Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easy peasy: Herbaceous pea and walnut pesto makes for a fresh take on a classic sauce

Add color and flavor to pesto sauce using frozen peas and other ingredients.

Posted by on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Frozen peas. I guarantee that most of you have them hanging out in your freezer. What if I told you that besides using them as a green side dish, or as a makeshift ice pack, peas can also be used to add color and flavor to pesto sauce? Bonus: It's also another sneaky way to get your kids or resident veggie-hater to eat peas.

The main components of a pesto sauce are herbs, nuts and oil. Other aromatics like garlic can be thrown in, as well as cheese (classically, Parmesan). But why be limited to the standard pine nut, basil and Parm pesto when you can use a multitude of other ingredients to add both color and flavor?

For this pesto recipe, I used a bag of (thawed) frozen peas to add a hint of sweetness and a light green hue — also, because I already had them in my freezer. In place of pricey pine nuts, I substituted toasted walnuts, and in addition to basil, I threw in chives and spinach to boost the color and herbaceous flavor. To round it all out, I added a pinch of red pepper flakes for a slight hint of spice and some fresh lemon juice to add a bright flavor and enhance the other ingredients.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Thyme for Spring: Ring in spring with this simple lemon-thyme yogurt cake

This lemony, herbaceous cake is sweet and tangy with hints of fresh thyme, and it's perfect for a brunch fête or as an after-dinner treat.

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 10:44 AM

Inspired by the sunny, bright and warmer days that are on our doorstep, here's a sweet and easy treat to whip up to ring in the spring season. This citrusy cake is sweet and tangy with hints of fresh thyme — perfect for a brunch fête or an after-dinner treat.

My inspiration for this recipe is the classic French yogurt cake. According to cookbook author and baking expert Dorie Greenspan, this is one of the very few baked goods the French will actually make at home because of its simplicity — with all of the amazing patisseries available to them, most sweets are purchased instead of being homemade. Most of the ingredients are already in most peoples' pantries and refrigerators and since its base is so simple, this cake makes a great blank canvas for extra flavor addition and experimentation.

For my twist on the original recipe, I substituted Greek for regular yogurt as it's a bit tangier, added lemon zest for a zing of brightness, and threw in some fresh thyme leaves as it goes very well with lemon and adds an herbaceous note. Instead of the vegetable oil that the original recipe called for, I used olive oil in its place to add a deeper yellow color to the batter. The powdered sugar glaze adds an extra touch of sweetness, but it's totally optional. This cake would also be amazing with any other type of citrus, too: grapefruit, key lime, tangerine — you name it.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A medley of goodness: Paella Valencia

Revel in this savory hot rice dish on Thursday for National Spanish Paella Day.

Posted by on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 8:33 AM

  • Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant

Developed along the eastern coast of Spain in Valencia, paella came on the foodie scene in the mid-19th century. Typically, white rice, saffron and olive oil are combined with a variety of meats, seafood and veggies to create this signature Spanish dish, which is traditionally prepared over an open flame.

If long lists of ingredients lead you to shy away from recipes, don’t be intimidated. All or most of the ingredients may be found at your grocery store, and although paella may be a bit time-consuming, its directions are relatively simple. Plus, you only need two pans to cook with — one for the paella, and another to steam the shellfish in beforehand.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Give leeks a chance this St. Patty's Day: Braised Leeks and Irish Bacon

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, try braised leek and Irish bacon.

Posted by on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 8:21 AM

  • Katie Machol Simon

March has finally rolled around again, and that means it’s time to break out the green garb, beer and food for St. Patrick’s Day. You might have the former two covered, so I’m here to give you a stellar dish that, believe it or not, doesn’t involve potatoes: braised leeks and Irish bacon.

The main feature of this savory recipe is the luscious leek, that green-and-white root vegetable that looks like an overgrown scallion (green onion). It’s related to both the onion and garlic, but tastes more like a mild onion, and is crunchy and firm when raw. Leeks can be boiled, braised, baked, fried, and even eaten raw, but only the light green root shaft and white base are used when cooking — the dark green leaves must be removed. Leeks are often used in both French and Irish cuisine.

The other main component of this dish is rashers, a.k.a. Irish bacon. Similar to Canadian bacon, Irish bacon is considered “back bacon,” having been cut from the pork loin; but Irish rasher bacon also includes a thin layer of fat around the meat and some of the fattier belly meat, where all American-style bacon comes from.

With the addition of some broth, garlic, heat, and a little luck o’ the Irish (actually, just the ability to follow a recipe), these leeks and rashers come together to make a hearty accompaniment to an Irish meal. It’s simple to prepare and cooks up in minutes. Besides, you’ll need to line your stomach with something healthy before boozing it up in celebration on the 17th, perhaps something that’s naturally green and not just loaded with green dye.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Easy and Exotic: Quick(er) Chicken Tikka Masala

Craving something exotic for dinner but don't feel like ordering takeout?

