Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Salmon Burgers with Cabbage Blue Cheese Slaw and Andalusian Rice Salad

Day 22

This week, we have a special visitor in our house. His name is Fritz, and he’s a miniature Schnauzer who belongs to my sister- and brother-in-law.  He has only been with us for two days, and we’re already in love.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
 As I write this, he and my Basset Hound Emmy are resting beside me, Fritz wrapped in a cozy sweatshirt and Emmy curled in her usual position. Just having dogs in our lives make us happier, at least, that’s the general consensus in our household.

Last night, I decided that we would have a no-fuss, no frills dinner since we have the added responsibility of Fritz’s care for the next few weeks. Initially, I was thinking of hamburgers and broccoli cheese rice, but then I decided on a healthier version of that same dinner. Instead of hamburgers, I opted for salmon burgers, and instead of a heavy rice side dish, I chose a Spanish rice salad that is perfect hot, cold, or at room temperature. 

Salmon burgers are very versatile; using sockeye salmon is the key, whenever it’s available. And, interestingly, canned salmon works quite nicely if fresh isn’t available to you. Most of us agree that dill and salmon are the perfect pair, so I always make sure I have lots of fresh dill for the burger mixture as well as for the cabbage slaw. 

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
I think I got the salmon burger recipe from an old Real Simple magazine, and I took the recipe for the slaw and changed it to match my flavor preferences. The rice salad recipe is one of my treasures from my very dear friend, Mrs. Overbey, who has always been an inspiration to me, whether in life or in the kitchen!          

I hope you will try this altered, healthier version of a hamburger platter! It’s a great meal for a busy night, and everything can be made ahead, requiring only that the salmon burgers be grilled just before serving. 

Thanks to their keen noses, both Emmy and Fritz were anxiously waiting in the kitchen as I cooked the burgers, hoping for any accidental spills. 

Salmon Burgers

2 lbs. salmon, skin removed (Sockeye Salmon is best, if available)
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 tbs. whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tsp. prepared horseradish 
2 cloves minced garlic
½ cup fresh bread crumbs (day old baguette in food processor or 1 slice loaf bread)
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ fresh dill, chopped

3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 pretzel rolls, toasted
Mince all salmon, then place in Ziploc bag and pound with rolling pin or meat tenderizer until mashed. Place salmon in large bowl with egg, egg white, mustard, horseradish, garlic, bread crumbs, dill, salt, and pepper. Mix well, using clean hands to incorporate all ingredients. 

Form 4 patties. Place on medium-hot griddle heated with olive oil and grill 4-5 minutes per side. Top with Cabbage Blue Cheese Slaw on a toasted pretzel roll. Serve immediately. 

Cabbage Blue Cheese Slaw

1 small head of cabbage, shredded
½ cup fresh dill, chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup crumbled Blue cheese
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Mix all ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend. Serve atop salmon burgers.

Andalusian Rice Salad

8 cups cooked basmati rice
½ cup olive oil
1 tbs. white wine vinegar
2 tbs. lemon juice
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
5 small green onions, chopped with green
1- 4oz. jar pimentos, drained
1 bunch chopped parsley (cilantro or Italian are best)

Toss all ingredients gently and refrigerate until ready to serve for a cold salad. If you prefer room temperature, cover and set aside until time to serve. The salad can also be served hot. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shrimp au Jus for Two

Day 21

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
Because my absolute favorite meals are those shared with friends and family, I thought that I should make my next blog entry a really fun dish to share with someone you love. Shrimp au Jus for Two is best served in a large bowl with lots of warm, crusty sourdough bread for dipping in the tangy jus. Of course, if you prefer to ladle a portion for each diner, that works too. 

This shrimp dish offers a mélange of flavors, ranging from tangy lemon and creamy butter to salty cheese and earthy olive oil. Drenching the bread with sauce and shrimp is truly the epitome of a comfort food experience.  I developed this recipe years ago, after watching a morning talk show demonstration of shrimp au jus. I chose to add more sauce, to change some of the key ingredients, and to make the dish something special to share. Adding a nice glass of your favorite wine really makes this meal complete, and it’s not terribly heavy, despite the butter and oil. 

Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we forget how enjoyable an intimate dining experience can be. Sharing a warm sourdough baguette and a delicious bowl of shrimp that has been sautéed in a rich and flavorful sauce is an excellent way to get back into the habit of making meal time an event rather than a hurried formality. I hope you’ll take the time to try this one very soon, with someone you love! Bon Appétit!

