Friday, July 25, 2008

"I Like Pork" and Camp Cooking

Last night my closest colleague, H, had a going away party for me. When I expressed my excitement over the country ham biscuits she recalled that one of the first things I said to her was "I like pork." I don't really recall it being one of the first things I said, but I certainly make my love of hog meat clear whenever appropriate!

In addition to those fantastic biscuits, she also made yummy cupcakes. I went through a cupcake obsession phase for awhile (not that long ago really)--and back in January I was in D.C. with H for a conference and spent a few (or maybe it was several) hours traipsing on foot around the city looking for the perfect cupcake shop. I never found it. (And apparently, it opened about a month later, in Georgetown, and was on the front page of the Washington Post Food Section--H brought the paper in for me to see). So "me and my cupcakes" are a bit of a joke now.

I did find an amazing recipe the other night in Taste of Home magazine for Lemon-Basil cupcakes, and plan to make them as soon as I have my new kitchen settled in...

Speaking of my new kitchen and moving and all that, I realize that it may be a little annoying that I'm not posting any new recipes, but this week I haven't been cooking (not since Monday--due to dinner parties/engagements and the such), and despite the great food I've been eating, I'm a little annoyed that I haven't been able to cook...I just don't like being this busy (although I take full responsibility for booking all said engagements)!

BUT, this weekend I will be cooking--but on a Coleman camp stove. My husband and I are headed to a fiddlers' convention (where we will basically stay up all night playing old time music--and I'll call a square dance Saturday night)...SO I plan to make a low-country dish that comes from my husband's family down in coastal South Carolina--it's called Chicken Purlo or Chicken Bog--I'm not sure that I spelled either of those correctly. But check back in on Monday, I should have a picture and hopefully a great recipe that can be made, with relative ease, even in the campground.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More food from friends...

As my husband and I are getting ready to leave ol' Virginie, we have had several requests to come to dinner by friends and colleagues...and I'm not complaining!

Last night we went over to our friends' house (D and L) about an hour north of where we live. My husband has known them a long time through playing mountain music, and they have a beautiful spot in the Blue Ridge.

L fixed an amazing meal--she is a southern cook hailing from the Piedmont area of my own native North Carolina. This was the salad she made...yum...and only a very small part of a huge amazing meal that left me very full! Unfortunately the rest of my pictures from the meal didn't turn out (the lighting wasn't right), so this will have to suffice.

This photo is a shot of the view from their kitchen window. It's heavenly.

I love the mountains,
and I love to eat.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Zucchini Bread with Raisins and Walnuts
and smothered in butter…

There was a piece on NPR today about zucchinis and summer squash being the curse and blessing of home gardeners. I tend to agree—basically zucchini and other summer squash varieties are plentiful. Sometimes too plentiful—as in you can’t even get your friends and neighbors to take any more. But the author of the piece (Julie O’Hara) claims she will never find herself filled with “squash ennui” as she calls it. Instead, she finds new and interesting ways (not just the same old sautéed or fried option of the south) to use what is actually a very versatile vegetable.

Check out O’Hara’s piece “Summer Squash Gets Some Respect” complete with recipes at:

And so, it just seems appropriate that last night I ate dinner at my mother-in-law’s house, and she made some really amazing zucchini bread—with raisins and walnuts. Smothered with a nice slab of butter, I can’t imagine wanting anything else in the heat of garden season.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Success! Making a Blackberry Wine Reduction and Frying Okra

As promised, I am back today with pictures and recipes from last night's kitchen adventures. I made two great dishes from the food that J and L gave us over the weekend, and I've chronicled them below:

1. Grilled Filet Mignon wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, topped with gorgonzola cheese, blackberries, and a blackberry-wine reduction (the above picture doesn't do it justice!)

Okay, so first of all, I can take no glory on the actual grilling of the steaks--that was done by my husband, which he claims it is the easy part. AND it was nice to be able to focus in the kitchen instead of running in and out of the house to flip or check on the steaks. By the way, we don't use a gas grill--it's strictly charcoal for us.

