Thursday, April 23, 2015

Off for a leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence & the South of France

Perched village of Gordes

We’re off for a very leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence and the South of France. That’s what people do when they retire. They don’t hurry or run, they stroll. We’re plan to take our time and leisurely enjoy the glorious sights and smells of Provence, stopping often by the side of the road to enjoy the fields of sunflowers and lavender that grow in that region. And of course live the good life.

The truth be told, we already live the good life. The only difference is that we’ll be living the good life à la française. We’ve rented an old stone Mas (a French country house) a few kilometers north of Saint-Rémy de Provence. Saint-Rémy de Provence is located in the heart of the Alpilles region of Provence where we stayed on our last visit.

We’ll shop in the outdoor markets of small villages & enjoy the charm of the typical Provencal way of life. We’ll stroll along the boulevards under the shade of century-old plane trees, wander around narrow little streets, discover squares with fountains, and of course dine outside at many of their cafes and restaurants and sip wine and eat fabulous Provencal cooking based on locally produced products.

We plan to rise early each morning and walk with the locals to the village’s boulangerie for a fresh baguette and carry it home under our arm.

Perhaps later in the day visit the pretty lady in the patisserie to pick up a couple of flaky pastries or a tart (tart citron is my favorite) for the evening.

We’ll hum Starry, Starry Night as we walk in the steps of Van Gogh where he painted some of his most famous masterpieces in the plein air of Saint-Rémy & Arles.

Saint-Paul Asylum

While in Arles we’ll enjoy the Romans ruins of the ancient city & see where bull fights are held.

Seems the Romans were all over Provence. On our last visit we drove to the Pont de Gard, a Roman monument built halfway through the 1st century AD. The long aqueduct supplied the city of Nimes with water.

We’ve planned day trips from Saint-Rémy and will visit other villages such as Isle Sur la Sorgue, where the river Sorgue surrounds the city and walk along canals that run between the ancient narrow streets. Sunday is flea market day in Isle Sur la Sorgue and crowds come from all around looking for vintage items and treasures. Hmm, I should start my list now...

Perhaps we’ll visit the medieval village of Fontaine de Vaucluse again as one of our day trips and have a leisurely lunch overlooking the beautiful clear blue river that gushes by.

There are many perched villages in Provence. One of our favorites is the beautiful old village of Gordes, situated high in the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse with its stone buildings built tight against the base of cliffs. Photo of Gordes shown in the beginning of the post.

Larger side trips include a visit north to Normandy see the beaches and also from Nice we plan to drive over to northern Italy and Modena in particular. Modena is famous for it's balsamic vinegar of course and it's also opera singer Luciano Pavarotti's home. But there's another reason to visit Modena. It also happens to be the home of Erzo Ferrari and the Ferrari factory. I'm sure we'll see plenty of shiny cars to ogle.  

Promenade des Anglais, Nice 

And of course throughout the trip we'll eat and sip wine until our hearts and bellies are content.

And visit a winery or two or three.

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there as I will try to post some pictures from Provence from time to time while we’re away. Click here to follow on Facebook.

So we leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence when we return near the end of June. Take care everyone and we hope you have a lovely spring.

I will return early to mid July with posts about our trip and new recipes after we get settled in for the summer in the mountains.

See you then.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas

We were so impressed with this recipe that we thought it qualified as a special Sunday dinner. The sauce tastes as rich and creamy as a Béchamel, but actually it’s just a white wine and chicken broth based sauce made from the fond left in the pan from browning the chicken and thickened with a small amount of mascarpone and a bit of flour. Baby English peas are scattered across the top for color and additional flavor.

Both the chicken and sauce come together in under 45 minutes and would be a welcome addition to your list of dinner party recipes or would come in handy when you have a house guests. I served it with tomatoes Provençal, which I’ll post about later this spring.

It’s one of Cooking Light’s most popular recipes ever. Feel free to substitute bacon for the pancetta and for the mascarpone I used cream cheese because I had it on hand. Don’t pass this one by.

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas
Adapted from Cooking Light’s The Weeknight Chicken Book – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 ½ ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
4 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese – I used low fat cream cheese
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (unthawed worked fine)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove garlic from pan using a slotted spoon, and then set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pancetta and sauté 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan using a slotted spoon and reserve.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and sauté 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan. Add wine; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to pan. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 6 – 8 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add mascarpone or cream cheese to pan and stir with a whisk until smooth. Combine water and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pan. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes or until sauce is thickened and creamy. Stir in reserved pancetta, garlic, and peas. Cook 1 minute. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Cook's notes: If you don't serve this with something red such as the tomato Provencal and want to add a bit of color, you can add some red bell pepper, cut up in small pieces and sauteed until crispy to the sauce. We did that with the left-overs and it was delicious as well as pretty.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

I’ll be sharing this with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.