Shrimp au Jus for Two

1 pound uncooked, deveined shrimp
4 green onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
One bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup butter
3 tbs. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash Tabasco

Saute onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic, shrimp, and butter. Saute just until butter is melted. Add white wine, chicken broth, and cilantro. After heating just enough to cook shrimp thoroughly, add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and hot sauce;  then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Pour into pasta plate or shallow bowl and serve with fresh baked bread for dipping. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Honeyed Fruit Cheese ball

Day 20

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
Working with nice people is such a blessing, and I’ve been so fortunate with wonderful co-workers over the years, no matter my workplace. Whenever we share potluck meals, I like to try recipes that are personal and special to me. For obvious reasons, these are the best recipes to share at such events, and they also offer a nice way to get honest feedback about a recipe’s likeability factor. 

Recently at work, we had a potluck breakfast, and I tried to think of something to serve that would be different, attractive, and very tasty. I noticed that people were signing up for breads, eggs, and fruits right away, so I decided that a cream cheese and fruit base might be nice for a group breakfast. 

Because I love making dishes to serve as hors d’oeuvres, even for breakfast, my recipe for a Honeyed Fruit Cheese Ball came to mind. It’s creamy, sweet, and filled with pleasing textures and flavors. I like to serve this cheese ball on lightly sweetened tea biscuits or on graham crackers. 

I actually developed a taste for cheese balls when I was a child. To celebrate New Year’s Eve every year of my childhood, my parents, grandparents, and some of my aunts and uncles on my father’s side were invited to the home of my grandmother’s friend. This lady was a truly quintessential Southern hostess who prepared and served the perfect hors d’oeuvres and always led the evening with the grace and charm expected of her class. 

The only children in attendance were three: my cousin, the hostess’ grandson, and I. Knowing we might be bored with the adult conversation, the hostess’ adult daughter would invite us into another living room to sit and listen to her true ghost stories. Of course, that delighted us, as we gathered at her feet to be regaled by tales of hauntings and spirits. We absolutely loved listening, but we really paid a price afterward. I remember being terrified of my own shadow well into February each year. 

Anyway, at the New Year’s Eve party, the only thing that lured me from the ghost stories was the food table. There was always an incredible lime sherbet punch, mini teacakes, mini chicken salad sandwiches, bite-size ham biscuits, and a cheese ball. The cheese ball was definitely my favorite, and I’d be excited to see it on the table every time we arrived for New Year’s Eve. 

Because of that memory, I’ve tested and tasted at least 15 different cheese ball recipes over the years. Although I’m not sure of the exact ingredients of the cheese ball that triggered my quest, I have enjoyed trying and searching through some really outstanding recipes. This honeyed cheese ball is so versatile that it has become one of my favorites. It can easily compliment food served at evening or morning events. 

I think you’ll enjoy this dish at your next brunch or party too. Once you make it, you’ll see how easy homemade cheese balls really are, and maybe you will opt to make your own instead of buying the store bought varieties. 

Honeyed Fruit Cheese ball 


1 – 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar
1 tbs. honey
6 oz. pkg. dried berries (blueberries, cherries, cranberries, diced strawberries)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tbs. turbinado sugar


Mix cream cheese, cheddar, and honey until well blended and smooth. Add berries and mix thoroughly. Form into a ball, pressing firmly. Mix nuts and turbinado sugar on a large plate. Roll cheese ball in nut mixture until coated thoroughly. 

Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. 

When ready to serve, place on serving platter, surrounded by tea biscuits or graham crackers. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Day 19

When I think of comfort foods, desserts always come to mind. And, what better dessert than a warm cookie with some hot tea? Even more comforting is a cookie filled with hearty oatmeal and sweet white chocolate chips. 

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
I make these cookies often, as they are the perfect dessert in our children’s lunch bags. They are also ideal for company because they last a week or more, and they can be served to guests who stop by for coffee and conversation. 

Truly, this recipe is easy and delicious, and I often vary it to suit my mood. For example, if I want to serve the cookies as a brunch accompaniment, I serve them with a store bought cranberry chutney, as shown in the picture. For a more decadent occasion, I will sometimes add white chocolate, butterscotch, and milk chocolate chips to the batter instead of white chips only. This recipe is also delicious with walnuts and cranberries. The possibilities are many, and the cookies are delicious and reliable every time. 

Finding a trustworthy recipe for cookies isn’t always easy. I have seen this one repeated on websites and in cookbooks for years, though.  Originally, I saw it in Southern Living magazine, I believe. Baking the cookies a bit longer allows for a crumbly, crunchy cookie; whereas, baking for the shortest time results in a chewy, soft cookie. It’s really up to you. 

