Monday, November 16, 2015

Spiced Apple Pie Slab

November is peak apple season here in the south.  Each year we typically trek north to the Georgia mountains and there we pay our respects to Mercier Orchards by buying our weight in bushels and pecks, and then hauling our apple loot home.

On a recent cool autumn day I peaked into the freezer and noticed a box of puff pastry and was reminded of the apples languishing in my refrigerator outside in my garage.  My approach to baking is cautious, especially, when I am preparing to bake on a whim with no instruction.

You will be glad I took the leap. What I turned out was a delicious, easy to put together apple slab pie.  A perfect addition to the fall table to share with family and friends.

Spiced Apple Pie Slab
Serves 8

4 large cooking apples (it can be a combination of apples) peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
Fresh squeeze of lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 sheet puff pastry- thawed, cut in half lengthwise
1 egg, beaten
 Handful of coarse sugar (prefer raw sugar)

Preheat oven to  400 F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl toss the apples with a few squeezes of lemon juice.  Set aside.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add apples to skillet and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ground cloves. Stir to combine.  Reduce heat to low.  Add cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Continue cooking until apples are soft and caramelized about 5-6 minutes.

Remove apple filling from heat and cool.

Lightly flour the puff pastry sheets. Arrange the puff pastry sheets lengthwise (make sure you cut the pastry sheet lengthwise) next to each other. Spread the apple filling down the middle of one pastry sheet with 1-inch space on all sides. Place the second pastry sheet on top.  Seal all the edges.

Cut several 1-inch slits down the center to create vents.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle sugar.

Place the pastry on the parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.


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Monday, November 9, 2015

Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes

I was searching for a recipe to highlight the use of both fresh and dried herbs, and stumbled upon this great recipe from Elise at simplyrecipes .  This recipe creates a oven dish wonder.  The dish is layered with potatoes, onions, and garlic cloves, which will roast in the pan juices.  The seasoned chicken thighs will roast on top of these layers.  To bring it to the next level, a combination of fresh and dried herbs (Think fresh thyme and tarragon and a quality dried herbes de provence) will be sprinkled on, and tucked along the sides and in the crevices. To finish it off,  a basic vinaigrette to raise the level of flavor and moisture.

Simply stated herbs can lift a dish from ordinary to extraordinary. This dish makes for a fabulous Sunday Supper meal or entertaining a crowd.

Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Simply Recipes


2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried herbes de provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on, trimmed of excess fat
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large Yukon gold potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
1 cup peeled onions
3-4 whole garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
Several whole sprigs of fresh tarragon or thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Sprinkle all sides of chicken thighs with kosher salt and set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, herbs de provence, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper.

Spread one tablespoon of olive oil in a 9x13 baking pan.  Cover the bottom of the dish with the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Distribute the onions over the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken thighs, skin-side-up, on top of onions.  Wedge the garlic cloves between the pieces of chicken.  Use the sprigs of herbs to line the border or wedge in between chicken.  Whisk the vinaigrette again and pour it over the chicken, making sure it is well distributed.

Bake uncovered for 50 minutes, or until the thighs are well browned and cooked through.


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Monday, October 19, 2015

Atlanta on my Mind

Who say's you can't create an urban farm in your neighborhood on less than an acre? After a stay at the The Social Goat Bed and Breakfast in downtown Atlanta Georgia I am rethinking my situation. Gone is the 5 acre dream!  Folks, I just need a new neighborhood to move into.  I promise to share my vegetables, eggs, and honey with my neighbors.

I love my husband.  We were planning a weekend trip to Atlanta and he came across this bed and breakfast while looking for accommodations.  I think the first phrase he uttered when he was perusing the site was "Woman, this bed and breakfast has your name all over it"  Yes, it did!  My discovery of a real urban farm setting with a bed and breakfast worries my husband (as it should).

We visited the President Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in the morning and spent the afternoon walking the Atlanta BeltLine 

Its no secret that our travel is centered around eating and this was no exception.  We enjoyed a hip sandwich and cocktail joint called Victory Sandwich Bar.  We spent part of a late afternoon roaming the Krog Street Market and the grand finale ended at the Miller Union Restaurant a sustainable and modern approach to farmstead cooking.  Chef Steven Satterfield's approach was responding to what was in season and available at the local farmers market.  Vegetables are front center and a little less on the proteins.  He sums it up very nicely by saying "seasonal cooking begins with the harvest."  To honor our great meal I ordered his cookbook Root to Leaf and prepared a traditional southern favorite Slow-Simmered Field Peas.

