Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bread Salad with Charred Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Kalamata Olives

This is an interesting bread salad. At first glance it looks a panzanella salad, but as you get into the preparation of the tomatoes, you’ll find that it isn’t a typical panzanella salad at all. In this salad the tomatoes are broiled in the oven until their skins begin to char and blacken. The smoky flavor of the tomatoes adds a nice dimension to the salad and the kalamata olives contribute a bitter briny, salty note that offsets the crunchiness of the cucumber and croutons.

Another thing that makes this different from a panzanella salad is that the components of the salad do not marinate with the crispy bread croutons for their flavors to meld as they do in a typical panzanella. Here the croutons are tossed in at the last minute.

Take care when you are charring the tomatoes in the broiler that you’ve preheated your broiler and it is very hot before you add the tomatoes. If the tomatoes stay in the hot oven for too long before they char, they will begin to cook through and stew and you definitely do not want stewed tomatoes here.

In the original recipe we found the 3 to 2 ratio of olive oil to vinegar in the vinaigrette to be a bit too vinegary for our tastes, so in the recipe below we’ve cut back to a three to one ratio to solve the problem. It is very important that after the tomatoes have marinated in the vinaigrette with the cucumber and olives for a while that you drain the mixture very well by using a slotted spoon and adding it to a clean bowl tossing with the crusty croutons. Otherwise you will drown the croutons and they will lose all of their crunchiness and turn to mush.

Add the fresh basil at the very last minute to help retain its color and freshness and serve the salad immediately, again because the bread will absorb too much of the vinaigrette if you let it sit and your salad will turn into a soggy mess.

This is a great way to enjoy end-of-season tomatoes.

Bread Salad with Charred Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Olives
Adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Vegetable of the Day by Kate McMillan – serves 4


8 oz coarse country bread, about ½ a loaf, cut into 1” cubes, we used sourdough
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. When the oil is hot, add the bread cubes & sprinkle with salt. Cook the croutons over medium heat, tossing frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until croutons are nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. Remove the croutons from skillet and set aside while you prepare the salad.


3 to 4 large ripe tomatoes, about 2 ½ lbs, several colors make it pretty
1 small English cucumber
½ of a red onion, peeled and diced
¾ cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced in half lenthwise
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Crunchy sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch of basil leaves, torn in pieces

Preheat the broiler. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the tomatoes on the prepared sheet, stem side up. Broil until the skins begin to char and blacken, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over with tongs and broil for 2 to 3 minutes more. It may take longer depending on the size of the tomatoes or the heat of your broiler. Take care not to let the tomatoes cook through and begin to stew. When charred, remove from oven and let cool enough to handle. With tongs, transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board and cut in half horizontally, then coarsely chop. Remove and discard any of the stem and any loose skin from the tomatoes, but it is fine if a few bits of charred skin remain. Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a large bowl.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut the halves crosswise into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Add the cucumber to the tomatoes along with the onion, olives, olive oil, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and stir to mix. Let the salad stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour for the flavors to blend.

Just before serving, using a slotted spoon transfer the tomato salad to a clean bowl, leaving behind the accumulated juices for a moment. Toss in the toasted bread cubes and gently stir with a wooden spoon. If the salad needs more juice, add some of the liquid, a little bit at a time, from the other bowl, taking care not to soak the croutons. The croutons should remain a bit crispy. When you are happy with the salad, taste for seasonings, add the basil and toss gently again. Serve immediately.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Manhattan Fish Chowder – jazzed up with a little shellfish

Manhattan fish chowder is perfect for any season, but I particularly like to serve it during the transitional time of the year. I wanted something colorful and “fall-ish” to remind me that cool weather is around the corner, but I’m not quite ready for a heavy soup yet.

Fresh thyme is an absolute must in this chowder. Thyme is found in Provencal & Mediterranean cuisines and pairs well with the tomatoes. The flavors of the fresh thyme really sing in this chowder. The bacon flavor also comes through, so be careful not to choose an overly smoky bacon such as hickory. It will end up dominating the chowder. A French baguette or toasty slices of bread are perfect to dunk in the chowder.

The base of the chowder can be made in advance and held for several hours until you are ready to serve. Simply heat, add the fish and let it heat through, and you’re good to go. We’ve tossed in a few grilled shrimp and sea scallops to jazz it up a bit, but it’s equally good on its own.