I did a little research yesterday on wine and port sauces to figure out what would work best in paring the steaks with with the sweet blackberry wine that J and L brought us. I settled on a recipe that had three basic ingredients: port (in my case blackberry wine), vinegar, and mustard. Then I added a few other ingredients for extra flavor--onions, butter, and basil. It ended up being really good, not too sweet and not too acidic either--the wine and vinegar really balanced each other out. I added the gorgonzola cheese, as blue cheeses seem to go well both with fruit and with steak, and it really brought the dish together. I added the bacon for an additional smoky flavor, but it also really brings out the flavor of the steak --and it is another food that goes well with blue cheeses. And well, I love bacon with just about everything (even chocolate)! The blackberries were mostly for garnish, but also tasted good!

2. Corn and Tomatoes with fresh basil and cream, topped with Fried Okra

I found a recipe on called "Cajun Corn and Tomatoes with Fried Okra" and modified it (I also can't quite figure out what was "Cajun" about it). I changed the amounts of corn and tomatoes (based on what I had, it could be modified again, of course, dependent upon what you have in your own kitchen) and I changed the batter for the fried okra (I tried the way they suggested and it didn't work well at all).

This was actually my first experience cooking okra. I know it is commonly associated with the deep south, or the coastal south, but I know of folks in the mountains who also grow it in their gardens and either put it in soups or pickle it. It originated in Africa and was brought over during the slave trade in the eighteenth century. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson noted it was "well established in Virginia" around 1781 (my source for that was wikipedia, not always reliable, but it seems likely to me in this case). I have acquired more of a taste for okra in the last few years, so I am going to continue trying out different recipes with it--I want to try a beer batter for frying it (and also my fry daddy), and I also plan on making a "real" Cajun dish--i.e. gumbo or something of that sort, sometime this fall.

Lastly, Thanks to J and L for supplying the food for this amazing meal. I only wish they had been there last night to eat it with my husband and me! I will certainly be cooking up some fresh veggies and meat for them the next time they come to visit in Lexington!

Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Cheese and a Blackberry-Wine Reduction
(Serves 2 to 4)

2 6-ounce filet mignon or beef tenderloin steaks
4 slices applewood smoked bacon

For the reduction:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion
½ cup blackberry wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
½ tablespoon butter

For Garnish:
¼ cup gorgonzola cheese
Fresh blackberries (optional)

To prepare steaks:
Wrap the sides of each steak with two slices of bacon. Secure bacon with toothpicks.

To make the reduction:
Whisk together the blackberry wine, balsamic vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until golden in color. Slowly pour the wine mixture down the site of the skillet with onions. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until reduced to around ¼ cup. Add the basil and butter. Continue cooking until mixture is reduced to 2 or 3 tablespoons.

Meanwhile, prepare grill (medium-high heat). Grill steaks to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Top each steak with 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) gorgonzola cheese, one tablespoon (or so) blackberry-wine reduction, and garnish with a few blackberries.

If you are not into grilling or just don’t feel like making the effort to light charcoal and sit around and wait, you can also sauté the filets like this: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle steaks with salt and cracked pepper. Sauté steaks until medium-rare, about 4 minutes per side. (If you chose this method, you can leave any remaining drippings in the pan and continue with the reduction sauce in this skillet, just add the onions right in after you take the steaks off and continue with this recipe.)

Corn and Tomatoes with Fried Okra

(Serves 4)

1 yellow onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus additional for frying the okra
1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels including the pulp scraped from the cobs (cut from about 2 ears of corn)
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 pound okra, rinsed well and patted dry
cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk or cream

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; add the onion, sauté, stirring occasionally, until it is golden. Add corn, tomatoes, basil, cream, and water, and cook the mixture over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep the mixture warm, covered.

Cut the okra into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Whisk together the egg and milk in a medium blow. Add okra, folding to coat. In a separate bowl, toss the okra with the cornmeal. In a deep skillet heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil over moderately high heat until it is hot (but not smoking) and in it fry the okra in batches for 2 to 4 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the okra with a slotted spoon as it is fried onto paper towels to drain.

Serve the corn mixture topped with the fried okra.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The perks of living in a city (not far from the country)

A big ol' farmers' market, four days a week.

Fresh and local.

These blackberries and blueberries came from the Lexington Farmers' Market--and were given to me by friends (J and L) who helped my husband and I move into our new place this weekend. J, who until recently worked with Community Farm Alliance, checked out the local food scene before we arrived on Saturday. In addition to these delicious berries, he got us some tomatoes, corn, okra, peaches, and blackberry wine--all from the farmers' market. AND he found a great local butcher and got us some steaks. He and L appreciate good food as much as I do and I feel lucky to have such great friends!

