Archive for May, 2009

Summer’s Bounty

Calimari steaks are on sale at Harris Teeter this week, so after picking up our CSA box, we headed over to pick some up for the grill tonight.  Sadly, no calimari had yet arrived at our store.  So I headed home with a hungry husband, with no idea of what to make for dinner.  The good news is we had a box of fresh veggies from the farmer’s market and a basket of fruit and veggies from the grocery store that had been intended for the calimari meal.  What is the phrase about necessity being the mother of invention, or something like that?  Yep.  That’s true.  We had a fantastic, fresh summer meal in 20 minutes!

I decided to go for a salad with a saute of fresh veggies on top, and a little fruit-topped crostini on the side.  I started with a drizzle of our ‘good’ olive oil from our trip to Provence last year.  First went in cut pieces of asparagus.  After a few minutes to soften up, I added a clove of chopped garlic, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, a few chopped scallions, some chopped parsley and a teensy bit of thyme.  And salt and pepper.  Oh and a few scoops of white beans, rinsed from a can.

While those fresh veggies were getting to know each other, I sliced some pieces of baguette.  We had a wheel of Caroline Moon cheese from the Chapel Hill Creamery in the fridge from the farmer’s market on Saturday, which is a brie-ish sort of cheese.  I laid a thin slice on each baguette slice, and drizzled it with a little of olive oil and sprinkled on some sea salt.  Then I put all the pieces in the toaster oven at a low heat (275) to melt down a little.  In the meantime, I put a small handful of raspberries on the cutting board and scattered a little sugar over the berries and smooshed it all lightly with the back of a spoon til it made a little paste.  When the little cheese crostini were looking oozy and yummy in the toaster oven, I pulled them out and topped each with a little raspberry ‘smoosh’.

With a glass of prosecco on the side (thanks Hopey and Joe!) it was a really nice surprise meal, unplanned but really delicious and fresh.  I’m even more excited now about the great fruits and vegetables of the season yet to come our way!

Summer Salad


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We’re Off!

In just a couple hours, Michael and I leave for a blissful 10 day vacation in Argentina!!!  I can’t believe it’s actually here…

I’ve had my eye on Argentina for a vacation destination for a while.  It looks absolutely gorgeous, and they have lots of good (cheap) wine and lots of good (cheap) steak.  Good wine, good food and good views (which usually accompany good wine anyway) are our basic three requirements for vacation spots.  And it’s also pretty affordable to travel around in buses and stay in hostels.  So, we booked it and we’re going!  TODAY!

Being that this is a TRUE vacation, we won’t be bringing our technology with us, which means no blog posts for a couple weeks.  But please come back, because I’ll be taking lots of pictures of said wine and steak, as well as other foods.  Supposedly Argentina has quite an interesting cuisine, which we’re very eager to explore.  And you, my friends, will hear all about it!

Til then…go well, and eat well! 🙂


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Happy Friday!

For those of you out there procrastinating on work, hoping the weekend will get here faster…here’s a nice little article explaining what CSAs are and how to get started.  We’ve only had a few weeks of ours but we LOVE it so far!  We just mailed off the check for the summer/fall session (with even MORE produce than we get now coming our way with the bounty of summer!).  And we found out that our CSA offers a winter session too!  I assume it will be mostly root vegetables and greens, but count us in!  http://www.bonappetit.com/tipstools/tips/2008/04/what_is_a_CSA

I’ve also got my eye on this book I spotted {randomly} at Anthropologie:  http://www.amazon.com/Season-Cooking-Vegetables-Fruits/dp/0789318113/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=IHIBCX42IX0P1&colid=15B3R2U6OLGXO  It’s a wonderful cookbook for fresh produce, organized by month and by product.  For example, in April/May, there is a Pea section, with a handful of recipes that all feature peas.  For those of us who get a CSA box with a lot of the same products for a few weeks at a time, it seems like an incredibly useful way to organize a cookbook, so you have multiple relevant recipes at your fingertips for the foods currently in your kitchen.

Don’t forget to get to your local farmer’s market this weekend to check out the strawberries!!!

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Shrimp and Grits

My husband gets full credit for introducing me to Shrimp and Grits, and frankly it’s one of the important ways he’s changed my life – for the better.  The first time I ever heard of such a crazy combination of foods was in the middle of one of his stories about a really fun and fancy wedding he had been to, and he was listing shrimp and grits as one of the yummy things served to eat.  I stopped him mid-sentence and said, I’m sorry, shrimp and WHAT?

I think that’s probably a common reaction the first time you ever hear of this dish.  At first, you can’t imagine it’s something that would actually taste good because it sounds like a breakfast food combined with dinner, and doesn’t seem like it would go together at all.

