August 30, 2011

Never-Ending Summer

Well, it's the end of Summer.  It's been a while since I've actually marked this passing with anything more than excitement for the fall and cool weather, but here in Chapel Hill, summer just seems to never end.  It's still hot down here and I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to have to think of a few more things to do in the heat.  Luckily, there are still plenty of summer recipes left to roll out.  Good thing I didn't cook very much at the beginning of summer in the north or I would be just clean out of ideas.
So we've reached basil.  That amazing plant that just belongs to summer.  You can get bushels of it for pennies this time of year, or if you're lucky, you have a homegrown supply in your backyard.  I haven't yet tried my hand at cultivating the dust bowl that is my backyard, so I still have to get the stuff at the farmer's market, but really, when you can get enough basil for more than 10 dinners for $1, growing it yourself hardly seems like the effort.
You saw that I used the fresh basil in my tabouleh recipe which really popped, and on the roasted tomato caprese salad, but there are only so many ways to use a big bunch of basil.  So of course, after a few days, I decided to convert it to pesto.  Our go to recipe is from my family's Bible, The Silver Palate Cookbook and this recipe has been recreated in my parent's home for as long as I can remember. Just a few days a ago, my mom told me another 16 batches of pesto had been put up in the freezer!  This time, I just made one batch and froze half for later this year.  The rest I put in a jar in the fridge and we've been using it to spice up sauces and leftovers.  For the first time, I took Ina Garten's suggestion of not putting in the parmesan until we're ready to eat the pesto.  I'll let you know how the frozen version comes out, but so far it's worked with our fresh batch!
Enjoy this Culbreth Family tradition. In the meantime, I'm going to think of more things to cook on the grill.

(Slightly Adapted) Silver Palate Pesto 
Yields 2 cups, or enough for 2 lbs of pasta
2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
4 good-size garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Combine the basil, garlic, and walnuts in a food processor and pulse to chop. Leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. If eating right away, shut the motor off, add the cheese, salt & pepper, and stir with a spatula to combine.

**Leftovers Revived: 
In this new Hotplate Confidential feature, I'll take left overs to a whole new level. No one wants to have the same thing night after night, but when you've made enough to feed an army, what do you do? First up: Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad. With this salad, I chopped up the rest of the mozzarella and tomatoes and added it to whole wheat pasta. (Don't forget to add the roasting juices too!) When I added just a touch of pesto, the dish came alive!  And there you have it - a way to eat up last night's dinner without getting bored.
A Luscious Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta Dinner

August 26, 2011

A Lady Who Lunches

Now that I'm a real housewife of North Carolina, I find myself happily waiting until midday when I can make and eat lunch at home alone. This may seem like an odd thing to be excited about, but after three years of hastily eating microwaved leftovers at my desk or running out into the crowded SOHO streets to buy an over-priced salad, the ability to make a fresh lunch in my own kitchen and actually sit down at my little table to eat it is one of the greatest luxuries of this new life. Sam and I are on a pretty strict budget (Mom, you would be very proud of my bargain hunting), and I'm determined to use up everything we buy.  So when I found myself with a lot of leftover parsley and some delicious farmer's market tomatoes and cucumbers that were on their way out, I immediately thought of making tabouleh.  It's the best way I know of to use up massive amounts of parsley (I'm not really a big garnisher) and it seemed like the perfect way to showcase the fresh produce.
But when I looked up a recipe and realized that the grain I needed was bulgur, I was a little disappointed at first.  I had made a pact not to go back to the grocery store until the weekend and I certainly wasn't going to do it for just one dish. So I checked our store of grains (I was really into a gluten-free diet for a little while, but more on that later) and realized I had a very small amount of millet left over.  It was too small of an amount to feed both Sam and me as a side, but I thought the consistency of the cooked millet might do the trick as a substitute for the bulger in a tabouleh salad.  I'm so glad I experimented!  The millet worked perfectly, the tabouleh was a delicious complement to the hummus I had in the fridge, and the whole thing made for a fresh and delicious lunch.

Quick Millet Tabouleh
Makes 4 servings

1 large bunch (about 2 ½ cups) flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ cup cooked millet, cooled
¼ cup olive oil
Juice and zest from ½ a medium sized lemon
Salt & pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and place in a medium sized bowl.  Add the diced cucumber and tomatoes and toss together.  Add the oil, lemon juice and zest, and the salt and pepper to taste.  Add the millet and mix everything together until completely coated. 

