Friday, May 27, 2011

This Small Package is Nirvana!

"How can a small package be Nirvana?" you ask.
"Well, if the small package is a Cheesecake Cupcake, it takes you to Nirvana!" is the reply.  
Could that be right?

Nirvana: A state of perfect happiness; 
an ideal or idyllic place; 
bliss, heaven

Yep, that is the experience when you taste one of these small packages!

Let me help you get started...close your eyes...imagine a slice of dense, rich, smooth, and creamy cheesecake.  Imagine the way you relax when you take that first bite.  Imagine how much you want that second bite so you can experience that creaminess and flavor again.  You are ready....

If you live in New York, you are probably familiar with Junior's and their cheesecakes.  I have visited New York but I have never had the New York cheesecake experience.  What is the next best thing?  Junior's Cheesecakes from the publisher of Fine Cooking was the next best thing.

Original Little Fella Cheesecake
adapted from Junior's Cheesecakes

Yield:   One dozen

2  8 oz packages cream cheese (full fat), at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs
1/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
12 small fresh strawberries or raspberries (optional)
1 recipe Junior's Signature Strawberry Sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
Line 12 muffin cups with silicone,foil, parchment, or paper liners

Put one package of cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes,scraping down the bowl a few times.  Blend in the remaining package of cream cheese.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then the vanilla.  Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Beat in the cream just until it's completely blended.  Be careful not to over mix.

Divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups (fill each one almost up to the top).  Place the muffin tin in a large shallow pan, then add hot water so it comes about 1 inch up the sides of the tin.  Bake the cakes until set and the centers are slightly puffy and golden, about 45 minutes.  Remove the cakes from the water bath, transfer the tin to a wire rack, and let cool for 2 hours.  Cover the cakes with plastic wrap (don't remove them from the tin) and put in the freezer until cold, at least 1 hour.

To remove the cakes, lift them out of the cups with your hands and peel off the liners.  Place the cakes, top side down, on a serving platter or individual dessert plates and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Top  each with a strawberry or raspberry and serve drizzled with sauce, if you wish.  If there are any cakes left, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.  Or remove the berries, then wrap and freeze for up to 1 month.

My daughter and SIL were the chefs for this adventure.  They doubled the recipe and in part of the batter they added some lime zest.  They also made a lime mousse for the topping.

Lime Mousse

1 recipe Decorator's Whipped Cream
1/4 cup limeade concentrate, thawed just until spoonable
1 to 2 drips green food coloring (optional)

To make the lime mousse prepare the Decorator's Whipped Cream, then stir in the limeade concentrate (it's best if slightly frozen).  Add the food coloring, if you wish.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Fit a pastry bag with a medium closed-star tip or medium open-star tip, pack it with the lime mousse, and pipe the lime mousse on the top of each cupcake, finishing each off with a rosette on top.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  

Decorator's Whipped Cream

Yield:  Enough to decorate the top of one 0-inch cheesecake

1 tsp unflavored granulated gelatin
1 Tbsp cold water
1 cup cold heavy or whipping cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place the gelatin in a heatproof measuring cup, stir in the cold water, and let stand until it swells and thickens (this takes only about 1 minute).  Cook the gelatin in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds or over a pan of simmering water for about 1 minute, until clear and completely melted.

In a medium bowl, whip the cream with an electric mixer on high until it thickens and soft peaks just begin to form.  With the mixer still running, add the sugar and beat just until the cream stands up in peaks (don't over-mix or the cream will curdle).  Beat in the vanilla.  Now, add the melted gelatin all at once and beat until thoroughly incorporated.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but not more than 1 hour.  Use immediately as a cake filling, frosting, rosettes or refrigerate.


You won't be disappointed in these little will enjoy your journey to Nirvana!

I am participating in Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage, Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum, Sweet Tooth Friday hosted by Alli at Alli and SonSweets for a Saturday at Sweet As Sugar Cookies hosted by Lisa, and Fat Camp Friday hosted by Miranda at Mangoes and Chutney.

Monday, May 23, 2011

General Tso's Chicken

Recently, the Kitchen Gnome told me that he found a recipe while he was doing his daily review of the blogs that I/we follow.  He told me it was General Tso's Chicken and that he wanted to make it.  I had never heard of General Tso's Chicken. It had been posted by Lori at All That Splatters.