But in fact, Shrimp and Grits is one of the most masterful food pairings  I’ve ever put in my mouth.  Our favorite local restaurant, Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, is widely credited with inventing the dish.  In their “New South” cuisine, they use classical and French techniques with southern ingredients.  Shrimp and grits is a great example; here, the grits serve as a starch base like polenta or risotto would in fancier dishes.  Cheese grits have more flavor than regular grits so I like to use those as the base.  Make a pile of cheese grits on the plate and then top with a quick saute of shrimp, mushrooms, bacon and scallions.  There’s TONS of flavor in the shrimp and it complements the soft, cheesy grits perfectly.  And although there’s lots of flavor, there’s not a lot of sauce and other ingredients, so the shrimp really shine.

If you ever get the chance to go, the Shrimp and Grits from Crooks Corner should definitely be sampled in person; but if you can’t make it to the restaurant, this recipe is pretty easy to make at home and will impress your guests and delight husbands.  Bon Appetit!



Shrimp and Grits (adapted from Crooks Corner)


Serves 3 hungry eaters or 4 polite eaters



4 ½ cups water

1 cup grits (not instant)

1 tsp salt

¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

3 Tbs butter

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper



3 slices bacon, chopped

1 lb shrimp, peeled

2 Tbs flour

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 large garlic clove

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon Tabasco

¼ cup thinly sliced scallions


1.   Prepare grits.  In a medium saucepan over high heat bring water to boil.  Whisk in grits and salt, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until grits are thickened, 20-30 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the cheeses, butter, black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Cover and keep warm on very low heat until serving.

2.   In a medium skillet over low heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp.  Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserve the bacon fat and add additional oil (peanut, vegetable) if needed to give you approximately 1 ½ tablespoons in the skillet.

3.   Toss the shrimp with the flour until they are lightly coated, removing any excess flour.  Over medium-high heat, cook the shrimp until they begin to turn pink, approximately 1 minute or less.  Toss in the mushrooms and bacon, and cook about another minute.  Press in the garlic clove with a garlic press and toss some more, but do not let the garlic brown.  Finish with the Tabasco, lemon juice and green onions and take off the heat.  This is a very fast sauté – only about 3 minutes cooking time total.

4.   On a large white plate or large white pasta bowl, plate the cheese grits and spoon the shrimp mixture over.  Serve hot!

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Yesterday we went to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market to pick up our weekly CSA box.  On our way back out, we were stopped literally in our tracks by the smell of strawberries.  It was just not possible to leave without buying some.

Probably everyone has tried fresh-from-the-fields strawberries at some point in their life, but if it’s been awhile, get yourself to a farmer’s market this weekend and buy some.  They are in season now and are wonderfully sweet and so, SO much better than the oversized strawberries shipped in from California.  Sort of tastes like summer in a bite! 😉


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Sweet words…

I found this wonderful quote in Southern Accents last night and had to share…this echos my cooking philosophy and is going on our fridge. 🙂

“Let us toast the vitality of the South, the fruits of the fields that surround us, and the joy of gathering at the table together.”

Chef Frank Stitt

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Steak and Cheese Pizza

There have been more adventures in throwing leftovers on a pizza crust in the Skena household!  This latest is not a health food, I’ll warn you.  It was pretty rich, but pretty wonderful as well. 

We had enjoyed a dinner for just the two of us with an Outback Steakhouse gift card, and my eyes had definitely been bigger than my stomach when I ordered the largest size of the Outback Special.  We enjoy our steak medium-rare, so reheating steak is not ideal because it becomes more well done than we like; nonetheless, we didn’t want to waste the leftovers, so we took them home.

The next day I was staring at the open fridge, trying to figure out how best to use that yummy steak without overcooking it.  And when my eye fell on our chunk of smoked mozzarella from the farmer’s market, I knew we had a winner!  The smoked mozzarella has an incredible and very intense smoky taste.  We’d already used it to impart big flavor in eggs and on crackers, but had about half of it left.

So I layered some lightly sauteed spinach on a pizza crust and topped it with cold cubes of our leftover steak.  I then coverd the steak with generic shredded mozzarella so that it would not be at the top layer of the pizza and exposed to the direct heat.  Finally I laid slices of the smoked mozzarella on top of the shredded cheese.

The smoked mozzarella toasted up to a lovely golden brown color and as predicted, gave huge flavor.  The spinach added at least a little guilt-reprieve and the steak was PERFECT – still tender and flavorful and not tough and overdone.  We never really cook steak at home, so I don’t know when we can recreate this pizza next, but it was definitely worth making again!!!



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