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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Pina Colada Dessert Tribute

This recipe was inspired by the coconut balsamic vinegar I picked up at Olive & Kickin' in Asheville.  I wanted to do more than just use it as part of a salad dressing, so I thought it would be fun to saute some fresh pineapple with it to use as a dessert topping and what better to put it on than a spiced rum cake.  So here we are.  I hope you enjoy it.

Spiced Rum Pound Cake with Sauted Pineapple and Toasted Coconut Flakes

Spiced Rum Pound Cake

2 sticks butter (1 cup), room temp
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs, beaten
3-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
1/4 cup spiced rum
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup roast almonds

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and shortening until smooth.  I find this is easier to do if you cut the butter into smaller pieces first.

Gradually add in the sugar and mix until well-blended.

Slowly add in the eggs until mixture is smooth.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a small bowl, set aside.  Mix the milk, spiced rum and vanilla together, set aside.

Alternately add in flour mixture and milk mixture, blend until the batter is light and fluffy.  I usually add 1/3 flour -- 1/2 milk -- 1/3 flour -- 1/2 milk -- 1/3 flour.

Take your 1/3 cup of roast almonds and rough chop them in a food processor (or by hand).  After you have prepared your cake pan (I grease then flour mine), lay the chopped nuts in a thin layer in the pan.

Pour the batter over the nuts in the pan.

Bake for 60-65 minutes at 325 degrees or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove from over and allow to sit for 5 minutes or so before removing from pan.

Sauted Pineapples

fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, chopped
coconut vinegar

Use 2 tbsp of coconut vinegar for every 1 cup of pineapple pieces.

In a skillet over high heat, cook pineapple pieces for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add coconut vinegar to the pineapple and continue to cook, stirring constantly.

Toasted Coconut

coconut flakes

In a small skillet over high heat, cook coconut flakes for 3-4 minutes or until they start turning brown.


Cut a wedge of pound cake, cover with sauted pineapple pieces and garnish with toasted coconut and serve.


FYI: 5 large eggs = 8 oz (1 cup), 7 large eggs minus yolk = 8 oz (1 cup) egg whites

If you want to use rum flavoring instead of actual rum then change the liquid measures to 2 tsp rum flavor, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 cup + 3 tbsp milk.

It's good to give the cake time to sit before depanning, otherwise if you rush the process and flip it out before it's had time to seize up a bit, it might split (like mine did).  The other reason mine may have split is because the cake baked up over the edges so it didn't have a flat bottom when turned, if yours is mounded when it comes out, you can always trim off the extra before plating.

You can order coconut vinegar online from Olive & Kickin' or check out a local specialty food store.  Whole Foods carries a brand and you can probably find some at Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

I found coconut flakes at Kroger, but most grocery stores will carry shredded or flaked coconut that you can use in lieu of.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Down to Basics: Vinegar

Can a person have too many vinegars?  No..they cannot.

Vinegar is a staple of any kitchen that calls itself a proper kitchen. Not too shabby for the result of a “whoops” – one good cask of wine gone bad and now it’s a household name (and speaking of names, vin aigre means “sour wine” in French).

It caught on pretty well from the start. The ancients Babylonians used vinegar as both a preservative and a condiment. They started the whole herbed and spiced flavoring craze. Roman troops slurped vinegar as a beverage (hey, it was just old wine). And the Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra herself was familiar with vinegar's use as a solvent (she dissolved pearls in vinegar to win a bet that she could consume a fortune in a single meal). Hippocrates extolled the virtues of vinegar as a medicinal aid and the Greeks used it for pickling veggies (yum) and meats (mmm, not so yum).

As you will note on your grocery isle, there are gazillions of types of vinegar, some infused, others made from various products, but all share a common make-up -- natural sugars that have been fermented to alcohol and then again fermented again to become vinegar.

Here’s some tidbittery about a few basic types that you may, or may not, be familiar with.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from apple cider (I know, crazy) or apple must*. Apple cider vinegar is a golden brown in color and has a high acidity which creates a bit of a burning sensation if consumed straight.

