When You Just Gotta Have Some ‘Cue

When You Just Gotta Have Some ‘Cue

The absolute best thing about living in the South is the barbecue. Slow-roasted, smoked, seasoned, sauced it’s all just delicious! Just riding down the road you spy place after place after place, touting their version of the best barbecue in town. You can’t possibly eat at every mom and pop, checkered table-clothed, pass-the-pickles restaurant that there is, but if you are like me, you just might try!

Sometimes, you have a barbecue craving that just can’t wait. It’s a desperation kinda thing! You long for the twang of the sauce, whether it be molasses-thick, or vinegary tart. The meat has to be sliced thin enough, or perhaps just thick enough with crispy brown edges that snap in your mouth. The bun is soft, the cole slaw piled on top and yes…. you might just have a side or two of hush puppies to go along with your cue.

Want to know how to get that slow-roasted, barbecue flavor at home, in just under an hour? I have a secret. Please don’t give me away to any of the locals, because this just ain’t a bit authentic, and we know how important traditions are in these parts. But, it will work just fine – especially if you are in another part of the country, and just can’t go on down the road to satisfy your hankerin’ for Southern-style barbecue.

Slow Roasted Pork Tenderloin

A video of making this magic is coming to Youtube soon! A video of making this magic is coming to Youtube soon!

Serves 6 to 8

60 Minute Cuisine

3 tablespoons bacon fat (substitute with a combination of butter and olive oil)

2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins

1 tablespoon prepared steak seasoning (substitute with a combination of garlic salt and onion salt)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup barbecue sauce

For Sammies:

6 to 8 soft hamburger buns

Cole slaw


More sauce!

Preheat the oven to 300°. Heat the bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Season the tenderloins with steak seasoning, salt and pepper. Place the tenderloins into the hot fat (it will spit back at you so be careful). Brown the pork on all sides, about 5 minutes. Use a pot holder to place the skillet into the oven. Roast the pork for 45 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven. Pour 1 cup (or more) barbecue sauce over the pork. Return the skillet to the oven and cook for 15 minutes more.

Remove the skillet from the oven. DO NOT forget to use your pot holder! Cover the meat with aluminum foil and rest for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to your work surface and slice. Pile sliced pork onto the buns. Top the meat with extra sauce, cole-slaw and pickles. Yee haw!!

Mmm…squash! I know just what to stuff it with!

Mmm…squash! I know just what to stuff it with!

They say variety is the spice of life, and I found someone who can offer it to me in spades! One of my favorite farmers here in the North Carolina Mountains is Lee Carlton of Goldenrod Gardens. She epitomizes the country lifestyle with her high spirits, bohemian style and earth-friendly ways. Her flowers are a hit at the market; there’s always a queue at her stall. This is what she looks like, with a link to her lovely farm:

http://www.goldenrodgardens.net/ http://www.goldenrodgardens.net/

Anywho….I’m lucky enough to have her hand-select a few special items for me each week. Recently it was a variety of interesting squash and eggplant.  There were patty pan squash and baseball-shaped cousa, which are pale, speckled green squash – a bit like zucchini but rounder, more tender, sweeter and thinner skinned. These are often used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and are excellent for stuffing. Lee also offered several varieties of eggplant. Narrow and long, Japanese and Chinese eggplant are white, green or purple in color. There were also Indian or baby eggplants. These had thin skin and less seeds, so chopping became a breeze! Here’s a shot of some of nature’s bounty from that day:

I laid out my gifts from Lee, and decided to create a stuffed cousa dish that contained all my favorite things; squash, eggplant, and onions of course; then I added chorizo sausage, white beans and a bit of grated cheddar cheese. Well, it was pretty yummy! Here’s my recipe for you to use as a guideline, the next time you happen upon some new varieties of squash or eggplant.

