Monday, August 16, 2010

From a Carolina Kitchen

Peaches on a Windowsill

Hello, all!  I’m back!  Back home in Chicago, and back to business.  With a family reunion in New Hampshire, a private chef job in North Carolina and my sister’s wedding in Ohio, each following right after the other, I had a fun and very busy month away from home.  But I’ve got to say, it’s certainly nice to be back.  And really nice to be blogging again.  Thanks for waiting so patiently for my return. 

While away, I’ve made sure to keep up with the cooking side of things.  Even though it’s been a while since my last blog post (I had very rare internet opportunity while away), we’re still on track with the weekly dinner parties.  So, over the next week or so, I’m going to try to fill you in on what exactly I’ve been up to, and catch up with the writing. 

Seeing that I’ve been out of town this whole time, you’re probably wondering how I’ve kept up with the cooking and the dinner parties.  Well, I’m afraid I had to bend the rules a bit.  Not really bend, more like slightly wiggle the rules.  Since there was absolutely no way for me to host my own dinner parties while away, I decided that it would have to be okay to include the meals I planned and prepared while down in the Carolinas.  I was there for two weeks, cooking lunches and dinners for an extended family of about fifteen.  Scrumptious Company fans themselves, they had no problem at all with me blogging about and photographing their dinners.  It couldn’t have worked out better, because the meals I served this gracious family were the same sort of fare I blog about here.  In fact, many of the meals I cooked for my clients came straight from some of my favorite summer blog posts (like this one, this one  and this one).  So in this and the following two posts, I’ll fill you in on three of my favorite meals from my time in North Carolina. 

A Perfect Dinner Spot

The first I’ll share is one of my favorite dinners menus, not just from North Carolina, but from the entire summer.  Marinated and grilled lamb chops with some incredible sides (including the green beans with arugula that you’ve seen before).  Dessert was actually apple tart tatin, which you’ve also seen before.  Normally I wouldn’t serve apple desserts in the height of summer (what with the peaches and so many other fruits being so amazing this time of year), but this happened to be a birthday celebration, and the guest of honor’s absolute favorite dessert was tart tatin.  Luckily though, I have an easy substitute on hand to share with you all, because the next day, someone else’s absolute favorite was peach cobbler.

Lemon & Rosemary Marinated Lamb Chops
Cauliflower Gratin
Green Beans with Arugula
Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream
The lamb chops were sensational, a big hit all around, especially among the little ones in the group.  (A pair of six-year-olds devoured four each!)  The chops were submerged overnight in a potent marinade of lemon zest, garlic and rosemary – flavors that seem meant for each other, especially when combined with delicious, grilled red meat.   With a quick turn on a hot grill, these charming chops boasted a crispy, charcoal-scented outer crust with lush, pink centers and a bright, delicious flavor in every bite.  
Bell Peppers
Up next, peperonata.  It’s my new favorite side dish.  Even with some pretty stiff competition (like the hearty ratatouille I made for dinner last night - ah, like summertime on a plate), I do think peperonata officially qualifies as my favorite, at least for now.  It’s a slow-cooked concoction of utter deliciousness, sweet bell peppers - reds, oranges and yellows - and thinly sliced onions, with a smattering of sweet yet briny capers, green aromatic herbs, and a generous drenching of fruity extra-virgin olive oil.  It’s rich and sweet and totally lovely, with bright, deep flavors and a divine, tender texture.  Delicious alongside the lamb, I imagine it would be a great accompaniment to any red meat.  Fish too seems like a perfect pairing.  Really, I could imagine eating peperonata with just about anything!
A simple yet sensational second side, the cauliflower gratin.  Small florets of cauliflower –tender and white, like perfect little clouds – all cloaked in a smooth and creamy cheddar-spiked sauce.  Spicy handfuls of sliced green onions are folded in for good measure, and then the gooey mess is topped with a generous sprinkling of buttery breadcrumbs.  A stint in a hot oven yields a crispy, golden brown top crust which hides the warm, comfy creaminess beneath.  See what I mean about stiff competition.  This heavenly side dish could definitely give peperonata a run for it’s money.  Try it out yourself – this delicious cauliflower dish could end up being your favorite side of the summer!
Boiling Cauliflower
And finally, a perfect summertime dessert – Peach cobbler.  A sublime showcase for this marvelous fruit, right in it’s prime.  I love, love, love summertime peaches.  We used to have contests when we were kids: who could eat the most peaches.  We’d stand around the sink, devouring one after another after another, letting the juice run down our arms, savoring them with the full knowledge that this perfect summer treat wouldn’t be around for long.  And to this day, this is still my favorite way to eat a peaches, standing up, over the sink.  But then again, peach cobbler is pretty darn good too.  Pretty. Darn. Good.
Sliced Peaches
Lemon & Rosemary Marinated Lamb Chops
Serves  4
Lots of Lamb Chops
12 lamb chops, sliced between the bones into single chops
1 Tbl finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 lemons, divided
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Marinate the lamb chops: Combine the chopped rosemary with the zest and juice from two lemons (reserving the third lemon for later) and the extra virgin olive oil.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine, then add the lamb chops and toss to coat.  Let sit at least six hours, and as long as overnight.  Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.  Every few hours, toss the chops to evenly distribute the marinade.

