Let’s face it. Weeknight cooking when you’re working is a challenge and there are some nights you just can’t be that fussy about dinner. On those nights, I’m usually looking in the pantry and trying to throw together something that is somewhat healthy and somewhat easy to make. One cool trick that I’ve learned is to make tomato soup from canned tomatoes. I always keep cans of diced tomatoes in the pantry. If I dig a little deeper, I can usually find a can of coconut milk, too. So, if I just add some onion, garlic, celery, pepper and fresh basil & ginger, I have a delicious, creamy Thai-flavored Tomato Coconut soup that I can make in about 15 minutes.
If you live in the South, you have probably have had your share of muscadines and scuppernongs, our native wild grape. In Georgia, a walk through the woods in late summer and early fall will usually yield at least a handful of the Southern wild grapes to enjoy. You can often find them along the ground, where they’ve fallen from their high perch in the trees. I usually eat them where I find them, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to come upon low-hanging vines that make picking a couple of pints an easy chore. They are fragrant, juicy and sweet. Like pears or apples, the muscadine signals Fall in the South. They are my inspiration this week for a Southern Fall Muscadine Cocktail.
If it’s been a while since I’ve been to the market for groceries, it can be challenging to come up with dinner. If I dig around in my fridge, most of the time I have eggs, cream, vegetables, cold cuts and cheese. I can turn those ingredients into sandwiches or a pasta dish, or a version of “breakfast for dinner”. With the addition of a pie crust, I can turn all of that into a quiche. Using a beautiful, multi-colored rolled vegetable tart on Pinterest as inspiration, I decided to try my hand at a wrapped ham vegetable quiche. I think that my results aren’t nearly as tidy as the one on the French site, but I was happy with my results. By wrapping all my ingredients from the center out, the simple Ham Vegetable Quiche became a savory, rainbow-colored dish ready for dinner or a party buffet.
With the end of the hot weather, I think it’s time to put away the fruity, fizzy drinks of summer and return to the warmer amber spirits. I do love the classic cocktails that use brandy, rye and whiskey as their base, and the Sidecar is one of my favorites. Variations of the Sidecar cocktail abound, so I felt at liberty to futz around with the general concept and make an Autumn Pear Sidecar cocktail.
It’s almost October and the cool weather has started settling in, even here in the muggy South. There is something about the cooler temperatures that sends me back into the kitchen to make food. And one of those foods that is traditionally made this time of year is homemade sauerkraut. There are plenty of fresh cabbages coming out of the farmer’s markets and the cooler weather is the perfect temperature for fermenting.
I just spent 10 days traveling through Italy and I’m having a hard time adjusting to life back in Atlanta. Besides the daily gelato, I’m particularly missing my afternoon Aperol Spritz. Everywhere we went in Italy, as the heat of the day waned, people began returning to the piazzas and streets in the late afternoon and early evening hours, sitting down for a glass of wine, a beer or a Spritz. Walking throught the streets, you could spy many glasses of Spritz being served at the outdoor cafes. We easily got into the same rhythm, by looking for our nightly place to people watch and sip on our Spritz. Particularly in Fano, a small resort town on the Adriatic, we would stroll down to the beach in the late afternoon and stop at the BluMarina beachside cafe for an Aperol Spritz. The tray of the bright orange cocktails would arrive, cold and bubbly, served with a plate of antipasti to nibble.
Aperol, an Italian apertivo liqueur
The liqueur that gives the Spritz it’s bright orange color and bittersweet flavor is Aperol. Aperol is made by the same people who produce Campari. LIke Campari, it is a liqueur that has a slightly bitter taste but with enough sweetness to counter-balance the flavor. According to the official website, the recipe for Aperol is a secret, but is infused with an herbal mix of bitter and sweet orange,and “many other herbs and roots”. Aperol has a lower alcohol content (11%) than Campari or a glass of wine.
Because of its low alcohol content, Aperol Spritz is served for aperitivo. Apertivo is a sort of “Happy Hour”, with a drink that is served to whet the appetite for the evening meal and a plate of small bites of food as a refreshment. At our little seaside bar in Fano, for the price of a round of drinks, they brought out bowls of nuts, some chips, a plate of focaccia, pickled eggplant, roasted peppers, tomatoes and fresh cheese. Because no one seems to eat until 9:00 at night, the 7:00 round of Spritz and light food kept us from starving until we were fed our proper dinners late in the evening.
How to make an Aperol Spritz
It’s simplicity itself. Here’s the recipe.
3 parts prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash of soda
Serve over ice with a slice of orange. You can get fancy and add a stemmed cherry or some drinking straws. You can also substitute Campari for the Aperol to make a Campari Spritz.
Now, all you need is the view….
For about half the year, starting in June, we have access to beautiful, fresh shrimp from the the Gulf and from the Georgia coast. If you’re lucky enough to live in Savannah or Brunswick, you can get down to the dock in mid-morning and get them fresh off the boat. If you come across a couple of pounds of big, fresh shrimp, you should try this traditional Lowcountry party food – Pickled Shrimp.
Dutch baby pancakes are light, egg-y popovers that are baked in a hot buttered skillet until they puff up. Maybe, like me, the first time you had a Dutch Baby pancake was at The Original Pancake House, a chain with restaurants all over the US. It is always fun to order there. It has such a dramatic presentation… coming out to the table puffed up on the edges, golden and crispy on the sides, smelling of butter and eggs. I had to try making one at home. When I found out how easy they are to make, it became part of our regular weekend breakfasts.
Even though I grew up in the South with a mother that liked to cook, she was a modern woman who worked full time. She did not have a lot of extra time to can fruits & vegetables or put up preserves. But one thing she did do was keep cut pickles in the refrigerator during the summer. Her version of a “quick pickle” was to slice the cucumbers (often from my dad’s garden) and put them into a bowl with water and a bit of salt. The salt water kept the cucumbers crisp and the fridge kept the slices nice and cold. Those pickles were meant to be eaten in a day or two. It was an easy thing to do in the morning before heading to work. Then, when she got home from work and had to pull together dinner, it was easy to pull out those cold, salty cucumber slices to serve with sliced tomatoes and green onions from the garden. That and some beans and cornbread were dinner.
That salt brine has to be the simplest way ever to make a refrigerator pickle. I’ve used it many times myself. But in the last few years, I’ve been wanting to play around with making “real” pickles. There are two different ways to pickle cucumbers – refrigerator (or quick) method and the canning process method. I felt intimidated by the whole canning process, so I opted to try the quick refrigerator pickle.
Living in the Peach State (that would be Georgia, by the way) means getting great locally-grown peaches throughout July and into August. Unlike the peaches from the supermarket, the local fruit that I get from the Farmer’s Market is ripe and soft to the touch. It also means that I need to use them quickly, while they are at their peak. Yesterday, the weather was nice and the peaches were perfect, so I decided to make a pitcher of White Wine Peach Sangria.