Like Lori, I did a little research and didn't come up with much in regard to the dish's origin.  The dish is not known in China.  It is mostly served in American and Canadian Chinese restaurants.  It is "a lightly battered chicken in a chili-laced, sweet-sour sauce," per Fuchsia Dunlop in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. One can say that it partially originates from Hunan cuisine.  Partially because the Hunan do not care for sweet and savory, a combination of Hunan and Szechaun cuisines.

Whatever the origin, the dish is delicious!!  Thank you, Lori for introducing us to this wonderful main course!  We made pineapple rice to accompany the dish.  What a great combination of flavors!

General Tso’s Chicken
Yield:  4-6 servings

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced (I followed Lori's lead and grated using a Microplane.)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 large egg whites
1-1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Vegetable oil for frying

Garnish:  2 green onions, green parts thinly sliced

To make the sauce, whisk together the hoisin sauce, white vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, and water in a bowl. Set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the hoisin mixture. Stir until the sauce is dark brown and has thickened. Remove from heat and cover.

Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks. Whisk the egg whites in a shallow dish until foamy. Thoroughly combine cornstarch, flour, and baking soda in a separate shallow dish. Toss half the chicken into the foamy egg whites until well-coated, and then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch mixture, making certain that all sides are coated. Transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Heat oil in a fryer (or Dutch oven, or a large wok) until it registers 325ºF. Fry the chicken in batches until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through cooking. Transfer cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Re-warm the sauce over medium heat until bubbling. Add the chicken pieces tossing to coat. Garnish with sliced green onions.

This was easy to make.  We had fun working in the kitchen together to prepare a tasty meal!  
I am participating in Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum.  Thank you Michael.  
I am sharing at Everyday Sisters today for Sharing Sundays.

Mango-Chile Ice for Dessert!

Mangoes are a great accompaniment to Mexican food.  They are native to southern Asia but are grown in many tropical regions.  They are cool, refreshing and packed with vitamins and an enzyme that acts as a digestive wonder they are a great accompaniment to hot and spicy Mexican dishes!

The first time I had a mango was when I had a fruit platter for breakfast during a summer-long study program in India.  I thought they were amazing so when I walked through the market area I bought one.  I had no idea that eating a mango could be such a challenge!  The mango was definitely not a fruit to eat as one would an apple!  The core presents quite a challenge but don't be intimidated by them!  Once you learn how to cut a mango you will experience a little bit of heaven with each bite!


I sure wish I had known about a mango splitter!!

I enjoyed the Mango-Chile Ice but I did make a couple of changes.  I cheated and bought bags of frozen mango to equal about 7 1/2 cups.  I also would recommend using an ice cream maker if you have one.  I did not use mine and about the third time of taking this out of the freezer to run it through the food processor, I was wishing I had used it.  Again, I cheated and did not do the last round through the processor.  The consistency was fine so I didn't see the need.  I also saw that two hours in the freezer was "beyond slushy", check in at 1 1/2 hours.

Mango-Chile Ice
Bon Appetit, May 2011

6 large mangoes (about 5 1/2 lb) halved, pitted, peeled, diced (about 7 1/2 cups)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tsp lime zest
1/4 tsp ancho chile powder plus more (optional)

Set a strainer in a 13X9X2 inch glass baking dish.  Combine half of all ingredients with 5 Tbsp water in a processor and puree until smooth.  Strain mango mixture into dish. Puree the remaining ingredients with 5 Tbsp. water and strain mango mixture into dish.  Freeze until mixture is slushy, about 2 hours.  Working in 2 batches, puree in processor again.  Return mango ice to same dish.  Freeze 2 hours.  Repeat 2 more times.

Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Scoop into dishes, sprinkle with chile powder, if desired, and serve.

Do Ahead:  Can be made 2 days ahead.  Cover and keep frozen.

I had the chile powder available for those who wanted to try a sprinkle or two.  I also served brownies with the ice.


The mango ice was a great way to end the meal.  It was a fun evening.  
The Bon Appetit menu was a hit and worthy of repeating!!

I am participating in Make a Foodie Friend Monday at The Saturday Evening Pot.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And Now for the Bacon-Simmered Pinto Beans!

Bacon-Simmered Pinto Beans accompanied the Chile-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos and the salsas and pickled onions.  I wasn't certain that these were going to be beans that I would make again. But, think twice, Kate, these beans are worthy of a command performance!  In fact, I froze what remained and plan to pull them out of the freezer in a week or two.