*Must is when the whole fruit is fresh pressed and still contains all the parts of the fruit – stems, seeds, core, and the like.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic is an aged vinegar traditionally produced in the Italian provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. It’s made from the concentrated juice (must) of white Trebbiano grapes. It’s a dark brown in color, highly aromatic and sweetly rich in taste. The finest balsamic vinegars have been aged for years in wooden casks.  A “true” balsamic is aged for 12-25 years.

Fruit Vinegar

Fruit vinegars are made from fruit wines and usually don’t include any additional flavoring because the flavors of the original fruit (like apple, raspberry, or current) remains the final product.

Malt Vinegar

Malt vinegar is produced by malting barley. The grain starch turns to maltose, the maltose is brewed into ale, the ale is left to turn into vinegar, and then the vinegar is aged. It’s usually a light brown in color (and VERY good with fish and chips).

Red or White Wine Vinegar

Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine which is allowed to become vinegar. As with wines in general, there is a wide range of variety depending on what wine is used. The higher quality wine vinegars are made from single grape varieties rather than blends and tend to be aged longer (at least two years).

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice or rice wine. It’s produced in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea and comes in three varieties – white, black and red. White rice vinegar is the most similar to Western style vinegars, mildly acidic and clear to pale yellow in color. Black rice vinegar is made with black rice and is smoky in flavor and dark in color. Red rice vinegar gets its color from a red yeast rice.

Flavored vinegars are great for use on salads to add a touch of flavor to your greens.  They are also good for marinades as the acidity of the vinegar helps to breakdown cells and tenderize the meat.

If you get a chance you should check and see if there are any oil and vinegar tasting shops near you.  I found another one in Asheville this past weekend, Olive & Kickin' (  They had some fabulous new flavors I hadn't seen before and I'll be trying one out for the recipe on Sunday.  I bought a sample pack (6 small bottles for $35) which is a great way to try out something before commiting to a whole bottle.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quick-n-Easy Salted Chocolate Bark

Since chocolates with salt are a hot item in the food world these days, I thought I'd bring you a couple of quick-n-easy recipes to wow your friends with.  Please note, you are not required to share these with anyone, but it would be nice, just ask your mom.

Sea Salt and Pistachio Dark Chocolate Bark

1/2 cup chopped pistachios
12 oz bag dark chocolate candy melts
2 tsp sea salt

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper and spread out the chopped pistachios in a squared layer on top.

Either in a double boiler or in a thick bottomed saucepan over low heat (setting 3), melt the chocolate until smooth.

Pour chocolate over the chopped pistachios and spread until covered.

Let sit for a minute or two before sprinkling the salt over the chocolate.

Put in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to set.  Break bark into bite-sized pieces and serve.

White Chocolate Bark with Roast Almonds and Himalayan Pink Salt

1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds
12 oz bag white chocolate candy melts
2 tsp Himalayan pink salt

Follow instructions as above.


You can find high quality melting chocolates in the baking section of most craft stores like Michaels and AC Moore, but many grocery stores will carry them too.

You can also find 1/2 lb and 1 lb candy boxes at most craft stores as well.  Line one with wax paper and fill with bark pieces.  Tie up with a fetching ribbon and voila!  Instant homemade candy gift (your friends and recipients will be most impressed).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Down to Basics: Salt

So…salt. We use it. It seasons. It’s good (though maybe not entirely good for you).

I use so many recipes that call for different types of salt and the other day I realized that I don’t really think I know what specifically makes them different. So for those of you like me who would like to be in the salt loop, did a little investigative research and this is what I found.

The Story of Salt

Historically, salt is the oldest known seasoning and has long been used as a means of preserving food, primarily fish and meat, for easy travel and storage.

The harvesting of salt has been happening since the BCs.  The salt trade flourished throughout the Mediterranean in the early ADs, and was traded almost ounce-per-ounce with gold because of its extreme usefulness and status as a prestige commodity.

