Monday, June 20, 2011

Mock Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sandwiches

People choose their BBQ like they choose their spouses--for the most part they want something like what they grew up with, for better or for worse. In my hometown of Binghamton, New York, speidies were king. Spiedies are kebobs of beef, chicken, pork or venison (but usually chicken) marinated in a vinegar base, skewered and served on a slice of white Italian bread or sub roll. No vegetables are harmed in the process, and if you want anything else on it, the pit master will give you some of the marinade, unused of course, to pour on top. My Grandma made a similar vinegar-based marinade for whole chicken pieces. She would marinate the meat for days before grilling it at big Sunday family get-togethers. If I remember correctly, my Uncle Tom once ran a chicken barbecue restaurant off Court Street using her recipe.

So when I first moved to North Carolina fifteen years ago and saw a Smithfield Chicken and Barbecue restaurant I thought I knew what to expect. I pulled up to the drive-thru speaker and after examining the menu said, "I'll have a barbecue sandwich, but can I get it in chicken?" I was met with static. Finally the cashier came on and said, "You mean you want fried chicken with your sandwich?" No, I wanted a pulled barbecue sandwich, but not pork. More silence. If you grew up in North Carolina or have lived here for more than a day you are laughing at me right now. Because in North Carolina, as in much of the south, barbecue means pork and only pork. Lesson learned.

Now that I've had Smithfield's pork barbecue, and many others, I adore Eastern Carolina pulled pork. I never pass up an invitation to a pig picking either. Hog heaven. However, I have never actually made pulled pork sandwiches myself. Every time I go to order the pork at the butcher counter my brain starts counting calories and pennies and hours cooking and I change my mind. I usually head over to the rotisserie chicken warmer instead.

Now don't start hatin' on my Yankee ways. I wasn't born here but I love this state, and I love the south. I know it's hard to accept change. My idea of barbecue has done a one-eighty. But our hearts can handle change; regular hits of saturated fat and too much sodium are a different story. So if you need a barbecue fix but don't want that OMG I can't move feeling afterward, try this. Buy a rotisserie chicken, some whole wheat buns and coleslaw (better yet, make your own). At home, whisk together the Easter Carolina barbecue sauce and pour it on the shredded chicken. Assemble your sandwiches and eat with Dinosaur baked beans and cold potato salad. No wait, that's in New York. In Eastern North Carolina all you need are hushpuppies straight out of the fryer, maybe some boiled potatoes and some collard greens on the side. Either way, you're right at home.
Mock Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sandwiches
Makes enough for 4 large sandwiches
The meat of 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded, no skin
whole wheat buns

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cayenne red pepper
pinch salt and ground black pepper
1 tsp red hot sauce
1.) I've pretty much already told how to make these sandwiches, but here are the instructions with a couple of photos for good measure. Let the bird cool. Remove all the meat and chop or shred it into small pieces. Place in a small bowl.
2.) Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a measure cup.
3.) Toss the shredded chicken in the sauce.
4.) To make a Mock Eastern Carolina Barbecue sandwich, pile the chicken, warmed, on the bun. Top with lots of sloppy coleslaw and put the bun on top. Now get a napkin; you're going to need it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday is Produce Box day.

I haven't posted any Produce Box photos in a while, but this week's delivery was so pretty I had to share. Look at that gorgeous cabbage. I've been making a lot of coleslaw but I may need to find new inspiration this week. I see I need to get some pita bread for dipping into Eggplant Spread too. And we'll be eating corn on the cob for sure, but I'll use any leftovers for Summer Corn and Tomato Salad. As for the blueberries, well they won't see Thursday. We'll enjoy them just as they are. :-) Happy Wednesday everyone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Asian Slaw Salad

 Asian Slaw Salad 

1 head of Napa cabbage, chopped
1 cup of shredded carrots
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
2 packages chicken Ramen Pride noodles, broken up
11 oz can mandarin oranges
2/3 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds (salted if desired)

2 Tb oil
2/3 cup rice vinegar
2 packages Ramen Pride chicken flavoring packets
1/3 cup sugar

1.) Combine all salad ingredients.
2.) Whisk together all dressing ingredients.
3.) Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Garden burgers for the carnivores

These burgers are sensational if I don't say so myself. They don't taste healthy but they are. In fact, I may never make a regular hamburger again!

