Sunday, February 22, 2009

Culinary Creations: British Sausage Rolls (With a Twist)

For Christmas, I tried making James his favorite British treat, the sausage roll. In England, Christmas just isn't Christmas without sausage rolls. It is a family tradition to have them with Champagne, very civilized. While I'm not a huge fan of sausage, pair it with Champagne and brown sauce, and I'm happy to partake. This is what a sausage roll is supposed to look like. Mine didn't quite turn out this way... (photo from Sainsbury's Magazine November 2006 issue) Looking to Delia Smith and Sainsbury's Magazine for guidance, this is what I came up with:
*1 lb pork sausage meet
*1 small onion, grated
*dried herbs of choice (I used a poultry blend)
*1 box Puff Pastry sheets, thawed
*1 egg to brush pastry
Mix sausage, onion (or leek), and herbs - seasoning with a little salt and pepper.
The puff pastry I chose had 2 packets. I opened one and spread it out on a cutting board.
Next I took half of the sausage mixture, placed it on the pastry, then rolled.
When I had finished, it was a little fatter than I thought it should be, but pressed on. I sliced the roll and brushed with the egg wash.
These were placed onto a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and baked at 425F for 20-25 minutes.
As you can tell from the photo at the beginning of the post, mine didn't come out to desired size. Mine were more like coasters. But with a nice brown sauce and a glass a bubbly, we managed to work our way through them. Despite it being 85F outside, I think it did feel like Christmas Eve to James.
A few days later... this is what I did with the other packet of pastry and the remaining sausage. Thinking the "pinwheel" effect would probably be more successful, I spread the sausage mixture across 2/3 of the pastry, then rolled.
Once rolled, I brushed again with egg, sliced and baked at 400F for 15-20 minutes, or until brown.
They weren't quite the same to James, but I was much happier with the results. While they were different from what he is used to, it didn't stop him from devouring them.
All this talk of British classics makes me think of another iconic British 'roll': Cliff Roles. While I try to paint a nice picture of Sarasota and the area, Cliff is truly "in the know" of all current events. Not only a local Award Winning Actor, Cliff has a fantastic local daily radio show with the best guests on the Sun Coast. I am very excited to be assisting Cliff at next month's Murder Mystery Night for the Sarasota British Club. I thank him in advance for hosting our "Am-Dram" night, and might make this dish in his honor.

Culinary Creations: Jamaican Jerk Pork Burgers

I love Jamaican Jerk anything, and as the weather is warming up again, it's time to dust off the BBQ and come up with a few new tropical recipes. I suppose this really isn't a recipe, per se, as more of how I seasoned ground pork and buns.

I started with 1 pound of ground pork, added a healthy dose of Jamaican Jerk seasoning, and made 2 burgers. Yes, we are pigs. To be fair, we did only have breakfast that day, and weren't serving anything else with the burgers. OK, back on track - and cooked on medium heat about 5-7 minutes each side.
While this burgers were cooking, I "made" a sauce for the buns. In a small bowl, I combined about 2 tablespoons of Dukes mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon of HP Curry Sauce. Make this to taste, you could add more or less of whichever to your liking. I also added a dash or two of the Jerk seasoning for a little heat.
Next I sliced the buns, buttered, and then toasted under my broiler.
Once everything was ready, I slathered the sauce on the buns, added a thick slice of sharp Cheddar cheese, dill pickles, lettuce and sliced herbed yellow tomatoes*.
These are by no means the most appetizing photos I've ever taken as I was in more "experimental" mode, but the results were fantastic. They were so full of flavor and will definitely become part of my regular "recipe box".
* In my opinion, the lower acidity of the yellow tomato complimented the spiciness of the jerk seasoning better than a red tomato. Red tomato would work, but as I was also having dill pickle slices, it was yet another reason to go with the more mellow option. After slicing, I sprinkled with sea salt, basil, rosemary, and thyme. If you wanted to add a little more heat to your burger (they had a slight kick but were by no means hot) you could also sprinkle with dried red pepper flakes or hot sauce.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gardening: Valentine's Weekend Plantings

I apologize in advance. This is by no means my most interesting post. But it is that time again, the time of year when I don my garden gloves, grab the secateurs, slap on the SPF and go at it like a mad woman. I LOVE to garden, and while I have a very small yard, I make the most of the area that I have. So again, I apologize for this post, but it is a good way of my keeping track of things I've done.

