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Thursday, May 19, 2011

As promised... Red Lobster Biscuits

I admit.  I'm not a huge fan of Red Lobster.  I've often said the only reason to go to Red Lobster is for the biscuits.  My husband has corrected this statement.  He argues that the bar has a lot to offer as well.  We rarely go for anything other than biscuits and Mai Tais, and when we do we're met with the usual disappointment.

Anyone who has visited a good seafood restaurant knows that Red Lobster pales in comparison.  I'm not even talking about the expensive seafood restaurants with white tablecloths.  Well prepared, fresh seafood is a treat unrivaled in a foodie's life.  

(Side Note:  One of the best places for seafood, in my opinion, is a small riverside restaurant open to the elements in Southport, NC called Yacht Basin Provision Company; but simply referred to by locals (of which I used to be) as Provisions.  The tables are plastic, as is the cutlery.  The beer, wine and soda is self serve.  But the steamed shrimp are cooked perfectly.  The grouper salad is refreshing and delicious after a day spent collecting too much sun on the boat, beach, or golf course.  Speaking of boats, you can dock yours right at the restaurant.  None of the dishes here are fancy, and the service certainly isn't what the name would imply, but the food is good and always fresh.  Locals and tourists alike line up outside the restaurant waiting for tables from May through September. It's a perfect place to enjoy a summer afternoon with some delicious seafood, drinks, and in good company.)

What I'm saying is there is no longer any reason to poison yourself with Red Lobster "seafood" in order to enjoy their delicious rolls.  I have a recipe that will fool your tastebuds into thinking you're at the garishly colored tables of this terrific (in the archaic sense of the word: "causing terror") restaurant.  

Almost Red Lobster Biscuits (from the Fayetteville Observer, 5/18/11)

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
½ cup shortening
2/3 cup cold milk
8 ounces shredded cheddar (1 cup)
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup minced fresh parsley

Heat oven to 450°.  Stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl. 
Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or 2 knives (or use a food processor), until the mixture looks like small peas. 
Stir in the milk with a fork just until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.  Stir in the cheese. 
Place butter and garlic in a 9” X 13” pan.  Place in the oven until butter melts and the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and stir in the parsley. 
Use about ¼ cup dough to form a ball.  Roll it in the butter mixture to coat and arrange in the pan.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Pat down top slightly so bottom of biscuit is flat.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until just golden. 
Spoon any remaining butter on top.  Serve warm.

 Makes 12

NOTE:  After making this recipe a few times I've tweaked it to work better for me.
*Instead of following the directions to cut in the shortening, I use my hands.  
*Add more milk that the recipe calls for, adding little by little until the dough comes together and is less flaky.
*Melt butter and garlic in a bowl in the microwave.  Transfer to 9"X13" dish and shift pan to cover bottom with melted butter.  Return butter and garlic to bowl and stir in the parsley.
*Form biscuit balls, roll in butter mixture and place in baking pan.  Reserve remaining butter for when the biscuits have finished cooking.  Brush finished biscuits with remaining butter.  Serve immediately.  So good!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

5 Reasons your food doesn’t taste as good as what you get at a restaurant…

Every ambitious cook has done it.  Experienced a dish in a restaurant and thought “I can do that.”  After consulting countless recipes on the internet, you give your favorite dish a go in your own kitchen.  You follow the recipe to the letter and when you taste it, it just isn’t the same.  Here are some things that could have gone wrong:

5.  You don’t have access to the same ingredients as the restaurant.  Restaurants are able to purchase their food from high end food suppliers for a wholesale price.  Better restaurants (not your favorite chain) generally hand pick everything from their burger bun to their butter (important ingredients to any chef) in order to craft the tastes and flavors they want.  These small changes can affect the end result of your dish.

4.  You substitute hard to find ingredients for more common ones, and you exclude ingredients you don’t like.  I admit to occasional substitution.  It’s a lot easier to substitute American bacon for pancetta when you know you won’t use the latter for more than one dish in a week.  Not to mention the price!  But it definitely changes the flavor.  Think substituting Swiss cheese from the deli for gruyère won’t make a noticeable difference??  Think again.  If you really want your recipe to taste the same, be sure you prepare the recipe as written with the ingredients listed.

My mother excludes ingredients all the time and wonders why my sauces regularly turn out more flavorful than hers.  I use onions in my cooking and momma does not.  She doesn’t like raw onions.  This is a trait I have inherited from her and amazingly, my husband shares.  There’s something about the bite of an onion that just doesn’t suit our palates.  But onions are the base of tons of recipes, and without this layer of flavor your recipes simply won’t have the depth and structure they should.  And once you cook them in a dish, the onion flavor is generally just an ensemble member of a beautiful, harmonic chorus.  So even if you vehemently dislike an ingredient in your recipe, try adding half or a quarter of the recipe amount to give your dish the flavor it requires.

