Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Surprise Party for my Birthday - a New England Clam & Lobster Boil

My husband Meakin threw a surprise party for me for my birthday over the weekend and I never had a clue! He managed to assemble our entire family from Texas, Florida, Tennessee, & North Carolina to celebrate one those “milestone” birthdays for me. He had live lobsters and clams flown in from Maine and everyone hid at my brother & sister-in-law’s house here in the mountains of North Carolina in the same small town where we live and where the New England Clam and Lobster Boil party was held, all in a cloud of secrecy.

Meakin and I are practically joined at the hip and how he pulled this off without my even having a clue is still a big mystery to me, but he did it, along with the help of our family, and it was a huge success.

Big caldrons were brought from Florida to cook the lobsters and clams, corn was shucked and cleaned, beer and wine was chilled, the table was set, and the feast was devoured in no time, followed of course by a birthday cake and much visiting.

I want to say that my brother-in-law Stuart and his wife Sandy deserve big accolades as the actual burden of the details in planning and implementation of the party fell on their shoulders. You guys are the best and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here they are along with Meakin's youngest brother, who kindly brought his big pots from Florida for the lobsters and clams, sharing a beer while cooking.

I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures.

Meakin having fun with the lobster.

My sister-in-law had never met my sister. Here they are with me getting to know each other.

Our host with his lobster.

Meakin's handsome son and his pretty wife. They got up early and drove all morning to get here on time.

And of course the finale, a birthday cake.

Here we all are together as a group for the first time in years.

I am truly blessed. Meakin asked me to marry him on my birthday forty-five years ago. Time flies when you're having fun.

To enlarge photos for better viewing, click the photo.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.    
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Broiled Salmon with Fresh Red Cherry Sauce

Cherries have been excellent this year and are still available in the market. I’ve used them in several recipes, most recently a baby greens salad with fresh cherries, gorgonzola cheese, and chicken with a raspberry vinaigrette, link here. The other night we dipped fresh cherries in chocolate. Ooh, la, la. I’ve been very impressed with this season’s cherry crop.

This recipe says it take only 15 minutes to prepare, but the original recipe called for frozen pitted cherries. If you use fresh cherries, which I highly recommended when they are this good, it will take a little longer to prepare because you have to pit fresh cherries. I also inserted my method of broiling salmon, which takes a little longer than the original recipe called for because I like the salmon to rest. We put our own twist on the sauce by adding a little honey and port wine. Right before serving the sauce when it’s off of the heat, adding a knob of butter will to give the sauce a nice shine.

When we cook for two people from a four person serving recipe and it has sauce, we decrease the meat of course, but always make the entire sauce. One, we love sauce and two, most sauces are good left-over on or in scrambled eggs in the morning. If you have some of this fresh cherry sauce left over, we can attest to the fact that it is great on vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

We served green beans topped with toasted almonds and brown rice sprinkled with Spanish paprika to complete the meal. Bon Appétit!

Broiled Salmon with Fresh Red Cherry Sauce
Adapted from The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet by Paulette Mitchell – serves 4
Printable Recipe

For the fish:
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, preferably with the skin left intact
2 to 3 teaspoons grape seed oil, or other neutral tasting oil
Kosher salt or sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
12 ounces fresh red cherries, pitted (or 12 ounce package frozen pitted red cherries)
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon cold water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons port wine
A knob of butter

Cut the salmon into four pieces approximately the same size and weight. Put salmon on a plate, rub with oil, season with salt & pepper, and allow the salmon to sit at room temperature while you heat the broiler.

Preheat the broiler. Arrange the salmon in one layer, skin side down, on an unheated sheet pan lined with heavy duty foil for easy clean-up. Place the salmon under the broiler about six to seven inches from the source of heat. Broil 8 to 10 minutes or just until the pieces are cooked through. It is not necessary to turn the salmon. If salmon starts to get too crispy on the top, change from broil to bake and bake at 400 degrees until done. Do not overcook or the salmon will be dry. Allow to rest for a few minutes (I leave it for at least 5 minutes) before serving.

While the salmon is cooking, combine the cherries and orange juice in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. Make cornstarch slurry by stirring together the water and cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Add the slurry to the saucepan and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened to a maple-syrup consistency, about 1 ½ minutes to remove the “corn starchy flavor”. Stir in the vinegar, oil, honey and port wine and heat for a moment or two. If the sauce isn’t the right consistency, make a little more corn starch slurry. Add the additional slurry and stir for about 2 minutes to obtain the right consistency. Remove the sauce from the heat and add a knob of butter to give the sauce a shine. To serve, transfer the salmon fillets to plates and top with the warm cherry sauce.

For better viewing, click on photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.    
Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Perennials & the Last of the Tomatoes

Our perennials have been going strong this year. Meakin snapped some pictures before the rains came this past weekend. It has been a very wet summer here in the mountains of western North Carolina, much more so than most years.

This pretty little purple coreopsis was a gift from Beverly. Many of you know Bev as Larry’s wife of Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings. Beverly gave us a cutting when we were at their blogger get-together this past June and as you can see it’s done quite well. Beverly is one of the most talented gardeners I’ve ever known and has a magic touch when it comes to flowering plants. Her flower gardens are a real showcase.

Our purple coneflowers bloomed later than usual this year and it’s the first time I can remember that they bloomed during Black-eyed Susan time. I just read that coneflowers come in a big variety of new colors, including some bright ones and three sizes from dwarf to tall.