Bacon-Simmered Pinto Beans
adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011

1 1/2 lb dried pinto beans (4 cups), pick and rinse
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped (I used six slices.)
1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded, minced, divided
Kosher salt
1/2 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled (4 oz. for garnish) (Available at most markets or Latin markets, feta may be substituted if you are unable to locate Cotija.)
Chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)
Pickled Onions (see recipe)

Place beans in a large pot.  Add enough water to cover by 4 inches.  Let soak overnight.  Drain beans.  (I elected to bring the beans to a boil, boil about 3 minutes, cover and let stand for an hour and a half.)  

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in same large heavy pot over medium heat.  Add bacon to pot and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.  Pour off all but 2 Tbsp drippings from pot.  Add onion, garlic, and 1 minced jalapeno and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add drained beans to pot.  Pour in enough water to cover beans by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more water by 1/2-cupfuls if dry, until beans are tender, about 2 hours.  Stir in remaining jalapeno.  Season to taste with salt.

Working Ahead:  The beans can be made 2 days in advance.  Let cool slightly.  Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.  Rewarm before serving, adding additional water as needed if dry.  (I prefer to make beans ahead.  I think the flavors then have a chance to meld and they taste better.)

Transfer beans to a large bowl.  Sprinkle with cheese and cilantro and serve with pickled onions.


These were a great addition to the fiesta!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chile-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos

This menu was one of firsts for me.  Along with pickled onions and experimenting with salsas, I had never prepared pork shoulder for tacos.  I was anxious to put this to the taste test.  The flavor was fantastic!

The quest for just the right dried chiles sent me to the Vallarta Market.  I wish I had taken a camera because I found myself facing a huge wall of dried chiles and spices!  I used ancho chiles and japones, dried red peppers, because I could not find chiles de arbol.  The clerk recommended a guajillo chile in place of the chiles de arbol that I could not find, but I wanted a little hit so opted for the japones.  I must admit it was perfect.  If you are curious about the various dried chiles, look here.  The Cook's Thesaurus is a good resource.

Chile-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos
Bon Appetit, May 2011

Yield:  8 servings (2-3 tacos per person)

4 large dried ancho chiles (about 3/4 ounce), stemmed, seeded
2 large dried chiles de árbol or japones chiles, stemmed, seeded
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 5-pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 12-ounce bottle Negro Modelo or other dark beer
24 (or more) 6" corn tortillas
4 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
Chopped fresh cilanto

Place chiles in a medium bowl. Add enough boiling water to cover, and set a small plate or bowl on chiles to keep submerged. Let soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain chiles, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place chiles, sugar, lime juice, and 1/4 cup reserved soaking liquid in a blender. Purée chile mixture, adding more soaking liquid as needed to form a smooth paste. Season pork shoulder generously with salt and spread paste over pork. (Can be prepared to this point 1-2 days ahead.  Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, coriander, cumin, and allspice. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add beer; bring to a boil. Add pork to pot; cover and transfer to oven.

Braise pork, basting occasionally with pan juices, until very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.)

Transfer pork to a large platter. Let cool slightly. Pour pan juice mixture over pork; cover and keep warm. (Alternatively, shred the pork with 2 forks and pour pan juice mixture over pork.)

Meanwhile, working in batches, cook tortillas in a large heavy skillet over low heat until toasted, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a large sheet of foil; wrap to keep warm.

Serve pork with tortillas, radishes, both salsas, pickled onions, and chopped cilantro, encouraging guests to fill and garnish tacos as desired.


These were the best tacos I have ever made.  I am so glad that I decided to make the pork!!  And, the salsas!  The Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa and Pickled Onions were wonderful addition!

I am participating in Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum and Fat Camp Friday at Mangoes and Chutney hosted by Miranda.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How Many Ways Can One Make Salsa?

How many ways can one make salsa?  Good question.  I have come to think that salsas vary by individual taste and time.  Let's see, there is the jar.  Buy it, dump it, done.  Everybody has their favorite brand some bland some spicy.  That was easy enough...

I think I am on a quest for the really fresh and tasty salsas.  As I paged through this month's Bon Appetit, I noticed an article about Cinco de Mayo featuring two different salsas and pickled onions, chile-braised pork shoulder tacos and pinto beans.  Rarely do I make ALL of the dishes mentioned in a magazine article.  Rarely?  Never have I made all of them...until now.  Most of the items could be made in advance which was a plus.

