Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh Baby It's Christmas, all over again: Gingerdoodles and other holiday recipes

It never fails.  The week before Christmas, on that drive home from school (the moment when Christmas break has begun) I turn the radio up, sing whatever Christmas song happens to be on the radio and feel purely giddy cause it's Christmas, all over again.    I am really excited this year, because most of the family will be back together for the first time in while.  Because I am REALLY feeling the Christmas Spirit this year, I will even forgive Don Schwenneker, my abc11 weatherman, for telling me it is going to be close to 70 degrees on Christmas.  uggghh.
My Christmas baking topped an all time high this year.  My grandmother asked me to do up some goodies for her to give as gifts.  I decided to go all out and do plenty for her to give, as well as me.  O.M.G.  I was sure my best friend, the yellow Kitchen-Aid, would shut down and never speak to me again.  To my surprise, that good buddy pulled through and is still going strong.  On the menu?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tomato Dumplings

 A couple of years ago when I started my part time catering, I wanted to come up with a name that really represented me.  After throwing names around for days, I finally came up the the perfect one.  Tomato Dumplings.  They are a perfect balance of fresh earthiness from the tomatoes, and warm hominess of the dumplings.
           My Grandmother Mckinney, was the sweetest, most loving grandmother anyone could ask for.  She was always laughing, and welcomed everyone with open arms.  And she was also, always cooking.  What a cook she was!  Grandmaw never used a recipe; everything she knew how to cook, she had

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another trip to the Farmers' Market

One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning is perusing the daily offerings at my local farmers' market.  Farmers' markets were just beginning to grow in popularity as I was moving from Virginia to North Carolina, about 5 years ago. Growing up, I always took for granted the fresh potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash I would enjoy from my dad's garden and grandfather's farm.  It wasn't really anything special, until  I realized it actually was.  I noticed more and more markets popping up in town, and surrounding towns offering fresh produce, grown by local farmers.  Fruits and Veggies, directly from the the soil, some with dirt still attached was now in high demand.
Living in Cary, there are at least 6 farmers' markets within 30 minutes from my home.  One of those being the state farmers' market.
This past weekend, I visited one of my favorite locations, The Western Wake Market.  If you get a chance to go, stop by and visit the folks from Coon Rock Farm.  I LOVE them!  They offer heirloom variety vegetables, raised without any chemicals; as well as pasture raised, antibiotic and hormone free chickens, eggs, pigs, lamb, and goat.
I came home with a fresh stalk of ginger root, and 2 bunches of Hakurei turnips, and a chicken (which comes in a little later).  The turnips are small, sweet, and delicious.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  All of this really put me in the mood for fall so I decided to make sauteed turnips and greens, carrot ginger soup, and pumpkin-cranberry bread.
I got the soup recipe from this blog.  I used homemade chicken stock instead of vegetable broth, and

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's a ...Family Tradition

Do you know that old Hank Williams Jr. song, Family Tradition?  Well, I've got a family tradition too.  It's not quite as exciting as Hank's, but it's a heck of a lot tastier.   What is mine you ask?  Pizza.  mmmm.  Hot, crusty, cheesy, chewy pizza.  Our tradition has been a kind of evolution, of sorts.   For as long as I can remember Friday night has been dedicated to pizza at home.  Way back when, lets say 15 years 20 years, well it's been a long time, my family and I would head across the street, literally across the street, for the shopping.  The first stop...Chef Boyardee, all in one "make it yourself" pizza kit.

We also picked up some green peppers, onion, and green olives.  Oh we were living large.  We would come home, my parents would crank up NPR and the stove.  In that order.  TO THIS DAY, I can't hear the theme song of NPR's All Things Considered, without craving that Chef Boyardee goodness.

As time passed, we got an itch to be a little more adventurous. We evolved from the box o'pizza, to a much more classy bag of instant pizza crust.  Something like Martha White.

