What's Cooking in Carolina?

Mainly creative menus and recipes (usually healthy) and always from scratch with tips for party planning, theme parties, weddings and decorating tips so you can give swank parties or dinners to delight your guests from a part time caterer, owner/operator of a coming soon Entree Vous, but mainly a cook and eater who grows much of her own food and loves to laugh.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Chipotle, Pork Chops, Mango Salsa, Lettuce, Strawberries

The weather has been different, more like winter after a few weeks of summer-like weather. We have been in a severe drought; until last week were in a 15" deficit this year, so cooler weather and 3 inches of rain since last week was a good thing. It helps wash away the pollen and the garden needs the water really bad. So Yea!

So we have been eating more winter like again. We've had navy beans and ham, roasted corn soup and venison stew. We also had a chipotle marathon: we made both beef and chicken chipotle tacos with caramelized onions and a chipotle tomatillo salsa (mainly from this month's Eating Well magazine), pork chops with a tomato orange chipotle sauce, grape vine wood smoked chicken with barbeque sauce, and my favorite black bean, corn and roasted pepper salad (The recipe was previously posted in our recipe collection. swank recipes ) and black rice made with the liquid the black beans cooked in.

Tonight, I had not been to the grocery store in a few days. My neighbor had given us some just picked lettuce (she planted hers way before we did). I had pork chops, 3 mangos, one pear, and fresh green beans that needed to be cooked or they would not be fresh anymore. So we had a fresh lettuce salad with walnuts, pear and blue cheese with a lemon walnut vinaigrette, grilled pork chops with a cumin, allspice, salt and pepper rub served with fresh mango salsa, the left over black rice and green beans. It was a pretty good for balance of taste and texture as well as for last minute planning.

Oh, and the same neighbor, Marne, picked strawberries (ours are not ripe yet) and brought some dipped in chocolate. Oh no, we are exercising and cutting down on calories. What to do? Anyway, the fresh mango salsa was the bright spot so I've added the recipe to the website. mango salsa recipe


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Planting and Cooking Potatoes

I need to talk about potatoes. Maybe it's because we just planted a few hundred feet of row of them in the garden. Maybe it is because we bought 50 pounds of them at $13.00 vs $0.50/lb. if we had bought them by the pound. Needless to say, we had some leftovers so we are eating potatoes, which is not a bad thing.

There are dozens of ways to cook potatoes. Some of my favorites are roasted with garlic and rosemary, mashed (plain, with roasted garlic or horseradish), baked or twice baked and potato salad. It is amazing to find out how many different ways people mash potatoes. It is funny, because we do them so many different ways. My favorite is with butter and buttermilk. I know it sounds funny, but the buttermilk adds a nice texture and tang. Try it just once. I can almost guarantee that you will love it, even if you don't like buttermilk.

There must be as many recipes for potato salad as there are cooks. I like it a few different ways: the first is old fashioned southern potato salad. As a young cook, I liked it loaded and each of my brothers and sisters wanted something left out (I don't like eggs, I don't like onions, etc.) Then don't eat potato salad, EAT POTATOES! I like my old fashioned potato salad with potatoes, minced or green onions, minced boiled eggs, chopped celery, and sweet pickle relish. I like to take mayonnaise and mix it with mustard, pickle juice, celery seed, salt and pepper and then mix that in with the cooked potatoes. Superb! I also like a potato/tuna salad with cooked potatoes, tuna, red onions, olives and artichokes with olive oil, salt and pepper and German potato salad. Recently I tried a recipe with yukon gold potatoes cooked in chicken broth and mixed with celery, onions, Westphalian ham, chives, and a bit of olive oil and lemon juice. It was very good.

Then there is potato soup. I particularly like baked potato soup. And a Spanish potato tortilla. Have you had that? Yummy! And scalloped potatoes.

I could go on and on but need to do other stuff. We are putting the recipe for twice
baked potatoes on the recipe of the week this week. swank recipes

If you want some of the others mentioned above before I have time to post them, feel free to ask and if I can write them up to send them to you, I am accomplishing two tasks: document them for you and posting. It might speed up the process.

