Tag Archives: entrées

Reasons to Gather: Friends, Risotto, and Pinot Noir

Our friends Kimberly and Scott invited us over for a taste of Scott’s famous risotto and some very special boutique wine (who could say “no” to that?). Alexander greeted us and gave us a whirlwind tour of their family’s holiday traditions: the tree decorating, the stockings (hung on the windowsill, not on the hearth), the nativity scene hand-made from corn husks by his grandmother, the nutcracker painting made by his brother Patrick, and the Elf on the Shelf game.

Meanwhile, Kimberly and Scott were preparing a knock-out blue cheese, grape, and walnut pizza (Kimberly is not a fan of blue cheese, so when I heard her rave about this pizza, I knew it had to be a winner). Scott corked some Road 31 Pinot Noir (formerly Green Truck Cellars), and we sank our teeth into the first bite of a very heavenly meal.

When we arrived, Scott had been preparing the risotto on the stove, but the boys – Alexander and Patrick – were in for a special treat: spaghetti and meatball marinara all the way from an Italian market in Cincinnati, OH. It had me wishing I had a seat at the kids’ table.

Scott didn’t let us adults down. We have been hearing rumors of his risotto for the past two months, and finally, the winter break from classes afforded us the opportunity to dine chez leur. The risotto (which included a full two cups of Albariño and a generous amount of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese) was topped with a warm sautée of sausage, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Divinity!

Kimberly wasn’t about to let her husband steal the spotlight. She prepared a rich, yet fluffy, Mexican chocolate cake with walnuts. Served with a glass (or two) of Tawny Port, it was the perfect way to top off a holiday evening with friends.

We left Kimberly and Scott’s home with full bellies and a long list of restaurants and B&B’s to try in Charleston, NC. Thank you for a wonderful evening. The next one’s on us!

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Creamy Sage Polenta with Roasted Shiitakes, Red Onion & Valdeón

The urge to cook overtook me last Sunday. I wanted a hearty, savory, and wholesome dish.  But this culinary escapade was far more than just an impulsive experiment. In fact, many events came together to inspire this meal.

The week prior, Christian and I had purchased some Valdeón bleu cheese at Whole Foods Market. Peter Murphy, our guest at the time, can attest to the Valdeón’s overall exquisiteness relative to other bleu cheeses.

Last Saturday, I had an inkling to make cornbread, but to my dismay, I discovered that I didn’t have enough cornmeal in the pantry. So my loyal servant (read: my husband) went to fetch me some more. But now I had an excess of cornmeal! What to do, what to do? A memory of distant past soon revisited me. When I asked Chef Sean Fulford of Flat Creek Estate what the difference was between cornmeal and polenta, he promptly replied, “one’s Italian.” And with that thought in mind, I decided to revisit my apprenticeship days and attempt to recreate Sean’s creamy sage polenta.

While at the grocery store on Sunday, I noticed that the shiitakes looked particularly ravishing, so I decided to buy some.  “How to cook these?” I asked myself. And I harkened back to the good ole days of being a Food & Wine subscriber. I vaguely remembered a roasted shitake recipe with bleu cheese (I had that in the fridge!) and red onions (I could buy that real cheap!).   So, all the ingredients assembled, I racked my memory, and this is what I came up with…

Creamy Sage Polenta á la Sean with Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms, Red Onion & Valdeón


For the polenta

1 ½ c. of cornmeal
1 ½ c. light cream
1 ½ c. lowfat milk
1 c. low-sodium chicken stock
¼ c. fresh sage leaves, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 T. unsalted butter
½ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the mushrooms

1 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1 red onion, sliced in ¼-inch-thick half moons
½ c. Valdeón cheese, crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


For the mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 425o F. Toss the mushrooms and red onion together with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Roast for 30 min., tossing every 10 min.  Just before serving, toss in the bleu cheese.

For the polenta

Everything good begins with butter

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Sauté the garlic and sage for 1 min. until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cream and milk and bring to a low boil. Add the cornmeal ½ c. at a time, whisking rapidly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until lumps have disappeared and polenta is thick and creamy. Slowly add the chicken stock until the polenta reaches the desired consistency (it should be thick and creamy, slightly less thick than mashed potatoes). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, mix in Parmesan cheese.

Serve polenta topped with roasted mushrooms and a glass of red wine on the side. Indulge.

