Monday, April 28, 2014

Wild Dogwoods

Beautiful wild dogwood trees dot the landscape alongside old barns in the springtime here in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Have a great week everyone.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spicy Coconut Shrimp Soup

This soup has a bit of spice yet a good balance of Asian flavors. Adding a big squeeze of lime juice and slivers of fresh basil just before serving always brightens a dish. It’s a wonderful way to welcome spring into your kitchen.

While ginger, fish sauce and spicy red curry paste bring the flavors to this dish, the shrimp is the real star. I encourage you to seek out wild caught shrimp, even if it has been frozen, and try to avoid foreign shrimp, which to me has a strange “off” flavor and often the texture of the shrimp is soft. It’s the quality of the shrimp that counts, not the fact that it’s been frozen.

For many years we were spoiled living near the Gulf of Mexico where some of the best shrimp in the world is harvested. I can remember buying freshly caught shrimp with their heads still on packed in lots of fresh ice from big Igloo coolers in the back of pick-up trucks on the side of the road in south Louisiana. Heads on shrimp are THE very best of the best and you can’t fake freshness when you can see their heads. We’ve now discovered that the coast of the Carolinas also has wonderful fresh caught wild shrimp. I’m not saying only buy Gulf of Mexico or Carolina shrimp or never buy frozen. What I am saying is ask your fish monger where the shrimp is from or read the label so you’ll know what you are buying. Try to avoid those bags of frozen shrimp that come from who-knows-where. Good quality seafood is not cheap, so buy the best you can find. Cheap seafood is just that, cheap.

Spicy Coconut Shrimp Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4 

3 ½ cups fat-free, low sodium chicken broth
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon red curry paste, more if you like it really spicy
1 cup light coconut milk (shake well before measuring)
1 pound large shrimp, preferably wild caught, peeled and deveined
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Slices of lime and cilantro sprigs for garnish if desired

Combine chicken broth, mushrooms, chopped red pepper, brown sugar, fish sauce, grated ginger and curry paste in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and cook for 2 minutes until hot. Add shrimp, cook for 3 minutes or until the shrimp are done. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cilantro, basil and lime juice, garnish if desired, and serve right away.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.   

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Medley of Asparagus Recipes

Asparagus is our favorite side dish to serve for Easter. It holds up well at room temperature on a buffet and almost everyone loves it. Each year I make it my mission to find a new asparagus recipe to add to our ever growing list of favorites. This year I’ve done a new version of my favorite asparagus mimosa recipe – I’ve sprinkled the chopped egg topping with briny capers.

I’ve included my basic recipe for poached asparagus as well as my basic French vinaigrette. With building blocks such as these, you can do a lot of different versions of garnishes, such as capers & chopped eggs or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod with Capers
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

Prepare My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for poached asparagus below. Dress with My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette below, using freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garnish with a chopped hard-boiled egg and some drained capers.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color. After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour, or serve at room temperature. *I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 tablespoon good vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon finely chopped shallot, optional
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. This also saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. Omit the shallot, Dijon mustard, and hot sauce for a more basic vinaigrette. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

Here’s Asparagus Mimosa, using the basic asparagus & French vinaigrette recipe but with chopped radishes instead of capers for a nice crunch. Link to recipe here.

Another asparagus recipe that’s a winner is asparagus using a fig balsamic vinegar to make a rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots and served over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Link here to post and recipe.

Here I’ve served asparagus on a bed of arugula with roasted red peppers and kalamata olives. Link here to post and recipe.

Last but certainly not least is a grilled asparagus and melon salad. This is very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a grill or on a stove top grill in your kitchen. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping, full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes good. Link to original post and recipe here.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday, and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.   

I hope everyone has a lovely Easter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Salmon & Asparagus Bundles

These salmon and asparagus bundles always catch my eye each time I see them in the showcase of our local favorite seafood market Merrick’s in Cape Coral, Florida. Merrick’s is one of southwest Florida’s finest purveyors of fresh seafood (they service over 250 local restaurants) and they also have ready-to-go seafood dishes for take-out. Take a glimpse inside the seafood market here and you’ll see why we are so proud to have them in the area. In a large room behind the retail counter you can see fish cutters busily filleting freshly caught local fish from the Gulf of Mexico. Last year they opened Fish Tails, their own fabulous seafood restaurant next door to the seafood market, photos of some of their gorgeous dishes here. Now you can understand why we eat a lot of fresh seafood and why you see a lot of seafood recipes on My Carolina Kitchen. Both Merrick's Seafood Market and Fish Tails restaurant are a "do-not-miss" if you are in the greater Fort Myers / Naples area.

