored with mild earthy ancho chile peppers.

Cornbread is all in the family for the winner. Stephens’ mother and brother are former National Cornbread Cook-Off finalists, and her grandmother earned first place at the Cook-Off in 2001.

Her original main-dish recipe earned the top prize of $5,000 and a 30-inch FiveStar stainless steel gas range from Brown Stove Works, Inc., of Cleveland, Tenn.

In second place was Teresa Ralston of New Albany, Ohio, who won a $500 cash prize for her Zesty Italian Sausage Skillet with Sundried Tomato Cornbread Crust – a creamy sausage and tomato filling blanketed with an easy-to-make cornbread crust. Ralston, who was celebrating her birthday, added refreshing flavor to the dish by topping the warm cornbread with balsamic vinaigrette-dressed baby greens and creamy crumbles of Gorgonzola. The unexpected combination earned high marks from the judges.

Earl Bandy, Jr., from Knoxville, Tenn., the only male finalist, took home third place and $300 for his imaginative and colorful Sausage Pepper Cheese Quiche with Cornbread Crust, brimming with hot sausage, red and green bell peppers, mushroom and green onions. Earl brought along a large group of family and friends for support and clad in matching t-shirts, they cheered enthusiastically as he added sour cream, avocado, tomatoes and cilantro to complete the dish.
Other National Cornbread Cook-Off finalists: Susan Scarborough, Fernandina Beach, Fla.; Janet Gilbert, Oneonta, Al.; Susan Robenson, Hot Springs, Ark.; Erin Bray, Knoxville, Tenn.; Lynn Mears, Bessemer, Al.; Julie Hession, Las Vegas, Nev.; Ann Piscitelli, Nokomis, Fla. They each took home $100 cash and special gifts from Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron.

The 13th annual National Cornbread Cook-Off will be April 25, 2009, in conjunction with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg. Contest rules and entry requirements for the 2009 National Cornbread Cook-Off will be available after the first of the year.

Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes

First Prize Winner
Lori Stephens – Hendersonville, TN

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/3 cups Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix
1 1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda
1/2 cup Canola Oil

Ancho Shrimp
4 tablespoons butter
2 or 3 large dried ancho peppers* (split in half and seeds removed)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 lb. fresh uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup canned petite diced tomatoes, undrained
Sliced green onions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 10-inch cast iron skillet on medium. Add 1/3 cup green onions; cook 1 minute. Add corn; cook 2 minutes. In large mixing bowl, whisk egg. Add buttermilk, sour cream, and corn meal; whisk until smooth. Stir in cheese, corn and onions. Wipe out skillet with paper towel. Add 4 tablespoons oil; heat on medium high. Spoon batter into oil by 1/4 cupfuls. Cook until golden brown; turn and brown on other side. Cook in batches adding oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out skillet.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in skillet on medium high. Add ancho peppers; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add shrimp; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until shrimp turns pink, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes; cook just until hot. Remove ancho peppers.

Place 2 corncakes slightly overlapping on serving plate. Top with shrimp and sauce; sprinkle with green onions.

6 servings

*Ancho chile peppers, a dried red heart-shaped pod, have a mild earthy flavor. If unavailable, add 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper (available in the spice section) with the salt and pepper.

Zesty Italian Sausage Skillet with Sundried Tomato Cornbread Crust

Second Prize Winner
Teresa Ralston – New Albany, OH

2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound Italian pork sausage
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons dried sage
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 (6 oz.) pkg. Martha White Cotton Country Cornbread Mix
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

6 cups baby lettuce greens
Balsamic salad dressing, to taste
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 400° F. Heat oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet on medium high. Add onion; cook until softened. Add sausage; cook breaking up with a fork until done. Drain, if needed. Add cream; simmer 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, sage and red pepper. Simmer on medium about 10 minutes or until sauce thickens.

In a medium bowl, combine cornbread crust ingredients; mix well. Spread over top of sausage mixture in skillet. Bake at 400. for 15 to 20 minutes or until cornbread is golden brown.

In a bowl, toss greens and dressing. Cut cornbread crust into 6 wedges. Place each with sausage filling on plate; top with 1/6th of the greens. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola and fresh pepper.

6 servings

Sausage Pepper Cheese Quiche with Cornbread Crust

Third Prize Winner
Earl Bandy, Jr. – Knoxville, TN

Cornbread Crust
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 cup plain Corn Meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 (14.5 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (4.5 oz.) can diced green chiles, drained

5 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 pound hot bulk pork sausage, browned and drained
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup shredded yellow Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
Toppings: Sour cream, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado and chopped cilantro

Heat oven to 400. Pour oil into 12-inch cast iron skillet; place in oven 7 to 8 minutes or until hot. Add soda to buttermilk; set aside for 5 minutes. In large mixing bowl, combine all cornbread crust ingredients; stir until well blended. Pour into hot skillet. Bake at 400°F for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Reduce oven to 350. In large mixing bowl, combine 5 eggs, half and half, salt, pepper and cumin; beat well. Layer sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and cheeses over crust. Pour egg mixture over top. Bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and set. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with choice of toppings.

8 servings