I have a meal idea churning in my head for tonight's dinner, made from some of the aforementioned ingredients, so watch for results tomorrow...

Friday, July 18, 2008

To a different south...(in the process of moving)

Just a note to say that I will be taking a few days hiatus from posting recipes (even though I just started of course), as I will be spending the weekend moving the entire contents (well almost) of my current house to a new house in a new town, 6 hours away (but still in the south--it's a place known for horse racing, whiskey and tobacco, can you guess?).

Even though most of my things (including beloved cookware) will be packed in boxes for awhile, I will remain in the old dominion for a couple more weeks, surviving with cookware out of the camp box, which includes essentials like cast iron pans (of varying sizes), cutting board, knives, pastry knife, etc.

I am guessing that the "theme" (more or less) of my blog for the next couple weeks will be SIMPLICITY in cooking--seeing as how I am missing my fancy herbs and cooking devices. It's back to the basics.

So, obviously, not much time for cooking this weekend, but I'll be certain to post new and interesting recipes at the beginning of next week, and perhaps some thoughts on the absence of sweet tea in my new state and other musings about food in the bluegrass.

For now though, it's farewell ol' Virginie.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer Garden Essentials

One of the many summertime essentials for a mountain cook is green beans. In fact, I would argue they are essential year round, as the women in my family put up/can green beans so they can eat them the entire year. These particular pole beans are half-runners, but in my family we call them "Old Man Stokes Beans." My dad once got the seeds for these beans (years and years ago) from an old man named Stokes, hence the name. So not only are these wonderful beans raised organically in my parent's garden, they are also heirloom. It doesn't get much better than local, organic, and heirloom all combined in one. Thanks again to my parents for supplying me with delicious fresh food!

So there is nothing at all "eclectic" in the way that I fix my green beans. I have eaten them lots of different ways in restaurants or at friends' houses (like sauteed with garlic and butter), but I contend that there is no better way to eat green beans than the traditional mountain way. That is, de-string 'em, break 'em, wash 'em, throw 'em in a pot, cover 'em with water, add some salt, and most importantly a couple slices of smoked hog meat, and boil for about an hour, covered. Last night I used double applewood smoked bacon in the beans. Yum.

I also made salmon cakes (nothing special here, just a "filler" for the meal in a I-would-rather-have-fried-chicken-but-am-trying-to-eat-what-is-in-the-house-in-an-effort-to-save-money-on-groceries kind of way), but more importantly potato salad. The potatoes for this salad came from my mother-in-law's garden--so once again, fresh vegetables...I can't complain!

Potato salad is certainly a southern and mountain summertime essential, and I thought this particular potato salad (made up on a whim by yours truly) was pretty good, traditional combined with non-traditional, so I'm posting the recipe below. I didn't actually use measurements making it last night (more like a pinch of this, a handful of that), but I have included my best guess on the measurements below.

Potato Salad with Fresh Basil and Gorgonzola Cheese

2 to 2 1/2-pounds small red skin or new potatoes, quartered
4 medium size eggs, boiled, peeled, and chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use Dukes or homemade aioli)
½ cup green onions, chopped (green and white parts)
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cover potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil and salt the water. Boil potatoes until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, horseradish, vinegar, and mayonnaise in a bowl. To the bowl add the green onions, chopped boiled eggs, basil, Gorgonzola cheese and potatoes. Using a wooden spoon break up the potatoes into large chunks or desired size. Toss the potato salad, add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for an hour.

Blueberry Galette

This was my 4th of July Blueberry Galette--to give you an idea of how a galette looks when it comes out of the oven. Yum.

(Notice some of my favorite cookbooks in the background--especially the essential Joy of Cooking and The Foster's Market Cookbook--a gift from my sister several years back)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Peach and Ginger Galette

This is last night's creation...and I've been working on this recipe. It is a modified version of a recipe for a "Blueberry and Blackberry Galette with Cornmeal Crust" from the July 2008 issue of Cooking Light. I've changed the recipe (there were a few flaws with the crust...for example Cooking Light's suggested chill time for the dough was too short, and flour is needed on the parchment paper). But hopefully this recipe will guide you to an amazing, beautiful, and delicious end product.

I was lucky enough to have SC peaches my parents picked up at the Asheville Farmer's Market for this particular galette, but I am certain that any peaches will do!