Thinking about cookies and coffee and friends visiting makes me nostalgic for a time when people visited more than we do today. Nowadays, everyone sends e-mails and texts rather than having face-to-face interactions, and the results we are reaping are not favorable. Our kids don’t know how to behave with their friends or how to confront and approach each other appropriately. It’s too easy to accept and decline offers these days, never having to speak a word to anyone. It really makes me sad, to tell the truth.

When I was a girl, I remember visiting my parents’ friends and my relatives on Sunday afternoons, often unannounced. We’d have guests stop by for an impromptu visit too. Although it wasn’t always convenient, there was something really special about both welcoming and feeling welcome within the community. 

On Sunday afternoons, as a very young child, I would visit my great-grandparents on my mother’s side.  My father tells me that I would stand on the floor of his Ford pick-up truck, hands on the dashboard, eager to visit Grandma and Grandpa Dawson. This was, of course, before the seatbelt laws, and Daddy says that I was so excited, jabbering away to my mom and to him. Interestingly, despite being so young, I have very vivid memories of those visits. Grandma Dawson was a wonderful cook and baker, and she was also such a gracious hostess. I’d jump from the truck and run to hug Grandpa Dawson who waited on the front porch for our routine arrival. 

My great-grandmother would greet us with homemade chocolate cake and delicious canned pickles, a favorite combination in the South. I’d sit at her Formica kitchen table, enjoying the treats she prepared, while my family visited on the porch. Our visits would be too brief, but always pleasant, and they are some of the best memories of my life. 

Although these white chocolate chip oatmeal cookies aren’t quite the same as the chocolate cake and pickles of my childhood, the idea of sharing them with friends and relatives who visit holds the same appeal. Finding ways to be more personal with our communications and interactions is essential in our technologically advanced world, and I can’t think of any better way to start than by inviting someone you love to join you for a hot drink and some homemade cookies. I hope you like them. 

Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies 

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups  uncooked oats
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper on pan.

With an electric mixer, cream butter until smooth, then gradually add brown sugar and white sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating each only until the yellow of each disappears in the batter. Add vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Finally, stir in the oats, white chocolate chips and pecans. 

Drop by tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. 

Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mexican Stuffed Green Peppers

Day 18 

Stuffed peppers were rarely on our dinner rotations when I was growing up, although cabbage rolls were sometimes prepared for special occasions by my grandmother on my mother’s side. As a result, I rarely make them myself either. Recently, I was looking through a tin of recipes and I found a good one for stuffed peppers that showcased lots of understated but pleasing Italian flavors.

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
 I decided to change the recipe a bit, making this traditionally eastern European dish with a Tex-Mex twist. The result was a very tasty filling, surrounded by a green pepper that stayed somewhat firm, at least compared to other stuffed pepper dishes I’ve tried. 

If you find that you prefer the really soft exterior of peppers in this dish, it’s certainly easy enough to prepare the peppers for filling, then drop them in boiling water for a few minutes. Immediately placing them in an ice water bath will stop the cooking and help them hold their attractive green hue. This process will soften them before stuffing. I prefer a pepper that still has texture and crunch, so I opted for slow cooking it just once, in a Crockpot. 

This past summer, Doug and I enjoyed a road trip to Yellowstone National Park to celebrate our anniversary. Each day, as we passed through a major city, we’d have a meal at one of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives restaurants. We borrowed his most recent DDD book from our local library and mapped out our preferences as we traveled. Some of the places were as spectacular as they appeared on the show, while others left something to be desired. One restaurant we tried, in downtown Minneapolis, is called Nye’s. The atmosphere is a throwback to the 50’s for sure, mostly because the décor hasn’t changed since then. 

When we walked in, the smell of cooked cabbage, stewed meats, and old upholstery mingled to greet us. Actually, it not so much greeted us as hit us with the force of a 2x4 to the nostrils. I can’t say it was entirely unpleasant, but it wasn’t how I’d ever want my own restaurant to welcome new customers. 

 The lighting was so low that I had to strain my eyes to see the hostess, who was surely in her late 80s. She shuffled along to lead us to our table— a task she has continued since the Truman administration, I’m sure.  Our booth was in the back of the dining room, surrounded by old, age-stained, and cracked mirrors. Doug forgot his glasses—not that they would have helped in the darkness, really—so I read the menu for us. We settled on a soup recommended by Guy Fieri, pierogies, stewed beets, Nye’s signature roast beef au jus, and stuffed cabbage rolls. A complimentary crudité plate with salad dressing for dipping was provided, as were dinner rolls. 

The food was very good, to be sure, although I was struck by the blandness of it. Having tried Polish and other eastern European dishes before, I was prepared for this, and was almost expecting it, but after a week of taste explosions and flavor bursts recommended by the DDD show, my taste buds were left wanting more. 