Another happy customer chez nous!


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Moroccan Hot-Smoked Sockeye Salmon with Salsa Verde

It’s never too hot to grill (even in Texas). My husband and I recently tried our hand at smoking wild salmon, and I think it turned out pretty darn good…

Step 1 – If you’re going to be smoking fish at home, always start with a very fresh fillet. I used to work at a fish market, so I know how to finagle a fishmonger into giving me the freshest fillet in the market. Here’s how it works:

Monger: How may I help you today miss?
Savvy Customer: When did the sockeye arrive at the market?
M: Yesterday.
SC: Do you have any whole fish? (Some whole fish have a longer shelf life than fillets.)
M: No, I’m sorry we’re sold out.
SC: No problem. These fillets here, do you process them in-house?
M: No, they arrive already filleted.
SC: I like the look of these in the case, but do you have any in the back that might be fresher?
M: Yes, as a matter of fact we do have some cases that arrived this morning. Let me just go to the back and fetch one for you.
SC: (smiling politely) Why thank you!
M: Here you go. You can see the harvest date right here (points to the unopened case with his index finger, opens the case, and removes a glistening, sweet-smelling fillet). How about this one?
SC: Perfect! Thanks for all your help! (secretly to herself: Damn I’m good.)

Step 2 – Rub skin-on fillet with “smoky” rub of choice and season lightly with sea salt. I used a Moroccan spice blend that my sister Caitlin brought home from her trip to Morocco last January. There’s no other way to describe it other than divine. I think I detect hints of saffron and pimentón, if you’d like to try to recreate it.

Step 3 – Prepare charcoal grill; simultaneously soak planks or logs of your choosing (cedar, pecan, mesquite, maple, etc.). Spread the hot coals evenly over the grill, then top the soaked planks. Spray the skin-side of the fillet and the grill grate liberally with nonstick cooking spray. Place the fillet in the center of the grill and close the lid. Hot-smoke for approximately 15 min. Do not over cook!

Step 4 – Move fish from grill to serving platter and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Step 4 – Slice salmon and serve with salsa verde (preferrably homemade) and cool Greek yogurt to temper the heat.


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Dinner with Friends: a Tribute to “Homesick Texan”

I recently hosted some friends from Quality Seafood for a farewell dinner party. I made the food and they provided the adult beverages (Hi-C, milk, imbibe-ables of that nature). There were two inspirations for the menu: first, between our CSA farm box, my in-laws, and the garden at Flat Creek, I had a serious quantity of summer squash and jalapenos that needed to be dealt with. Second, I asked myself, what do we have a plethora of in Texas that we won’t have in Virginia? Ehem…Mexican food. And where better to look for authentic Mexican recipes than a Texan gringa living in New York? She may not be from south of the border, but her recipes have an authentic essence that is hard to replicate. I hope you enjoy oggling at the photos. Please forgive my amateur point-and-shoot camera.

A Fishmongress’ Farewell-to-Texas Party Menu

Chile Con Queso – Note: Make right before serving to avoid separating!

Sopa de Lima – Note: My friend Sandra recommends using lemon juice instead of lime to avoid bitterness. Garnish with lime slices if preferred.

Summer Squash Enchiladas

Watermelon Agua Frescas – Note: Add mint simple syrup to taste.

Key Lime “Itty Bitty” Bundt Cakes (from Whole Foods Market) and Black Forest Bundt Cake (brought by Skylar)

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The Hunter-Gatherer Feast

This past weekend we visited our friends Lynne Connellee and Noel Rodriguez in Buda (just 25 min. south of Austin). As soon as we entered their home, wafts of roasted garlic and caramelized onion reached our noses, and Noel, who had been peeling roasted eggplant, put down his knife to greet us. This was going to be good.

For appetizers, they served Eagle Mountain artisan raw milk Gruyere – aged one year – and pasteurized milk French Camembert. Noel had picked it up while he was at a cheese-making class in Granbury, TX. After we noshed on the cheese and some roasted eggplant bruschetta served on homemade five-grain bread, Noel and Lynne gave us a tour of their yard.

A beautiful pool was tucked behind the kitchen, neighbored by a garden filled with everything from artichokes to winter squash. Behind the garden was Noel’s woodworking shop – which he affectionately dubbed “the dog house.” Along the back fence and bordering the rest of the yard were many varieties of fruit-bearing plants: a mulberry tree, grape vines, a peach tree, a pear tree, cacti, and several plants whose names we don’t remember but whose flowers were meant to attract rare migratory species of moth and butterfly. Shading the back porch and house were pecan trees planted by Lynne’s son and a fig tree which had been in her family for generations.