James bought a box for me last year to grow herbs in on the lania. We've had a few things come and go, but it is still very enjoyable and I like the seasonal change. As my Lemon Thyme was dropping too many leaves, we decided to transplant it outside to a container that has Rosemary. This created the opportunity to bring in something new, and I was happy to find a Nasturtium at the Farmer's Market. Not only do they remind me of my recent trip to France, I love adding them to salads and using them as a garnish. The pretty, delicate flowers have an unexpectedly peppery flavor that goes nicely with other herbs and a simple vinaigrette.
When I first brought the plant home, James asked why I paid for Dollar Weed when we had it growning for free in our lawn.Alfie and Archie are still holding court in the box. James suggested their names be changed to Charlie and Tipsy. The jury isn't in on that one yet...
The biggest surprise in my herb box this year was the arrival of Cilantro. Last summer I had bought a bunch of Cilantro that still had the roots attached from Jessica's Market. When finished, I planted the roots. It has been about six months since I planted them, and am very excited that they decided to sprout.As we were on a roll, we decided to transplant our other Rosemary outside between my roses. For whatever reason, I am not able to keep a rose alive in this spot. I'm hoping that not only will the Rosemary thrive, but that the smell might deter some of the pests that are attracted to the roses. As it was Valentine's Day, I had to give my Curry Plant a little TLC. One of the branches was partially snapped off. I didn't want to remove it as that would create a large gap, so I took a bamboo skewer to hold it back up in place. So far it seems to be working as none of the green leaves have started to turn brown. Ok, apart from the ones that are already brown in this photo. While reveling in the success of my Cilantro, I decided to try it again with some Dill roots from a recent purchase. I chopped the tops off...and divided the roots between two planters. Fingers crossed I will have Dill shoots sprouting up in no time.
The last and least exciting transplant of the weekend was a Gardenia that I've had in a pot. This is purely for my memory's (or lack there of) sake. I am hoping now that it is planted in the ground that it will start grow a little stronger. It was doing really well until recently when it turned a little yellow from the drop in temperature. As it responds well when I sprinkle it with brewed coffee grounds, I'm confident that it will be green and healthy once again in no time.
Thanks again for letting me indulge in this post. I'm sure it will be useful for me in a few months to hopefully confirm my botanical success instead of leaving more spaces that need to be filled.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Culinary Creations: Easy Beef Bourguignon Cottage Pie with Leek Topped Herbed Watercress Mash

We had a lot of the Red Watercress left over from Valentine's Day. I hate to let anything go to waste, so tried to come up with an idea of how to use the remaining cress. As I had the makings for Cottage Pie, I decided to do some research. Loads of recipes came up on Google for Watercress Mash, which consisted of mashed potatoes using watercress butter. Now I'm sure this does make it taste divine, and the extra step probably does add an element of flavor, but I honestly couldn't be bothered to make a butter, so decided to add directly to my mash. While the potatoes were cooking, I finely chopped the remaining watercress.
I used my standard recipe for Easy Leek and Cheese Topped Cottage Pie, only using Coleman's of Norwich Beef Bourguignon sauce mix instead of the Shepherd's Pie mix (with only 2/3 of the required liquid) and adding the cress to the mash, using Kerrygold Garlic & Herb butter.
After baking for 15-20 minutes or until bubbling, it was ready to come out of the oven.
You want your cheese to melt and the leeks to slightly brown, but not to be too charred.
The flavors of the red wine, beef, mushrooms, carrots, mashed potatoes and leeks went so well with the peppery flavor of the watercress.
I'm a bit of a vegetable fanatic, but had spent enough time preparing this dish (even though it was easy), it was a Sunday and I wanted to relax a bit. This is where the big Green Guy came in handy. By the time I had popped the pie in the oven and cleaned my mess up, preparing another veggie dish didn't rank high on my list of priorities.
All in all, I was very pleased with this dish. The only thing I would do differently would be to add more watercress. The other recipes had called for 2 bunches. While I'm not convinced I'm make the watercress butter, I am convinced I'd use double the cress.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Culinary Creations: Three Cheese Gratin Dauphinois