The expression, "not worth his salt," rose from the exchange of salt for slaves in Ancient Greece and the origins of the term "salary" came to us from the ancient Romans whose soldiers were given special salt rations known as "salarium argentum."


Salt is mass-produced in two ways. It’s harvested by evaporation of seawater or brine from sources such as brine wells or salt lakes. It can also be produced by mining rock salt known as halite which is the mineral form of sodium chloride.

There are two basic types of salt, refined and unrefined (though even “unrefined” is still refined to a point to make it edible).

Refined (edible)

Table salt, or iodized salt, is refined. It’s about 98% sodium chloride, while the rest of its make-up consists of chemical additives which includes magnesium carbonate (makes it flow freely) and iodine (thus iodized salt).

Because table salt is very fine, it dissolves better than other salts, which is why it is so useful in baking and cooking.

A single teaspoon of table salt contains more sodium than a teaspoon of unrefined salt because of the difference in grain consistency.

Unrefined (edible and non-edible)

Completely raw sea salt is too bitter to use for consumption because of the calcium and magnesium compounds found in the salt, so instead it is used for other purposes like bath salts or road salt.

Unrefined salts tend to be coarser and crunchier and because of their grain size tend to be better for preserving food (the larger crystals are able to extract moisture more easily than smaller sized grains).

Unrefined salts tend to lose their flavor when cooked or dissolved so work better as an addition to a dish rather than as an ingredient in the dish.

Types of unrefined salts include:

Fleur de Sel – is a natural sea salt that comes from the surface of evaporated brine in salt pans whose unique flavor varies from region to region.

Sea Salt – obtained by the evaporation of sea water warmed by sunlight in shallow basins; after it’s collected, it’s refined to purify it which helps to improve storage and handling; minerals found in the natural water are left in so flavor and color will vary depending on the region.

Kosher Salt – is named so not because the process of making it is kosher, but because it is used to make meat kosher; kosher salt tends to have larger flatter grains which more easily soak up any extra moisture; and it doesn’t contain preservatives.

Himalayan Salt – is just marketing term for rock salt from Pakistan; it’s reddish or pink in color with some off-white tones; the color is the result of iron oxide in the rock salt.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pecan Chicken with Woodford Reserve Maple Cream Sauce

O-M-G!  This dish was SO good, even the next day as leftovers, SOOO good.  This is from Off the Eaten Path (Kentucky, p. 91).  It does take some time to prepare, you need at least 8 hours to allow the chicken soak, but actual cooking time takes maybe 30-35 minutes (if you pre-measure).

The recipe below is not exactly like the one in the book because I've included my ingredient modifications after having made it (see Notes for changes).

Pecan Chicken with Woodford Reserve Maple Cream Sauce
(Lynn's Paradise Cafe, Louisville, KY)

Pecan Chicken

3 lbs chicken filets*
2 cups buttermilk*
veggie oil
2/3 cup pecan halves*
1-1/3 all-purpose flour*
4 tsp kosher salt*

Woodford Reserve Maple Cream Sauce

4 peppered bacon slices
1/4 cup shallots, minced
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup whole grain Creole mustard
1/3 bourbon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/3 cups heavy cream**

Chicken prep

Place the chicken in a bowl and pour buttermilk over it.  Make sure all the chicken is coated, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours.

In a large deep skillet, pour veggie oil to about 1" deep.  Heat over medium-high heat until hot (book says to 350 degrees, but if you can't measure the temp, "until hot" will work).

While the oil is heating, process the pecans in a food processor until very finely chopped. 

Transfer pecans to a bowl, stir in 1-1/3 cups of flour and 4 tsps of kosher salt.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk (and then chuck the buttermilk out) and dredge filets in the flour mixture and shake off the excess.

Fry the chicken in small batches, 3-4 pieces at a time, should take 4-5 minutes per side.

Drain fried chicken on a rack over over paper towels (or foil).  Set aside and keep warm.