Somehow, between not being right out of a box, and actually having to buy sauce separately we felt like we were moving up in the world.  Well it wasn't too long after that when we really put our big girl panties on and attempted the ultimate feat...made from scratch, homemade, pizza dough.  Oh my gosh.  We were the talk of the town. You think I'm kidding?  No.  The town paper actually wrote an article about us.  There wasn't much news in this town mind you, but true story none-the-less.  It wasn't long before we were experimenting with pizza peels, quarry tiles in the oven, homemade pizza sauces, there was even talk about making our own mozzarella.  We haven't gotten there yet.  Yes, we were pizza making monsters.  We were searching for challenges, begging for obstacles.  We had a hunger that couldn't be satisfied.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Returning to My Roots...for the first time

Birthdays are funny things.  For me, no other day is filled with as wide a spectrum of feelings as September 24th.  Obviously there is excitement.  I think I will always feel that childlike bubbling over of "It's my birthday!  Did you know tomorrow is my birthday?!"  But then, reality sinks in and that big black rainy cloud moves over and bursts those "yay, its my birthday" bubbles and replaces them with "oh, yeah.  it's my birthday".  wow.  another year has gone by, and am I really that much closer to my life long goals...whatever they may be?  But alas, as fast as those dark clouds moved in, they are swept away and replaced with warm calming rays of sunlight.  Another year is ahead of me.  Another year that is untouched, and ripe with possibilities.

This year, I went back to my roots by spending my birthday weekend with my parents.  We loaded up the car and headed to Charleston SC.  It was my first time visiting the historic city but I am confident it won't be my last.  From the moment I heard about Husk Restaurant, I knew I had to go.  My parents recommended we make a weekend of it and go for my birthday.  Sold!

Never heard of Husk, you say?  Please.  Do yourself a favor and keep reading.  Two words:  Sean Brock.  The Executive Chef, and mastermind behind the keystone restaurant.  My ears perked up a few years ago when I heard Chef Sean Brock's name casually thrown out on the Food Network.  Sean?  The same Sean who used to live across the street from me during high school?  With cooking being one of my greatest passions, I immediately tuned in and became a Sean Brock groupie.  It was quite an inspiration to realize that someone I had known, had become such a successful chef.

Before long, Sean's name was everywhere.  I couldn't believe my ears when I heard he was a James Beard nominee.   But the surprises kept on coming as I read a few weeks later, he won!  What really won me over, however, was when I read about the creation of his newest restaurant, Husk.  It was as if all of my philosophies about food were wrapped up, and put into a neat little package called Husk.  Here, Sean offers a new menu daily, celebrating traditional southern cuisine.  If that weren't enticing enough, he only uses ingredients he can find below the Mason-Dixon Line.  Something else that sets him apart from the crowd, is that on his website and even on each menu, he celebrates the hard working folks who have brought the food from the farm to the kitchen and ultimately to the table.  Sean lists the farmers, fishermen, millers, etc. by name, who provide their goods, as well as links to their websites.  This is a service that is almost unheard of in the restaurant business.

If you can't tell, I'm smitten.  There wasn't a doubt in my mind, I HAD to go.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

B L(icious) T

BLT's are truly one of life's simple pleasures.  There was a time in my life when I didn't like tomatoes.  I also didn't like mayonnaise.  With these being two major ingredients in a BLT you could place a pretty secure bet I would not like this southern classic.  Well my friend, you would be wrong.  I am not sure how it happens, but when the chewy bacon meets the tangy tomato, cool crisp lettuce, and smooth creamy mayo...OMG.  A little piece of heaven.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Party

What better to do when a hurricane looms in the distance? Cook, eat, and catch up on DVR of course.
What to cook, what to cook, what to cook?  I love those times when dinner is a blank slate and you can literally choose anything you want.  After some serious deliberation, we finally decided on...Blueberry spinach salad with goat cheese, fried calamari, and penne with sun-dried tomato cream sauce with chicken.  mmmmkay?
This salad was so good, and actually just thrown together on a whim.  I visited a new store in Raleigh recently, which is amazing by the way, called Midtown Olive Press.  I picked up some blueberry balsamic and lemon olive oil while I was there.  
Don't get me wrong, both of these are so delicious I would have no problem turning up the bottles and just straight drinking them, BUT since I have guests and all, I needed to decide on a vehicle of consumption.  So, I opted for a flat out blueberry explosion.  I really cant give exact measurements here because we just through stuff in a bowl and hoped for the best.  But I will tell you, it didn't disappoint.  

