Braised Collard Greens as Appetizer

An appetizer of sauteed collard greens drizzled with reduced balsamic vinegar. 

My family isn't all that fond of collard greens, but I guess I must be a bit superstitious because I usually do serve them on New Year's Day.  Supposedly eating collard greens brings prosperity in the coming year, but I suppose any greens might work.

I decided this year to cook a very small portion using only one bunch of fresh collard greens.  We will eat this as an appetizer for our meal of black-eyed peas and cornbread.

Here's my recipe:  4 servings as appetizer

1 bunch of fresh collard greens (About 4 cups when cut up.)
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup of diced onion
1 cup of water
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Reduced balsamic vinegar for drizzling*

1.  Wash the collard greens and remove the stems and central large veins.  Roll up leaves and cut into thin strips.
2.  Wash the strips in a colander and drain.
3.  Add olive oil and onion to pan and saute over medium heat until onion is soft.
4.  Add cut up greens and cook on medium heat until wilted.
5.  Turn heat to high and add 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar.  When vinegar is incorporated, turn heat back down to low, add water, cover pan and simmer until greens are cooked until tender and water is absorbed.  (About 20 to 30 minutes.)
6.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
7.  When ready to use, heat over medium heat, and when ready to serve  drizzle about a teaspoon of reduced balsamic vinegar on the greens of each serving for a sweet and tangy taste.

*To reduce balsamic vinegar heat gently until vinegar thickens and is reduced by half.   For a slightly sweeter taste you can add a bit of honey to the vinegar when reducing.
Fresh collards. 
Remove stems and central veins.

Cut leaves into small strips. 

Wash strips in colander to remove any grit.
Saute onion.

Saute greens until wilted. 
Serve with reduced balsamic vinegar drizzled over greens. 

This is now ready for tomorrow.  Bring on prosperity!

Learning From The Chef and The Farmer

The Chef and The Farmer (Photo from their website.)
I went back to The Chef and The Farmer a second time for dinner, this time with Laura and Anthony.  By trying different items on the menu, I hope to pick up some hints on how to use different flavors in my cooking.  I have her cookbook too, and that is going to be helpful.  Of course, I really don't need an excuse to have dinner there, it has become my favorite restaurant in the area.

We tried two different shares.  All photos in this post by Anthony Benson. 

Cheese ball with three different cheeses and homemade crackers. 

GUILFORD MILLS GRITS | fried broccolini, fondue, warm bacon vinaigrette
We each tried a different large plate.
Anthony had the SUNBURST TROUT | root vegetable puree, fried turnips, charred citrus, gremolata -
Laura had the BRITTANY RIDGE PORK CHOP | farm apple mostarda, turnip green gratin
And I had the NORTH CAROLINA DRUM | spaetzle, collard chowder, pepper relish, cornbread crumble
For dessert we sampled three different desserts.  Yes I know, but I for one couldn't resist.
ICE CREAM OF THE DAY  was citrus and buttermilk sorbet, (top left.), RICOTTA DOUGHNUTS | lemon curd, citrus supremes, pomegranate , and WARM BROWNIE PUDDING | peppermint ice cream and bark (lower left.)

I've picked up some ideas and I'll be back for more!!!

Maple Glazed Walnuts

Maple Glazed Walnuts
For many years I have made spiced pecans for my friends and neighbors at Christmas.  You can check out the recipe for these savory nuts in one of my earlier blogs. This year I decided to make maple glazed walnuts as a change.  They are equally tasty and as easy to make.

2 cups of English walnuts (halves as much as possible)
1/3 cup of real maple syrup *
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1.  Preheat a dry skillet (cast iron preferably) over medium-high heat.
2.  Add the salt and then the walnuts.  Cook for about a minute stirring frequently.
3.  Add the maple syrup and continue cooking until nuts are toasted and syrup is caramelized, about two more minutes.
4.  Spread nuts on a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool.  Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

English walnuts and maple syrup. 

Add salt to heated skillet. 
Add walnuts. 

Add maple syrup. 

Spread on parchment paper to cool.  
Ready to gift. 

These nuts make for a good snack, can be added to a salad, or even used to top a dessert (ice cream sundae!!!).  They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids that may help to prevent heart attacks, and are high in fiber and Vitamin E.  A handful a day would be good for you.

*Honey could be substituted for maple syrup.

When Life Gives You Lemons......

Gingerbread Trifle
Well life gave me cranberry gingerbread that wouldn't come out of the pan, so I made a gingerbread trifle.  This sticky cranberry gingerbread I've made successfully in a regular baking pan, but I decided I would make two small round gingerbreads using my six-inch cast iron skillets.  What cute little Christmas gifts I thought.  I did grease the pan, but probably I should have used parchment paper in the bottom as well, because when done the gingerbread would not come out of the pan in once piece.  It was so tasty, and I thought this can't be wasted.
The gingerbread came out of pan in pieces.
I often make trifles particularly during the holidays.  So why not a gingerbread trifle I thought.  Whipping up a vanilla custard was quick and alternately layering the bread and the custard made for a lovely dessert.  As it happened I had a bit of the cranberry sauce leftover. Fresh cranberry sauce is an ingredient in the gingerbread.  Voila,this makes for a nice topping, no?   Notice I have not included whipped cream.  Although, it could be added when served.  Three friends are joining me for dessert this afternoon. 
Vanilla custard. 
Freshly made cranberry sauce on top.
Ready to eat.  

