Make the Most of Summer

Here In Franklin’s Table has been sadly neglected. It probably would’ve just faded away if not for Nimpipi and her funny comments about it. So from Franklin to New Delhi, this is for you.

I don’t know of any two vegetables that say Tennessee summer louder than yellow squash and tomatoes. I know you can buy them all year ’round, but you shouldn’t. Let the potatoes rule in winter, give summer to the yellow squash and tomatoes.

Here’s a meal that makes the most of summer.

Grilled Mediterranean Chicken

(from this fabulous cookbook–you should get one if you’re always looking for new chicken ideas)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 medium onion, chopped (white or yellow, not red)

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 good-sized ripe tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper

Combine all these ingredients. Put half in a nonaluminum bowl or shallow dish and half in a small sauce pan.

Add chicken pieces of your choice–the recipe calls for 1 whole chicken, cut up, but I don’t think there’s enough marinade for that. I use this amount for four thighs.

An aside on chicken parts–if you make this with boneless, skinless breasts, then you have no soul.

Coat the chicken with the marinade and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. Turn the chicken every now and then.

Yum. Raw chicken.

Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Fire up the grill and cook the chicken, skin side down, for a couple of minutes. Baste and then turn when it’s got good color. Cook on side two for a couple of minutes and then move off hottest part of the grill. Baste and cover. Keep and eye on it. Cook for about 20 minutes in all (for thighs), basting and turning 2-3 times. If it seems like it’s not getting done, move back to hottest part of the grill.

While this going on, heat the reserved marinade on the stove. Let it simmer. In 10-15 minutes you’ll have a nice thick sauce.

Grilled Squash

Young yellow squash doesn’t need to be peeled. If you see a spot that’s a little brown, just cut it away.

Cut off both ends of the squash and then cut it into chunks and put in an aluminum baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh dill, kosher salt, black pepper and grated parmesan. Add two or three pats of butter. Give it a good stir and put the pan on the grill with your chicken. It should be tender in about 15 minutes–just test with a fork.

Here’s the finished plate:

It’s not the prettiest, but can I just say that it tasted amazing. Oh, we had blackberry cobbler for dessert:

So that’s what’s cooking  here in Franklin today. The tomatoes, squash and blackberries were all bought at the local farmer’s market and here’s the recipe for the cobbler.

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Herbal Essence

Poor HIF’s Table has been sadly neglected for way too long. With Thankgsiving and all the holiday cooking fast on the horizon though, be watching for more posts.

The great thing about an herb garden is that, for the most part, you can almost neglect it. I don’t have good luck with fussy flowers, but even someone with a black thumb like me can grow herbs. The herb garden I have today is not nearly as nice as the one at my other house, but I do have good supply of  the quartet of herbs Simon and Garfunkle made famous–parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

If you’ve never tried cooking with fresh herbs, please give it a try. They are readily available in almost every grocery store now are a far superior to the dusty, dried versions in jars.Thanksgiving is a medley of savory, traditional flavors and everything you make (except dessert) will be better with fresh herbs.

rosemaryThis is rosemary. It’s probably the easiest herb to grow. My two bushes are prolific and only get bigger year after year. Rosemary and poultry are natural companions. Try this: carefully insert your fingers between the skin and breast of your turkey. Slowly work your fingers to loosen the skin, going back as far as you can. Now insert a few tender sprigs of rosemary under loosened skin. Not only is it pretty, it infuses the meat with a wonderful flavor.

thyme

This is thyme. Thyme doesn’t flourish in my present garden like it did in my old one. You’ll see this wonderful ancient herb spilling out of beds and around rock walls all over Europe. Hold the stem and just scrape the tiny leaves off with your fingers. Stir it into your gravy or throw some into the cavity of your turkey along with a couple of lemon quarters.

sage

Sage is a flavor that many of you may associate with sausage. For me, that’s what makes it a perfect addition to dressing, because I use sausage in my dressing as well. Sage has a great earthy flavor. When you’re using sage, start with a little and taste as you go. It can get overpowering.

parsley

The last herb in the quartet is parsely. If you just think of parsely as a tasteless garnish, I hope you’ll give it another chance. This Italian flat leaf parsely adds a bright flavor to any of your savory dishes. You can use it in almost any of your Thanksgiving favorites.

I know that the little packets of fresh herbs in the grocery are expensive and don’t last long. But try splurging a little for the holidays. Or find a friend with an herb garden. If they have as much as I do, they’ll be happy to share.

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Creamy Yummy Luscious Risotto.

