Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mexican Strata

So what is a Strata?  And where did it originate? A strata or stratta is a family of layered casserole dishes in American cuisine. The most common modern variant is a brunch dish, similar to a quiche or frittata, made from a mixture which mainly consists of bread, eggs and cheese. It may also include meat or vegetables. The usual preparation requires the bread to be layered with the filling in order to produce layers (strata). It was popularized in the 1984 Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Other recipes merely require that the ingredients are mixed together, like a savory bread pudding. A beaten egg mixture is then poured over the ingredients. The dish requires a rest of anywhere between one hour and overnight before it is baked.It is served warm. (Source: Wikipedia)

I had all the ingredients to make a strata, but this time I wanted to give it a "Mexican" flare, so I added sliced jalapeno peppers, sliced black olives and chunky salsa to the mix. It turned out so good.

4-6 large farm fresh eggs
1 large handful fresh baby spinach
1 cup diced potatoes
1/2 cup chunky salsa
10 slices jalapeno peppers
10 black olives, cut int half
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10" frying pan with cooking spray. Place potatoes on the bottom of the pan, top with spinach, then jalapeno slices and black olives, distributing evenly over strata.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl; add salsa, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Pour over mixture in frying pan.

Sprinkle shredded Mexican cheese blend all over top of strata.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until eggs are set and cooked through.

Serve immediately. Top with a dollop of sour cream or additional salsa if desired.

Yield: 4 large or 6 small servings


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Honey-Teriyaki Chicken Tenders and Broccoli

I love Asian inspired tastes and flavors, so the other night I made these Honey-Teriyaki Chicken Tenders adding some diced celery and fresh broccoli florets towards the end of the baking time. Easy, peasy, and so good.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into tenderloin strips
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Teriyaki Sauce
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small head fresh broccoli, cut into florets
Rice, cooked

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a covered casserole dish with cooking spray. Place chicken tenderloin strips in casserole dish.

Mix honey and Teriyaki sauce together in a small bowl and pour over chicken.

Cover and bake 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Add celery and broccoli; continue to cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are al dente.

Stir to coat well with sauce and serve over hot, cooked rice.


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Salsa Infused Slow Cooker Chicken

I was recently "gifted" a rooster chicken from my friends at Paradise Acres Farm. Because they tend to be tough, the best way to make them nice and tender is to slow cook them for many hours. I wanted to use this chicken for tacos or enchiladas, so I slow cooked it in some fresh salsa ... oooo laaaa laaaaaa delicious!

1 small whole chicken
1 cup fresh chunky salsa
1 cup water
1 large onion, peeled and quartered

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook "low and slow" on low heat for 10-12 hours or until bones are falling apart.

Remove chicken and bones from slow cooker and place in a large baking dish; allow to cool. Once cooled, pick through chicken, removing all bones, fat and skin.

Tear chicken into shreds and use it for chicken tacos or chicken enchiladas.

One small chicken yields approx. 1 quart bag of shredded chicken.

If you're not planning to use it right away, store chicken in a zip top bag in your freezer.


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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Low Country Shrimp and Grits

Inspired by local South Carolina seafood and cuisine, I finally decided to tackle a Low Country Shrimp and Grits recipe and see what I could come up with.

I'm a huge advocate of supporting local farms and markets, so it's no surprise I chose South Carolina Wild Caught Shrimp I recently purchased from Off the Hook Seafood Market for this dish, and stone ground grits from Palmetto Farms.

Additionally I used Chesapeake Bay Rub, a spice blend from a chef friend of mine, Adam, of Fein Tasting Foods. The results are amazing.

For the grits:
1 cup stone ground grits
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbls. butter
2/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Course ground black pepper, to taste

For the shrimp:
1 1/2 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbls. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tsp. Chesapeake Bay Rub
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. hot sauce sauce
1/3 cup white wine
few dashes parsley flakes

To prepare the grits, in a large sauce pan over medium heat, combine the grits, water, chicken stock, salt, and butter and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, and course-ground pepper.

Peel and devein shrimp. In a fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Toss in the garlic and saute' until the garlic is just slightly browning.

Add the shrimp, Chesapeake Bay Rub, salt and pepper, stirring well. Add white wine, lemon juice and hot sauce; cook until shrimp is pink and heated through.

Remove from heat and serve over grits. Sprinkle on some parsley flakes; serve immediately.

Yield: 4-6 servings


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Monday, March 16, 2015

Road Trip to Chef & The Farmer and Boiler Room Oyster Bar

Planned for months, and talked about for over a year, we were FINALLY on our way to experience what is the Chef & The Farmer and Boiler Room Oyster Bar, both the brainchild of Chef Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, from the popular PBS series A Chef's Life. This road trip was a "bucket list" must do adventure, and I couldn't wait to experience it.