Carnivores' Garden Burgers
1 lb lean hamburger (I use 80/20. Any leaner and the burgers tend to fall apart.)
1 lb ground turkey breast
3 cups shredded mixed veggies (see note below)
1 Tb mini capers (optional but yummy!)
1 large spear of fresh rosemary with the leaves stripped off the stalk and chopped roughly

1.) The most important part of the mix is the vegetables but there's lots of room to play. For my three cups of veggies I used a mix of shredded yellow onion, carrot straws, finely diced red peppers and chopped baby portabella mushrooms. The mushrooms were key I think to keeping the mix moist.
2.) Use a Tb or so of olive oil or canola oil to saute the vegetables or place a Tb of water in the pan and put a tightly fitting lid on and steam the veggies until they're tender. The three cups will cook down to about a cup and a quarter. Set aside to cool.
3.) Meanwhile, place the hamburger and ground turkey in a bowl and mix together with your hands or a spoon.
 4.) When the veggies are cooled, press them down with a fork and drain off any excess moisture. Add to the hamburger mix with the fresh rosemary and capers. The capers will help season the meat but you can sprinkle a little salt and pepper in too.
 5.) You should have enough mix to form 8 decent sized patties. Scoop out a medium handful of the mixture and form it into a ball. Press the ball between your palms until it flattens. Press your thumbs into the middle gently so that the burger is thicker on the outside than on the inside. Rachel Ray swears this makes the burger cook more evenly. It seems to work! :-)
 6.) At this point I pan-fried two little burgers for the boys and a large burger for myself to make sure I got the seasoning right and that it would hold together. It worked beautifully. These are those sandwich thins you can get at the store now. The bread is a bit skimpy for a burger I think but they are a lot healthier for you.
5.) Once I was sure I liked the mix I shaped the rest into patties and stacked them up like so, with parchment paper, and stuck them in the freezer. The next morning I bagged them up. Now I cook them on the hot grill straight from the freezer and they hold together even better. No need for extra calories like egg or breadcrumbs to bind it all together. The veggies and rosemary worked like a charm and added fantastic flavor.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Crumb Cake

No one is asking, but just for the record my philosophy on nutritious food versus junk food could be summed up like this: Enjoy what you eat, so long as it doesn't get in the way of the truly important things in your life. By that I mean, be educated but don't agonize over every tiny thing you put in your mouth. Savor that chocolate cake but don't eat the whole thing or you'll find yourself with little energy for pursuing life's other joys and more active pursuits.

This philosophy applies when I'm baking. I used to try all kinds of healthy ways to doctor up baked goods, but found the results going to waste. No one wanted to eat them, not even me. At first I felt guilty for returning to my first loves--butter, sugar and eggs--but then I embraced sweets for what they are, a treat. I get my kids in the kitchen to help me, invite some friends over for coffee, give them to visiting neighborhood kids and even to the guy looking for a handout on the side of the road. Suddenly cookies are more than cookies. They're an event and something that, I hope, makes life a little more enjoyable and special for everyone.

I still make some concessions for nutrition in my baking, but only so long as it enhances or doesn't interfere with the flavor. For example, I use kefir instead of buttermilk, because I always have it on hand. I also cut my all-purpose flour with half whole-wheat flour, because honestly I like the results better. When I'm making something like apple cake I use applesauce in place of oil. And I have a soft spot for recipes like this one I found on that uses sensible, simple tricks to cut out the fat and calories. The original recipe, from Cooking Light magazine, reduces the amount of sugar (something that can be done with almost any recipe) and butter and makes use of an egg white. Simple. Easy. Better for you. But it still results in a dense, moist cake studded with fresh blueberries and lemon zest and capped off with a buttery crumb topping. 

Lemon Blueberry Crumb Cake
(Modified from recipe)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use equal parts white and whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
  6 Tb butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk or kefir
2 cups fresh blueberries
  the zest of one lemon

Crumb topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tb butter, chilled

1.) Preheat oven to 350'. Grease and flour a 9" springform pan. Set aside.
2.) In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour through salt. Set aside.
3.) In a large mixing bowl, blend vanilla, butter and sugar until smooth. (There are 8 Tbs of butter in a stick. Use 6 Tbs, softened, for the cake and set the remaining 2 Tbs aside in the fridge for the crumb topping.)
4.) Add eggs.
5.) Add the flour and kefir/buttermilk, alternating. Start with the flour and end with the flour.
6.) Gently fold in the blueberries and lemon zest with a large wooden spoon, being careful not to break up the blueberries. This is a thin batter, so fresh blueberries are best. The Web site recommends using less buttermilk/kefir for peak-season berries. Reviews of the Cooking Light version of this recipe said that the blueberries tend to sink (about half of mine did). To avoid this you can either toss the blueberries in some of the flour mixture before folding them in or reduce the buttermilk by 1/3 cup. I would say the same holds true for using frozen berries, as they'll add a lot of moisture to the batter. If you use frozen berries, don't thaw them first or you'll end up with a purple cake.
7.) Pour the batter into the springform cake pan.
8.) Meanwhile place the crumb topping ingredients in a separate bowl (I just used the one I mixed the dry ingredients in earlier). Use a fork to mash the butter into the flour mixture until you get rough crumbs. You can also work this with your hands if you prefer. I know I did.