I'm always on the quest to come up with new potato recipes. Here is what I came up with on Valentine's Day to go with James' divine steak.
* 4 potatoes, thinly sliced, (I don't peal, but feel free to do so if you prefer)
* 1 leek, sliced
* 2 oz Blue Cheese
* 2 oz sharp Cheddar
* 2 oz grated Parmesan
* 1/2 pint of whipping cream
* 2/3 cups milk
* 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
* 2 cloves of garlic
* pinch of Allspice, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375F. Pour cream and milk into pan and gently simmer. Once simmering, add in potatoes, leeks,1 clove garlic (chopped), allspice, salt and pepper. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Add in cheeses, stir until mixed, then remove from heat. Cut remaining garlic clove in half, use both halves to run baking dish. Pour in mixture, spreading evenly to fill the baking dish. Bake at 375F 40-60 minutes. Feel free to cover in foil if potatoes are browning faster than they cook. The leftovers were particularly enjoyable. We had them two nights later with ratatouille, kale, and smoked pork chops. Recipe should serve 4, but as a side dish, has been more like 6 for us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner: A New Watercress and Dauphinois Recipe

James and I usually stay in for dinner on Valentine's Day. We started the tradition a few years back of cooking a joint venture meal instead of going out. It is a treat for me to have him cook, and there is no chance of bad service or noisy patrons. Well, apart from Harry.

James cooked steak - French style, and I made a Three Cheese Gratin Dauphinois. We also had a green salad with a new discovery to me: "Wild Red" Watercress. It was lovely, not quite as bitter as some of the watercress we get around here, and was a bit more peppery. We both agreed that we liked it better. With the lovely mixture of green and red, you could almost feel the goodness as you were eating it. Take that toxins and potentially cancerous cells! I did some research and discovered that this is actually a recent find. Or so the article goes. As it has just been placed on the market and only to a limited area, I feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon it. Have I mentioned that I love Sarasota's Downtown Farmer's Market???
We had a lovely meal with Madeleine Peyroux singing away in the background. James had cleared the table and we were finishing up the last of the fizz before going for a walk when an uninvited guest showed up:
Quicker than I could say "Be Mine" (alla Sweethearts Conversation Hearts), Harry was up on the table, on the trivet, like he belonged there. Now I do not condone the cat on the table while we eat, if you know Harry, some times there is no compromising.

What's Not to Love About Puppet Shows and Free Hugs?

My Valentine's Day started with my favorite weekend activity: heading down bright and early to the Farmer's Market. It was a stressful week, and this is my favorite way to unwind. As my mom and I made our way to our favorite breakfast spot, C'est la Vie, we were treated to a puppet show by Dr. Nick and Leonardo Da Cat and His International Menagerie.Being serenaded by Leonardo himself on Valentine's Day was such a treat. How could you not smile being entertained by a group of Marionette puppets on a portable stage that is towed by a leopard print bike? It's people like Dr. Nick Gapeto that make me love this town, he really adds to that eclectic character of Sarasota. Giddy from the vibe of the early AM concert, we scored a table in the popular French café, where I ordered my favorite, the Savoyarde Crepe - this time choosing salad instead of potatoes. Yes, I'm not your typical breakfast fan, so salad at 8:30AM is perfectly acceptable to my palate.
After a leisurely breakfast, we hit the market, stocking up on some amazing produce. I love going to the Farmer's Market with my mom as it's a great way to buy in bulk, then split things between us.
While we were downtown, we stopped into Sur La Table as my mom was on a mission to get a heart shaped cookie cutter. As we were in line to pay, I noticed the napkin display... could this be a sign???
On the way back to the car, crossing Main St - in front of the Gator Club, we were greeted by this group of smiling faces giving free hugs for Valentine's Day!
Whether you're cynical about Valentine's Day being a holiday that was fabricated by Hallmark and Florists as a way of selling their goods, you've got to admit that it is nice to have an excuse to celebrate love and kindness. Yes, you should need your calender dictating a day for you to do so, but it doesn't hurt...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Nothing says "I Love You" like...