I first became a fan and follower of Vivian several years ago when I read about a chef in North Carolina doing more than just sourcing from local farms, she was actually gearing her entire menu around what was local or seasonal in her region, shopping at local farms for products to use in her restaurant, and using all of what she purchased to turn out these amazing delicacies.

As a supporter of local farms myself, and eating seasonally, I was impressed with what she was accomplishing in small, rural Lenoir County and the town of Kinston, North Carolina.

Over the years I have watched every episode of the show, A Chef's Life, from "Season One" where there was a fire in the restaurant and they heart-breakingly had to rebuild everything, to "Season Two" and the opening of the Boiler Room Oyster Bar, to "Season Three" where she went hunting for "ramps" to use in her restaurant.

See a clip here from the show:  A Chef's Life

Her mother, Scarlett, is often on the show as well, and it's always fun to watch the mother-daughter exchange when it comes to preparing food. Vivian uses many of her mom's "tried and true" recipes, she just puts her "twist" on them, ramping them up a few hundred levels!

So, on this dreary, rainy day in March, we were off for the drive from South Carolina to Kinston, North Carolina, where we would also be meeting up with some old friends who live in the area.

My husband and I arrived just after 11:30 a.m. and met up with our friends who had traveled up the night before. First stop, the Boiler Room Oyster Bar. Since it was raining lightly we stood under the awning to the restaurant waiting for them to open at noon. They do not accept reservations here, so I was very glad we arranged to go when they open, as the "wait area"  outside was quickly filling up with other people waiting to go inside.

Right at the stroke of noon, the doors opened and we were met by the hostess and seated. We were waiting for another friend of mine to join us who lives locally, so we perused the menu and ordered our drinks and placed an order of the "house saltines" with a ranch dipping sauce to share.

Soon my friend, Tammy, arrived and we all ordered our lunch. I had the Oyster Po Boy, another had the Oyster Pie, a few had the #4 burger, one had the shrimp and another the Southern Poutine.

1/2 lb. peel and eat NC shrimp with lemon aioli
Oyster Pie with Homemade Saltines
#4 Burger (lettuce, tomato, onion, dukes, ketchup, mustard)
Southern Poutine (crispy house fries, smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds)

What a great place and we all enjoyed our time, talking, catching up with my friend, Tammy, and devouring some delicious food!

Our next stop was at Mother Earth Brewing, a great local brew pub in the heart of downtown Kinston, and they're "green" as "green as can be!"  As their web site says:

"A six-kilowatt solar array stands on the roof as a tribute to the authority of that great star we orbit, known as the sun. Blue jean insulation, a 100% recyclable product, was used to insulate the walls. In addition to being a recyclable product, it also has outstanding sound barrier qualities. Soy-based spray foam insulation protects the second story ceiling. Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint covers the walls. The flooring wasn't ignored, either. Mother Earth Brewing's corporate offices will sport eco carpet partially made from renewable resources. Eco flush valves on toilets know just the right amount of water needed for "the job" and reduce water needed for flushing by 30%. Eco faucets in both bathrooms offer an unimaginable savings in water compared to conventional faucets. A state-of the-art tankless water heater heats water on demand, instead of using needless energy to keep hundreds of gallons of water heated at all times."

Naturally some of us had to try a local brew before heading out!

Shan and Liz enjoying a brew
Next we were off to the hotel and a little down time while we got ready for our "dining extravaganza" at Chef and The Farmer.

A bit before 5 p.m. we were all ready to go, so we headed out and drove to our destination, a short 3 miles away, arriving long before our 5:30 p.m. reservations. Can you tell we were excited? 

It's just as well we got there early, as the parking lot was quickly filling up, and many others were milling about waiting for the doors to open. Luckily we had made reservations a few months ahead of time, so our party of 10 was guaranteed a seat! And I do recommend you make reservations well in advance of the date you want to go! Due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, A Chef's Life, people are traveling hundreds of miles to see and enjoy this restaurant.

Finally the doors opened and we were off!  First stop the hostess station where we were greeted and promptly seated in the wine room, which is an area reserved for large parties of up to 16 people. We were greeted immediately by our server for the evening, Maria, who is a trained sommelier and extremely well-versed in all the menu items offered.

Maria handed us an extensive wine and spirits menu while she explained some of the beverage choices available. After placing drink orders we began to pour over the menu. So many choices! Where to even begin? And so the buzz began with a lot of banter among all of us as to what to try first. Enter Maria again with some amazing suggestions. She told us one of the most popular appetizer dishes is the Pork Belly Skewers with Curried Citrus Marmalade, Pickled Jalapenos and Cilantro so you know we just had to try those!

