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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Greek Dinner, Crab Cakes, Chili, Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Well, I had so much spinach 'guts' left over from the spinach lasagna that I made a modified spanikopita. How did I take a Italian filling and make it Greek? I am sure all of you Italian and Greek chefs out there will disagree but when you are a cook who needs to use leftovers and improvise, you add a whole bunch of feta cheese! Most people can't tell the difference. They turned out great! Then we made other Greek dinner elements: We had souvaki, tzatziki, hummus, tzatziki and hummus recipe link, pita, a pasta dish with green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers finally chopped and cooked with onions, then slowly thickened with cream (ok, if you know us, it was fat free half and half) and topped with parsley, and a big Greek salad.

I also took out a piece of venison and it was too much for just chili for two, so I cooked a few venison steaks, after marinating in wine, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, thyme and garlic and served with roasted potatoes and a salad.

We've had crab cakes. I also tried a recipe for chicken breasts, pounded and stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese, roasted pepper and olives and rolled, grilled and served with a pablano, cilantro sauce (Bobby Flay's recipe). It was pretty good but might be better after the flavors have a chance to merge and it gets reheated. We just had veal marsala for lunch and it was better than when we had it for dinner. It was served with a celery risotto and braised leeks. Have you had braised leeks? It is very simple. It is our recipe of the week at our website this week: swankcatering website. It is a great accompaniment to many dinners.

We don't eat like this every night but almost. We actually had hot dogs one night (yes, we like them too and buy them; don't make them but don’t tell anyone that everything we do isn’t from scratch! ha!) Yes, we buy the fat free ones and make the chili and sometimes the mustard and catsup to go on them. This time we had them with pasta with garlic, olice oil and broccoli raab from the garden, topped with lots of mozzarella.

We’re eating well in Carolina. We hope you are, wherever you are! We’d love to hear from you. Check out our website for recipes, menu ideas, and how to contact us.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Spinach Lasagna and Caramelized Onion Flat Breads

Some days we want comfort food and some days we feel creative. Over the last few days, we have had nachos, venison stew, chicken noodle soup, and last night we had spinach lasagna with a caramelized onion flatbread and a green salad.
I found hand dipped ricotta at Whole Foods, so this should be particularly delicious. Earlier today, I made the dough for the flat breads as well as caramelizing the onions, so the final cook and assembly would be easy. I also sautéed the onion and cooked the spinach, mixing it with ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella as well as cooked tomatoes with garlic so putting together the lasagna would also be a cinch. We make our own noodles for the lasagna (of course) and use home canned tomatoes. I wrote down the recipe with approximations on what we really do.

The tomato sauce: We used one quart plus one pint of home canned tomatoes, simmered with a four to six chopped cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste and fresh basil and oregano, also to taste. For us, that means a lot. Simmer about 45 minutes until it thickened somewhat, but we still like a fair amount of liquid since we cook the pasta in the lasagna.

For the spinach filling: We used one of those extra large bags (20 oz) of fresh spinach. The easiest way to precook the spinach is to poke a bunch of holes inthe bag and microwave until it is almost cooked. We zapped it 2 minutes; then for several 1 minute intervals. Dice one medium sweet onion in two tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes until soft. Add several cloves of minced garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until it finishes wilting and all of the ingredients are well mixed. Add fresh grated nutmeg, about 1/8 teaspoon. Cool. Mix with 20 ounces of ricotta, 8 ounces of mozzarella and 1/3 cup parmesan.

For the pasta: Add 2 cups of flour plus 2 eggs and 2 T olive oil to food processor. Add enough water so it is starting to come together. (note: if we make pasta to cut through spaghetti or egg noodles, we make it drier (less water) than if we are making it for lasagna, since the lasagna noodles are not going through the cutters, are being cut by hand and can be wetter. Bottom line, the cutters require drier pasta and closer monitoring, at least
for us.). Depending on your pasta machine, we like some size (thickness) to our lasagna and roll it no thinner than 4 on the machine. Cut into the proper length for your pan.

Assembling: Spoon a layer of tomato sauce in pan. Sprinkle with Mozzarella and parmasan. Top with a layer of pasta. Spread with the spinach mixture. Next: tomato sauce, cheese, pasta, spinach, etc, etc. When you get to the top layer of pasta, top with tomato then cheese. Cover with foil. Bake in preheated 350 oven for at least 30 minutes. Cool before serving. Serve with pasta and bread.