Stuffed Cousa Squash With Chorizo, White Beans and Cheddar

Serves 4

30 Minute Cuisine

4 cousa squash

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ medium eggplant, peeled and chopped, about 1 cup, (substitute with Japanese, Chinese, Indian or baby eggplants)

1 small white or purple spring onion, green top removed, diced, about 1 cup

1 small poblano pepper, veins and seeds removed, diced, about ½ cup

4 ounces fresh chorizo sausage

½ cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed

2 ounces grated cheddar cheese, about ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the tops off the squash. Use a spoon to remove the inside flesh. Dice the flesh into small pieces and set aside. Place the squash into a baking dish, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with some of the salt and pepper. Bake until the squash is just tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in to a skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the diced squash, eggplants, onion and pepper to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the veggies are tender and begin to turn brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the chorizo sausage to the veggies. Stir and cook until the chorizo is browned and crumbly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the beans and cheese.

Spoon the filling into the cousa squash. If you have extra filling, just spoon it around the squash… it’s all good! Reduce the heat to 300°. Bake until the squash is completely tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Childlike Delight over Beef Bourguignon. My Fast Skillet Version of Julia’s Classic!

Childlike Delight over Beef Bourguignon. My Fast Skillet Version of Julia’s Classic!

A cityscape in Bordeaux…the lush countryside is right around the bend. I promise to get to it after popping into this cafe…

A trip to Bordeaux, France is a journey through vineyards tucked into lush hillsides. Single story stone chateaus haven’t changed since they were built. Sheep roam free, chickens produce eggs with golden yolks and the wine…well, there is the wine…descriptions of which, I’ll save for another time!

French food is artistry on a plate. Each item is perfectly presented. Vegetables are diced precisely the same size – little squares to be exact. Proteins are masterfully portioned. The desserts are too beautiful to eat. And, just when you decide it would be a sin to dive into the plate placed in front of you, you taste… and ah! … you know why you made the trip.

I was the most surprised at a meal we had at the local bistro, Pot-au-feu. We translated the dish to mean “beef stew”, which we recognized as a classic family meal. I expected a thick, rich stew with a fragrant red wine sauce, much like Julia Child’s famous beef bourguignon. But, instead, we ended up devouring a veggie-studded broth, with a slice of tender beef on the top.

Beef Bourguignon at French bistro, Pot-au-feu Beef Bourguignon at French bistro, Pot-au-feu

You can see from the photo above…It looked to be a simple dish, yet nuanced flavors were there in every bite. This is achieved by creating a broth from marrow and oxtail bones, infused with leeks and carrots. It was delicious, but I found myself wanting just a bite or two of the other famous French beef dish – one I vowed to make upon my return home, The Art of French Cooking propped up on my counter…a few shortcuts and modifications, though – sorry, Julia!

Home again, home again. After the jet lag wore off, I was back in my kitchen, cooking up a couple of my French favorites; among the first: a traditional wine-laced beef stew. Mine is a tad easier to make, as I favor the lightening quick stovetop and skillet approach over Julia’s traditional overnight method.

If you’re in the mood for a dish from Bordeaux, try my recipe for a skillet version of Beef Bourguignon, taken from my Sunday Best Dishes book –due out in print this summer!

Skillet Beef Bourguignon

The delectable finished product The delectable finished product

 Normally, the rich taste of beef cooked in wine takes hours, but in this recipe, it’s on your Sunday supper table in minutes. A tender cut of meat, and steaming the veggies before putting them in the sauce is key. Another secret: a little slurry of cornstarch and water gives the sauce a luscious sheen. Serve this dish over Polenta with Asiago Cheese or Creamy Smashed Parmesan Potatoes.


1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces bacon, cut into pieces (about 4 slices)

3 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces, blanched

1 (10-ounce bag) frozen pearl onions, thawed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse pepper

1 cup cognac

1 cup red wine

2 cups homemade beef broth, or low sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook until just browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The cubes should be very rare in the center. Transfer the meat and bacon to a bowl.

Turn off the heat. Pour in the cognac. Add the vegetables. Turn on the heat and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Turn off the heat and pour in the wine. Turn the heat back on and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in 1 cup beef broth. Reduce until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in the last cup of broth, and reduce until there is about 1 cup liquid remaining in the skillet with the vegetables. This process will take about 10 minutes.

Add the meat back into the sauce. Stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook until the sauce is smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. The meat should remain rare to medium-rare. Sprinkle fresh parsley over top.