Blueberry Explosion Salad:
Sweet Onion
Toasted Walnuts
Blueberry Goat Cheese (I found this at Trader Joe's)
For the Dressing:
Blueberry Balsamic
Lemon Olive Oil
Lemon Juice
Salt and Peppa

For the next course, we turned up the heat a little.  Sue (sous) here, handled the dirty work.  

Due to the dietary restrictions of the one and only EmC, we looked for a gluten free calamari recipe.  Come on, once you batter this stuff up, submerge it in hot oil and dip it in marinara, are you really going to miss the gluten? I think not.  You can find the original recipe here.

Fried Calamari

1/3 lb calamari, cleaned
1/2 c rice flour
1/2 c cornmeal or fine polenta
1/2 t salt
1/2 t paprika
1 egg
1 T milk
oil for frying (I used only 1/2 inch in my pan and flipped them halfway through)

Slice your calamari tubes into slices about 1/3" thick, across the tubes so you make rings. Cut the tentacle parts in half. Combine the rice flour, cornmeal, salt and paprika in a ziplock bag. Zip closed and toss to mix. Beat the egg with the milk. Dip the calamari parts into the egg, then drop them in batches into the bag, seal, and shake. Repeat until all calamari is coated. Heat the oil until a bit of flour dropped in sizzles, then fry the calamari until lightly browned. It will only take a minute or so. Sprinkle with salt when they're still hot.

Last but not least, the good stuff.  Sun-dried tomatoes. cream. pecorino romano. spinach. pancetta. chicken.  
O M G.  It is exactly as good as it sounds.  This recipe had been submitted to the newspaper by a local restaurant.  Why they let this one slip I'm not sure.  But I am so glad they did.  Unfortunately I didn't get a great picture, but you will get the idea I think.  Yum.

Penne alla Casa
1 TBS olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta, diced
1/4 cup freshly chopped garlic
2 C heavy cream
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienne
1 1/2 C marinara sauce
Salt, pepper and granulated garlic, to taste
1/2 lb fresh spinach
1/2 C grated pecorino Romano cheese
1 lb penne pasta, cooked al dente and drained (we used brown rice pasta which was actually really good)
Grilled chicken or shrimp

Heat olive oil in a large pot over high heat.  Add pancetta and saute until crispy.  Remove and set aside.  Add garlic, and saute until it just begins to brown, being careful not to burn, about 1 minute.  Add cream and sun-dried tomatoes and bring to a boil.  BE CAREFUL!  It will boil over if you get distracted :)  Add marinara sauce.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and is reduced by one fourth.  Season with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  Fold in spinach, pecorino, pancetta, and shrimp or chicken.  Heat just until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted.  Toss with pasta and serve hot.

                                                                           And thats all folks.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All things were made through HIM...

Lately, I have really been trying to stop and smell the roses. A few weeks ago, we had a guest teacher at church who really got me thinking about some things.  This is usually something I try to avoid, but since then my mind has been whirring.  Dr. Smith, our guest, spoke about a collegue of his named Norman Wirzba.  Dr. Wirzba is a research professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke University.  Basically, the earth is a garden that we are to tend and care for.  This garden has provided sustenance to its inhabitants for millions of years, without fail.  When we lose sight of the fact that everything we eat is a gift from the earth, (and not something that is dropped off the back of a truck) we forget to give thanks to God for the nourishment that He provides to us and every living creature.
This year, I am teaching at a school with a beautiful and bountiful community garden.  This garden is tended by the students, faculty, and community volunteers.   When the students enter "The Grow Zone", it is obvious they are consumed with excitement that the garden is in their hands, and they cannot wait to accept this fundamental responsibility.  They are weeding, sowing, reaping, and loving every minute of it. When these students harvest, and hold in their hands, their first red, juicy tomato I can't wait to see the joy, pride, satisfaction, (and most likely dirt) that will be spread across their faces.  When is the last time you saw anyone look at a tomato in a grocery cart that way?

