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.

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.