Sauce prep

Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until crisp.  Remove bacon and drain on paper towls, reserve bacon drippings in pan.

Add shallots to the drippings and saute 2 minutes or until tender.

Stir in 3 tbsp of flour and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until lightly browned (about 2 minutes).

Stir in syrup, then add Creole mustard, bourbon, Dijon mustard, and kosher salt.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or more until thick.

Stir in cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Stirring constantly (you'll notice a theme here) for about 5-8 minutes until thickened.

Generously pour sauce over chicken.  Crumble up the bacon for garnish.  Start chowing!


* The original recipe called for 6 skinned and boneless chicken breasts, I found that by using the chicken filets frying takes half the time and you get a much better coating to chicken ratio.

* The original recipe calls for 1 cup pecan halves, 2 cups flour and 2 tbsp kosher salt, but even after dredging 3 lbs of chicken, there was about 1/3 of the mixture leftover.  Pecans aren't really cheap, so I think if you cut back the dredge mix by 1/3 (as calculated above), you won't have a lot leftover (and less waste of perfectly good pecans).

** The original recipe calls for 2 cups of heavy cream, but when I was making the sauce, because of some freak occurence of nature, my cream has clotted in the container -- wasn't bad or rancid, just clotted -- so I only had 1-1/3 cups to use, BUT it tasted perfectly fine.  So if you want, you can use as much or as little as you want to get the consistancy you like.

Just an FYI, I thought that the pre-creamed sauce was fabulous by itself and would make a nice dipping sauce for beef (like filet mignon).  It's very thick, but has that salty-sweet-booze combo thing that really make its work. 

I was surprised, but actually found peppered bacon at Harris Teeter, I'd never seen it before. The stripes were very thick and cooked up nice and crisp.  The raw strips are just edge dipped in pepper, but it spreads around as you fry them up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Check It Out -- "Off the Eaten Path"

If you are receiving this for a second time, I apologize.  Blogger has some issues this week and removed all posts posted after 7:30 am on Wed May 11.  They didn't re-post this one, just left it in edit mode, so I just wanted to make sure it was posted for posterity's sake and future reference -- thanks, K2

Okay gang, here's something fun, a great new cookbook I had a chance to check out, Off the Eaten Path: Favorite Southern Dives and 150 Recipes That Made Them Famous.  It's like taking a tummy road trip through the South.

The book is divided by state, alphabetically (my kind of people), and features include not only recipes but write-ups and informational tidbits about the area and the restaurants whose recipes are included.  The coolest thing though, they provide GPS coordinates along with the address so you can easily find these little tucked away gems.  And there are lots of pretty pretty images in the book. (I like pretty pictures.)

And the recipes?!?!  Dad has Post-It'd a number of yummers to try out like Jalapeno Hush Puppies from Okie Dokies Smokehouse (Swannanoa, NC), Crab and Shrimp Cakes from Whitey's Fish Camp (Orange Park, FL), and Tipsy Chicken from Carpenter Street Saloon (St. Michael's, MD) while Mom's sweet tooth bookmarked the Sunday Apple Fritters from Lucille's Roadhouse (Weatherford, OK) and Mississippi Mud Pie from The Castle at Dunleith Plantation (Natchez, MS).  Almost too many to choose from, but I think you'll like the Pecan Chicken in Woodford Reserve Maple Cream Sauce from Lynn's Paradise Cafe (Louisville, KY) that I'll be featuring on Sunday.  Mmm, mmm good!

So if y'all like Southern food and enjoy a good read, then I think you'll want to add this to your kitchen book collection.

Off the Eaten Path
by Morgan Murphy (he's a travel writer!)
foreword by Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes, anyone?)
Southern Living, Time Home Entertainment Inc., 2011
$21.95 US

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate Fig Pecan Pie

So the way I see it, chocolate and fig is a great combo, fig and pecans get along really well, pecans and chocolate have a long history together, so why not throw them all together to see if they have a good time.  Well, they did.