I finally decided to make my own salmon and asparagus bundles. The ones at Merrick’s have a bourbon glaze (see here), but I was in the mood for something a little tropical, so I chose Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki sauce for my glaze. The glaze is made of made with 100% pure pineapple juice, zesty ginger and fresh garlic and even if I tried, I don’t think I could do better if I had made my own. I always have a bottle in the refrigerator and use it often as a glaze on salmon or grouper, as an example. Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki is available in many supermarkets, including Fresh Market, and on line at Amazon.

Soy Vay Island Teriyaki

These bundles can be made in advance and cooked at the last minute, which makes them convenient for entertaining. The salmon should be skinned before wrapping the asparagus. Your fishmonger can do this for you or it’s relatively easy if you have a sharp boning knife. I sprinkled my bundles with some black and white sesame seeds before popping them in the oven.

Salmon & Asparagus Bundles
Inspired by Merrick’s Seafood in Cape Coral, Florida, easily doubled or tripled, serves 2

Fresh asparagus spears, about 5 to 6 per person depending on size
½ to ¾ pound fresh salmon, preferably the tail end that isn’t too thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki sauce for brushing, about 1 tablespoon per fish
Black sesame seeds
White sesame seeds, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the asparagus up so the ends are even and using a sharp knife, cut off the bottom inch or so to remove the dried ends. Peel the remaining ends with a vegetable peeler, then separate into two bundles.

If the salmon has skin, remove with a very sharp filet knife (your fish monger can do this for you if you wish). Sprinkle the salmon with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then wrap around an asparagus bundle. Brush the salmon with the teriyaki sauce and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. Place on a sheet pan that has been lined with heavy duty foil (for easy clean-up). Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and check for doneness. Serve right away.

Cook’s notes: If your asparagus is thick, you may wish to parboil it for a minute or so before wrapping it with the salmon. If the asparagus tips are dainty, you might want to brush their tips with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent their drying out.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday, and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.   

I will be back early next week with a medley of asparagus recipes that are perfect for Easter or any time actually. Until then, have a great weekend. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sautéed Oranges

This colorful dish looks like sunshine and it transitions well from late winter into spring. Winter oranges are still available and seafood always reminds of spring and being out on the water boating when the weather warms up. It would also make a lovely lunch during Easter weekend when you're looking for something fresh and light. Blood oranges would be a striking combination to the navel oranges, but when I went to the market, I found I had missed their season. I’ve made a note to try this recipe again when I see blood oranges in the market next year.

The citrus flavors make a refreshing counterpoint to the rich seared sea scallops. Scallops aren’t particularly difficult to prepare. You just need to be very careful not to overcook them, because if you do, they will be tough and chewy and very unappetizing.

I think the most difficult thing about scallops is finding the correct ones. Dry pack scallops are the very best money can buy and I encourage you to seek them out. Here's a link that will explain what dry pack scallops are. If at all possible you want to avoid scallops that have been soaked in brine. Why? Because they are very difficult to near impossible to brown properly and, to me, they leave a bit of a tangy aftertaste in your mouth. Scallops should smell and taste like the sea – fresh.

I upped the amount of oranges called for in this recipe because the navel oranges I’ve been buying have ended up small by the time I removed their skin. If it turns out you’ve bought an extra orange or two, no problem, just juice them for breakfast the next day. The oranges in this recipe are briefly sautéed just to heat them through, so take care not to overcook them. The olives were a last minute idea for our own special touch because we think that the brininess of olives pairs well with citrus.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sautéed Oranges
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano, serves 4

Printable recipe

4 navel oranges, or 2 navel oranges and 2 blood oranges
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound large dry-packed sea scallops
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro leaves (or parsley if you don’t care for cilantro)
Assorted French olives, optional but delicious

Peel the oranges and cut into thin rounds, reserving the juice, and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the cumin and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dry the scallops with a paper towel and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture. In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the scallops and cook until browned underneath, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and cook until just firm to the touch but still translucent in the center, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Take care not to over-cook the scallops or they will be tough. Transfer the scallops to a plate and keep warm.

Add the vinegar and reserved orange juice to the pan and cook until reduced by half, then add the orange slices and cook for 1 minute. You are just warming the oranges, not actually cooking them. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Return the scallops to the pan along with any accumulated juices and stir to coat with the sauce. Transfer the oranges to serving plates and top with scallops. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and assorted French olives if using. Serve immediately.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, & Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.  
Have a great weekend everyone.