3.  You don’t add enough fat.  I promise you, the chef at your favorite restaurant isn’t worried about your waistline.  He/she wants you to like his culinary creation.  This means doing what it takes to maximize the flavor of the dish, and generally this means adding butter, bacon grease, duck fat, oil or any assortment of fat.  Not afraid of the fat?   Try adding a little butter, straight from the refrigerator, to your burgers.  Pinch ¼ cup of butter into a bowl with 1 pound of ground beef (or better yet, lamb) and gently mix together with salt and pepper.  Form into patties and cook in a skillet over medium high heat 4-7 minutes (to your liking), flip and place your favorite cheese on browned side, cover with lid and cook 4-7 more minutes.  Serve with some good bakery buns and enjoy some of the best burgers you’ve made at home!!

2.  Plating, experience, and service.  Most of us don’t go to the trouble to plate our dishes in the creative and attractive way of our favorite restaurants.  We don’t cultivate parsley for the mere purpose of decorating our dinner plates!  But the truth is we use all our senses when we eat; seeing the attractive food, smelling the delicious aromas, feeling the texture of the bite in your mouth, hearing the crunch.  When your plate is as pleasing to look at as it is to taste, our brains just seem to enjoy the food that much more.

Part of the experience of enjoying a meal away from home is the ambience that comes with a restaurant experience:  the table layout, the intimate lighting and décor, the variation of dishes.  Just getting away from your four walls can titillate your taste buds!  Don’t think I’m right?  Pack a picnic basket with a crusty baguette, extra sharp cheddar, a sliced apple, figs, salami, and a bottle of Malbec (or your favorite lunch) and take it somewhere picturesque and quiet.  Bring one of your favorite people and tell me if your change of scenery doesn’t make for a memorable and delicious lunch!

And let’s be honest…  It’s always better when someone else slaves away at the stovetop, when someone delivers your piping hot dish to your table, and, most of all, it’s better when you don’t have to do the dishes following your feast!

1.  You don’t season your food enough!!  I know, sounds ridiculous.  But from what I hear, it’s true!  Apparently the home cook is intimidated; nay terrified to properly salt and pepper his/her food.  Yes, over-salting food can be really horrific.  There’s little you can do to fix a dish when you’ve slipped and dropped the open Morton’s canister into your skillet as it simmers on the stove.  Not to mention the bad rap salt gets from doctors.  But if you’re eating less processed food and not hitting the drive through every day you probably don’t need to worry about health problems from over-salting.  When I cook I generously sprinkle kosher salt throughout the dish, especially both sides of meat.  If you put this much salt on cooked meat, it would overwhelm the cut.  But generously salting food prior to cooking will just “step it up a notch,” if you will.  Watch any celebrity chef and they will not shy away from the salt!

Now we need to have a serious discussion about pepper.  It is imperative that you ONLY COOK WITH FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER!!!  This is something I feel very, very strongly about.  The pre-ground black pepper is pale in flavor comparison with freshly ground.  You will get a richer, deeper flavor from the freshly ground stuff.  I only have a pepper shaker because it came with the salt shaker (which is rarely needed because I properly salted my food before cooking, thank you).  So next time you cook, add a little more salt than you thought necessary, and break out your new pepper mill.  Your taste buds will thank you!!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The best lasagna I've ever had...

A combination of gooey cheese, bright tomato sauce, and delicious noodles makes for the best lasagna I've ever eaten.  And believe it or not, I made it myself.  Anyone can throw a can of sauce together with a cheese mixture, but what makes a really special Italian dish is making your own sauce.  And it isn't nearly as difficult or time consuming as you think.  Give this one a try sometime!!!

Katie's Lasagna


2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely diced onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. Italian Hot Sausage, ground
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen brand)
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In a large skillet over medium heat saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add sausage and break up with a wooden spoon until browned.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, salt, pepper, and wine.  Simmer until thick, 15-20 minutes.  Stir in parsley and basil.  Let cool 30 minutes before combining with lasagna.

Cheese Mixture:
2 eggs
1 (2 lb) container whole milk ricotta cheese plus one cup (I'll give you a recipe to use up the remainder later)
2 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt & Pepper to taste

Whisk eggs in medium bowl.  Stir in ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, S&P and nutmeg.  

Assemble lasagna in a 13" X 9" baking pan.  Spoon 1.5 cups of sauce into bottom of the pan.  Layer no boil lasagna noodles on sauce.  Spread 1/2 of cheese mixture on top of noodles.  Spoon 1/5 cups of sauce over the cheese mixture.  Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.  Arrange noodles over top.  Spoon remaining cheese mixture over noodles.  Pour remaining sauce over cheese.  Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees 50-60 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove foil and bake 5 more minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

To use the remaining ricotta:  (My take of Olive Garden's Sofatelli) Combine with 1 cup mozzarella, and 1 teaspoon of your choice of thyme, basil, oregano, or parsley.  Salt and pepper the cheese mixture generously and spoon onto puff pastry squares (thaw puff pastry according to package directions, roll into 10 inch square, cut into fourths).  Brush with egg wash (1 egg combined with 1 tablespoon water, whisked together).  Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.  Serve with pasta, steaks, or chicken.