That’s a lot of adjectives, but that’s how much I love this dish from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (sometimes known as the Naked Chef).

This is one of those dishes that never enters my mind during the warm months. Even now in September a tropical system is sitting on top of us making the air thick with moisture. I won’t be making this any time soon, but I can think about its goodness…especially with roast chicken.

Risotto takes a little patience and preplanning…you’ll want to have all your ingredients measured and chopped before you begin. If you’ve never made risotto before, read the recipe all the way through a couple of times so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Equipment you’ll need: 2 large pots, 1 ladle

Ingredients you’ll need:

2 pints chicken stock (the better the stock, the better the risotto)

2 T olive oil

2 T butter

3/4 C white or yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped 

3/4 C celery, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 cups Aborio rice

2 C dry white wine or dry vermouth

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 T butter

4 oz freshly grated Parmesean cheese

Heat the stock in one pot to a simmer, turn heat down, but keep warm

1.Put the butter and oil in the other pot. Melt the butter and add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook slowly for about 15 minutes, or until the veggies are soft. Add the rice and turn up the heat.

2. The rice will start to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute or two, it will start to look slightly transparent. Add the wine and keep stirring…notice the fabulous smell.

3. After the rice has absorbed the wine, add your first ladle full of stock and a pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer–you don’t want the rice to cook too quickly. Keep stirring. Everytime the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle full of stock. After about 15 minutes, taste the rice…it should be almost (but not completely) soft. Keep adding stock and stirring. If you run out of stock, add boiling water.

4. When the rice is done, remove from the heat and add the remaining butter and cheese…stir well. Put a tight lid on the pan and let sit for two minutes. Enjoy as soon as possible.

This is not really a do-ahead type of dish, but if you want to make it for guests, just invite them into the kitchen while you’re cooking.

I promise that the effort for this dish is worth it.

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Caesar Salad and A New Favorite Product

The first time I ever had a Caesar Salad was on a business trip to Minneapolis. It was made tableside with great fanfare and I loved it.

I’ve been making Caesars ever since, but something just wasn’t right. It took a trip to Cafe Nonna in Nashville for me to figure it out–I was trying to do too much. I was using too much garlic, too much cheese and too much oil.

I came home, scaled back and started over.

Like any salad dressing recipe, the amounts are iffy, so taste as you go.

Dressing ingredients:

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 lemon

olive oil

kosher salt

dijon mustard

1 egg boiled for 3 minutes

Salad ingredients

Romaine lettuce

sundried tomatoes (I know–it’s not what the purists would include but I think they’re great)

pine nuts (again, not traditional, but a good addition)

croutons

finely grated parmesean

anchovy fillets (up to you)

In the bottom of the same bowl you’ll be mixing the salad in, add garlic, juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt. Let that stand a few minutes so the garlic will soften.

Whisk in about twice as much olive oil as there is lemon juice. The dressing should thicken up a bit.

Add in about a half tablespoon of mustard.

Taste everything. Is there too much acid? Too much oil? Play with the flavors until they suit you.

Now bring a small pan of water to a boil and drop the egg in. Cook for three minutes. Rinse the egg in cold water for a bit so you can handle it. Break it open and add the yolk to the dressing. Whisk everything together and give a final taste. Adjust with more lemon, oil or salt if necessary.

Add the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pine nuts and croutons and toss.

Serve in chilled bowls. Add anchovy filets last–lay on top.

FAVORITE NEW PRODUCT

I found these in the produce section at Publix a few months ago and have been using them ever since. They’re perfect for sprinking on salads and resealable containers are, in my opinion, just about the best invention ever.

 51vHvRXYbjL__SL500_AA280_PIbundle-7,TopRight,0,0_AA280_SH20_

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Kiss My Grits

Next time you have a dinner party try this. Cook up a pot full of ground corn meal. Mix in some butter, salt and cheese. When your guests ask what it is, tell them it’s polenta. They’ll ooh and aah and compliment you on your international palate.

Then, a few weeks later, do it again. Only this time tell them that it’s grits. If you live outside of the South, you risk their derision. They’ll laugh at you behind your back. Question your pedigree. And quite possibly drop you from the gourmet dinner group.

But polenta and grits are essentially the same thing. Only one has cache. The other doesn’t.

For some reason, grits, more than any other food I know of, carries with it a taint of uneducated, backwoods, redneck miasma. Something the Beverly Hillbillies would’ve served as a side dish to possum friccasse.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve washed down grits with Cristal champagne. I’ve served them with my finest linen, china and sterling silver.

Around here, grits are the rule, not the exception.