Needless to say, we are not into low carb; we're into great tasting, healthy, slow
food and hope you will cook some, enjoy it and send us a note! If I have repeated a picture here from a previous blog, sorry. These were the only pictures I had of potatoes. I've been cooking and not taking pictures. Hopefully, it will give you some ideas on ways to cook potatoes.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spring Fever

Spring is everywhere! I love it and really appreciate the netural beauty we are
fortunate enough to live in the mist of. Our native azaleas are in bloom as is the red honeysuckle we found on our driveway. The redbuds are about done but the dogwoods and several varieties of wild viburnum are in bloom.

This is year one for our asparagus. It looks good and although they say you can pick a little the first year but we are not so it will grow stronger for future years. We planted the early garden yesterday. We know it is late for an early garden but we let the grapes get the priority around here so the garden doesn't get planted until we get the time. We planted potatoes, lettuce, radishes, green onion, green peas and sugar snaps. Hopefully today, I'll get some of the fun stuff in, like sunflowers, zinnias and nasturtiums. The seed trays are planted, except corn, which I hope to get in today as well. Almost everything is up: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs. When ever I start planting, I get hungry for all the things that are weeks and weeks away from being able to pick and eat.

So what are we eating? We found a deal on veal at Costco and made two different veal dishes: one with fontina and asparaus and the other rolled with pancetta.

They look springy to me. I took pesto out of the freezer (the basil is only an inch or two high in the seed trays) and shrimp to make a pesto shrimp pasta dish for dinner. We also just had jerk pork tenderloin grilled with basmati rice and pink eyed purple hulls (they are like black eyed peas, only they grow better here) cooked with harissa. We fell in love with jerk chicken at a little restaurant named Bananas on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. They served it with a sauce called Hot n Honey. The restaurant has changed hands and the original maker of Hot n Honey has sold it and the new-name-brand doesn't taste the same. I am still working on it and when I get it just right, I'll post the recipe. In the meantime, my standard recipe for jerk is on the website. recipes I just love it.

Enjoy this beautiful weather and keep cooking!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Moroccan Tuna, Couscous and Arancini

What's new in your neck of the woods?

We planted asparagus last year for the first time and although you can not eat very much of it the first two years, it is pretty exciting to watch it come up and grow. The starwberries and the blueberries are blooming, so it won't be long before they are coming in. We just finished pruning the grape vines last week and got the vineyard cleaned up and are going out today to get fertilizer and other chemicals. Maybe we'll get potatoes too and at least get the potatoes, peas and lettuce in the ground. Lots of other things (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc.) are in seed trays in the growing chamber and should be sprouting soon. Spring is in the air! Lots of fragrant plants in our landscape are blooming (viburnum, Sweet Betsy, gooseberry) as well as in the orchidarium and the grape seedlings are doing better than they have in years.

So what's cooking in Carolina? I made wonderful grilled tuna kabobs with Moroccan spices and served it with couscous and an orange, radish and carrot salad, all from the Weir book, From Tapas to Meze. They were all superb. I highly recommend the book. I have not had anything out of it yet that wasn't great!

I didn't make it to the store before Saint Patrick's Day for corned beef, but had it on the brain so I bought some and cooked corn beef with cabbage. My favorite way to cook cabbage is to saute onions and peppers and when they get soft, add the shredded cabbage with thyme, salt and pepper and just a touch of water and just cook a minute until the cabbage wilts. Instead of the traditional boil, I roasted onions, potatoes, carrots and turnips. Very flavorful.

We had a big bonfire to burn the vines we took out as well as some trees we had taken out last year. We use the best part for firewood but the limbs we added to the fire. I can't have a fire with out going back to my childhood and thinking about a weinie roast and s'mores so we had hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. You didn't think we always ate gourmet did you? Well, I do make my own mustard and hot dog chili.

