Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Seed Brittle and the beginnings of a Thanksgiving menu

photograph from My New Orleans, by John Besh
Yesterday I started prepping for our annual Thanksgiving feast.  This year we're hosting a seated dinner for twenty, and house guests begin arriving tomorrow!  My husband is always in charge of the turkey, and he always spit roasts it over an open fire - more on that later this week.  Please forgive my short and slightly scattered posts over the next few days.  I could sit and write all day, but then we'd have nothing to eat!

 I found this salad recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, My New Orleans, by John Besh.  I purchased this several years ago at his restaurant, August, where my husband and I enjoyed one of the best meals we've ever eaten.  It is a beautiful cookbook, arranged by seasons of food, including Blackberries and Chanterelles, Gumbo and Thanksgiving.  His recipes are thoughtfully crafted and simple to follow.  The results are always delicious, and very popular with dinner guests.

I'm a sucker for anything with blue cheese (preferably a good english stilton), and the spicy/sweet nuttiness of the pumpkin seed brittle perfectly compliments the tangy blue cheese.  I especially like this recipe because one can make the brittle ahead of time, as it will easily keep in the pantry (in a plastic bag) for up to a week. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

quick! roasted shrimp

 Of course a well appointed pantry extends beyond dry goods!  I keep several bags of frozen shrimp in my freezer at all times.  It's one of the easiest and most versatile proteins to prepare in a pinch.  The best frozen shrimp are already peeled and deveined, with the tail on. You can find these details on the package. Frozen shrimp are sold by count to the pound.  Large shrimp are a 16-20 count.  I think this is the best size to use for a generous shrimp cocktail, tossed into a fresh salad, or prepared in a hot seafood entree.
 One of my favorite ways to prepare shrimp is to roast it.  Roasting the shrimp brings out its flavor and sweetness much more so than steaming.  I serve it with cocktail sauce as well as an aoli option.  If I'm in a pinch, I'll use good mayonnaise and season it with chipotle powder.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Harissa spread from Tunisia- your new "go to"

 This past Sunday I found the most delicious little jar of goodness! The sweet red pepper provides a fresh, slightly acidic base, while the Harissa adds a nice warm heat to the mix.
Les Moulins Majhoub is based in Tebourda, Tunisia.  Steeped in rich agricultural traditions of the region,  their products are of the finest quality - certainly some of the best  I have tasted.  From their website,
“Tebourba is one of a few towns in Tunisia whose population has a quite special original character. It is composed almost entirely of descendants of the Moors driven out of Andalucia who settled on the site of the old Tuburbum Minus, on the left bank of the Medjerda.  The district of Tebourba is rich and fertile. It produces large amounts of cereals; there are abundant crops of olives, market gardening (truck farming) is highly developed and very varied.”     (E. Lecore-Carpentier - L'Indicateur Tunisien - Annuaire des administrations de la régence de Tunis - Guide du commerce, de l'industrie de l'agriculture et des touristes. 1905.)"
photo courtesy of Les Moulins Majhoub
 Harissa is a hot chili sauce, traditionally from Tunisia or Libya.  The main ingredients are piri priri (which is a type of chili pepper), serano and other hot chili peppers, herbs and spices including garlic, coriander, caraway, chili powder.  Olive oil is added to create the right consistency.  You can purchase harissa paste from most specialty foods stores, or online here.  It is very spicy and should be used sparingly at first, but once you understand its flavor, it becomes a brilliant addition to any middle eastern style dish. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

the cheese shop, and new pantry finds to share!


breakfast accoutrements
It's been quiet here at Butter and Figs over the last few days.  My husband and I skipped town over the weekend for some much needed R&R.  I'm back now with new inspirations, and heaps of goodies to share with you over the next few days.  In the meantime, here is a sneak peak at one of my favorite cheese shops.
the cheese case at The Wine Merchant

delicious salamis, pates, and proscuitto

more delectable goodies

"snacks" for dinner - back in the Butter and Figs kitchen

Thursday, November 1, 2012

out for soup at Uprise Bakery

pepper pot soup

Because there are times when nothing in the pantry will suffice! Thank goodness for local spots like Uprise Bakery with all of their deliciousness! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

for dinner, any fish will do - a mustard sauce with capers.

Salmon with wilted kale

Halibut with mustard greens
This is one of the easiest ways to cook fish that is full of flavor, without adding fat or calories.  In our home, I've served fish prepared this way, twice in the last five days.  On Friday I used salmon, and last night I used the same sauce with halibut.  Swordfish would also stand up quite nicely to the mustard.

