Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wonderful American Regional Specialties.......

We're still in a US frame of mind, looking at some great regional dishes that are easy to prepare and your whole family will love! No fancy imported items needed here at all, plus you'll see some different takes and easier preparations on some old favorites you might not have considered....

So let's see what we have for you that you can try or remember...

Tennessee Whiskey Pork Chops.- Pork is always economical, healthy and a great source of protein, so why not try this great version that gives amazing taste!

1/2 cup Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey or 1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 bone-in, center-cut pork chops , about 1 inch thick
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

Whisk whiskey, cider, brown sugar, mustard, cayenne, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons vinegar together in medium bowl. Transfer 1/4 cup whiskey mixture to gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag, add pork chops, press air out of bag, and seal. Turn bag to coat chops with marinade and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Reserve remaining whiskey mixture separately.

Remove chops from bag, pat dry with paper towels, and discard marinade. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Season chops with salt and pepper and cook until well browned on both sides and a peek into thickest part of a chop using paring knife yields still-pink meat 1/4 inch from surface, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer chops to plate and cover tightly with foil.

Add reserved whiskey mixture to skillet and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits with wooden spoon. Cook until reduced to thick glaze, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and, holding on to chops, tip plate to add any accumulated juices back to skillet. Add remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar, whisk in butter, and simmer glaze until thick and sticky, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Return chops to skillet and let rest in pan until sauce clings to chops, turning chops occasionally to coat both sides, and a peek into thickest part of a pork chop using paring knife shows completely cooked meat (145 degrees on instant-read thermometer), about 5 minutes. Transfer chops to platter and spoon sauce over. Serve.
NOTE: Refrigerate the marinating chops in a shallow bowl in case the zipper-lock bag leaks. Watch the glaze closely during the last few minutes of cooking—the bubbles become very small as it approaches the right consistency.

I spent some time in Santa Maria, CA which is in the Central Valley and one of the specialties that come from there is Santa Maria Style BBQ which always means Tri-Tip. On Sundays you can find large BBQ's on almost every street corners selling plates of this, just fabulous! This is the top part of the sirloin or in Mexico it's called "Empuje" and you can find it at the butcher's at Comercial Mexicana, ask for it "untrimmed" if using a char-broiler since all fat will melt off and protect the meat from burning and add a lot of flavor! This is fabulous and very tender meat.....If you can't find tri-tip, bottom round is an acceptable alternative.

1 tri-tip roast (about 2 pounds)
6 garlic cloves , minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups wood chips , preferably oak
1 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Pat roast dry with paper towels. Using fork, prick roast about 20 times on each side. Combine garlic, oil, and salt and rub over roast. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Soak wood chips in bowl of water to cover for 15 minutes. Open bottom vents on grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (about 100 coals) and burn until charcoal is covered with fine gray ash. Pour hot coals in even layer over one half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, open lid vents completely, and let grill heat for 5 minutes. Scrape cooking grate clean.

Using paper towels, wipe garlic paste off roast. Rub pepper and garlic salt all over meat. Grill directly over coals until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Carefully remove roast and cooking grate from grill and scatter wood chips over coals. Replace cooking grate and arrange roast on cooler side of grill. Cover, positioning lid vents directly over meat, and cook until roast registers about 130 degrees (for medium-rare), about 20 minutes. Transfer meat to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. Serve.
NOTE: We like this super rare but with a char outer skin that shows off this tasty cut of meat, it's also great as leftovers when a sandwich is wanted and leaving it rare will keep it from being overdone when you reheat it.

Alabama BBQ Chicken.- This will introduce you to "White BBQ Sauce", (or maybe just remind you) which I'm sure will give you another way to enjoy barbecuing chicken (or turkey) that your family can share.

White BBQ Sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 whole chickens (3 1/2- to 4-pound), patted dry and split
2 cups hickory wood chips
Vegetable oil for grill grate

For the sauce: Mix all ingredients in blender until smooth, about 1 minute.
Refrigerate sauce in airtight container for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

For the chicken: Mix salt, black pepper, and cayenne in small bowl. Rub spice mixture all over chicken.

Soak wood chips in bowl of water to cover for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, open bottom grill vents completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (about 90 coals) and burn until charcoal is covered with fine gray ash. Place 13 by 9-inch disposable aluminum roasting pan in center of grill. Pour half of coals into pile on each side of grill, leaving pan in center. Scatter wood chips evenly over coals and set cooking grate in place. Cover, with lid vents positioned over center of grill and opened halfway. Let grill heat for 5 minutes.