Like pasta, rice and boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grits are a palate. Begging for butter, cheese, herbs and savory goodness.

The most common way you see grits served in Middle Tennessee is in a casserole. Every cook worth her Henkel knives has her own recipe.

Here’s mine, before they are cooked:

uncooked grits

 And here’s the recipe:

3 c water

1 c quick cooking grits (not instant)

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced Rotel tomatos

handful snipped fresh chives or tablespoon dried

2 eggs

1 cup milk (any will do)

salt

paprika, chili powder, cayenne

Bring water to a boil and stir in grits. Cover and cook over very low heat for two minutes. Stir grits and cover, move off heat.

After a couple of minutes, stir grits until smooth.

Add butter and cheese.

Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.

Blend grits, cheese and butter.

Add garlic, Rotel and chives… stir

blend eggs into milk

Add to grits

Add salt to taste

Dust top with paprika, chili powder, cayenne

Bake at 350 for approx. 1 hour, or until middle is set.

 cooked grits

These grits are especially good with grilled meat, like my shish kabobs…

kabobs

The moral of the story is this…grits are good. Really, they are. Give them a try.

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I Really Like Dirty Books

No…not that kind of dirty book.

I mean books that are physically dirty–spashed with olive oil. Smeared with whole grain dijon mustard. Dappled with red wine.

What I’m talking about are cookbooks. Here are a few of mine:

my cookbooks

I have to admit that there are a couple on the shelves that have barely been opened. They’re mostly on the bottom. Some were well meaning gifts. Some were mistakes of my own. They’re the clean cookbooks. The ones that I imagine saying “pick me, pick me” everytime I cast my eye their way.

Look carefully and you’ll see the trends I fell for.

I went through the blackened phase created by cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. I have a couple of his books. Once glance and it’s easy to see why he weighs a few hundred pounds more than he should–every recipe has AT LEAST 2 sticks of butter in it.

I went through the Silver Palate era in the 80s when formerly unheard of ingredients finally made their way to Little Rock where we were living at the time.

I’m still in the Barefoot Contessa’s orbit…mostly because her recipes are really, really good. But she’s another one with a liberal hand when it comes to butter and cream.

Those trends come and go…but some recipes are constant, like these two for grilled chicken.

 seaside chicken

tomato chicken ii And here’s one I’ve been making for 20 years. It’s from an old Junior League cookbook called Southern Sideboards. Say what you will about the League, but they sure know how to cook. Or at least their kitchen help does.

shish kabob

 If you spill something on your favorite recipe, don’t worry about it. It’s a badge of honor–a sure sign that whatever’s under those splashes and splotches is sure to be good.

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Italian food? What’s that?

My mother is a very good cook, but 40 years ago this small town didn’t have a lot in the way of exotic ingredients. Most spice cabinets then consisted of paprika (for sprinkling over deviled eggs), onion salt (for tomato sandwiches) and garlic powder.

Don’t get me wrong–we ate very well, and very healthily with lots of green vegetables and not too many processed, packaged foods. But a  look in my pantry and refrigerator today shows lots of items that probably weren’t sold within 20 miles of here when I was growing up–basalmic vinegar, curry paste, pesto and Maldon salt. Italian, Mexican and Chinese foods were things you found in Nashville, but not here.

Today we use those ingredients without thinking twice–picking them up at any area grocery store.

Today’s recipe is not one that includes a lot of fancy ingredients–it’s a simple marinara sauce that takes full advantage of the late summer glut of tomatoes. The recipe comes from this book which I bought in Napa Valley several years ago. The sauce freezes well and gives you a taste of summer in the middle of winter. I use half the amout of oil called for here, but you can decide if you want to cut it.

1 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c diced onions

1 c diced celery

1 c diced carrot

(this mixture of onion, carrot and celery is known as mirepoix and is the basis for many sauces, soups and stews)

2 T chopped garlic

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, quartered

1/4  c fresh basil, chopped

salt/pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the mirepoix and garlic and cook for 15 minutes. Don’t let them brown. Add tomatoes and stir and cook for another 30 minutes or so–until the tomatoes are all melty and the carrots are soft.

Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in basil.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, now would be a good time to go get one. The sauce can wait while you run to Wal-Mart or K-Mart or whichever mart is closest. You can get a perfectly good one for under $20 and you won’t believe how much you’ll use it.

Now, take your immersion blender and let it go on that sauce. You’ll be amazed at the color and the texture. Taste for seasoning and enjoy.

This recipe doubles easily, and you might as well go on and make extra.

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