Onto an another note - Life is full of surprises. One minute you're on top of your game & the next minute you're flat on your face. That's exactly what happened to me. The other day I was flying high and feeling great and before I knew what happened, I tripped on a step and found myself flat on my face on the concrete - literally flat on my face. Needless to say that has definitely taken the wind out of my sails.

Add to that - we depart in a matter of days for a 2 month adventure in Provence and the South of France. Consequently those two things have altered my plans somewhat for the blog. I thought I would have time to prepare some preplanned posts for you and have them come on automatically while we were gone, but that plan flew out of the window with my fall. I'm black & blue (add to that a black eye and bruises on my face), am very sore and quite frankly just not up to the task. But I do know I lucky I am and how much worse it could have been. We are still excited about the trip and I do have a new post scheduled for next week to tell you about our trip and where we're going. 

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there while we're gone. I plan to post some pictures from time to time while we're away. Click here to follow on our trip on Facebook. 

So I'll leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence & the South of France when we return near the end of June. Next week I'll explain where we're going and some of the things we plan to see. 

In the meantime, take care everyone and I hope you have a lovely spring.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella

This dish began as a simple Spanish chicken and rice dish and by adding some saffron, Spanish chorizo and shrimp I was able to turn it into a party friendly version of mock Spanish paella. It’s a flavorful one dish meal that comes together in less than an hour. To round out the meal, serve with a crusty baguette, a lightly dressed green salad and pour a good Spanish red wine from the Rioja region.

If you research paella on the internet, you’ll find many versions. I found this one from Tio Peppe’s restaurant in Greenwich Village very attractive and a doable presentation for a home cook. If you look at their paella picture here, you’ll see that the Chef garnished his paella with well placed slices of roasted red peppers, then sprinkled green peas atop the red peppers and a few slices of Spanish chorizo were strewn about to give the dish a big pop of color and flavor. I noticed that he chose to serve the paella in a dark bowl, which I also found appealing from a color standpoint. So there’s no stopping what you can do with a simple base of chicken and rice simmered together in a tomato and wine sauce.

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella
Adapted from Real Simple – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 2 ½” inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed & torn into pieces, including liquid
¼ teaspoon dried saffron, crumbled (optional)
1 cup long-grain white rice
¾ pound peeled & deveined wild caught shrimp (optional)
1 cup frozen green peas
¼ cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives, cut in half
4 to 5 ounces Spanish chorizo, roughly diced (optional)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped + extra sprigs for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes per side.

Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes and their liquid, saffron, rice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until 5 minutes before the rice is done. Stir in shrimp and continue to cook for 5 more minutes until rice & shrimp are done.

Stir the peas, olives, & chopped chorizo into the rice and chicken and cook, covered, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Spoon the chicken and rice into a platter or onto individual plates and sprinkle with the parsley. If desired, garnish with a sprig of parsley.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Easy Asparagus Recipes for Easter or any time of the year

Asparagus is one of our favorite dishes to serve at Easter. It spells springtime for me and besides, most everyone loves asparagus. I usually poach the asparagus because it holds up well at room temperature or it can be served chilled. Foods that can be served at room temperature are a real plus. They can sit on a buffet while the main meal is being put together or they are perfect to take to someone else’s house.

I’ve chosen a very simple asparagus dish to feature this year – poached asparagus spears drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette and garnished with sliced lemons.

Grilled asparagus lovers take note - this recipe will work for you as well.  Just grill the asparagus instead of poaching it, drizzle with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with the lemon slices and you’re good to go.

If you prefer to steam your asparagus, then steam them rather than poaching them and proceed with the remainder of the recipes calling for the poaching method.

You’ll also find a medley of 5 of our other favorite asparagus recipes shown below. They are also perfect for your Easter table or for that matter, any time of the year. Any of these recipes can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.

Asparagus with a Lemon Vinaigrette
My Carolina Kitchen by Sam Hoffer – serves 6 - easily doubled or tripled
Printable Recipe

For poached asparagus, My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus is shown below. If you prefer to GRILL or STEAM your asparagus, just dress the grilled or steamed asparagus with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with sliced lemons and serve right away.

2 lemons, sliced thinly and seeds removed

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. Set aside while you cook the asparagus. This vinaigrette saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color.

After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour or serve it at room temperature.