After the tour, we sat down for what would turn out to be one of the best homemade meals of the year – even better…we didn’t have to cook it! Dandelions from the yard had been fermented into wine and then used as the base for a tangy ginger sauce for the venison loin (hunted by Noel, of course). Lynne had prepared warm Danish-style potatoes and a carrot and fennel slaw with fennel fronds, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Venison Fillet in a Dandelion Wine Reduction with Carrot & Fennel Slaw, Danish Potatoes, and Portabello Mushroom

For dessert? Cactus fruit sorbet cut with a bit of chile piquín, served with homemade lemon almond cookies. Clearly, Noel’s assertion that they like to incorporate the fruits of their garden in their food was a serious understatement.

Cactus Fruit (tuna) Sorbet with Lemon, Almond, Coffee Cookies

Which reminds us of another understatement, said by Lynne in reference to their home in Buda, “It’s not much, but it’s ours.” We respectfully disagree…it’s a lot more than “not much.” It’s a little oasis in a sea of homes where the only place families gather is around the TV screen and most of the meals that are considered homemade involve prepared ingredients. If we could all incorporate at least one meal like this one into our weekly routine, we’d be a long way towards improving the health of our bodies and our families.

Noel’s Recipes

Eggplant Bruschetta on Five-grain Bread

1 large eggplant
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 head garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
Sea salt to taste
Less than 1 handful of breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
4 slices five-grain bread (preferably homemade)

Roast the eggplant, yellow onion, and garlic tossed with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, and sea salt in an oven at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. When the eggplant is very tender, remove from oven. Allow vegetables to cool, then peel and chop them. Sauté with butter and breadcrumbs. Butter the bread, cut it into quarters, and then toast until golden brown. Top the bread with the eggplant mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Broil for about 1 minute.

Venison Fillet in a Dandelion Wine Reduction

16 ounces dandelion wine (recipe follows)
1 small ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Combine dandelion wine, ginger, sugar, a generous amount of fresh ground pepper, and sea salt. Reduce mixture to about 6 oz. over medium low heat. Strain, and set liquid aside.

2 venison loins, about 8 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

Coat the venison loins in a mixture of pepper and rosemary to form a nice crust. The loins should be at room temperature. Pan sear the loins in clarified butter or vegetable oil over high heat. Cut into medallions and serve on top of Dandelion Wine Reduction with a side of sautéed Portabello mushrooms.

Dandelion Wine

2 quarts of dandelion flowers
3 pounds granulated sugar
½ ounce yeast
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 gallon of boiling water

Pick flowers (heads only) and wash them. Combine, in a very large pot or bowl, the flowers, orange, and lemon. Pour the boiling water over this mixture, cover, and let stand for 10 days. Strain the mixture and add the sugar to the liquid. Mix well so that sugar is dissolved. Spread ½ ounce of yeast onto one piece of toast and float it in the mixture. Cover and let rest for another 3 days. Strain the liquid (remove the toast), and put the liquid into sterilized bottles. It is ready to drink now, but it will improve with age. (I prefer to age it at least 1 year).

Carrot and Fennel Slaw

3-5 carrots, washed and grated
1 fennel bulb, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sundried tomatoes, julienned
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
less than 1 handful of fennel fronds, roughly chopped

Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Toss carrots and fennel root in the dressing. Top the mixture with sun dried tomatoes, parsley, and fennel fronds. Chill and serve.

Danish Potato Salad

1 pound whole red potatoes
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
Sugar to taste
Apple cider vinegar to taste

Scrub potatoes and boil in a large pot of salted water until fork tender. Brown the onion over medium heat in the butter. Combine potatoes and onion. Toss with sugar and apple cider vinegar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cactus Fruit Sorbet

2 cups cactus fruit juice (agua fresca de tuna)
1 cup simple syrup (boil 1 cup water, add 1 cup fine white sugar, remove from heat and chill)
Zest of 1 lime
1 shot of vodka
Pinch of chile piquín

Combine all ingredients in sorbet maker. Freeze until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve with Lynne’s Lemon Almond Cookies.

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