We experienced a very harsh winter here as did much of the country. Our hydrangeas took a real hit and consequently haven’t bloomed. This one is new and has been a very fast grower. I wish I could remember its name. I believe that it is new. The flowers begin to turn a peachy sherbet color as they dry and die.

Due to the rain, our tomatoes haven’t done as well as some years. Tomatoes need rain, but not as much as we’ve gotten. Too much rain causes the tomato’s skin to swell. Our Cherokee Purples were finished last week and the only ones left are a few the grape tomatoes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a stroll around our perennial garden and a visit to the last of the tomatoes. This will be linked to Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes.

Have a great week everyone

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blueberry Pancake Cake

Blueberry pancake cake – now that’s a mouth full to say isn't it?. If you want to be fancy about it and not get tongue tied, call it a Blueberry Pancake Gateau, the French name for a cake. The way it is plated using 20 layers of pancakes, each spread with blueberries, takes simple breakfast pancakes to a whole new level.

The pancakes are quite thin and look very much like crepes. We made all of the pancakes first and kept them in a warm oven, and then built the cake layer by layer. The cake looks complicated, but it’s not, especially if you make it step by step. Like any other pancake, it is best when eaten right away.

Blueberry Pancake Cake
Adapted from Summer Food by Lowe, Hensley, & Hensley – serves 8
Printable Recipe

Blueberry mixture:
2 pints of fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
Grated lime zest to equal 1 teaspoon
1 pinch of kosher salt
2 small knobs of butter, optional but it brings a nice shine
1 tablespoon of honey

Stir together all of the ingredients except the honey in a small saucepan, heat gently over very low heat, taste and add honey if mixture is not sweet enough, then set aside while you prepare the pancakes.

Pancake batter:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 – 2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs
Unsalted butter, for frying

Mix together the first five ingredients together in a bowl. Set bowl in refrigerator and let the mixture chill for 20 minutes. Melt a scant amount of butter in an 8” non-stick omelet or crepe pan and fry thin pancakes. This amount of mixture makes about 20 small pancakes. Keep the cakes on a plate in a warm 150 degree F oven until all the cakes have been made.

For presentation, place one pancake at a time on a serving plate, then spread with some of the blueberry mixture (recipe above) over the top of the pancake, top with another pancake, then repeat, saving enough blueberry mixture for the top. Continue until there are no remaining pancakes or blueberry mixture. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh mint leaves and fresh raspberries (recipe below). Cut the cake into slices and serve right away. This cake is best when eaten right after it’s made.

Powdered sugar
Fresh mint leaves
A few fresh raspberries for color

For better viewing, click on photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.    
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Orzo Salad – makes enough to feed a crowd

This orzo salad makes enough to feed a crowd and is perfect for entertaining because it can be made ahead and served at room temperature. For a more substantial meal, add some chopped grilled chicken breasts. I’ve come to love orzo because it cooks so much faster than rice and has a softer, creamier texture.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always a bit stymied when asked to bring a dish to a party. My criteria when choosing a party recipe is that 1) it must be pretty and 2) it must taste as good as it looks. This is especially essential if it’s going to sit on a buffet table with other dishes.

This salad fits the bill on both. There is a lot of color and flavors going on in this dish – smoky grilled red, orange and yellow roasted bell peppers with a little char, green English peas, crunchy grilled red onion, bright green fresh herbs from the garden and juicy ripe red tomatoes combined with al dente orzo and dressed with a lively mustard vinaigrette.

If you like dishes that can be made ahead, this salad is even more delicious the next day after the flavors have had time to blend together. I would advise that if you do make it ahead, add the fresh herbs at the last minute to retain their color and freshness.

We took this salad to a get-together over the 4th of July weekend and it was a real hit. It tastes as good as it looks and is also very pretty on a buffet table. I recommend taking a copy or two of the recipe with you because you’re bound to be asked for the recipe.

Orzo Salad
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper, serves 8 to 10
Printable Recipe

16 ounces (1 lb) dried orzo pasta
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen English peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 each red and white onion, cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
1 each red, orange and yellow bell pepper
1 cup of fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade, or minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, or a combination of both
12 small heirloom tomatoes, about 3 lb. total, cored and quartered or 15 or so grape tomatoes cut in half
Vinaigrette recipe below
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Add the orzo to the boiling water, stirring with a large spoon to prevent sticking. Return the water to a boil and cook the orzo until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes, adding the green peas during the last minute of cooking. You don’t want to overcook the peas. Drain in a colander. Pour the orzo and peas into the ice water and drain again. Transfer to a salad bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate.

In the meantime, make the vinaigrette, recipe below. Combine the olive oil and grapeseed oil in a glass measuring cup. Whisk together the vinegar and mustard in a non-aluminum bowl. Add the oils in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Prepare a hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate and a vegetable-grilling basket. Brush the onions and bell peppers with olive oil. Arrange the onions in the grilling basket and place directly over high heat. Grill, turning once, until the onions are nicely charred on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Grill the bell peppers directly over high heat, turning occasionally, until nicely charred on all sides. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let steam for 10 minutes. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, using your fingers, a paring knife or a fork, peel them and discard the skins. Seed and dice the peppers.

Remove the orzo and peas from the refrigerator and add the vinaigrette, peppers, onions, basil or parsley and chopped grilled chicken (if using) to the bowl and toss to coat. Add the tomatoes, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. (I also added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar.) Can be served cold or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon good Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For a more substantial salad or with leftovers the next day, add some chopped grilled chicken breasts. As long as you have the grill on, throw some boneless chicken breasts on to add now or later.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge. 

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.    
Have a great weekend everyone.