Apple Vinaigrette

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As many of you know, I’m the executive chef for a liberal arts university here in Alabama, and we do a fare share of catered events each year, so I have a lot of “trade tricks” that make my life easier on a daily basis when I’m balancing a full day of meals for our students (about 1500 covers a day) and a few catered events tossed into the mix. At the university, our signature salad has become a mixture of spring mix lettuces with fresh fruit (usually fresh segmented oranges and strawberries) some toasted pecans, a sprinkle of bleu cheese crumbles and apple vinaigrette. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests to share the recipe for apple vinaigrette and while I’ve always been the type to gladly share all of my recipes with my customers, deciding to share this one took some thought. Not because it’s some special recipe of secret ingredients, but because it’s NOT some special recipe! It’s just something I whipped up in the food processor one day and now it is the most requested dressing for salads. It’s so simple, I’m ashamed to put it in print, but it’s quite tasty so give it a try. You won’t be disappointed by the flavor, or the ease in putting it together.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 can (soup can size) natural applesauce
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Toss the garlic into a food processor and run until almost a paste. Add the applesauce, salt and pepper and pulse to combine. With the motor running, add the vinegar, then add the olive oil in a thin stream through the top. Once all the oil is added, let the machine run for another full minute. Pour into a bottle and store in the fridge, using as needed.

This vinaigrette will have a thick consistency, but it’s great tossed into salad greens, and it will keep for a week under refrigeration.

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Beef Medallions with Cherry Port Reduction

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One of my favorite duties in my current role at UM is cooking upscale dinners for the board every time graduation roles around. It gives me a chance to dust off some of the higher end recipes that have collected dust over the years. We feed the students some really tasty food, and some of our catered events have some pretty good recipes, but board dinners allow unlimited creativity and they usually expect to see something a step above our daily offerings. Plus I personally handle all the food preparations for meals where we serve our president or members of the board, so it’s one of the few times I get to actually do some cooking anymore.

I’ve been making variations of this recipe for years. The sauce I just dreamed up one night and it’s sinful! It goes great with so many meats, not just beef. It’s great with pork, venison, chicken or turkey, and it’s extremely easy like most everything else I prepare, but if you’ve never tried grilling a beef tenderloin before, splurge one night and pick one up. Piggly Wiggly stores run some really good deals on whole beef tenders (usually $8.99 a pound during one of their sales) and their meat department will trim it, cut in into steaks if you desire and then make some incredible hamburger meat out of the trimmings.

  • 1-1 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bottle of Port wine (something inexpensive is fine.. I look for Taylor at about $8 a bottle when I’m making this sauce)
  • 1 package dried cherries
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stem and all
  • 1 tsp rich beef base mixed with 1/2 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted, sweet cream butter, cubed

Heat your grill to medium heat, about 400F if using a gas grill. Rub oil all over the beef tenderloin, then salt and pepper. Grill the tenderloin, turning often but not piercing it (don’t want those juices to run out) to the desired doneness. For medium rare, the way I prefer mine, about 22 minutes total cooking time. Remove the tenderloin from the grill, wrap in aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1/3″ thick pieces, arrange 3-4 on a plate and drizzle with the cherry-port reduction (directions below).

To make cherry-port reduction, in a saucepan over medium high heat, add the whole bottle of Port wine, the cherries, garlic, rosemary, and beef base/water mixture. Cook the mixture at a slow boil for 20-30 minutes, until it has reduced down to a velvety syrupy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the rosemary stems from the sauce. Drop in a few cubes of butter at a time, swirling the pan around in the air (off the stove) until all butter is incorporated. Spoon over the beef (or other meat).

Pairs nicely with horseradish mashed potatoes, which are made like regular mashed potatoes but with a few tbsp of prepared horseradish added!

Orange-Fig Glazed Chicken

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For the past few months, my blog has taken a back seat with catered events rolling in one after another at work, so I apologize to my loyal followers and will do a better job over the coming months of posting a weekly blog entry. About a month ago we ran across a sweet deal at Costco when we found boneless, skinless chicken thighs at a really good price. It had 6 packs containing 5 boneless thighs bundled into one pack (so you can freeze the whole pack and tear off and thaw meals as needed). I believe Costco does most all their chicken this way, but lately I’ve been buying a lot of dark meat chicken. I grew up eating white meat chicken so I’m a late follower to the moistness and deliciousness of dark meat.