Backyard Steak House Party

Backyard Steak House Party

It’s that time of year when we Floridians host our “Up North” friends, as they ditch their wintery blusters and head south for a weekend visit. Friday is usually “entry night”, when we stay in for a feet-on-the table kinda comfort food night. But, this past weekend was a bit different. Turns out the visit was planned around a girlfriend’s birthday, and, well, that just spells P A R T Y!!

One invite led to another, and before you know it my stay-in entry night included a crowd coming for dinner. Being the party girl that I am (wink wink), my plan was to make the meal ahead, so that I could enjoy visiting with my pals. Default to steakhouse fare: salad starter, shared sides, and a hot-off-the grill perfectly cooked steak. My menu was simple: Antipasti appys, my famous Caesar salad, au gratin potatoes with cheese and bacon, creamed spinach topped with sautéed mushrooms, grilled steak and really, really chocolatey cake. Is your mouth watering yet??? The secret to my stress-free evening is that EVERYTHING can be prepared in advance…except the steaks, but I had lots and lots of grillers in attendance!

In order to guarantee a perfect meal, I chose “spinalis” as my steakhouse star. If spinalis sounds unfamiliar, you may have seen it on restaurant menus in its other form “butter steak” or “cap steak”. So, what is this fabulous find, and how do you get your hands on it?

P.S. Here’s a visual to help you out

Spinalis is the marbled cap of a bone-in Ribeye. Visualize a thick slice of prime rib roast. The cap piece has a little more fat than the center piece, and is much more flavorful. In order to prepare the spinalis as a cap steak, the butcher purchases a whole ribeye, then removes the spinalis from the top. The remaining beef is cut into the bone-in ribeye steaks. The butcher then rolls the spinalis into what looks like a long log. He ties it at intervals with butcher twine, and then slices it into rounds. Voila – you have a beautiful cap steak.

Let’s take the process one step further. If the spinalis comes from a Prime Rib Roast, then it is a prime cut of cap steak. Only about 3% of the beef in America is graded USDA prime, carried by only the finest butchers and restaurants. Often rib roasts masquerade as prime rib in supermarkets, which typically carry USDA Choice, but not USDA Prime meats.

Where do you find this well-marbled, tender, favorable steak?? Run, don’t walk to your local COSTCO. Yes, COSTCO. Go to the very back of the store where they offer USDA Prime cuts of beef, like sirloin, fillet and ribeye steaks and look carefully. There they are, rolled and tied, trimmed and inviting! Because the steaks are round they look like filet mignon, but they cook quicker and more evenly, making those guest grillers the star chefs of the evening.

You don’t have to entertain weekend guests to host your next steakhouse party. And you certainly don’t have to have it on your back deck in balmy breezes. A steakhouse menu is just as ideal served indoors, next to a toasty fire. As long as there are good friends involved, a party is a party wherever you have it!

Grilled Cap Steak

With Creamed Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

Serves 4

30 Minute Cuisine

Here’s an update on your favorite steakhouse meal. Choose the perfect steak and combine two side dishes to create one special meal.

For spinach

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced

2 pounds fresh spinach leaves, about 8 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated, about ½ cup

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

For mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

½ pound fresh assorted wild mushrooms, sliced, about 2 cups

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup

For Steak

4 (6 to 8-ounce) prime cap steaks

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Soy sauce

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder


Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the spinach leaves and cook until they just begin to wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sautéed spinach to a baking dish. (For a fun twist, divide the spinach into individual casserole dishes.)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until bubbling, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce begins to thicken, about 4 to 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the Gruyere cheese. Pour the cream sauce over the spinach and toss to combine.

Use the same skillet that you used for the spinach to melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan. DO NOT TOUCH THEM until they are deeply golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the mushrooms over and sauté on the second side until golden, about another 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the mushrooms over the spinach. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake the spinach until the cheese is melted and the spinach is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Marinate the steaks in a large bowl or dish by seasoning with Worcestershire, Soy, garlic and onion powders. Prepare an outdoor grill, or grill pan on top of the stove to medium high heat. Just before grilling, season the steaks with salt and pepper. Cap steaks will cook more quickly than their look alike filets. Grill for about 3 to 4 minutes per side, and then check for doneness. Let the steaks rest for 5 minutes before serving.