I always keep several large jars of capers (any brand will do) in my pantry, and for this recipe I used Maille dijon mustard. It has a nice heat without too much added sugar. The capers, which are slightly sour and quite salty, are excellent with most fish, including smoked salmon or added to shrimp scampi.

leftovers, for breakfast!

My breakfast usually includes some version of toast and nut butter with honey.  This morning, however, leftover halibut with a mustard caper sauce sounded delicious.   I'll post the recipe for last night's dinner later this afternoon.  In the meantime,  enjoy your coffee and have a lovely morning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

fruit butters (and much, much more!) from Earth and Vine Provisions - now at Tallulah's!

Yesterday I popped into my favorite kitchen store, Tallulah's, to pick up a few tools of the trade.  Lucky for me, I arrived just in time to taste some of their latest goodies from Earth and Vine Provisions! Earth and Vine is a California company that has been making 100% natural sauces, jams, and condiments since 1997.  They are completely free of preservatives, and many of their products are gluten free.  The gals at Tallulah's were sampling the Mandarin Pumpkin Marmalade simply paired with cream cheese and served with crackers.  The spices of fall are so prevalent in this delectable spread, with notes of citrus and cloves.  Of course I left the shop with several jars of this goodness, and plan to re-stock before Thanksgiving company arrives.  For breakfast this morning, I tried the Spiced Fig Pear Fruit Butter, with a bit of Manchego cheese and sourdough toast - blissfully delicious.

The Earth and Vine Provisions website also includes recipes to accompany each of their products.  I can't wait to try the Fig and Pomegranate Brie Tart, using my new fruit butter.  If you live close by,  immediately make your way to Tallulah's downtown, and prepare to be persuaded.  Otherwise, Earth and Vine offers free shipping on orders over $75.00

Sunday, October 28, 2012

dreaming of Blackberry Farm

(photo compliments of Blackberry Farm)
I love Sundays.  Time spent puttering, resting, making lists, and daydreaming is certainly time well spent.  If you haven't already heard of Blackberry Farm, now is the time to "be in the know".  It is considered to be one of the premier destinations in North America, and was named #1 resort in the U.S. and Canada in the 2012 World’s Best Service Awards by Travel and Leisure.  A brief history found on their website describes the farm perfectly.
           "In 1939, Mrs. Florida Lasier of Chicago snagged her silk stockings on a wild blackberry bramble while exploring the idyllic Smoky Mountain foothills, and the name Blackberry Farm was born. Thirty-six years later, the Beall family invested their hearts and souls in the same romantic site that has become their family home and lifelong passion. Today, one of America's most celebrated intimate luxury hotels beckons discerning guests who aspire to escape modern-day frenzy and slip into a Blackberry state of mind. Situated on a pastoral 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry will show you the many reasons why it is one of the top rated properties in the world."
(photo compliments of Blackberry Farm)
One way to be a part of this beautiful community is to become a Friend of the Farm. This complimentary membership provides access to "exclusive perks" including discounts on reservations, dinner, and merchandise.  Their farmstead catalog is full of pantry favorites, including southern grits, maple syrup, meats, and cheeses. Everything is locally sourced and produced- all highly recommended additions to your well appointed pantry.
One of my personal favorites, however, is access to their Kitchen Sessions.  These unlisted YouTube videos feature Blackberry Farm chefs demonstrating recipes from their cookbooks!
(photo compliments of Blackberry Farm)
And speaking of cookbooks,  you can pre-order their newest cookbook here!

The dining room is stunning, both in its simple elegance and warmth.
(photo compliments of Blackberry Farm)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

baby it's cold outside - apple cake

On Thursday the temperature dropped 20 degrees in 8 hours, landing at "quite chilly", perfect weather for hosting a cozy fall dinner.  My menu consisted of beef bourguignon served over a celery root puree, followed by a seasonal salad of wilted kale topped with roasted beets and drizzled with balsamic dijon vinaigrette.

For dessert, I made apple cake and served it with a wedge of Stilton cheese to pass around the table (trust me on this one, the two share a plate quite well).  The recipe for this apple cake comes from a friend who bakes the most delicious cakes.  Not the kind of cakes one has at birthday parties or manufactured social gatherings.  These are the cakes that dinner party legends are made of.  Rustic, with fruits and spices, and full of warmth. In this recipe, the spices are what make the cake especially good.  Nothing compares to the flavors of fresh cardamom plucked from its pod, or nutmeg grated directly into the batter.  Both of these spices will keep in your pantry for a very long time,  and the results they yield are not to be surpassed.