On a different note, my students and I read an article in Time For Kids recently about a little girl who is doing her part to care for and protect the earth.  She uses old drinking glasses (which aren't recyclable) as pots for plants.  We were so inspired by her story, we purchased one of her succulents.  Check out her website here.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

If this doesn't light your fire, your match is wet...

Yep, I think my dad summed this dish up best.  If it doesn't light your flame, your match is wet.  This is the second dish I made for the basketball party.   I love parties.  I'm not sure you read that with the correct emphasis.  I LUUUV parties.  In case you haven't read my bio, my favorite thing in life is family, friends, food, and a nice cold beer.  Well you can always find at least two of the above at any party you may stumble into.  Our little basketball party definitely didn't disappoint.  Does this look like a fun crowd or what?

For some reason I had a hankering for some shrimp tacos.  I came across this recipe in Food and Wine.  The flavors work so well together with the tangy pickled onions, sweet onion sauce  I'm not even going to waste anymore of your time.  Go.  Just go.  You need to go and make this tonight.  Seriously.

Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Onion Slaw


  • Red Onion Salad
      1/2 cup white wine vinegar 
      1/2 cup sugar 
      1 medium red onion, thinly sliced 
      1/2 cup fresh orange juice 
      1 small white onion, finely diced 
      1 tablespoon pure maple syrup 
      2 tablespoons malt vinegar 
      1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 
      2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
      2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 
      1/2 large ripe mango, cut into thin sticks 
      1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage 
      1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

    Shrimp Tacos
      1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
      1 small white onion, finely chopped 
      1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined 
      Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
      1/2 cup barbecue sauce (I use North Carolina's own Bone Suckin' Sauce)
      1/2 cup shredded jalape├▒o Jack cheese 
      Four small corn tortillas, warmed 
      2 tablespoons salted roasted pumpkin seeds, 1 thinly sliced seeded serrano chile and 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, for garnish

      In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the red onion in a small, heatproof bowl and let cool, then refrigerate overnight. 
      In another saucepan, combine the orange juice, white onion, maple syrup, malt vinegar and cumin seeds. Boil over moderately high heat until the liquid has reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the oil and lime juice and puree until smooth; season with salt. 
        Drain the red onion and transfer to a bowl.
         Add the mango, cabbage, cilantro and half of the vinaigrette and season with salt.
        In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook, turning, until white throughout, 3 minutes. Add the barbecue sauce and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, stir in the cheese. Spoon the shrimp and red onion salad onto the tortillas and roll them up. Garnish with the pumpkin seeds, chile and cilantro, and serve with the remaining vinaigrette.
      This is how it looked before I folded it into taco form, and then devoured it in 3.6 seconds.

    A Final Four Party? Sure, I'll be there! Who's playing?

    Ok, Ok.  I'll be the first to admit, I don't know that much about basketball.  But if someone says, party, I'll be there before you can say 3 point shot.  Needless to say when my buddy, Kate, asked me to come over for a final 4 party, I  was all about it.  And she was kind enough to walk me though a breakdown of what to expect with the game...
    The breakdown of the Final Four by me and @mckaussie. It is v... on Twitpic

    I decided that nothing says b-ball like some wings.  I used this recipe from Giada.  They tasted really good, but I think I left them in the warmer a little too long, because they got a little dried out.  I highly recommend the recipe though.

    Balsamic Chicken Drumettes

    1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

    1/2 cup honey

    1/2 cup brown sugar

    1/4 cup soy sauce

    5 sprigs of fresh rosemary

    5 garlic cloves, halved

    10-12 chicken drumsticks and/or wings

    2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
    1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

    Combine the balsamic, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary sprigs, and garlic cloves, in a large, re-sealable plastic bag. Shake and squeeze the contents of the bag to dissolve the honey and the brown sugar. Add the chicken drumsticks to the bag and seal with as little air as possible in the bag. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for 2 hours.

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

    Place the chicken drumsticks on a foil-lined baking sheet.

    Bake until the skin is caramelized and very dark in spots, about 30 to 35 minutes.

     I know what you are thinking.  "Girl, you have gone and burned the wings."  Oh no.  That brown crusty goodness is just what you want.