And I finally made great arancini. Have you had it before? I first had it as a side dish at a wonderful restaurant in Durham called Star Lu so I came home and read all I could find about it and tried several methods until I came up with one I was happy with. It is basically risotto that has cooked and cooled, then is breaded and fried, usually with a stuffing of some kind. It is our recipe of the week. I hope you'll try it.

I had to bring a picnic lunch to an 'event' we volunteered at yesterday. I am making turkey burgers with avocado cream, fontina and a pablano, pepper relish for our sandwiches and a potato salad with yukon golds cooked in chicken broth, Black Forest ham, celery and sweet onions to share. Doesn't that sound great?

I love this time of year! Wish you were here. Check out more recipes at our website Swank Recipes

Sunday, April 02, 2006

How to Throw a Cruise Ship Theme Party

We frequently get asked about our hugely successful Cruise Theme Parties, so we are going to describe the best one so far.

When we decided to design a cruise ship theme party, our first consideration was the number of people attending and the location of the party. We expected 150 guests. We wanted to have the party on two of the three levels of the spectacular home where the party was to be held, one of the party givers. Our next consideration was maximize the space, keep people moving and not bottleneck the guests at any one spot, like one buffet table. Since cruise ships normally have a large buffet, we decided that would be the focal point; however cruise ships also offer their guests other eating options. We did this as well. The buffet would be in tent outside at the upper level, between the portacache and the garage. The garage would be carless, with one bay opened to the tent and set up for the band. The other bays would be closed off, hidden from view and used as set-up area for some of the party staff. The kitchen on the same level and would serve as the coffee shop. The study, also on that level, was designated Susan's Sweet Shop, named for one of the party-givers and housing a huge array of desserts for the guest to choose from. On the lower level, the bar (already there) served as the bar. Outside, we had a hot dog stand with hot-dogs and french fries under a tent. Off the bar in the in-house theater, we had South Pacific playing (and not only did people watch it, we had to replay it!). When the guests arrived, they received a map of the ship decks along with their lea's: it was the actual floor plan of the two stories of the house we were using, labeling the rooms so people would know what was available. This is the lower deck map:

The invitations were in the shape of a ship and gave the boarding times (party start time) as well as the seating times for dinner and boarding passes for a certain number of guests. It also instructed the guests to wear cruise ship casual clothing.

The decor: we ordered a large arch which had to be assembled for the entry onto the ship (or into the tent). It was cute, however, it was a pain to set up and the "party" company we ordered it from did not send enough material (like tape) to actually put it together. In the future, we would do it ourselves and make it a bit sturdier and possibly reusable. This thing was great as a picture venue but fell apart almost the second the party ended.

The linens in the main tent were white, covered with hues of blue. The centerpieces were original: we took bamboo pieces about 2 1/2" and put in in styrofoam in small clay pots and stuffed fern leaves out of the top of the bamboo. They looked just like mini palm trees.

We rented fish net, crab pots, and other nautical items from the rental company. The food tables were spread with palm and banana leaves and had huge vases filled with lemons and limes which held large flowers.

The party givers wore captains hats and the other staff wore navy style GOB hats, also ordered over the net. When the guests arrived, the library lounge near the entry served as a lounge with a pianist was playing lounge music. After everyone arrived, the band played 60's beach music in the main tent area.

We had an organized game, like they do on cruise ships. We got two teams to volunteer. Each was given an equal length of soft rope. At the sound of the starter, each person had to lace the rope in some item of their clothing (like down a sleeve) until the rope went thru everyone on the team. First team to win, won champaign for each member.

The entire menu can be seen on our web-site: Cruise Ship Theme Party Menu

The party was a huge success. Everything came together, people went everywhere and enjoyed the house, the food and the netertainment, everyone's favorite was something different (the sushi bar, the hot dogs and fresh french fry bar, the venison (a first for some), the desserts, etc.

Be creative and have your own theme party. It's fun, it engages the guests and everyone goes away happy. On the other hand, if you live in Carolina, we could plan it for you.

Now, back to work!

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