WSJ Off Duty - Saturday morning bliss

Culinary inspiration from the Wall Street Journal's 'Off Duty' section.  This is my favorite way to start the weekend. With recipes from the likes of Eric Ripert and James Boyce, how can one go wrong? Next stop will be the farmers market, and then I promise to share my apple cake recipe! In the meantime,  I hope you're all enjoying your Saturday morning.

Friday, October 26, 2012

not your average pizza

This is a perfect example of how important it is to have a well stocked pantry (and refrigerator).  Tonight my husband and I both arrived home at 7pm,  tired and hungry.  I had leftover stew in the refrigerator, but somehow that didn't seem appetizing.

Thankfully, I had on hand the necessary ingredients for a perfectly decadent pizza.  Twenty minutes later,  I'm sitting here at my kitchen counter, snacking on pizza and sharing the recipe with you. 
Before I go any further, however, I must give credit where credit is due.  The inspiration for this meal comes from Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, of Beekman 1802 fame, via Martha Stewart.  The Blaak Onion Jam is theirs and it is divine.  I highly recommend stocking your pantry with at least 2 or 3 of these jars as soon as possible.  You can also find the recipe for their fabulous jam here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

mayonnaise (and mustard)

As much as I love the taste and texture of homemade mayonnaise,  I don't always have the time (or motivation) to whip up my own.  Despite my occasional bouts of culinary laziness,  I am still a devout mayonnaise snob.  Duke's mayonnaise is consistently the best you can buy.  First created in Greenville, South Carolina in 1917 by Eugenia Duke, the family recipe has remained the same for almost a century.  If you are of the vegan persuasion,  do not despair!  Vegenaise is a lovely substitute for the real deal.  The texture and tang of real mayonnaise is not lost in this vegan version of the creamy spread. 

Last but not least, I must share with you this little gem of a mustard.  I was first introduced to Edmond Fallot Mustard when we were traveling in Denmark this past June - but more on that another day.  These Dijon mustard's are paired with herbs and spices such as tarragon, green pepper and cassis to create the most decadent spread one can imagine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Roast Chicken, my husband's favorite.

 If asked about his favorite meal, my husband would be more than happy to entertain with an ode to roast chicken.  We've celebrated anniversaries and holidays with roast chicken, as well we've enjoyed this simple dish in the middle of the week for no reason at all. I've had so many requests for this recipe over the years, and I'm happy to share "our" roast chicken with you, my dear reader.

There are unlimited resources and recipes for roast chicken, both online and on the cookbook shelf.  Every family has its own method, and ingredients that make their recipe special, but there are a few details, such as temperature, time, and of course the chicken, that remain the same   This is our version.

Monday, October 22, 2012

a sweet treat

I always keep dark chocolate on hand for emergency situations! Tonight is apparently one of them.  We flew back this morning from a quick weekend trip to Boston, and this evening I was in need of a chocolate fix. Dark chocolate has many health benefits, providing antioxidants and vital minerals, as well as reducing blood pressure and risk of heart disease.  By European standards, chocolate must contain at least 35% cocoa solids to be considered "dark".  The best, and most guilt free chocolates contain 70% cocoa solids.  These chocolates are very rich, slightly sweet and absolutely delicious. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

a new cookbook from Ina Garten!

Some of my favorite cookbooks come from beautiful kitchen of Ina Garten.  Also known as "The Barefoot Contessa",  Mrs. Garten worked in the White House as a nuclear policy analyst before purchasing the Barefoot Contessa, a food specialty store in East Hampton, in 1978.  Her store was wildly successful, but in 1996 Ina sold the shop to two employees.  In 1999 she published her first cookbook,  The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and this latest publication will be her eighth title. Mrs. Garten's cookbooks are beautifully organized by courses, and the photographs are just scrumptious.  I recommend that everyone own at least one of these cookbooks, if not the entire collection! I've learned so much from reading her books - from the temperature for roasting a chicken, to her recommendations for keeping a proper kitchen. You can also follow Ina's blog on the Barefoot Contessa Website.  She continues to inspire, whether in the kitchen or through her culinary finds.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

a gluten free cracker

I'm constantly in search of good crackers to serve my gluten-free friends.  These little gems from "Le Pain des Fleurs" are one of my favorites.  They are a bit rustic with a nice crisp.  The quinoa is slightly nutty, and the cracker has just enough added salt for flavor.  They are just as good with cheese and olives for cocktails, as they are with nutella for a midnight snack.  A must for any pantry.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

cake is in the oven!

pure wow and pear cake

Several months ago I learned about Pure Wow, a "free daily lifestyle email for stylish women of substance".  They offer the latest in fashion, culture, and FOOD!  I've tailored my subscription to receive several recipes a week by email.  Today's recipe for Smoky Sausage with Lentils (recipe after the break) seems like a perfect dish for a fall weekend.   