Pork Belly Skewers
Oh my goodness, they were amazing! We also tried Flash Fried Collards (don't knock it until you try it) and they too were a surprise. Not at all what you'd expect, but crisp and light. There were none left, that's how good they were.

Now I had NO expectation AT ALL we would even see Vivian knowing how busy she is, or that she would even be at the restaurant that evening, so imagine my surprise when she came in to meet us and chat for a bit! I was beyond thrilled, trying to contain my excitement. She knew I was a food blogger so she asked where we were all from, spent time talking and even paused for a picture. YEP!

And that was the highlight of my whole evening. Promising my husband I would not embarrass him, I did contain myself, but just barely. I thanked her profusely for coming to meet us and also told her how much I admired her and what she was accomplishing there with her restaurant.

So after a short pause to regain my composure, it was on to the next course where Maria suggested the Marinated Beets with Blue Cheese Coulis, Orange and Pecan Gremolata and Miner's Lettuce, which was also delicious according to my friends who ordered it.

Marinated Beets
Next we would be ordering our entrees, which was probably the hardest choices of all to make since there were so many delicious sounding options.

Once again Maria stepped in and artfully offered suggestions, or explained the depth of flavor of some of the dishes. She succeeded in convincing many to try the 16 oz. Bone-In Pork Chop with Sweet Potato Butter, Peanut and Celery Relish, Mustard and Pork Belly.

This is the dish my husband ordered and thoroughly enjoyed, and although he is not "overly adventurous" with his food choices, he is very open-minded and willing to try most anything once. Thanks Maria, he loved it!

16 oz. Bone-In Pork Chop
Maria talked a little bit abut the farms they source from, and I had seen the episode showing this particular poultry farm, so I ordered the Garlic and Herb Stuffed Guinea Hen with Pecan Romesco, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots and Rutabega which was absolutely delicious!

Garlic and Herb Stuffed Guinea Hen
All the while we were enjoying these courses, Maria was unobtrusively scurrying away any dishes and cutlery used, replacing them with clean ones. We even saw Vivian again as she brought in some of the dishes herself to serve us.

Finally it was time for dessert! Oh my goodness, we were all so full, but we sure made room for dessert. I mean who can resist a 10-layer chocolate cake with old fashioned Caramel and Toffee Crunch? Not me! The lightest, fluffiest cake I have ever eaten, it was superb!

10-Layer Chocolate Cake
This evening was not just a "nice dinner out," it was a true dining experience, with time to sit, relax and enjoy every single course served. From start to finish it took 3 hours and was the BEST 3 hours I've spent in a long time. As we were finishing up, Vivian's parents were seated at the table next to us, so on our way out, we passed by their table where we all exchanged "hello's" and "good evening's" as we made our way to the door.

What a night! Great food and good friends PLUS meeting Vivian Howard made this a night I'll always remember.

Many thanks again to everyone at Chef & The Farmer who made us feel special and right at home!

From left to right: Andy, Caroline, Shan, Curt, ME, Liz, Scott, Sandi, Cheryl and Tim

Until our next adventure,


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Friday, March 13, 2015

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Coconut Cream Pie

Another "oldie but goodie" from my 1970's Betty Crocker Cookbook. This one has been around a long time, because the first time I ever made it I used my mother's 1950's Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Homemade vanilla pudding base with flake coconut added, topped with fresh whipped cream and toasted coconut, it's a family favorite.

1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbls. ice cold water
Coconut Pie Filling:
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 tbls. cornstarch
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups coconut, 2 tbls. reserved for toasting
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten (farm fresh is BEST)
1 tbls. butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Whipped Cream Topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbls. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the Crust:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour and salt together. Add shortening and cut in with fork or pasty blender until it resembles course crumbs. Add ice-cold water and stir until well combined, being careful not to over-work dough.

Place the dough on a lightly floured board and using a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll it out in to a large circle. Transfer pie crust to 9" round pie pan, trimming and crimping edges, or push edges down all around the pie pan with the tines of a fork dipped in flour.

Pierce the bottom of the pie crust in several places and bake in preheated 475 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

For the Pie Filling:
In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Stir in milk and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils one (1) minute.

Remove from heat and stir a little of the mixture into 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten. Then blend into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and blend in 1 tbsp butter, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla and 1 1/2 cups coconut (reserving 2 tbls. for toasting).

Pour filling into cooled pie crust and refrigerate 2-3 hours.

Toasting Coconut:
Toast reserved 2 tbls. coconut in a small fry pan, stirring often, until coconut is just browned and slightly toasted. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Whipped Cream Topping:
Beat 1/2 cup heavy cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff.  Spread over top of cooled pie and sprinkle toasted coconut over top. The whipped cream can also be added to individual slices of pie if desired.


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