 9.) Sprinkle the crumb topping over the top of the batter in the springform pan and pop it in the oven. OK, gently slide it into the oven.
 10.) Bake until nicely browned on top and the cake springs back to the touch in the center, about 45-50 minutes.
11.) Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least a 1/2 hour. Remove from the springform pan and serve. The trick I used for getting the cake out of the springform pan so that you don't have the metal piece underneath is to let it cool all the way, gently place a large dinner plate over the crumb topping and flip the cake upside down. Slowly peel off the metal plate on the bottom of the cake then transfer the cake, right-side-up to your serving platter. If you loose some of that yummy crumble in the process, just sprinkle it back on top. Trust me, no one is going to notice while they're gobbling this down.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Girls Night! Frozen Cherry Mojitos

Yesterday my friend Courtney came into town with her baby girl and spent the night at my house. We stayed up late (well, late for women who have kids who are awake at 6:00 in the morning) talking and catching up, just the girls. It had been another brutally hot day, so I mixed us up a pitcher of these Frozen Cherry Mojitos to sip on. They were just what the doctor ordered. Today, I have to return her to her family. I hope she goes back to them more relaxed and refreshed and gets her fanny back to North Carolina permanently soon. Love ya girl!
Frozen Cherry Mojitos
2 1/2 cups fresh cherries, pitted
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup crushed ice
2 Tb sugar
1 dozen fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup rum (or leave virgin if preferred)
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Makes 1 pitcher.
  2. The stick off the top is a sugar cane garnish. Completely unnecessary but since my well-intentioned husband paid $4 for them I thought I'd use them.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hot Then Cold Potato Salads

Leftovers have gotten a bad rap. As the person in charge of all things food-related at our house, however, I love them. Using leftovers means less work and less waste, and with a little creativity taste buds will never grow bored. Take this Hot Then Cold Potato Salad for example. On the first night, toss some boiled potatoes in butter and olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, cracked black pepper and fresh chopped herbs. Put leftover potatoes in the fridge and the next day mix them with some dijon mustard and mayonnaise and serve it cold. Delicious times two for half the work.

Hot Then Cold Potato Salads
1 lb. (around 10 small) new red potatoes left whole
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, garlic scapes
1 Tb butter melted
2 Tb olive oil
coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

(depending on how much leftovers you have, add more or less to taste)
leftover hot potato salad, chilled
1/4 cup mayonaise
2 Tb dijon mustard
2 chopped pickles

  1. Wash and scrub potatoes. Place whole potatoes in pot of cold water with a few pinches of salt. Boil potatoes until tender or until it's easy to pierce them through with a knife. Remove from heat and drain.
  2. When cool enough to handle, but while still hot, quarter the potatoes. Meaning cut them in half and then cut each half in half as well. You're looking for large, bite-sized pieces. Place in a large bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 1 Tb butter in a microwave-proof dish. Add 2 Tbs olive oil and whisk to combine. Pour the butter mixture over the potatoes.
4. Add the chopped herbs and a few pinches of salt and pepper. I used about 1 Tb of salt and 1/2 Tb of pepper. Use more or less to your taste. Using two large spoons, gently toss the potatoes together. You want to avoid breaking them up too much at this point. 
 5. Serve hot. Place leftovers in the fridge, covered.
1. The next day, mix together in a small bowl mayonnaise, mustard and chopped pickles to make the dressing.
2. Use a fork and knife or two forks to break the potato quarters in half, mashing some with the back of the fork. This will help hold it all together when you add the dressing.
3. Now add the dressing and stir it all together with a large spoon. Serve as is or let it sit in the fridge for an hour or so before serving if you have time. There is no hard and fast recipe for leftovers, because it all depends on how much you have leftover! I used this dressing recipe for about 1/2 the original amount of potatoes, so about 5 or 1/2 lb. Go easy on the may though. Remember you already added 3 Tb of fat (butter and oil) the day before, so it won't take much more to be scrumptious.
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