My dad arrived in town yesterday, so I took the liberty of giving my pantry a rest.  We have 2 more guests arriving this afternoon, but there is a spectacular version of Pear Cake that I can't wait to make.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with you this afternoon! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

coffee and tea

 I'm still not feeling quite right, and have consequently slurped down quite a bit of hot tea over the last few days.  It's important to always have a generous supply of coffee and tea, as well as the necessary accoutrements, on hand. Regular and decaffeinated are two obvious options,  but tea can be tricky.  There are white teas, black teas, green teas, as well as flowers (just to scratch the surface).  I prefer to have at least these 4 options for my guests.  I even have a few instant iced tea packets on hand for an emergency.  A friend of mine was recently in China and she brought back some lovely teas that I keep in a tin to preserve the freshness.

Coffee is a bit more simple and one can usually get away with regular and decaf.  I prefer a dark roasted bean, and it's very easy to add a splash of hot water if the coffee is too strong.  I also keep a tin of Cafe du Monde's Coffee and Chicory.  It's a New Orleans favorite and I love the nutty taste, especially to cut through sweets (like a breakfast beignete !).

Of course it's helpful to keep sugar, sweetners, a cream pitcher, a thermos, your french press, and of course mugs, all within reach.  I even like to have a toast rack nearby for a quick breakfast tray.  As you can imagine, this cabinet is my first stop in the morning!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

company is coming!

and I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off...

In fact,  I actually love having house guests.  I bake for days in advance, and stock the refrigerator with stinky cheeses, olives, and homemade pesto's.  Notice the fennel bulbs on the counter next to the cookie dough -  complete chaos. 

I'm halfway through 6 dozen chocolate cookies.  These are, in fact, THE BEST chocolate chip cookies - ever.  I came across this recipe last May, when my friend Rachel documented them in her blog, Erstwhile dear.  She and her husband, Joe, created a visual guide to the recipe, which went on to win America's Test Kitchen's Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge Winners!  Over the last year I've made these cookies at least a dozen times,  and each time they are declared " THE BEST  cookies 'I've' ever had!"  I always make sure to keep several bags of Ghiradelli Chocolate morsels,  semisweet, bittersweet and dark, in my pantry at all times.  One never knows when you'll need to whip up a batch of these cookies.  This recipe is always a sure thing. The only thing I've added is to sprinkle a dash of sea salt on the dough balls before baking.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Miso Soup

Today I've been fighting a bit of a head cold.  It is always disappointing to be sick when the sun is shining outside and there is a nip in the air!  Fall is the most beautiful season for cooking in my opinion.  Sadly most of the fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season, but it's finally not too hot to use the stove!  While I certainly enjoy the hours leading up to a good stew or rich root soup,  it's also nice to have options for a warm bowl of nourishment without the process, especially when one is feeling in less than stellar health.  Miso soup is this nourishment.  It requires few ingredients, and takes only a few minutes on the stove.  Soft miso paste is full of vitamins and nutrients as well as protein, fiber and omega 3's.  I prefer the sweet white miso for it mild and slightly sweet taste. 

if you don't already.....

image courtesy of Garden and Gun
If you don't already subscribe to Garden and Gun,  I suggest that you at least check out their website.  The latest edition focuses on the best Southern Foods - as you can see from the image above.  I would give my right arm for that biscuit right about now. 

I also receive email updates from their publication and last week they featured "Not so Secret Suppers".  This sounds absolutely fascinating, and I'm seriously considering attending one of these events in New York City.   In 2005, Damien Schaefer began hosting what he called "Secret Suppers"  in Athens, Georgia.  According to legend, these suppers were attended by a secret list of invitees who sought out cutting edge culinary experiences.   Fortunately for the rest of us,  Mr. Schaefer is now making his famed supper parties available to the general public. 
For more information go to their website, Public Domain.
Image courtesy of Garden and Gun
Continue reading below to see the menu from their inaugural Public Domain dinner.