Slow-Simmered Field Peas
Serves 6 to 8
Recipe from Millers Union

4 cups fresh shelled field peas (lady peas, pink eyed peas, blackened peas crowder peas, zipper peas, or a mix)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced (1/8-inch) yellow onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced fennel bulb
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 thick slice country ham or a small ham hock
1 sprig fresh thyme

Place the peas in a large pot, cover with water, and agitate them gently.  Pull them out in small handfuls and check for blemishes or debris.  Set the washed peas aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, and fennel; season with a little salt and pepper: and sauté  until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the ham, peas, and thyme, and add water to cover by 1 inch.  Simmer on low heat until peas are tender, skimming all the while, 45 to 60 minutes.


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Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Does My Garden Grow: Summer Basil Oil

In life there is a struggle for simplicity.  We rarely achieve it.  There are moments we catch glimpses, or experience short bursts that bring a full appreciation of what life might be like if we knew how to live simply.

If you follow my blog you know, I feel most centered when my hands are in the dirt or my mind and body are in my kitchen.  Nature provides to us free of charge, incredible flavors, colors and textures.  When food is prepared closest to how nature intended it is “simply” the best. 

In north Florida summer stays late.  It stays long past its welcome but there are gifts to be enjoyed as the long days begin to wind down.  This means summer herbs are abundant, and if you are growing basil, it is at its peak.

One of the best ways to reap this gift of nature is to preserve your summer basil with a good olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a few good grinds of cracked black pepper.  What is created is a intensely fragrant and flavored oil that is a perfect addition to soup, roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes and marinades. It also makes for a perfect gift to share with family and friends.

Photo from driftless organics
Basil Oil Recipe
Makes about 3/4 cup
Recipe from Epicurious

1-1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup olive oil

Blanch basil in a medium saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds.  Drain.  Rinse under cold water.  Pat basil dry with paper towels.  Transfer to blender.  Add oil; puree until smooth.  Transfer to small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Can be made 3 days ahead.  Cover and chill.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.


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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dirt to Table Experience: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sriracha Lime Dressing

Contrary to popular belief butternut is a tender skinned winter squash with little tolerance for cold air. My luck with growing butternut squash has been dismal.  I planted it too late, too early, and mostly ended with a lot of vine and no squash.  Late last winter my fellow community gardener gave me three butternut seedlings (from her saved seeds) to plant. The seedlings were planted in what can be described as a micro-climate in my garden.  A  sunny area with a high oak canopy to slightly reduce the peak mid-day Florida temperatures.  The Gods must have been singing Hallelujah!!  I became the proud mama of several butternut beauties. 

Surprisingly, fresh butternut is very easy to peel and cut. It has a sweet, nutty flavor that really explodes when given the opportunity to release its natural sugars from a good pan roasting, and a dusting of a heady spice like cumin.

My husband stumbled across this recipe while looking for ideas to use butternut squash in a salad.  The simplicity of this beautiful summer salad starts with peppery greens paired with the nutty and sweet roasted squash.  The flavors continue to move to the next level, with a kick in your pants flavor combination of cumin and sriracha sauce.  Now, let's cool it down with citrus and agave nectar or honey.  This is a winning combination of flavors.  The black beans and pepitas add a pop of protein and texture to this stunning and delicious salad.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sriracha Lime Dressing
Serves 4
Recipe from Cookin Canuck

2  tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1-lb. peeled and cubed butternut squash
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
4 cups arugula
3/4 cup black beans (drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)


In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sriracha, agave nectar and salt.  While working slowly pouring in the olive oil.

1.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Place the butternut squash on the tray.  Sprinkle he olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper over the squash and toss to coat.

2.  Roast the squash until tender when pierced with a fork, 25 to 30 minutes.

3.  In a serving bowl, toss the arugula, blackens and pipettes.  Add the roasted butternut squash and the dressing, and toss again.

Serve immediately.


Next Cooking ClassCooking with Herbs: Saturday, September 19th at 10:00 a.m.
We are going to take your senses on a journey to discover how to use fresh herbs in your kitchen. You will learn how to take a dish from good to fantastic using fresh herbs. We will also talk about growing, handling and storing your fresh herbs.
Call Brown's Kitchen early (850) 385-5665 to reserve your spot.

photo from Herb Z

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stay out of the Kitchen: Summer Gazpacho

The heat has become almost unbearable. The humidity on most days is pushing 100% along with the 100 degrees F.  temperatures. We affectionately refer to the heat here in the panhandle of Florida as "swamp heat".  Unlike the southern part of the state which lay claim to a tropical climate, us hooligans in the north beg for a breeze and surrender to the hot stagnant air.  Of course jealousy ensues from the south in the winter time as we experience a change of seasons which gives way to cool air and frosty mornings.