The two salsas that I made can both be made one day ahead.  I made the Tomato-Serrano Salsa first.  It was very simple to make and reminded me of a pico de gallo that I had recently made.  The difference was the chiles.  I had used a jalapeno and this called for serrano.

Tomato-Serrano Salsa
Bon Appetit, May 2011

Yield:  3 cups

1 lb plum tomatoes, cored, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 serrano chiles, seeded, minced
1 medium white onion, minced (about 1 cup)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Kosher salt
Tortilla chips (for serving)

Combine tomatoes and chiles in a medium bowl.  Place minced onion in a strainer; rinse under cold water for 10 seconds.  Drain well and add to bowl with tomatoes.  Stir in cilantro and lime juice.  Season with salt.  Serve with tortilla chips.

1.  Rinsing chopped raw onions under cold water cuts some of their pungency.
2.  The salsa gets hotter the longer it sits.  Make one day ahead.  Cover and chill.


While I made this a day ahead, it didn't have the punch that I like in a salsa.  It was good, just not as hot as I was expecting.  That is probably a good thing because the next recipe is hot and spicy!  I must say:  I am in love with the Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa!!  It is very simple to make and packed with flavors!

Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa
Bon Appetit, May 2011

Yield:  2 cups

1 lb tomatillos (about 10 medium) husked, rinsed
1 small onion, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 canned chipotles in adobo, minced (3 chiles, not 3 cans!!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt

Position an oven rack 6 inches from broiler; preheat broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Arrange tomatillos, onion, and garlic cloves on prepared sheet.  Broil, turning occasionally, until soft and slightly charred, 10-15 minutes.  Let cool.  Peel garlic; transfer to a processor.  Add tomatillos, onion, and any juices from foil, along with chipotles.  Puree until mixture is as smooth as you like.  Transfer salsa to a bowl.  Stir in cilantro; season with salt.

Salsa can be made one day in advance.  Cover and chill.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

This salsa is my new all-time favorite salsa!!  


The addition of pickled onions to your taco or beans brings an added dimension of flavor that you won't want to miss.  I tried them earlier this year at a party.  I don't know where they have been all of my life but I knew that I was going to make them.  While these did not have the strong pickly flavor that I had enjoyed at the party, they were perfect for the tacos we prepared.   If you have never tried the addition of pickled onions, now is a good time!

Pickled Onions
Bon Appetit, May 2011

Yield:  1 cup

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt

Place onion slices in a medium bowl.  Pour vinegar and 1/2 cup warm water over onion.l  Stir in sugar and season with salt; let stand until slightly pickled, about 30 minutes.  Drain.

Can be made 2 days ahead.  Let cool slightly.  Cover and refrigerate.


Back to the initial many ways can one make salsa?  There must be hundreds as we all make them to meet our varying tastes.  These were great!

I am linking to Make a Foodie Friend Monday at The Saturday Evening Pot as well as Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum.  Stop by and take a look at all of the great dishes!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lost Ducklings

I know that nobody can see me.  I will take a shortcut through this yard.

Oops, that was a dead end.  Let's go this way.  Be sure to stay close by.

Don't dawdle you will get lost.  

I hear you mom, "We are coming."

Which way did she go?

She is going back to the lake.  

"What shall we do?  She isn't waiting!  Let's stay right here.  We can camp out under a tree."

And they did just that.  We were worried that the animals that roam the area at night would get them.  We left all of the lights on.  In the morning there were no ducks to be found; there were no feathers either.  I like to think that the family is back together again....all twelve ducklings and their mom!

I am participating in Outdoor Wednesday hosted by Susan at A Southern Daydreamer.

I have recently noticed that there is a site called Backyard Birds:  Bird Feeders and Bird House Reviews that is using the title and introductory paragraph of Spoonful of Thyme Posts.  They appear during a google search.  The links they have do not go anywhere....all I can think is that they are trying to generate traffic...the reader thinks they are getting a Spoonful of Thyme post and they are not.  They are stuck on a site selling bird feeders.  I learned this from the reports I get from Google Alerts.  Now to make them stop!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

White Wine and Sparkling Cider Sangria

It was very warm last week, 97°....a premature summer from my perspective.  I had planned to have friends over for dinner and it had been so very nice that I thought eating on the patio would be a great idea.  It was a great idea but the weather turned to down right hot.  I had to laugh because the last time I had planned to eat outdoors it turned very cold; now it was hot...what a dilemma!  Problem solved:  eat later in the evening, turn on the patio fan and prepare a refreshing drink!