Manhattan Fish Chowder – spiffed up with a shellfish garnish
Adapted from Everyday Food’s Fresh Flavor Fast – serves 6

4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ¼” pieces (we used a mild apple wood smoked bacon)
1 large onion, peeled & finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled & halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise, yielding 1 cup
1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes in juice
2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
2 medium baking potatoes, about 1 ½ pounds, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped (less if you don't like thyme)
1 pound skinless tilapia fillets, or other firm white fish, such as flounder, sole or halibut
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shellfish optional:
6 large shrimp, peeled and grilled & 3 large dry pack sea scallops, sautéed briefly on both sides in a little canola oil, then cut in half horizontally.

In a large 5-quart pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove bacon and set aside. Spoon off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Add the onions and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Break up the tomatoes either with your hands or with kitchen shears, then add tomatoes along with their juices, clam juice, 1 ½ cups of water, and the reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the potatoes and thyme; reduce heat to simmer, and cook uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart, 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, the chowder can be covered for an hour or two before proceeding with the recipe.

Tilapia fillets have one thick side and one thinner side. To cut, halve the fillets along the center line before cutting them into chunks. Add the tilapia chunks to the chowder, cover, and cook until the fish is opaque and flaky, about 3 minutes. Season chowder with salt and freshly ground black pepper. With a ladle, spoon solids into six soup bowls, then add the liquid around the solids. Garnish with the shellfish if desired Serve immediately.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Smoked Salmon on Cucumbers – featuring two versions of this upscale appetizer

Smoked salmon on cucumbers is a snazzy appetizer to serve for dinner guests or at a party. It is very easy to prepare and goes together quickly. Plus it can be made a few hours in advance and held in the refrigerator until your guests arrive. Or right before dinner you can put this appetizer together with your friends as we did recently when one of my oldest and dearest friends from childhood was here with his wife.

I’m presenting two versions of smoked salmon on cucumbers today. The first one is smoked salmon tartare. Smoked salmon tartare is a spin on the classic dish steak tartare. Steak tartare is a bistro dish in France consisting of very finely chopped raw sirloin, mixed with capers, chopped onion and seasonings. We like to serve it on a French baguette or toast. Steak tartare is one of my husband Meakin’s specialties. You may remember his recipe from a post awhile back, seen here.

The second is a variation on the salmon tartare, but uses two kinds of salmon. There’s more about the salmon spread one further down in the post. Both versions are very good and well received at parties. The smoked salmon tartare is more upscale and a little fancier, where the second version using two kinds of salmon is more like its bistro country cousin.

Smoked salmon tartare on cucumber rounds
From Everyone Can Cook for Celebrations by Eric Akis – makes 20 rounds

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped, we used sockeye smoked wild salmon
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon small capers, drained
2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
20 slices of an English (also called European) cucumber, cut in ½” thick slices

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Add salmon, onion, capers, and dill and stir to combine. Grind some black pepper over the mixture and taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.

Using a small melon baller or spoon, scoop out some of the center portion of each cucumber slice, making sure not to go all the way through the cucumber. Mound 2 teaspoons of the smoked salmon tartare in the center of the cucumber slice (I used the melon baller for this). Garnish with tiny sprigs of fresh dill if desired. Serve right away or store on a covered tray in the refrigerator for several hours in advance of serving.

Smoked salmon spread on cucumbers

When I realized that we make a similar salmon spread that also uses capers and red onion, using left-over salmon combined with a cream cheese/sour cream mixture, I came up with a new version of our old salmon spread by adding smoked salmon from the tartare recipe for a burst of extra flavor.

Left-over cooked salmon stands in for part of the smoked salmon, making it a less expensive appetizer but still retaining the flavors of the fancier version. Our tried and true favorite method of cooking salmon is to broil it, recipe here. We always cook a little extra for occasions such as this. Cream cheese and sour cream hold the mixture together in place of the olive oil and the other ingredients remain the same.

Smoked salmon spread on cucumber rounds
From My Carolina Kitchen

I don’t really follow a formal recipe. I operate by eye-balling the mixture based on how much left-over salmon I have and taste as I go.  Here’s what I do. 

Using a two to one ratio, place chopped left-over cooked salmon and chopped smoked wild sockeye salmon in a large bowl. Toss in a little finely chopped red onion. Again using a two to one ratio, add a combination of whipped cream cheese and sour cream (low fat works fine for both of these) and stir to combine with the salmon and onions. Too much cream cheese makes the mixture stiff; too much sour cream makes it loose. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the salmon; add some small capers, a little chopped fresh dill and several grinds of black pepper. Taste for seasonings and texture and adjust accordingly.

