Friday, September 30, 2011

Raccoon Sightings

We live in a very residential area, in a neighborhood full of townhouses and stand-alone family homes. With plenty of wooded areas and trails winding in and out behind the cul-de-sacs, though, we have spotted our fair share of wildlife. Of course there are deer to watch out for, but we’ve also seen rabbits, a fox, mice, and a praying mantis. We even have an opossum that frequently appears inside our tiny fenced-in yard. Most recently, we were visited by 2 raccoons. It was the closest I’ve ever seen raccoons. They wandered across our patio, up to the deck and back down, and then clawed their way up the fence and over to the next door neighbor’s deck. I actually thought they were quite cute, and Chris named them – Roger and Rocky. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Southern Tortellini Soup

I get a number of food related emails. One of them is from, a daily email with a “Tonight’s Dinner” suggestion. I almost never make the Tonight’s Dinner recipe on that same night, but I still see plenty of recipes fly into my inbox that I want to make, so I just jot them down for later.

The recipe I pulled for tonight was from one of those emails. It was for Southern Tortellini Soup. It was started with sautéed chopped onions and garlic. Wine and chicken broth were followed by collard greens, green beans, diced Italian-seasoned tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, a little cracked red pepper, and finally tortellini pasta. It called for cheese tortellini, but I actually used a roast chicken tortellini with a hearty dose of cheese shredded on top of the soup for serving, but you could really substitute any filled tortellini for which you crave, or even a mixture.

Although I probably would add a little more liquid next time, the taste was nice and I wouldn’t hesitate to make it again. I would, however, take care to halve the recipe if it were just for the two of us again. I often go ahead and make full soup recipes, because we can typically eat them pretty fast. But for some reason with this recipe, we are going to be eating it for days. It made a giant pot. I could have fed the entire neighborhood! The good news, though, is that soup freezes well so I could stash a tub away if I want. And it would definitely make a good recipe for party, potluck, or company in the future.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Huntsville Hot Chicken Salad

I have 2 food stories for today. The first is that I had the most brilliant idea of putting the leftover mushroom ragout from last night (the fish was gone) over brown rice for lunch. After I caused a deformity in my plastic spoon from sticking it in the rice too fast after it came out of the microwave, then proceeded to burn my tongue shortly after (I know, I know – the spoon should’ve been a clue, right?)… then it really was quite a delicious lunch. I’ll just skip the painful preface next time and go straight to the delicacy!

The second story is dinner. I made it wrong and it still turned out well. I love when that happens! I had on the menu hot chicken salad, crescent rolls, and a salad tossed with nuts, mandarin oranges, and apples. It is pretty hard to mess up crescent rolls (unless you burn them which, thankfully, I didn’t) or tossing a salad together (especially when you’re the one deciding what to put in it). So that leaves the chicken salad. The hot chicken salad was a brand new recipe out of an equally new cookbook. It came out of Open Doors, A Collection of Recipes from First United Methodist Church in Huntsville, AL, a cookbook given to us as a wedding gift.

It was a yummy, easy mixture of cooked chicken, celery, green pepper, onion, pimientos, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cream of chicken soup all tossed together, topped with crushed potato chips and baked. Perfect for a weeknight meal. So how could I make that incorrectly? Well, at the grocery store, I 1)forgot the pimientos and 2)grabbed a cream of potato off the shelf instead of a cream of chicken. Woops. As I am standing in the kitchen, mid-celery-chop, I debated briefly about running to the store for the right ingredients, but the oven was already pre-heated, it was getting late already, and on top of that, it was raining.

So instead, I made hot chicken salad without pimientos and with cream of potato soup. And you know what is one of the greatest things about cooking? A lot of the time, maybe even most of the time, it really doesn’t matter what or where you substitute, make things up, or make a change up for a certain preference. It will still taste good. In fact, I could have not even told you about my blunder at all and instead said I made those adjustments intentionally. But where is the amusement in that? Sometimes it is just as fun to share your cooking mishaps. As I said, it was still a perfect weeknight meal, tasty even with a few potato chunks thrown in. And hey, the potato tied right in with the chip topping…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seared Wreckfish with Mushroom Ragout

I love the concept of “Sunday night dinner,” that dinner where there has been more time during the day to prepare so it’s perhaps the nicest meal of the week, it is with family and/or friends, and it’s relaxed and unrushed.

For our Sunday night dinner this week, I made a new recipe out of my beautiful Farmer’s Market cookbook from Williams-Sonoma. It was called "Seared Halibut with Mushroom Ragout," and was a lovely seared fish fillet topped with a creamy blend of simmered mushrooms. I didn’t actually use halibut – too expensive. I substituted another white fish called wreckfish that I found at the fish counter of Wegman’s grocery store and thought it worked just as well. Conveniently, wreckfish, according to NOAA's FishWatch site, was a good seafood choice environmentally because it is "highly regulated and is a fishery management success story." I also didn’t get my mushrooms from a farmer’s market. They didn’t have mushrooms at our market this week, so I picked up a “gourmet blend” of baby bella, shitake, and oyster mushrooms at Wegman’s as well. I did, however, serve all of it over a bed of freshly steamed green beans and next to roasted halves of sweet acorn squash, all of which I did get at the farmer’s market.

It is very likely that this ideal of the “Sunday night dinner” does not actually happen on Sundays. Maybe it is a Friday night dinner or a Tuesday night dinner. Regardless of which night of the week, and even if it is not every week at all, I do hope that each of you gets the time once in a while to really enjoy a meal together. A meal like ours this evening: seared wreckfish with mushroom ragout atop a bed of green beans and served with acorn squash and garlic tuscan bread. And after all of that, we finished off the evening with another scoop of that homemade banana bourbon ice cream that I was raving about yesterday.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homemade Banana Bourbon Ice Cream

The first try at our Cuisinart Ice Cream and Sorbet maker was a complete success when I made ice cream! My husband, Chris, will tell you that he made ice cream. He didn’t make ice cream. I did. He did, however, come up with the flavor for our first creation and I will give him due props on that vision. The vision was for banana bourbon ice cream, so that was what I set out to make.

Cuisinart, in their ice cream maker instructions provides you with suggested recipes and their little booklet proved to be a very helpful place to begin. Included in the recipes was one for a banana walnut chip ice cream. One ingredient out of 3 seemed like a good start. Plus, in the initial preparations for the banana part, it called for rum. Perfect. Substitute: bourbon.

Banana Bourbon Ice Cream
Makes about 5 cups

1/2 cup 2% milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large bananas, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons, plus 1/2 tablespoon bourbon
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

1. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk, cream, vanilla extract, and salt just to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.

2. While the cream mixture is steeping, heat the sugar with water in a large skillet until it begins to sizzle. Stir in the butter and heat until melted. Add the bananas; cook for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant and softened. Carefully stir in the rum and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Using a slotted spoon, strain the banana/sugar mixture, reserving the sugar syrup and bananas in separate bowls.

3. Stir lemon juice into the bananas and then mix the bananas into the steeped cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate mixture 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.

4. After refrigeration is complete, set up the Cuisinart ice cream maker. Turn on the ice cream maker. Pour the banana mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, almost 15 minutes.

5. Nearing the 15 minute mark, gradually pour in the sugar mixture. Let the ice cream maker continue to churn for about another 2 minutes. Pour in the last 1/2 tablespoon of bourbon and let ice cream complete churning for about 2 minutes. Turn off ice cream maker and transfer ice cream to an air-tight container. Freeze until desired consistency and time to serve.