Last of the Summer Tomatoes Taste Fab in these Recipes

Last of the Summer Tomatoes Taste Fab in these Recipes

Growing season for tomatoes, June through September, finds this versatile fruit at its peak in some states, where temperatures remain hot, hot, hot well past Labor Day. Home cooks all over the country are getting ready to tailgate for the big game – that means lots of BBQ sauce and piping hot vats of chili – for that you’re going to need tomatoes – lots of ’em! I found a brand of canned that has never let me down, never tasted bitter or chemically sweet; a brand that offers all the complex and savory flavors the classic tomato is supposed to have. I like this brand so much, I contacted them about sharing one of my recipes to their Tomato Vine Blog. But don’t click on it yet! I’m not done talking tomato.

Every summer and early Fall, I stock up on my favorite kinds of fresh tomatoes, loving the multi colored (and multi-shaped!) variety at farmers markets on Saturdays. My home state of Florida is one of the two biggest producers of tomatoes in the USA; the other is California. Sorry Sunshine State, but I got addicted to Muir Glen Organic that comes from San Joaquin Valley, CA. In fact, I like this canned variety so much that if I run out of fresh, I turn to them for my spaghetti sauces and Real Deal ketchup.

Everyone who knows my cooking, also knows that I prefer fresh ingredients, and don’t turn to canned ones as my first choice. I make an exception when it’s Muir Glen because you can’t tell the difference between their product, and cooking with a sack of fresh tomatoes from the store – that’s actually a huge savings, when you think about it. Recently, I tested a recipe (to be featured in an upcoming cookbook) that called for LOTS of tomatoes. Using canned was far more economical than smashing up fruits from the farmers market. In my Vietnamese Eggplant Stew, I used a 28-ounce can of Muir Glen Organic Peeled Tomatoes, and was on Cloud 9 by dinner time. I also swapped out the butternut squash for acorn squash in this Bon Appetite recipe, and hit a home run using Muir Glen.

Tomatah, Tomato

Here’s my eggplant-tomato stew; instructions and an inspirational note of where I learned to make it are included. Happy eating, my friends – I’ve modified the recipe, so there’s enough to feed you, plus friends!

This stew, Vietnamese Eggplant, is tomato rich, and will appear in my next book! This stew, Vietnamese Eggplant, is tomato rich, and will appear in my next book!


Vietnamese Eggplant Stew

Serves 8

Prep time: about 40 minutes

The city of Hoi An in Vietnam has an amazing fresh market and a wonderful cooking school, Red Bridge. This is one of the signature dishes that the chef teaches his students. It’s prepared it in individual clay pots, which adds a wonderful dimension and depth of flavor. This is my version of the dish we created in school. The eggplant is rich and velvety and delicious. Serve the stew as a side dish or add rice to make it a veggie main.

2 teaspoons peanut oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 stalk lemongrass, outer layer discarded, sliced

1 (28 ounce) can Muir Glen Organic Ground Peeled Tomatoes

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 large eggplant, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 small red chili, seeded, veins removed, cut into thin strips

¼ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 green onion, diagonally sliced

        Heat the peanut oil in a deep pot with lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemongrass to the pot and stir. Add the tomatoes to the pot. Stir in 2 tablespoons water. Simmer until the vegetables break down, about 2 minutes. Stir in half of the fish sauce and half of the sugar. Add the eggplant to the pot. Pour in 1 cup water. Add the remaining fish sauce and sugar. Stir in the chili, turmeric, and pepper. If you prefer a smoother stew, this recipe does fine, pulsed in a blender and returned to the stock pot in batches. Simmer until the eggplant is soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and sliced green onions.

Farmers Market Tip

Prepare the tomatoes for this recipe by bringing a pot of water to boil. Cut an “x” into the bottom skin of the tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute. Test the skin by pulling up on the edge of the x. If the skin begins to lift easily, the tomatoes are ready. Transfer the tomatoes to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Peel and cut in half. Squeeze out the seeds and chop the tomatoes.