Peach and Ginger Galette

Galette Dough:

1 ¾ cup Flour
1/3 cup Sugar
¼ cup Cornmeal
¼ teaspoon Salt
1 stick butter (cold and cut into ½ inch cubes)
1/3 cup Buttermilk


4 cups peeled and sliced peaches (about 8 medium peaches)
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger (about a 2 inch piece)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar (more if your peaches aren’t super ripe and sweet)
4 tablespoons flour


2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

1. To prepare pastry, combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a food processor; pulse a few times. Add butter to flour mixture; pulse 4 to 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, slowly add buttermilk through food chute; process just until dough forms a ball.* Gently press dough into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap; cover. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, or in the refrigerator for an hour. (Be sure to get the dough VERY chilled, but not so hard you can’t roll it out)

2. Preheat oven to 350°.

3. To prepare filling, combine peaches, ginger, lemon juice, sugar and flour in a medium bowl; toss gently to coat.

4. Unwrap and place dough on a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkled with flour. Roll dough into a 12 or 13-inch circle (using a well floured rolling pin). Your dough should be about 1/8 inch thick when rolled out. Place dough and parchment on a baking sheet.

5. Arrange peach mixture in center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold edges of dough toward center, pressing gently to seal (dough will only partially cover berry mixture).

6. Combine milk and egg white in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Brush dough with milk mixture; sprinkle turbinado sugar evenly over dough. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes to an hour or until pastry is golden brown. Let stand 30 minutes; cut into wedges.

* Note for step number 1: If you don't have a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornmeal, and salt and cut in butter using a pastry knife, until the dough resembles course meal. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough forms a ball. Continue with instructions from here!

One more thing: I've also made this galette with blueberries, same basic recipe. here are the exceptions: for the fruit mixture: omit the ginger, increase the sugar to 1/2 cup and reduce the flour to 3 tablespoons. The dough recipe seems like a good basic recipe for any type of fruit galette. I plan to try it with apples this fall!

Peach and Ginger Galette: Recipe to Follow

A good way to use peaches

First Blog and Mountain Eclectic Cooking

This is my very first attempt at blogging, and I feel a little funny about it. I remember scoffing at some "jaded" English student in college for blogging, but that was eight years ago, so alas, I have changed, as have my opinions about blogging. I now believe that blogging is not just for those Sylvia Plath English major types, but for anyone who wants to share information with friends, family, and people with similar interests. So here is my blog.

Mountain Eclectic. This blog is about cooking, mountain cooking, with a little bit of a flare from other food traditions here and there. I used to claim that my favorite type of food was "southern eclectic" (read here: pecan encrusted fried chicken with sweet potato fries and homemade lemon garlic aioli, or something along those lines--so "southern with a gourmet twist" perhaps). My favorite restaurant, at least in memory, is Tupelo Honey in Asheville. They claim "southern home town cookin' with an uptown twist" and I guess that pretty much describes it. You can check out their website at

So while in memory the few times I ate at Tupelo Honey remain as amazing culinary experiences in my mind, I've decided that my new favorite type of food (and perhaps has been for years now) is Mountain Eclectic. Sometimes it is just plain mountain cooking, perhaps I should specify the southern and central Appalachian mountains (in case there is someone out there that doesn't know what mountains I am referring to)...soup beans with corn bread (NO sugar), homemade biscuits (only using White Lily Flour...more on this later, as the Knoxville plant is shutting down, and White Lily has been bought out by a Midwestern company. GASP! What shall we southern and mountain cooks do???), bacon, grits (okay, maybe this is more of a southern thing), fried chicken, fried all get the picture. But the eclectic flare comes in when you add "gourmet" or non-traditional ingredients into the mix (literally and figuratively). So the homemade aioli (made from farm fresh eggs and olive oil and lemon juice and garlic) I use for potato salad in place of Duke's Mayonnaise (my mom's choice) may be a little on the "eclectic" side of things, although perhaps not a hundred years ago.

The long and the short (more long rantings about food later):

I will use this blog to post recipes and pictures of some of my mountain eclectic creations in the kitchen, as well as general thoughts about growing/raising your own food, farming, and using local foods. Who knows, I might even muse about connections between food and culture.

Enjoy and please feel free to post back with thoughts, ideas, recipes or suggestions (when things fail especially).