Caramelized onion flatbread recipe: see February 2006 Bon Appetit or see if you can find it at the epicurious website. This is the way ours turned out:

Wine we had with this: Maipo Valley Compass Navigato's Reserve red wine 2003, a nice blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Australia, also found in Whole Foods for under 10 bucks!

I had a lot of the spinach filling left over, which is okay by me. We'll have egg white omelets filled with the spinach for breakfast as well as making some spanikopita by adding feta. Left overs like this are great and some of our favorites.

Enjoy! Let us know what you think and check out our website: www.swankcatering.com for menu ideas, recipes, and how to reach us if you want to have a party or wedding, cooking lessions or a private or personal chef! Eat and drink well. Laugh often. Exercise more (especially if you eat and drink well, like we do!).


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Turkey Dim Dum, ButterNut Squash, French Onion Soup and Steak Subs

What's Cooking this week in Carolina?

Well, we've made spaghetti and meatballs, always a favorite piled with Parmesan Reggiano and served with garlic bread. We marinated a few flank steaks over a few days in wine and herbs. It may seem like a lot of steak for 2 people, but there are so many things you can do with the leftovers. One night we had steak and cheese subs with the leftovers, with provolone and grilled onion and blue cheese sauce left over from some chipotle chicken tenders. Yummy. Served with French onion soup. We'll have another round of sandwiches with the flank steak in pita bread with white beans that have been seasoned with olive oil, rosemary and garlic like the meat.

I have pork chop marinating in a teriyaki marinade to stir fry with some of the shanghai pok choy from our garden served over rice.
To accompany that, we'll make some egg rolls. One of my favorite egg roll recipes is to take some hot sausage, crumble it and sauté with some ginger and garlic. Add lots of shredded cabbage with a smaller amount of onions and carrots and season with a little soy sauce. Add mung bean sprouts at the last minute. It makes one delicious egg roll. Put some in egg roll wrappers. Brush with water to seal. Roll and deep fry. Serve with homemade plum sauce. I ended up making pot stickers with ground turkey. They turned out great!

The only other thing I have in the works is the butternut squash casserole that was in the Raleigh newspaper earlier this week. Someone wrote in and ask for the recipe from Starlu, a great little restaurant in Durham. They had
the roasted brined chicken with this squash which they said was sublime. The chef, Sam Poley, provided the recipe for both the chicken and the casserole so I'm trying it: prepped it this morning for baking later. I'm sure you can go to the newsandobserver.com and do a search and find it. I'll let you know the outcome, but it looks and smells great!

That's all for now. We hope you are staying warm and eating well. If not, you need to be!

Take care until the next time. And send us a note. We'd love to hear from you!

Check out our website at www.swankcatering.com and if you want any recipes we haven't published, ask!


Saturday, January 07, 2006

2006: Try New Recipes for Flavor and Health

What's cooking in Carolina this week? We will start with the first day of the year. New Years Day we had the very traditional southern New Years food-for-luck-and-health: flounder (fish, so your money swims to you), Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice) and collard greens from the garden.

Well, we love soup and stews all year around but particularly in winter. We had a wonderful pasta and bean soup Pasta and White Bean Soup Recipe Link and Italian Wedding Soup. Both are up there on our favorites list and perfect as for the cold snap.

We got 2 new cook books, a used cook book that came highly recommended and Bobby Flay's cook book: Grilling for Life. We have tried 2 recipes out of it: last night we had Grilled Turkey Burgers with Monterey Jack, Poblano Pepper Relish and Avocado Mayonnaise. It was a very different but a nice spicy change to hamburgers. Several nights ago we had a wonderfully tender Pork Satay with Red-Chili Peanut Sauce and a cabbage-green onion slaw.
It was great! Tonight it is chicken, either roasted or Chicken Picatta, depending on how much time there is for prep.

We have lots of venison so we need to cook and we lost a few leaves off of our Kafir Lime so we need to try something Thai! That is all that is on the immediate horizon. I am also reading the Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Dirakaruni. It makes me hungry for Indian food so I might have to conjure up a lentil stew. We’ll let you know!

We're looking forward to a prosperous and healthy new year with great, mostly healthy food and hope you are too.

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