Since we’ve had this big pack of thighs in the freezer, I’m constantly trying new things to cook them. Normally I make a glaze of cranberry sauce and wine cooked down to a syrup, with some garlic added, but being out of cranberry sauce forced me to try something new and that’s how this recipe came about. This is what I could make with what I had in the pantry (and bar), but the point here is to play around with what you’ve got on hand. To make a good glaze you need some sort of fruit item (preserves, cranberry sauce, jam, etc) and some sort of acid (in this case some wine). Boiling contents down to a syrup will marry all the flavors and make an incredible glaze for meat. Boiling it down also releases the alcohol and leaves only the rich flavors.

  • 5-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or use breasts if you prefer)
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning blend (I look for Badia brand which is cheap and tasty)
  • 1 tbsp fig preserves
  • zest from 1 orange and juice from same orange
  • 1 tbsp Drambuie liqueur (made from scotch whiskey and honey)
  • 1 tbsp Cabinet Sauvignon wine
  • 1 tbsp mined garlic

Arrange thighs on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the Cajun seasoning. Roast in a 400F oven for 15 minutes.

While the chicken is in the oven, in a small saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the glaze is thick and will cover the back of a spoon.

Remove chicken from the oven and spoon the glaze over the chicken. Return to the oven and cook for 5 more minutes then check the temperature. Chicken needs to be 165F to be done and kill all salmonella or other harmful bacteria. If yours if 165F, it’s done. If not, continue cooking until internal temperature is reached.

Crawfish Corn Chowder

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The weather here in Alabama has been unusually cold lately, with temps in the low teens and snow and ice. You may have experienced it, or seen on the national news, how the people in the south can’t deal with the winter weather, because we usually have temps in the 60’s on Christmas day. I’ve also been working a lot lately, especially with catered events, so it was extremely welcoming to come home after a long weekend of catering, on a cold night and find a pot of this delicious chowder cooking on the stove. If you love crawfish you should give this a try. Crawfish tails can be purchased at most supermarkets in the South. Around here, Publix carries them in the freezer section of their seafood department for about $12 a pound. It’s also a little spicy with the poblano pepper, so if you prefer your food a little less “warm” you may want to substitute a jalapeno for the poblano. The recipe has a list of ingredients, but it’s extremely easy to put together.

  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups diced onion, preferably a sweet onion like a Vidalia
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped poblano pepper, seeded and ribs removed
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
  • 1 quart seafood stock (can be bought at your grocery store)
  • 1-16oz bag of frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 small potatoes, diced into small cubes
  • 1-15oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1-8oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 pound crawfish tails, thawed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt or sea salt
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (a blend sold on the spice aisle)
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and the butter, letting the butter melt. Add the onion, celery, pepper and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions and celery are tender. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add the wine and stock, whisking to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the corn, potatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, crawfish, bay leaves, thyme, salt, Cajun seasoning and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the bay leaves and add the fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with a good crusty bread and a nice glass of wine. Makes about 10 servings.

 

Chicken Pad Thai

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It’s a new year, and I’ve decided to try and cut back on my beef and pork intake. I’m trying to be a flexitarian and eat mostly vegetables with limited fish and chicken, but it’s not always easy to be strict, especially when I’m in charge of feeding 1500 college students every day at work. Because so many kids that age are more health conscience than their parents were, I get to experiment with new recipes from time to time and this one was a major hit with the students and the staff, AND it falls into my new dietary plans. If you’re not brave enough to try tofu, use some shrimp with the chicken. It’s really quite easy and extremely tasty, and some have asked that I share the recipe, so here it is.