I've tried it and it is delicious!  By accident I have created a new recipe to add to my recipe book.

Lentil Soup for a Cold Day

There's a chill in the air this morning, and just the kind of weather to make one crave soup.  One of the tastiest and easiest soup to make is lentil soup.  You can grab a bag of lentils and a ham hock at the grocery and use the recipe that's on the bag of lentils, or you can follow this one that I like.

2 cups of lentils that have been washed (They do not need to be soaked.)
6 cups of water
1 ham hock*
1 cup of chopped or diced carrots (I used shredded ones that I had on hand.)
1/2 cup of chopped celery
1 cup of diced onions (I used frozen diced onions.)
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove sliced
A grind or two of fresh pepper
Salt to taste (Optional, the ham hock is salty and may be enough for your taste.)**
1 cup of chopped fresh spinach (Optional)

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients except the spinach if using.  Bring to a boil and cover.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 40 to 50 minutes until the lentils are tender.  Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is wilted.  Take out the ham hock, remove the meat, chop and return it to the pot. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

*I had asked my son to pick up a ham hock for me at the grocery and he didn't know what a ham hock was.  I explained it is the lower part of the pig's leg between the ham and the foot.  They are typically cured and smoked and available in the meat department of the grocery.

**I typically do not salt food as I cook it so that each person can add as much or as little salt as they desire when eating it.

Sea Scallops and Asparagus

My son Patrick is a fan of FlavorNC and especially enjoys the interesting recipes.  He convinced me to try this recipe for lunch today,  and we both were very pleased with it.   I made only half the recipe using six instead of twelve scallops.  Scallops are very pricey.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Evan Hayes
as seen on episode “Currituck Asparagus”, season 4
Preparation – Medium, Serves 4
·        12 Fresh Jumbo Sea Scallops
·        2 medium Sweet Onions (I used about 1/2 cup of frozen chopped onions.)
·        1 bunch Fresh Asparagus
·        1 c Spinach
·        1 tbs Olive Oil
·        ½ c White Wine
·        1 tbs Lemon Juice
·        1 tbs Honey
·        1 c Chicken Stock
·        4 oz Cream Cheese, softened
·        Salt & White Pepper to taste
Pre-heat Grill and cast iron. Chop one onion and thickly slice the other. Chop ½ bunch asparagus.
Asparagus Puree
Pre-heat sauté pan with olive oil. Caramelize chopped onion in sauté pan. Add wine and lemon juice and reduce. Add chicken stock, honey, salt and pepper, and chopped asparagus. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. In batches, add ½ sauté, ½ spinach, and ½ cream cheese to blender until smooth. Repeat and combine until all of sauté has been blended with cream cheese and spinach.

Salt, pepper, and olive oil scallops. Sear scallops on cast iron until golden brown on both sides. Grill remaining asparagus and onion. Assemble grilled items and drizzle with asparagus puree. 

I had some of the asparagus puree left over, and I think it would be great over poached eggs or even broiled salmon. Any suggestions on how to use the leftover sauce?

A Halloween Party Isn't the Same Without Mice

Chocolate mice like the cheese.
A lot of good recipes pop up on Facebook, and this one for chocolate mice intrigued me, and I thought "Hey, this is the perfect snack for a Halloween Party." I don't usually attend Halloween parties, but my sister and her extended family have one every year, and this year it was Saturday night and I decided to don my leopard lounge suit and go.  I "caught" these mice to serve.

Chocolate Mice

4 (1 ounce ) squares semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
1/3 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
24 silver dragees decorating candy
1/4 cup sliced almonds
12 (2 inch) pieces long black licorice

1.  Melt the chocolate, and combine with sour cream.  Stir in 1 cup chocolate cookie  crumbs.  Cover and refrigerate until firm.
2.  Roll by level tablespoons into balls.  Mold to a slight point at one end for the nose.
3.  Roll dough in chocolate cookie crumbs.  On each mouse, place dragees in appropriate spot for eyes, almond slices for ears, and a licorice string for the tail.
4.  Refrigerate for at least two hours, until firm.  
Melt the chocolate in the microwave. 
Add the sour cream. 

Add the cookie crumbs. 
Ready to refrigerate. 

Ready to serve. 

I couldn't find the dragees for making the eyes, so these are blind mice. 
The "cat" that "caught" the "mice."
This "cat" (leopard) served the "mice" at the Halloween Party.  The party was great fun, and I think the mice were a big hit.