Pre-heat the grill about an hour before you’re planning on eating.  To tell if your grill is at the right temperature, hold your hand right over it.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even a second, it's too hot. 

When the grill is hot, lightly pat the lamb chops with paper towels, just to remove any excess marinade.  Liberally season both sides of the chops with salt and pepper.  Arrange the chops over the grill.  Grill until well-browned on the first side, about 4 minutes.  Flip the chops over and grill to desired doneness, about 2-3 more minutes for rare (120°F ),     4-6 minutes for medium  (130°F ), and 8-10 minutes for well-done (150°F). 

Remove from the grill, and rest about 10 minutes, covered with a foil tent.  Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon over the lamb chops.  Serve. 


Serves 4
4 large bell peppers (a mixture of red, orange & yellow, but not green)
3 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium red onions, peeled & thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbl fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbl capers, drained & rinsed
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl fresh oregano leaves
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Slice the bell peppers into four quarters, lengthwise.  Remove the stems and seeds, then slice out the white pithy membranes.  Slice, again cutting lengthwise, into thick strips. 
Heat a very large sauté pan over high heat for about a minutes.  Add 2 Tbl olive oil, then heat for 1 minute longer.  Add the sliced peppers, onions, crushed red pepper and thyme.  Season with a two good pinches of salt and a good pinch of pepper.  Sauté over high heat, stirring and tossing frequently, until the peppers are just turning tender, about 5 minutes. 
Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the capers and the remaining 1 Tbl olive oil.  Cook, again stirring frequently, about 5 more minutes.  Add the vinegar, then continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 3-5 minutes.  Mix well with a rubber spatula to coat the vegetables with the vinegar.  Add the oregano leaves and toss well to combine.  Taste, then season as needed with salt & pepper.  Serve warm or room temperature.


Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 8
Cauliflower Gratin
1 large head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
4 Tbl (1/2 stick) butter, divided, plus more for buttering the casserole dish
2 Tbl all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
6 oz + 2 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese, divided, coarsely grated
1 bunch scallions, greens only, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (from about 4-5 slices white bread, crusts removed)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack in the middle.  Generously butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until just tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Drain the cauliflower well in a colander. 

Over medium heat, melt 2 Tbl butter in a medium-sized saucepot.  Whisk in the flour, then cook for about 3 minutes, whisking frequently.  Add the milk in a slow stream, just a little at a time, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to keep the sauce at a bare simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking frequently.  Turn off the heat, then add 6 oz cheddar cheese and whisk until the cheese is melted.  Add the sliced scallion greens, then season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Combine the cauliflower and sauce in a large mixing bowl and stir to coat thoroughly.  Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

Creamy Goodness

Make the bread crumb crust:  Add the bread crumbs to a medium mixing bowl.  Melt the remaining 2 Tbl butter and pour over the bread crumbs.  Stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Add the remaining 2 oz grated cheddar.  Season with generous pinches of salt and pepper.  Stir to combine. 

Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the cauliflower mixture.  Bake, uncovered, until the topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Green Beans with Arugula
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.

Peach Cobbler
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, July 2004
Serves  8
 Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream
For the filling:
3 # ripe but firm peaches (about 8-9 medium), peeled, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice (from about half a lemon)
pinch of kosher salt
For the topping:
1  cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbl granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 Tbl cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Generously butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. 
For the filling: Toss the sliced peaches with the 1/4 cup sugar and let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain peaches in colander set over large bowl. Whisk together the peach juice, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in small bowl.  Toss peach juice mixture with peach slices and transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake until peaches begin to bubble around edges, about 10 minutes.
For the topping: While peaches are baking, Combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine thoroughly. Scatter the cubed butter over the flour mixture.  Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, working  until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Add the cream and toss with a rubber spatula until until the dough just combines.  Try not to over-mix, or the topping will be tough. 
Break the dough into 6 evenly sized but roughly shaped mounds and set aside.
Remove the peaches from oven.  Break the dough into 8 evenly sized but roughly shaped mounds, then place on top of the peach filling, spacing them at about 1/2-inch apart but not touching.  Sprinkle each mound with a pinch of the remaining 1 Tbl sugar. Bake until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling, 16 -18 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm, about 20 minutes.  Serve, with each portion topped with vanilla ice cream.

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