This month's cooking class theme was  STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN.  I focused on sharing with my class at Browns Kitchen a few simple to prepare cold dishes when brought together make a fantastic summer meal. The menu was centered around this delightful and refreshing summer gazpacho soup.

Gazpacho is a Spanish soup enjoyed in the country's southern Andalusia region and neighboring Portugal which both experience very hot summers.   This blend of raw vegetables including, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh garlic with tomato juice as the base come together creating a incredibly fresh and flavorful cold soup.

This summer soup is best prepared ahead of time to allow the flavors to full develop.

Summer Gazpacho
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Ina Garten

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
24 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions.  Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped.  Do not overprocess!

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix well and chill before serving.  

The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Luck of the Irish and Traditional Shepherd's Pie

Ireland is like one big picnic spot
~Bailey Knapp

I feel like I need to start this post with a resounding  "America there is nothing Irish about corned beef and cabbage!" Okay, there I feel better. Who knew?  It is believed that when the Irish came to America corned beef was cheap, readily available and soon became the meat of choice. It is also believed the close proximity of the Jewish and Irish immigrant communities played a role in establishing corned beef and cabbage as a mainstay meal in their new homeland.

As an American in Ireland you feel the similarities. A sense of kinship.  If you are not listening close you might think the accent is American, if you fail to listen closely, you can easily mistaken an Irish person for being American.

Ireland is stunning. Your first impression is the intensity of the color green and the lushness of the landscape with its cragginess and tall grasses.  Ireland landscapes are dotted with small family farms. Beef, lamb and milk production are the agricultural products of Ireland.  The coast line is equally as stunning.  The Irish weather? Let's just say when there is a sunny warm day, the Irish feel lucky. While standing on the Cliffs of Moher  (the wind literally moved my body).  I believe it is the only place where I experienced my hair literally blowing in all directions at the same time.

The only way to discover a new culture is in a up-close and personal way. We do it by spending time with the locals, walking the neighborhoods, shopping local stores and eating in local establishments.  In Ireland this is so easy. The Irish are incredibly warm and friendly-Even the farm animals say hello.

Bailey enjoyed saying good morning to this friendly guy

The Irish Rush Hour 

At first we thought the colored dye on the wool of the sheep were a marker for the farmer to identify their flock of sheep.  It is actually used to distinguish female (red) from male sheep (blue). 

We thought it would be fun to pull off the road with our dinner and eat along side the sheep. Eating along side the road was an excellent idea! Eating your dinner with a mature ram at your back with his herd of ladies and a grocery bag of food? Not such a good idea.  We high-tailed it out of the sheep pasture.

Found ourselves a great picnic spot across from the grazing flock of sheep.  This photo is proof Ireland is indeed like one big picnic spot.

And the beauty continues

And continues....

There is no better way to honor a country and its culture than re-creating a traditional dish.  In Ireland a pub favorite is Shepherd's pie which is traditionally made with lamb.  Replacing the lamb with beef is sometimes called a cottage pie. The theory goes that a shepherd is only concerned with his sheep (lamb or mutton) not cattle (beef).

Shepherd's pie is a simple flavorful combination of ground meat and veggies baked in a light gravy with a mashed potato topping. You can make this for two or make it a for crowd.  This dish freezes easily and a is a kid friendly and family favorite meal.

Traditional Irish Shepard's Pie
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Grumpy Irish Lady

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
1lb. ground beef or ground lamb
1 large onion, finely diced
3-4 large carrots, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
3-4 sprigs  fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 glass of red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chicken stock
6 cups fresh or leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg beaten
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven too 400F.

Sauté carrots the olive oil until almost tender.  Add onions and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.  Add beef or lamb.  Season with black pepper and thyme.

Cook until the meat is browned. Drain the fat.  Return the meat to the pan.  Add butter and peas.  Sprinkle with flour and toss to coat the meat.  Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce.

Reduce slightly.  Add chicken stock.  Allow to reduce down until you have a thick meaty gravy.  Season to your taste.

Reduce from heat.  Grease an oven proof dish (9x13 oval baking dish works well) with butter and add the sauce.  Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top.  Brush with egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until potato is nice and brown on top.


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