Cook’s notes: I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

Asparagus with Fig Vinaigrette & Shallots uses fig balsamic vinegar to make rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots, and served it over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Chopped Mission figs can be added to the garnish if you wish for even more fig flavor. My basic vinaigrettes are always three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid.

Feel free to grill or steam the asparagus rather than poach it, then top the asparagus with the fig vinaigrette and the garnishes.

Printable recipe
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Grilled Asparagus with Melon & Fresh Mozzarella Cheese shown above is a very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a gas or charcoal grill or in your kitchen on a stove top grill, which is what I did. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes great. What more can you ask for from a recipe?

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod is an elegant, easy to prepare dish that can be made ahead of time. It’s perfect for an Easter buffet and is an ideal companion to baked ham. Basically it is poached asparagus, served cold with a light vinaigrette and garnished with grated hard-boiled eggs and capers shown above or with chopped radishes shown below. It’s known as Asparagus Mimosa because the grated hard-boiled eggs resemble mimosa blossoms. The name Goldenrod comes from the bright green asparagus garnished with yellow egg yolks. Classic dishes such as this were a mainstay on the menus of the grand hotels in a bygone era.

If you wish to grill or steam the asparagus, toss the grilled or steamed asparagus with the vinaigrette and garnishes either with the grated eggs and capers or radishes.

Printable recipe with capers
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Printable recipe with radishes
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Asparagus served on a Bed of Arugula with Roasted Red Peppers & Kalamata Olives is super easy to prepare and very impressive on the plate. It’s broken down into three recipes, two of which are very basic recipes that are nice to know how to make without needing a recipe - poached asparagus and a basic balsamic vinaigrette. The last is the gussied up part – the arugula and the toppings of roasted red peppers, red onions, and kalamata olives.

Again, you could grill or steam the asparagus if you wish, then toss in the vinaigrette, serve on the arugula and garnish with the roasted peppers and olives.

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus with Hearts of Palm, Grape Tomatoes & Silvers of Red Onion tossed in a Lemony Olive Oil Vinaigrette is easily put together in 15 minutes or less and is very colorful on the plate. The hearts of palm give it a tropical twist.

This recipe would work equally well with grilled asparagus. Toss the asparagus in the vinaigrette and garnish with the hearts of palm, grape tomatoes & slivers of red onion.

Printable recipe 
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For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
We hope each of you have a blessed Easter.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Steamed Clams Fagioli

This dish is a takeoff of the Italian peasant dish Pasta Fagioli, but steamed clams take the place of the pasta found in a traditional Fagioli. It’s loaded with the classic Italian flavors found in most Fagioli recipes and can be prepared in 30 minutes.

Fagioli has become so popular in American today that it’s widely found even in restaurants that don’t specialize in Italian cuisine. According to Wikipedia, the word for beans varies in the different Italian dialects so much that fagoli is it often pronounced differently. Pastafazoola, a song written by Van & Schenck, used the Neapolitan pronunciation for the rhyme - “Don’t be a fool, eat pasta fazool.” Whenever I hear the word fazool, it always reminds me of the line in Dean Martin’s song That’s Amore - “When the stars make you drool, just-a like a pasta fazool, that’s amore.” 

Meakin has his own way of steaming clams and that’s how we prepared them for this recipe so we would have fresh clam broth instead of having to use bottled clam broth. If you plan to use your own method to steam the clams, you’ll want to steam the clams first before you proceed with the recipe and add them at the end when you’re plating. Otherwise, just follow the recipe as written below. For a less soupy version, use the recommended ½ can of the tomatoes and beans.

We are crazy about steamed clams and thought this dish definitely fell into the “have-again” category. It is lighter and less filling than the traditional pasta fagioli and frankly we didn’t miss the pasta at all. Plus we’re always glad to welcome another 30 minute meal into our repertoire. Don’t forget the slices of a toasted baguette to sop up all of the delicious juices.

Steamed Clams Fagioli 
Adapted from Cooking Light, serves 4, can be prepared in 30 minutes
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (I used entire can)
1/3 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons clam juice
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Dash of kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used entire can)
12 littleneck clams
4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette (about 4 ounces), toasted

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add onion and celery; sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add red pepper; cook 1 minute. Stir in wine; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, clam juice, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and drained beans. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat & simmer 2 minutes. Add clams to pan. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until clams open (be sure discard any clams whose shells don’t open.) Ladle 2/3 cup soup into 4 bowls & top each with 3 clams. Serve with slicked of toasted baguette  to mop up the broth.

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 & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Easter recipes early next week. Stay tuned.