I found a recipe for White Wine and Sparkling Cider Sangria. It looked perfect...fruit, wine, sparkling cider.  I wanted a drink that would not be strong, just tasty and refreshing.  This hit the mark.

White Wine and Sparkling Cider Sangria 
adapted from Steven Raichlen - Food and Wine

1 bottle dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
1 cup fresh orange juice
Juice of 2 limes
10 strawberries, thickly sliced
Orange and lime slices
1 1/2 cups sparkling sweet cider

In a large glass pitcher, combine the first 5 ingredients and set aside to macerate for 15 minutes.  Just before serving, add the sparkling cider.  Pour into glasses over ice.  Provide additional fruit slices for the glasses.


I chose to put the ice in the glasses instead of the pitcher as I didn't want the entire pitcher of drinks to become diluted.  It was a good choice.  Having the extra fruit for the glasses was fun, too.

Everybody liked the sangria.  We all agreed that it was refreshing and perfect for a very warm afternoon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What is a Vegetable Tian?

What is a tian?  Tian is a French word that describes an earthenware square or rectangular casserole dish.  A tian can be a variety of dishes but originally referred to a Provencal-style mix of vegetables that are cooked, baked or roasted in a gratin style.

Our vegetable tian was beautiful!  I loved the way the vegetables looked!  They were of a similar size, and stacked next to one another making the dish a colorful as well as tasty experience!

The recipe is from Ina Garten's cookbook, Barefoot in Paris:  Easy French Food You Can Make at Home.

Vegetable Tian
Barefoot in Paris:  Easy French Food You Can Make at Home
Ina Garten

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large yellow onions, cut in half and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound medium round potatoes, unpeeled
3/4 pound zucchini
1-1/4 pounds medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus extra sprigs
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with olive oil.

In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Spread the onion mixture on the bottom of the baking dish.

Slice the potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes in 1/4-inch thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly, making only 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and thyme sprigs and drizzle with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Uncover the dish, remove the thyme sprigs, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake for another 30 minutes until browned. Serve warm.


I think the tian makes a very pretty and colorful presentation.  It was the perfect accompaniment for the Seafood Gratin!  

I am sharing today at Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum and at Fat Camp Friday hosted by Miranda at Mangoes and Chutney!  Thank you ladies for the opportunity!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peacocks at the Park

Spring is definitely in the air!  It is so nice to get out and take a drive into the country or to the park.  We have a beautiful park that I can remember going to as a child.  It had a small amusement park, a swimming pool, and lots of play equipment!  The amusement park and the swimming pool are memories now but the park is still the perfect place to have a family picnic, to cast a line into one of the lakes or to just walk along the shore of the river that runs nearby.  On this day, we went out to see the peacocks.  For as long as I can remember there have been peacocks at the park.....lots of them!

In the spring the males fan their feathers and vibrate them to attract the peahen (female).  They were very busy on the afternoon that we visited.

This fellow had gotten out of the pen so I followed him around the area for a little while.  He put on quite a show then slowly made his way around the outside of the fenced area and decided to re-join his friends.

Today is Outdoor Wednesday hosted by Susan at A Southern Daydreamer, and I am joining in the fun.  If you have some time, stop by to see the adventures that are being shared.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Warm Salad with Grilled Asparagus and Prawns with Sherry Vinaigrette

Our dinner continued with a wonderful warm asparagus salad garnished with chopped egg, ribbons on ham, capers and mushrooms and layered with succulent was delightful.  In fact, for me, it could have been the entire meal.  It was filling and left little room for what was to come!  I think this would be wonderful served for brunch.  It is a beautiful and elegant salad.

Now for the sad news...I didn't get there in time with the camera.  I was caught up in helping to plate and serve the salad and didn't think about the camera until it was too late.  There is a picture here.  However the recipe that accompanies the picture is a little different.

The recipe we used came from Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine, The Inn at Little Washington.  The five star Inn and restaurant is located in the historic town of Washington, Virginia  that was founded in 1769 and surveyed by George Washington.