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 pound firm Tofu, cut into 1/4″ dice, or 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 tbsp Asian fish sauce, or 2 1/2 tbsp each of low sodium soy sauce and Asian Oyster sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste
  • 3/4# cooked linguine pasta
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped rough
  • 2/3 cup salted peanuts, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (optional), can be added at the final stage in the pan

In a small bowl, toss 1 tsp fish sauce with the chicken. In another small bowl, toss 1 tsp fish sauce with the tofu. Set aside.

In a medium sized glass bowl, combine the remaining fish sauce, water, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, cilantro and curry paste and mix well using a whisk.

Using a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes per side until chicken is done. Remove chicken from the pan. Next add another tbsp oil and cook the tofu (or shrimp) for 2-3 minutes per side, until heated through and starting to take on color. Remove the tofu from the pan. Add the remaining tbsp of oil and the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown. Add back to the pan the cooked chicken and tofu (shrimp). Toss in the cooked linguine pasta, then pour in the liquid sauce and cook until mixture starts to boil. Pour pan contents back into your glass bowl and mix well, then serve immediately.

Serves 6

Salted Caramel Brownies

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I’ve been home on vacation through the holidays. Part of the joy of being the executive chef for a Southern university is getting holidays off with the students. Being home has rejuvenated some of my creative juices, so today I decided to make some homemade, not from a bag or box, brownies. Salted caramel seems to be the flavor profile this season so I knew I wanted to try that with these brownies. They turned out delicious and were so easy to make that I wonder why so many people rely on Duncan Hines? My only gripe is that I like my brownies a little more chewy; these are a little cakey but still delicious and will be wonderful with some ice cream for dessert tonight!

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2-4oz bars of semi sweet baking chocolate (I used Ghirardelli but any will do)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 bag (24 candies) Werther’s soft caramel chews, unwrapped
  • Coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 13″x9″ glass baking dish with Baker’s Joy cooking spray with flour (or similar). Line the dish with parchment paper leaving enough to go up the sides, then spray the parchment paper again with the cooking spray.

In a microwave safe bowl, add the butter and the baking chocolate and cook on high for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth.

The the bowl of a mixer, combine the eggs, sugar and salt and mix on high for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the flour, cocoa and vanilla and mix to combine. Stir in the caramel candies and the melted chocolate/butter mixture, then spread the batter in the baking dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top liberally with sea salt. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then lift the brownies out by the parchment paper and let cool completely on the wire rack. Once cooled, remove from the parchment paper and cut. Store in an airtight container.

Roquefort Cognac Cheese Log

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One of the many new duties I have as the executive chef for the University of Montevallo is to handle all catered events at the president’s home, Flowerhill. Here’s an easy but delicious cheese log we offered at one of the holiday parties this year. You should add it to your holiday table for a party or family gathering! We paired our platter with fresh, lightly steamed vegetables but a quality cracker works just the same.

  • 1 pound softened cream cheese
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pound roquefort bleu cheese, crumbled (or any bleu will do)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 3 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced including the tops or 1 tbsp dried chives
  • 3 tbsp cognac
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds or pecan pieces (your choice)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, add the cream cheese and butter and mix until smooth and well blended. With the machine running, add the bleu cheese, garlic powder, scallions and cognac and run until all ingredients are well combined.

Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Pour the cheese mixture onto the plastic wrap and form what looks to be your log. Roll the log in the plastic wrap and then continue to form your log until desired look is achieved. Refrigerate the log for an hour to set up.

On a second sheet of plastic wrap, put nuts and parsley in a thin layer. Remove the refrigerated log from its plastic wrap and roll the log in the nut and parsley mixture to coat the outside. At this point you can serve, or store the log in the refrigerator until ready to use. The log will keep, refrigerated, until consumed, or until the cheeses pass their original expiration date.

The log can also be frozen prior to adding the nuts. Then simply unthaw under refrigeration when ready to use, roll in the nuts/parsley and serve.

Makes 2 logs approximately 12″ long.

Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

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It’s been a few months since I updated the blog, and I apologize to my followers. Back in August, I transferred from corporate dining to campus dining and I’ve been working around the clock ever since. Things are starting to calm down at work, just in time for the holidays, so I’ve been dusting off some family recipes. This is the one time of the year when  I will actually do some baking. Baking is a science and requires one to follow a recipe more closely. Those of you that know me well, know that I rarely follow a recipe as written, so baking has never been something I was enthused to do. Still, I hold the family recipes and the family expects cookies, cakes and pies when the holidays roll around.

Everyone knows how to make sweet potato pie but most people have only had the whipped up version. This version is different. It’s more elegant that something dumped out of a can. As you can see by the photo, it makes a beautiful dessert plate for the holidays and it’s not much more complicated that the baby food version.

  • 1/2 package of refrigerated pie crusts
  • 2 1/2# small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 orange peel strips (use a vegetable peeler to create)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp loosely packed orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Streusel topping (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Fit the piecrust into a 9″ deep-dish pie plate, folding the edges under and crimping. In a Dutch oven, bring the potatoes, granulated sugar, orange peel and 1 cup of water to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 6-8 minutes until potatoes are just tender.

Transfer the potatoes to a large colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Rinse the potatoes with cold water. Transfer the cooking liquid and orange peel strips to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1/4 cup. Reserve 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid and discard the rest.

Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and toss with brown sugar, flour, spice and orange zest and the reserved 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid. Spoon into the crust. Sprinkle with streusel and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, shielding with foil after 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Streusel Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 3 tbsp melted butter, 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice and 1/8 tsp salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then crumble into small pieces atop the prepared pie

Beef Medallions Marsala

Today was the first day of the next chapter of my career. After several years in corporate dining, I’m making a move to campus dining and will be starting my new position as executive chef for a local university next week. This week I’m going to relax and clear my head. So what did I do on my first day of this head-clearing vacation? I vacuumed the house, cut the grass and vacuumed and washed the RV for a little camping trip with my Mom I’m heading out on tomorrow.

I haven’t done any weekly shopping in two weeks, except for trips to the local farmer’s market the past two weekends, so dinner tonight is a real “chopped” mystery basket of ingredients on hand in the frig, pantry or freezer and since I’m overdo for a blog post I decided to share tonight’s dinner recipe with you. Although I’m using up ingredients already on hand, you could easily pick these items up at Publix. The medallions can be served over a number of starches, or with a potato on the side. I’ve got some leftover white rice from seafood gumbo I made last weekend, so that’s what we are having with ours.

beefmarsala

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into cubes about 1-1/2″ square
  • 2 tbsp flour seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch of heirloom mixed color baby carrots (or you can just get a bunch of carrots at Publix with the tops attached, although you trim off the tops)
  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (I made mine from “better than bouillion” beef base)
  • 3 bay leaves

In a large dutch oven (one that has a lid), heat the oil. Dredge the beef medallions in flour and brown in dutch oven over medium high heat. Turn to brown all sides, then add the onion, carrots and mushrooms and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine, then add the tomato paste, beef stock and bay leaves. Cover with the lid and pop into a 400F oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve over pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, etc or serve with starch on the side.

Easy Southern Peach Cobbler

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As usual, we headed down to Pepper Place market this morning for some locally grown produce and I just couldn’t resist some freshly picked Chilton County peaches. I did my part to help the local economy and bought a big basket full. Chilton County peaches are some of the best peaches you can buy and some think they are more tasty than their counterparts across the border in the peach state.

Although I definitely don’t need the added sugar in my diet, I’ve got a peach cobbler in the oven as I type this. My recipe was handed down from my grandmother and it’s easy and foolproof. So go pick up some delicious ripe peaches and give this one a try. You’ve probably got all the ingredients in your pantry or frig!

  • 4 cups peeled, chopped peaches
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (we only buy half and half because we use it in our coffee and it works just fine but will produce a richer crust, but what’s wrong with that???)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. Pour the melted butter into a 13″x9″ Pyrex dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and milk. Mix well to combine and remove lumps. Pour the batter over the melted butter but do not stir. Next top the butter with the peaches, again do not stir (as the cobbler bakes, the crust rises and the peaches fall). Sprinkle top with lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with a scoop of some rich vanilla ice cream. Cobbler can be stored at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.