To serve, slice a portion of an English cucumber into ½” thick rounds. Use a small melon baller or spoon & scoop out some of the center portion of each cucumber slice, taking care not to go all the way through the cucumber. Mound 2 teaspoons of the salmon spread in the center of the cucumber slice (I used the melon baller for this). Garnish with tiny sprigs of fresh dill if desired. Serve right away or store on a covered tray in the refrigerator for several hours in advance of serving. Another one of our favorite ways to serve this salmon spread is on traditional table water crackers, such as Carr’s.  As you can see, it is different from the salmon tartare.

I have news -

My new Facebook page for My Carolina Kitchen is now up and running. Thank you Becky McNeer of Not Your Ordinary Recipes for your help. If you haven’t already “liked” my new page, I would be very pleased if you would click over and like My Carolina Kitchen. Click here to like or click the link to Facebook in the right column on the blog.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, & Food on Friday at Carol's Chatter.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes with Smoked Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Fried green tomatoes became an overnight sensation in 1991 after the movie by the same name. Green tomatoes are actually unripe tomatoes, not a particular variety of a tomato. Traditionally, before the first frost, all the tomatoes were picked, even the green ones, to prevent them from freezing on the vine. Now unripe tomatoes are picked green to make fried green tomatoes.

There are many recipes for fried green tomatoes, including those that use Japanese panko bread crumbs for breading, others deep fry the tomatoes, or use bacon drippings.

Our breading is on the simple side and we serve our fried green tomatoes for breakfast with bacon and eggs. We shallow fry the tomatoes in a minimum of fat rather than deep frying them. During the summer fried green tomatoes are also nice served with a sauce for dipping as part of a luncheon dish with a green salad and corn on the cob.

These fried green tomatoes have character. We think it is important to taste the tomato, not the breading. The cornmeal/flour breading produces a golden, crisp tomato with a simple, not heavily breaded exterior, and a savory, juicy tomato interior.

There are some tips to making good fried green tomatoes. First, salt the tomatoes right before you bread them. Salting foods in advance brings out the moisture and make them soggy when cooked. Second, a pinch of sugar in the breading takes away any bitterness from the under-ripe tomato. Third, just as anything that you brown, you want to make sure not to crowd the pan or the food will end up soggy. And finally, serve them as soon as you take them up. Fried green tomatoes must be hot. As they come to room temperature, the breading turns soggy.  You can see that most of the tips revolve around the word "soggy."  That makes sense because no one wants to eat a soggy tomato.

I’ve included what is referred to in our kitchen as “Meakin’s famous chipotles in adobo aioli sauce.” This is a very versatile sauce and can be used for many dishes, including a dip for fried green tomatoes. We use the sauce in fish tacos, dip boiled shrimp in it and serve them as an appetizer, or use it in place of mayonnaise where you want a kick of extra spice or smoky flavor. We puree the entire can of chipotles in the adobo sauce in a small food processor and store them in a jar in the refrigerator. They seem to last forever.

Fried Green Tomatoes 
From My Carolina Kitchen

My version of fried green tomatoes is a simple one and doesn’t require much of a recipe. I start by making a dredging mixture of three parts yellow cornmeal to one part all-purpose flour, a pinch of sugar, and a few shakes of cayenne pepper on a sheet of wax paper and stir to incorporate all of the ingredients.

I slice the tomatoes right before I dredge them and salt them at the last minute. Coat both sides of the tomatoes in the cornmeal/flour mixture, then sauté them in a non-stick skillet that’s been preheated with a little bit of canola or other neutral tasting oil in it. You don’t want to crowd the skillet, so you may have to cook the tomatoes in batches. Shallow fry the tomatoes, turning half way through so both sides brown evenly. When done, remove the tomatoes, salt them once again, and serve immediately.

If you are making more than one batch, plate the cooked tomatoes on a heat-proof plate or platter large enough to hold the tomatoes without stacking them and keep warm in a 150 degree F oven. If you stack the tomatoes they will get soggy.

Meakin’s Famous Smoked Chipotles in Adobo Sauce "Aioli"
From Meakin – My Carolina Kitchen

¼ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise, or homemade mayonnaise (no Miracle Whip)
½ cup sour cream, we use low-fat
1 teaspoon or more pureed chipotles in adobo sauce
Pinch of kosher salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon honey

Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl and taste for seasonings. Too much honey will make it sweet & ruin it. The purpose of the honey is to temper the fire from the chipotles in adobo sauce. You should not be able to taste the honey. The finished sauce should have a nice, smoky flavor. The sauce will keep covered in the refrigerator for several days.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.