Posted by on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 2:49 PM

  • Katie Machol Simon

Craving something exotic for dinner but don't feel like ordering takeout? Then look no further than this easy-to-prepare version of Chicken Tikka Masala. This creamy, spiced Indian comfort food is worth the effort to make and much more rewarding (and healthier) than ordering takeout.

This adaptation of the beloved Indian dish, just needs one pan to be cooked in as, instead of broiling the yogurt- and spice-marinated chicken tikka beforehand, it is cooked in the same pan that the masala "gravy" sauce is prepared. Aside from the chicken needing at least thirty minutes to marinate, the sauce only takes about fifteen minutes to whip up. Best of all, this tikka is a little lighter than the original because I swapped the heavy cream out for the yogurt marinade that's stirred in at the end to thicken the sauce. As for the accompanying basmati rice, my suggestion is to get it started cooking while the chicken marinates, before the sauce is started — or just cheat and buy a brand that you can quickly cook in the microwave here (I won't judge).

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Risotto Remix: Farro gives a classic Italian dish a whole grain twist

Posted by on Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM

I'm sure most of you have had or at least heard of risotto before — a creamy, classic Italian dish made with short-grain, arborio rice that's a veritable blank canvas as it can be made with about a million different accompanying herbs, vegetables, proteins, etc. Well, I've recently come upon risotto in a slightly different form and I must admit that I'm quite smitten with it. What's the difference in the recipe? Farro! Formally known as "farrotto" in Italian, it is made exactly like risotto except that the farro grain replaces the arborio rice. It cooks up just like arborio, creating a tender and creamy risotto-like consistency with a slightly nutty flavor, and, bonus: it has significantly more health benefits.

Farro is a grain that comes from emmer, a species of wheat and has been around since ancient Roman times — it was a staple of the Roman diet and was even used as currency at times. It has been grown in Tuscany for centuries and is always cultivated traditionally, without the use of pesticides. Besides being great because it's a whole grain, farro's other health perks include being high in fiber, B vitamins, and both simple and complex carbs.
This grain has quite a tough outer layer, or "hull", and comes in three different forms: whole (hull intact), semi-pearled (semi-hulled), and pearled (hulled). While the semi-pearled and pearled versions are quicker-cooking, they do not have quite as much fiber and nutrients as the "whole" type of farro because said nutrients are mostly contained in the hull.

As I mentioned above, this super grain can easily be utilized in place of arborio rice for risotto. It cooks up to be creamy, but with a nice al dente bite to it — the farro's starches are slowly released with the low and slow cooking, with each addition of cooking liquid. Farro can also be used in soups, grain salads, and it makes a great substitute for oatmeal in the morning.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Best of the day: Cheese department at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg

Posted by on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 7:40 AM

It's true, if I had ample disposable income, quite a bit would be spent on cheese. Not on some no-name brick of cheddar, this isn't about quantity. I'm an explorer hot on the pursuit of cheese knowledge. But this journey is a costly one, upwards of $20 a pound. So in the meantime, I've got a cheese-tasting hack for getting some budget-friendly cheese action.

Inside Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg is one of the area's most eclectic cheese departments. There's an entire staff devoted just to cheese, that's their sole focus and forte. And they really know cheese. During the past holiday season, the Mazzaro's cheese room staff correctly identified a cheese based on two vague keywords along the lines of "that cheese" and a series of subsequent questions (it was Jarlsberg).

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Whole grains you might not have heard of (but should probably be eating)

Great grains you might not know about.

Posted by on Sat, Jan 18, 2014 at 8:07 AM


It's January which means you've probably been inundated with about a million articles and recipes on ways to eat healthier, jumpstart your diet, and blah, blah, blah, by now. Am I right? Well, guess what — I'm going to lay another "healthy" article on you (but this one is actually pretty good).

The subject: whole grains. They come in a variery of forms, plus they're deliciously versatile and incredibly easy to make, and these complex carbs pretty darn good for you. Whole grains are nutrient-dense and chock full of vitamins, protein and antioxidants. While they're considered to be a health food by some, whole grains are making a culinary resurgence and popping up on restaurant menus everywhere as a replacement to typical the starchy side dishes of pasta and potatoes.

Here's the rundown on a handful of great whole grain varieties that you may not have already been aware of. I encourage you to expand your culinary horizons and try them out.