Happy Valentine's Day!!! xoxo

Monday, February 9, 2009

Easy Pumpkin, Chocolate Chip, and Ginger Cookies

Last month I volunteered to host a bake sale table at a local garden fête. I'm not as good of baker as I am cook, but have a few trusty recipes that aren't too shabby. I had planned to make my infamous oatmeal, banana, chocolate chips cookies that took me a few years to master. As I work full time (and can be a bit of a procrastinator) I stopped to the get missing ingredients on my way home from work - the night before the fête. When I got home I realized that I had forgotten a few key ingredients, mainly oatmeal and bananas. I didn't feel like going back out again, so had a look around my kitchen to see what I could make. With a box of Pillsbury® Pumpkin Quickbread mix in my freezer, I settled on a variation of a recipe on the side of the box. Replacing chocolate chips for the raisins, my Pumpkin, Chocolate Chip, and Ginger Cookies turned out to be a huge hit.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Culinary Creations: Oven Roasted Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Leeks, and Garlic Tomatoes

This recipe is the a prime example of why I created this blog: whenever I come up with a new recipe, and we really like it, I never remember what I did or how long I cooked it. Many a conversation in my house consist of: "It doesn't taste like it did last time" or "This isn't how I remember it at all". In addition, when I'm following a recipe from a book or magazine, I always add or change things around, and like to make notes on what I'd do differently next time. I've got an extensive collection of Sainsbury's Magazines, so remembering which issue what recipe came from can be a bit of a problem. One night after I made something we really like (which no doubtedly didn't get recorded and will never be remembered), I had the epiphany that if it were all in one place, on-line, I will never have to strain my brain/search/forget again!

This an idea that has been going around in my mind for a week: the ingredients were chosen, it was going to be something cooked on the stove, but 1/2 hour before cooking, I decided that bunging it all in the over would leave me free to do other things. This is what I came up with. Serves 4.

* 4 boneless pork chops
* Dijon mustard
* breadcrumbs
* 1 large tomato, cut into large chunks
* 1 clove of garlic, more if you want to roast whole cloves in dish
* 2 thin leeks (not links) (inside joke), thickly sliced
* 8oz Portobello mushrooms, halved
* 4 slices of smoked bacon, roughly chopped
* olive oil for drizzling
* 1/4 wine for drizzling, red or white
* salt, pepper, herbs to taste

1) Half hour before cooking, put a dollop of mustard on each chop, spread to cover, set aside. Then chop 1 clove of garlic, sprinkle over chopped tomato along with a good pinch of salt. Also set aside, both out of the refrigerator. You could use this half hour to clean and prepare the rest of your veg and any side you might serve with it. Duh, I didn't have to tell you that.
2) When half hour is up, pre-heat oven to 350F. While oven is pre-heating, place pork in a large oven safe dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, any type will do, I like to season mine with Herbs de Provence and a little Parmesan cheese. Next add mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes, and bacon. Drizzle with olive oil, wine, season with salt, pepper, and herbs - to your liking.
3) Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring the veggies after 15 minutes.
I served it with some bow-tie pasta that was tossed in a garlic and herb butter and some white beans with yellow carrots, spinach, also in a garlic butter (compliments to Mr. Green Giant). Keeping the sides simple made it a really easy dish to make, I was glad that I decided to let the oven do all the work. This was all washed down by a lovely sparkling rosé that really complimented the meal. James gave it a 9 out of 10 and said it was restaurant quality. I'm just hoping he didn't mean Denny's. He once rated something I made a 10 out of 10, now if only I could remember what that was...