    Meanwhile, place the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring the marinade to a boil (in order to kill bacteria). Reduce the heat to simmer and cook over low heat until thick, about 15 minutes. Reserve.

    Use a pastry brush to brush some of the cooked marinade on the cooked chicken. Place the chicken on a serving platter. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and the chopped parsley.

    You know you want one.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    My Weekly Staple

    Homemade hummus sooo much better than store bought, and so easy.  This recipe has become one of my faves.  It is so thick and delicious, I could frost a cake with it.


    by Mary McKinney
    Keywords: snack hummus dip
    • Ingredients:
    • 1 can chick peas, drained
    • 1 lemon, juice and zest
    • 1/4 cup tahini
    • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
    • 1 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1/4 cup really good olive oil
    Combine all ingredients, EXCEPT olive oil in a food processor. Turn on machine and stream in olive oil. Blend until smooth and creamy.
    Serve topped with a drizzle of evoo, and a sprinkling of cayenne and kosher salt.
    Trust me, you will lick the spoon on this one.
    Powered by Recipage

    Chicken so good, you will grill it in the rain...

    As of late, my evenings have been so busy, I have had no time to cook . Many people would rather step out into oncoming traffic than think about coming home and having to cook after a long day of work . I am the OPPOSITE. It's how I wind down. After I take the dog out, check the mail and remove all bills from site, and put on my house shoes, (which, by the way, my roommate says "house shoes" is a southern term...I had no idea) then nothing melts away the day like pouring a glass of wine and turning on the stove. Needless to say, I just don't feel complete on these crazy evenings when this doesn't happen. My fix? I have begun reserving a little time on Sunday afternoons to do most of my week's cooking. My favorite thing to prepare for the week lately is a grilled, whole chicken. With spring showing it's face the past several weeks, the grill has been calling my name. That is not the case today.  It is a dreary, cold, weather that screams stay in your pajamas and don't think of going outside, kind of day. HOWEVER...I found a chicken recipe from Ina Garten, that is so delicious and fragrant, rain, sleet, snow, or hail won't keep me from making it. I guess I could roast it in the oven, but there is something about that smokey grilled char that makes chicken roasted in the oven seem like going out in that little black dress, wearing athletic shoes. Functional, but ruins the mood.

    This recipe was adapted from Ina's Butterflied Chicken:

    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary leaves
    • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • Good olive oil
    • Kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 roasting chicken (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), butterflied, and divided into halves
    (the marinating ingredients here were meant for two chickens, but it tastes so good, I squeeze it all onto one chicken.  Feel free to cut it in half, though.)


    Mix the chopped rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a small bowl to make a paste.

    Place the halves on a sheet pan, skin side up, and loosen the skin from the meat with your fingers. Place 1/2 of the paste under the skin of each half. Rub any remaining paste on the outside and underside of the chickens.

    Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
    Heat a grill with coals. Spread the coals out in 1 dense layer and brush the grill with oil. Place the chickens, skin side down, on the grill and cook for 15-20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until completely cooked through.  

    By this point, it smells so good, you won't even know it's raining.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    When the Moon Hits Your Eye...

    What do you get when you cross a five pound bag of flour, 18 pie crusts, and 9 ecstatic 11 year olds???...Flour Power like you have never seen it! Today's cooking adventure?  I did a birthday party at Dinner Savvy and the theme was PIE. Pizza Pie. Apple Pie. Cherry Pie. Oh and a throw in a few garlic knots for fun.
    First, there was dough...

    The girls were dying for an appetizer, so we whipped up a batch of garlic knots.                                                   
    Finally it's time to prepare the first pie... 
    You can bet, that with 11 year olds, when they get free reign with a ball of pizza dough, boring, traditional circles you will not find...Mickey Mouse?  A teddy bear?

    This is serious work...

    And we send them to the ovens.

    The girls take a break and decorate some aprons.

    Now for...DESSERT PIES!

    The finished product.  Most people would be ready for a nap after all this food.  I can safely say that was not the case today.  Nothing ends a day of cooking fun like a game of hide and seek in the kitchen.  Oh yeah, we did.