The more interesting parts of the meal were most assuredly resulting from the atmosphere. We heard a Polka band playing in the bar side of the restaurant, and we enjoyed watching so many diners who looked the right age to have frequented Nye’s since it opened in 1950. It was nice to see, as everyone was dressed up and truly relishing a night out. Dinner out was an experience for so many of our fellow diners, not just a meal. I wish we felt more like that today and that more people treated restaurants with the same respect we typically reserve for formal events. 

I promise you that, if you’re ever passing through Minneapolis, you will not regret a visit to Nye’s. For the entire meal, Doug and I felt like we had somehow slipped through a wormhole and traveled back in time. Definitely not very common in a restaurant review, I venture to say that the food was not the main event, but it was an added bonus. Antique smells and all, Nye’s charm was at once accosting and understated. 

All of this to tell you that the cabbage rolls there in Minneapolis were tasty and worth a try, but my stuffed peppers are the opposite. They are bursting with flavors of cilantro, beans, chili powder, and cumin. A touch time-consuming, but overall, they are very easy to make and well worth the effort. Enjoy!

Mexican Stuffed Green Peppers

16 oz. shredded Monterey Pepper Jack cheese
2 bunches of cilantro, stems removed 
1 cup cooked rice
1- 15 oz. can black beans, drained, rinsed, and divided
1 jar plus ½ cup salsa
1 medium onion, diced 
1 package taco seasoning mix
½ lb. ground pork 
¾ lb. ground beef 
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black pepper
dash hot sauce
6 large green peppers, tops removed and gutted
1 egg
¼ cup breadcrumbs

Saute ground beef, ground pork, and onion until meat is browned and onion is translucent. Drain. Add taco seasoning mix to meat and onions and blend well. 

In a food processor, chop cilantro.  Add half of black beans and blend in food processor until beans are completely mashed and mixed with cilantro. 

Add rice, whole black beans, and processed beans with cilantro to meat mixture. Stir well to incorporate.  Then, add ½ cup of salsa, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and ½ of cheese to the mixture. Finally, incorporate the egg and breadcrumbs well. Stuff equal amounts of mixture in each pepper. Cover with extra salsa and pour rest of jar in bottom of Crockpot that fits at least six peppers. Heat in Crockpot on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle with extra cheese and recover, allowing cheese to melt.

 Serve with salsa, chips, sour cream, and cilantro. 

Serves 6. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Buttermilk Ice Cream

Day 17

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
There is a restaurant in Washington, Virginia called The Inn at Little Washington that is known for its buttermilk ice cream. Because of its price, I have never eaten there, but I did receive their cookbook from a friend a few years ago. In the cookbook is the recipe, which basically involves making a delicious custard, cooling it, adding the appropriate amounts of buttermilk, sugar, and vanilla bean, then churning it—a standard custard ice cream recipe. Except this one is out of this world. And it’s perfect for a summer time treat, served with fresh sliced, juicy peaches. 

Knowing that I love homemade ice cream (and since I’ve hinted about it for five years now), my sweet husband gave me an ice cream maker for Christmas. This past week, I decided to use it for a blog recipe, so I read the directions in the owner’s manual and checked out the recipes that were recommended by the manufacturer. One of the recipes was for a basic vanilla ice cream—pretty simple and very low key in terms of following directions. I wondered how the ice cream might turn out if I used the recommended amounts of each ingredient, but changed some of the milk to buttermilk, added real vanilla beans instead of extract, and tried to imitate Little Washington while also making it my own.

The result was really nice. The ice cream, after freezing for a few hours, was creamy and sweet for sure, but it also had a pleasant kick that would be difficult to identify if you didn’t know it was buttermilk. In other words, the flavor isn’t overwhelming. I served it with pureed blueberries and strawberries, but it’s also great served over a generous slice of your favorite citrus pound cake. 

With spring and summer just around the corner, you’ll want to keep the recipe handy. Bon Appétit!

Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 cup buttermilk
¾ cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbs. vanilla extract plus seeds from 1 vanilla bean

With an electric mixer on low speed, whisk together buttermilk, sugar, and salt until sugar is dissolved. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla/vanilla bean. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours but up to 8 hours. 

Using an electric ice cream maker, pour the mixture in the FROZEN freezer bowl (the bowl should be frozen for at least 16 hours before using it, for most ice cream makers) and allow to churn/mix until completely thickened—about 20 minutes. The ice cream will be soft and creamy, similar to custard. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze for 2+ hours, depending on desired level of firmness. Remove from freezer about 10 minutes before serving. 

Delicious served with fresh berries. Serves 4-6.