Amaranth: Native to Mexico and Peru, the miniscule amaranth grain is a powerhouse of protein, iron, and potassium, and it's also a good source of lysine and Vitamin C. Bonus: it's gluten-free! To cook amaranth, use 6 cups water to one cup amaranth, put into boiling water, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Amaranth can also be "popped" in a dry pan over medium-high heat, giving it a soft, yet crunchy texture and a nutty flavor. Try it dry popped and sprinkled over a dish to give it a crunchy topping.

Barley: Considered to be an old-school grain that's making a comeback, barley is a versatile, nutty-flavored grain that's slightly chewy and has a pasta-like texture when cooked. It's very high in fiber and nutrients, and can help to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks. To cook, measure 2 1/2 cups water to one cup barley, put barley in the water in a pot, bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, on low heat for about 30-45 minutes or until the barley is cooked through and water has dissolved. Try it cooked and added to soup to add texture and fiber.

Farro: Considered to be an "Old World heirloom" grain, farro has been grown in Tuscany for generations and is a staple of many Tuscan dishes. It can be found it its whole grain form, semi-pearled and pearled — the latter two having more of the outer bran removed. Farro has a good amount of fiber and B vitamins, but loses some of its nutrients when the bran is removed. To cook, combine with 2-3 cups water and bring to a boil; simmer, covered, for anywhere from 25-45+ minutes (depending on which type you're using) until tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Try it in place of arborio rice in risotto as it has a similar texture when cooked.

Kamut: Also known as Khorasan wheat, this grain is an "ancient grain" species of wheat native to Afghanistan and northeast Iran and was only recently rediscovered in more recent times. Kamut has a smooth texture and a nutty, buttery flavor. It almost 40% more protein than traditional wheat and is considered a "high-energy" grain as it contains a higher amount of lipids and fatty acids. To cook, soak 1 cup of kamut in 3 cups of water overnight; drain soaking water, add kamut to 3 cups of boiling water, and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until grains are tender (drain off excess water). Try it added to a soup or stew at the beginning of the cooking process as it can handle a long simmering time.

Millet: Though millet is a main ingredient in bird feed, I assure you that this gluten-free grain isn't just for the birds. Grown around the globe for thousands of years, this small-seeded grass ranks sixth on the list of the world's most-produced grains. High in manganese, magnesium, dietary fiber, and B vitamins, millet is a great choice for a heart-healthy diet as it has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks. When cooked, this tiny grain is mild in flavor which makes it great served in sweet or savory dishes. To cook, bring 1 cup millet to a boil in 2 ¾ cups water, bring to a simmer and cook for 13-18 minutes, then let stand 10 minutes to allow excess water to be absorbed. It can also be toasted in a dry pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes before boiling to give it a fluffier texture. Try it as a porridge for breakfast in place of oatmeal.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Yep, we’re talking about the Chia Pet and those little chia seeds that adorned them.

Posted by on Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 4:00 AM

NEW SEEDSATION: Those little chia seeds make some mighty fine pudding. - KATIE MACHOL SIMON
  • Katie Machol Simon
  • NEW SEEDSATION: Those little chia seeds make some mighty fine pudding.

Remember that animal-shaped terra cotta pot from the ’80s that you had to smear wet seeds on, which would later sprout “hair” (grass)? Who knew that you could eat those slimy seeds? Over 20 years later, chia seeds have revealed themselves as a healthy addition to your diet.

Formally known as Salvia hispanica, the flowering chia plant is native to Mexico. Its seeds have been cultivated for food since the age of the Aztecs, as important a crop to them as maize (corn). When soaked in a liquid, chia seeds puff up — absorbing about 12 times their weight — and form a gelatinous outer shell (chia “gel”). Aztec warriors would use them as a portable food staple during battles, supposedly sustaining themselves for a whole day after consuming just one tablespoon of chia gel.

What is it about the chia seed that’s got the health food community going ga-ga? They’ve got a ton of nutrients packed into their tiny shells: the USDA claims that one ounce of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 11 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of protein, and provide 18 percent of the recommended daily intake of calcium. They’re chock full of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (read: the good fats), too.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Home cooking 101

Simple tips for highly effective at-home cooking.

Posted by on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 2:04 PM

HOW TO: Get cooking with these  easy-to-learn cooking habits.
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • HOW TO: Get cooking with these easy-to-learn cooking habits.

Being a cooking instructor, I’m often quizzed about simple cooking tips that anyone can learn. It inspired me to compile this first installment of basic skills that every home cook should master. Even if you're a pro, read along and perhaps you’ll pick up a thing or two.

Achieving an attractive pan-seared crisp exterior on meat, poultry and fish (or just about anything) is quite simple, but there are a few rules to follow. First, the pan and oil in the pan used to cook the product must be hot — depending on what you’re cooking, medium-high heat works best. Sprinkle some pepper into the pan to see if the oil is ready: if it sizzles upon contact, you’re good to go.

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