Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in My Kitchen

Adding pomegranate seeds to your Christmas salads?
I used to make such a mess trying to dig those beautiful red globs out, until I read about this trick.
Whack it.  It's also real good for dealing with all those Yuletide frustrations from shopping and cooking and going non-stop.  I mean, you can't get mad at Santa.  Remember the Whack-A-Moles at the State Fair?
So slice the pomegranate in half.  Turn up side down, over a shallow dish, preferably sitting in your sink, then haul off and whack the pom hard with a meat cleaver, rolling pin, or the dull side of your chef's knife.  Turn the pom and hit it hard again, and again, and again until you're feeling better or laughing or the pom gives it all up.
I was amazed at the results.....both at how much better I felt after smacking the thing, and how easy it was to extract enough seeds for plenty of salads.

It's a tradition.  Which means I gotta.  So for each of the last 18 or so years, I make a Yule Log for a gathering of friends who met when we were pregnant over two decades ago.  The youngest kid is now 20.  That's means I've done lots of Yule Logs.   I've done variations, the favorite being the year Hurricane Fran hit Raleigh, so my Yule Log had "crashed" over a toy truck.
You'd think I'd perfected the recipe by now.  But when you make something only once a year, you forget.  So sometimes that sponge cake cooks too long, as it did this year.  Or the meringue mushrooms are too sticky.  Or sometimes I run outta time and use - gasp! - canned frosting.  But this year I did it right.  Gotta show it off, so forgive the photo, apres shower where my drenching in chocolate was washed off.  

HAPPY HOLIDAYS  May your holidays be overflowing with the good feelings from gathering around a table, just being together, laughing and enjoying the bounty of this good Earth, no matter how sophisticated or simple the food or wine may be.   Nurture your souls while you nurture your appetites.  Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008


So do you say "pee-cans," or "puh-cahns?"  I say delicious about my favorite nut.  
We're having a bumper crop of pecans in NC this year.  I'm told that happens about every other year.
Pecans are always in my kitchen during the holidays.  I love to simply toast a batch to add to salads, esp. with goat cheese.  Or, toast with some hot sauce, for an easy and quick appetizer that goes well with cocktails.  See recipe below.

This year, my brother-in-law gave me an early gift.....a chest full of pecan halves, cleaned, hulled, shelled, picked over and through.   That, my friends, is quite a labor of love.  
When Dan was still woo-ing my sister Amy, and therefore her family, he gave us several large bags of pecan halves, shelled and ready to go.  I'd pull them from the freezer for a quick pie that winter.  Loved it.  The next winter, after they married and the woo-ing was over, he brought us a huge box of pecans......cracked, but still in their shells for us to do the picking.   Well, it took several evenings for both the hubby and I to sift through that box of nuts.  Not that I'm ungrateful, for that was still a huge gift.  But now, we very much appreciate the effort it takes to get the nuts shelled and cleaned!  I don't know what I did this year to get back into his favor!
Dan spreads a huge plastic sheet under his trees, then "bumps" each tree with the backhoe on his tractor to shake the nuts down. Then he just has to dump the nuts from the sheet into boxes.  Some of his hired help have a pecan cracking machine, which gently opens up the nuts.  From that point, someone has to sit in front of the TV several evenings, with the box and plastic bags.  As I said, it's a labor of love.  I'd better stay in Dan's good favor, huh?
Pecans are native to LA and Texas, and have been a Southern staple since the get-go.  Pecan tassies, nougat, pie, ice a favorite?

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add seasoned salt and pepper, and Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce if desired.
3.  Remove pan from heat, and add pecans, stirring until well coated.  Spread pecans in a shallow baking pan and bake until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes.
4.  Cool completely before storing.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Oaky, how'd it get that way?  Purple and orange cauliflower?  Food dye or what?
Turns out it's quite natural, although weird.  
Orange cauliflower is descended from a mutant growing in a field in Canada. And it has 25 times the amount of Vitamin A as the plain ol' white.  The purple variety gets its color from the same antioxidants as red wine.
All cauliflower is rich in Vitamin C, fiber and folate.
The Raleigh's farmers market had a huge stall overflowing with these colored varieties last week.  This Southern girl never had cauliflower growing up, then finally got turned on to it while in college.  I remember wearing out one of those wrap-around steam trays you put in the bottom of a pot, steaming cauliflower.  It was and is a good substitute for potatoes or rice.  It's even good mashed, with lots of butter.

However, watery, mushy cauliflower is awful stuff.  Boil the colored varieties and the color bleaches right out.  Lesson there?  Never boil in water.  Besides, the nutrients are lost that way.
Eat it raw, with a creamy dip, or in a green salad. 
Better yet, softened just a bit in the oven brings out the sweetness of cauliflower.
So here's how to do cauliflower:
***RECIPE***    I placed florets of both colors in a large roasting pan, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some sea salt, then roasted in a 400 degree oven until crisp tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.  The colors stayed true and the flavor was intense, unlike other reports I read.  
The kids gobbled  up two heads of roasted florets.  No leftovers.  I call that a culinary hit.