August 25, 2011

Bringing a Little NYC to NC

Back in March, my friend Ms. VOK who you met here, introduced me to an amazing cafe in her new Soho neighborhood that had wonderful breakfasts - oatmeal so lovely you'd think it came straight from Ireland, perfectly balanced granola, enormous popovers and excellent coffee. And best of all, it was right off the path on my walk to work. It didn't take long for me to start finding reasons to walk down the cafe's street every day and stop in, sometimes just to get coffee.  The cafe was called Local and it was for good reason: the patrons there were obviously all lived in the neighborhood and everyone knew each other. Plus, almost all of the ingredients they used were, of course, local! It was a good thing my commuting buddy Ms. K was up for stopping for breakfast more days than not.
Here in NC I've tried to recreate my absolute favorite breakfast item, pukkolah.  The name so intrigued me that I had to try it one day and I never went back.  At Local, it's served with a hearty mix of dried fruits, rolled oats, coconut and something I've never quite been able to place.  I craved that little bowl of deliciousness and had to limit myself to just one a week while in the city, but here, with a Trader Joe's easily accessible, I can whip up (an incomparable) big batch and eat it all month!  In fact, I think I'll go get my cup out of the fridge right now...

Adapted from Jamie Oliver

4 cups rolled oats
2 ½ cups oat bran
large handful chopped raisins
large handful chopped dried cranberries
large handful chopped dried apricots
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped sliced almonds

Mix the ingredients together and store in an air tight container for up to 3 months.  To serve, pour desired amount into a small bowl pour milk to cover the pukkolah. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (you can also do this the night before) top with your favorite fresh fruit, and enjoy!

August 22, 2011

Meatless Monday, Y'all!

Did you hear a little Paula Deen in that title?  I wouldn't be surprised. By the change in my blog title, I'm sure you've guessed that I have finally joined Sam in North Carolina.  I've been busy setting up our little house and have been making good use of all of the absolutely lovely wedding presents we received from so many generous friends and family members. Best of all, I'm back to cooking!  

The past year was filled with ridiculous amounts of wedding planning (fyi - the day was perfect in every way), lots of weekend trips to NC, and way too much commuting in and out of New York every day.  It completely wiped me out and left me without much to offer in the kitchen besides the occasional weekend dinner party or special event. The year was absolutely worth it, but I am thankful to have this time with Sam in the south to spend cycling, cooking, going to farmers markets, and generally enjoying our first year of marriage. 

As I pick up my blog, you'll see A LOT of recipes that are built around the fresh produce and meats we're able to find at the many year-round farmers markets that surround us.  I just cannot resist the buckets of potatoes, lettuces, peppers, basil, and every kind of tomato you can imagine. But what I was really excited about this past weekend was the okra.  Every booth we visited had big, gorgeous, green okra and although I've never cooked with it, I had to try.  I've had fried okra before (amazing!) and I figured there must be something I could do with it.  On the ride home I looked up a few recipes which mostly involved jumbalya (delicious, but not in 85 degree weather). In the end, I decided on a simplified okra corn fritter and paired it with our go-to roasted tomato caprese salad from the gals over at and a simple green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette which really let the fresh lettuce shine.  Not a bad way to start the week!  

**Tip: I warmed up the leftover fritters and topped them with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, salt & pepper, and a little balsamic vinegar for a tasty lunch!

Okra Corn Fritters

1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all purpose flour
1 egg
1 cup 2 % (or whole) milk
½ an onion, diced
6-8 medium sized okra, sliced 1/8 inch thick
salt & pepper

Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, milk, egg, salt & pepper.  The consistency should be that of very wet dough, not runny and not dry.  Add the diced onion and okra and mix just to combine.  Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat enough oil to come a ¼ of the way up the frying pan.  Drop the dough into the oil and fry on each side until well-browned and cooked through.  Should yield 6-7 fritters.  

Mozzarella and Roasted Cherry Tomato Salad
From Serves 4
  • 2 cups small yellow and red cherry tomatoes, rinsed
  • 4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Coarse, flaky salt
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful small basil leaves (or torn basil leaves)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add the garlic cloves. Sprinkle over the olive oil and season with salt. Roast the tomatoes until they begin to wrinkle and caramelize, and their juices release into the oil, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Cut the mozzarella into 1/8-inch-thick slices and arrange, overlapping slightly, on a platter. Spoon the tomatoes and -- most importantly -- their juices and the oil, over the mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper. Drop the basil leaves on top.