Warm Salad with Grilled Asparagus and Prawns with Sherry Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Grilled Asparagus

12 jumbo asparagus, trimmed and peeled
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf, crushed
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup Sherry Vinaigrette
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1.  Preheat the grill to high.
2.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Fill a mixing bowl with ice water and set aside.
3.  Add the asparagus to boiling water.  Cook 3-4 minutes, or until spears are just tender.  Remove the spears and immediately place in bowl of ice water.  Drain.
4.  Marinate the asparagus in the olive oil, bay leaf, and garlic.  This can be prepared in advanced and stored in the refrigerator overnight.
5.  Place the marinated asparagus on the grill and cook for about 1 minute on each side, until marked by the grill and warmed through.
6.  Remove the asparagus from the grill, place them in a large mixing bowl, toss with the Sherry Vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper.  Keep warm.


6 extra-large blue prawns or 3/4 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and split lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 Tbsp chopped shallot
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

1.  Season the prawns with salt and pepper
2.  In a 10-inch skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat until almost smoking.  Place the prawns in the skillet, turn the heat to medium, and cook for about a minute.
3.  Add the butter, shallot, garlic, and tarragon and continue to cook for another minute, or until just pink.
4.  Remove the prawns from the pan and keep warm.


1 hard boiled egg, roughly chopped
3 slices ham cut into ribbons (1/4 inch wide)
1 Tbsp capers, drained
1/2 cup white button mushrooms, cut into matchsticks
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

1.  Place 3 grilled asparagus spears in the center of each of four plates.
2.  Sprinkle the asparagus with chopped egg, ham ribbons, capers, and mushrooms.
3.  Place 1/4 of prawns or shrimp on top of each serving.
4.  Drizzle each plate with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Sherry Vinaigrette

Yield:  3 cups

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp chopped shallot
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp dry sherry
2/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup salad oil
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together in a large stainless steel bowl.  Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Store in the refrigerator and shake well or whisk thoroughly before using.


This was a super salad and the cookbook is excellent!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Apple Brandy-Glazed Shrimp and Sausage and Mustard Batons

I always seem to panic when the Gourmet Group is coming...why?  Because I hate trying to figure out what to do for a centerpiece.  It has always been a challenge for me.  My friend and fellow group member came to the rescue.  She arrived on the doorstep with a lovely bouquet of orchids that she had grown.  I think they are stunning and were perfect for the evening.  Thank you, friend!

Since it was warm outside when we had the Gourmet Group over, the gal responsible for the appetizers was able to prepare one of the appetizers on the grill. They were very tasty.  The guys actually hovered over the serving plate!

Apple Brandy-Glazed Shrimp and Sausage
Caprial's Bistro-Style Cuisine

12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails on
3 chorizo or other spicy sausage

1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup apple brandy
1/2 cup cider
2 Tbsp honey
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Set wooden skewers to soak in water.  Bring a stockpot of water to a boil.  Add the sausage and blanch for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a colander to cool.

To prepare the glaze, heat the olive oil in a saute pan over high heat until hot.  Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant,l about 1 minute.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the brandy, and return the pan to the burner.  Cook until the brandy is reduced by half, then add the apple cider and reduce again by half.  Add the honey and jalapeno and cook for about 2 miutes.  Remove from the heat, stir in the oil, thyme, and black pepper, then set aside to cool.

Cut the sausages on the diagonal into pieces.  Place 1 shrimp and 1 slice of sausage on a skewer, then repeat adding another shrimp and a;nother piece of sausage.  Repeat with the remaining skewering the remaining shrimp and sausage.

Place the skewers on the prepared grill and generously brush the top and sides with the glaze.  After about 2 minutes, turn the skewers and brush them again with the glaze.  Cook for another 2 minutes, until shrimp is just cooked through.  Brush lightly with the glaze on all sides and serve.


Since we had a large group of folks a second appetizer was added, Mustard Batons from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  I was late getting to the batons with a camera....I am glad I got there before they all disappeared.  This was my favorite of the two appetizers.  I loved the tang of the mustard and the crunch of the pastry accompanied by a glass of Pinot Grigio!  Dorie has made this recipe available on her website here.

I am sending this to Seasonal Sundays at The Tablescaper, French Fridays with Dorie, as well as Make a Foodie Friend Monday at The Saturday Evening Pot

One more shot of the orchids...they are so beautiful!