Chocolate Fig Pecan Pie

1 9" unbaked deep dish pie shell
2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup dried figs, rough chopped (about 4 figs)
3 large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp whiskey or bourbon
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°.

Rough chop the dried figs and mix in bowl with pecan halves.

not pretty dried, but soooo tasty

Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the beaten eggs and melted butter.  Whisk in the corn syrup, then the sugar and booze.  Finally, mix in the mini chocolate chips.

Pour the mixture over the pecans and figs.

Place the pie on a aluminum-lined cookie sheet (for easier clean up). Bake at 375° for 10 minutes until filling starts to set. Drop temperature to 350° and continue to bake for 25-30 minutes until set and nicely browned on top.

Remove pie from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Figs

Figs have a long history as a food source. Fossilized figs have even been found at ancient archaeological sites dating back to 9300 BC.

It’s believed they were first cultivated in Egypt (having been mentioned often in ancient writings and Biblical texts) and they spread throughout the Mediterranean quickly becoming a food staple.

To the Romans, figs were considered a sacred fruit. According to the legend of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, the wolf they were raised by rested under a fig tree.

Symbolically, in art and religion, the fig tree represents abundance, fertility, and sweetness, while fig leaves figs represent modesty or the protection of modesty (Adam and Eve sported fig leaves in the garden to hide their nudeness).

Figs pack a combo punch of taste sensations – they’re lusciously sweet to eat, chewy on the outside and crunchy on the inside because of their seeds.

And for such a small fruit, they pack a big punch.


Ÿ Both fresh and dried figs are high in iron and calcium (which helps promote bone density).
Ÿ Figs are a good source of potassium, which helps control blood pressure.
Ÿ Figs are a good source of natural sugar.
Ÿ Dried figs are good for weight management because they are chocked full of dietary fiber.
Ÿ Fresh figs are a good source of several B vitamins.
Ÿ Dried figs have a higher concentration of potassium, as well as calcium. The only downside is that dried figs are also higher in calories, so you may want to watch your intake.

Fresh figs are a late summer-early fall fruit, but dried figs are available year-round.

Because fresh figs have a short shelf life, they are best eaten shortly after buying them. The short shelf life is also why commercially they are more often sold dried or in jam form; fresh figs just don’t travel well.

The two most common types of fresh figs sold in grocery stores are the Black Mission (blackish-purple skin and pink flesh) and Calimyrna (greenish-yellow skin and golden yellow flesh).

When you buy fresh figs, look for those that are plump and tender (soft but not too mooshy). You can tell how fresh figs are by smelling them too, they should have a lightly sweet fragrance. (If they smell sour, just walk away, cuz it means they might be spoiled.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Garden Green Salad with Mint-Garlic Dressing

Okay, so I gotta be honest here, on its own watercress is definitely not a favorite.  It's a bit too bitter for my taste, but once it was mixed in with the other greens and offset by the Mint-Garlic Dressing, it actually adds an interesting depth to the salad.

And I should warn you that this is not your typical pretty girl salad.  There's a certain earthiness to it that reminds me of the insalata mistas we would order with dinner in Rome.  Kind of has a taste like someone ran out to the garden and just grabbed a handful of greens to throw in your bowl (washed first, of course).  It may not be for everyone, but I was surprised at how much I really liked the hearty taste of it and I hope you'll give it a try too.

Garden Green Salad with Mint-Garlic Dressing

Green leaf lettuce
Zucchini, diced
Snow peas, cut


1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/8 tsp salt

To make the dressing, put the yogurt, mint, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth (may be bubbly).

Put in a sealed container and pop in the fridge until ready to use.

Dice up your zucchini (as much as is needed) and pop pieces in the microwave on high for 35 seconds, long enough to soften, but not mushify the pieces. 

Rinse snow peas and chop off ends.  Cut into smaller pieces.

Rinse and tear your green leaf lettuce, then rinse and remove stems from watercress.

Mix greens in a bowl and then plate.  Drizzle the dressing over and serve.