Dip wad of paper towels in oil and oil grate, holding paper towels with long-handled tongs. Place chicken skin side down on center of grill. Cover (with half-opened lid vents over chicken). Grill chickens until skin is well browned, 35 to 45 minutes. Flip chickens skin side up and grill, covered, until breast meat registers 165 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Transfer chickens to cutting board, brush with 2 tablespoons sauce, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes. Remove foil and brush chicken with 1 tablespoon sauce. Carve and serve, passing remaining sauce at table.

Old-Fashioned Roast Beef & Gravy.- For the best flavor and texture, refrigerate the roast overnight after salting. If you don’t have a V-rack, cook the roast on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Classic Sunday Dinner Family fare......

1 4-pound top sirloin roast , fat trimmed to 1/4 inch thick
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces white mushrooms , chopped
2 onions , chopped fine
1 carrot , peeled and chopped
1 celery rib , chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves , minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine
4 cups low-sodium beef broth (home made would be best, but canned is fine)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Pat roast dry with paper towels. Rub 2 teaspoons salt evenly over surface of meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees. Pat roast dry with paper towels and rub with 1 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown roast all over, 8 to 12 minutes, then transfer to V-rack set inside roasting pan (do not wipe out Dutch oven). Transfer to oven and cook until meat registers 125 degrees (for medium-rare), 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, add mushrooms to fat in Dutch oven and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onions, carrot, and celery and cook until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, and flour and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and broth, scraping up any browned bits with wooden spoon. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Strain gravy, then stir in Worcestershire and season with salt and pepper; cover and keep warm.

Transfer roast to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 20 minutes. Slice roast crosswise against grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve with gravy.

Wood Grilled Salmon.- Here's a sure fire way to have this favored way to serve fish, yet it's made quick and easy for you. No cleanup and no smoker needed either! You'll love it! Aromatic woods such as cedar and alder give the most authentic flavor.

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 skin-on salmon fillets (each 6 to 8 ounces and 1 1/4 inches thick)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups wood chips , soaked for 15 minutes

Combine sugar, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Brush flesh side of salmon with oil and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Following photos 1 and 2, use heavy-duty aluminum foil to make four 7- by 5-inch trays. Using tip of knife, perforate bottom of each tray. Divide wood chips among trays and place salmon skin-side down on top of wood chips.

Place trays with salmon over hot fire and grill, covered, until center of each fillet is still just translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove trays from grill. Following photo 3, slide metal spatula between skin and flesh of fish and transfer to platter. Serve.

Santa Maria Salsa.- Another take on the classic "Pico de Gallo" mellowed for California tastes that you can serve with the Tri-Tip roast (or any other....) The distinct texture of each ingredient is part of this salsa's identity and appeal, so we don't recommend using a food processor.

2 pounds ripe tomatoes , cored and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 jalapeño chiles (medium) , chopped fine
1 onion, red (small) , chopped fine
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 garlic clove , minced
1/4 cup juice from two limes
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Place tomatoes in strainer set over bowl and sprinkle with salt; drain for 30 minutes. Discard liquid. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in large bowl.

Add drained tomatoes to jalapeno mixture and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. (Salsa can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Wilted Escarole with Apples.- A little something different for salad that your family will like.....

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil or light vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced small
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 bunch (about 1 pound) escarole (or Romain lettuce)

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and season with coarse salt and ground pepper; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add Granny Smith apples and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cider vinegar. In a large bowl, toss 1 bunch (about 1 pound) escarole or lettuce, roughly chopped, with apple mixture; season with salt and pepper.

Kale with Tomato, Garlic and Thyme.- Whether as a main dish when pasta is added or as a side dish over toast, great flavor and nutrition

1 tablespoons plus two teaspoons, extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 pound boiled, chopped kale leaves
Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium. Add garlic cloves, thinly sliced, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add cherry tomatoes, quartered, and fresh thyme leaves. Cook until tomatoes begin to break down, 2 minutes. Add kale and cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons oil.
NOTE: Add noodles like fettuccini or spaghetti, toss and serve. You can also add croutons too.

Honey Roasted Eggplant with Chilies.- A lovely way to have a spiced up Eggplant....

4 or 5 baby eggplants, halved, or 2 regular eggplants, cut into 2-inch cubes
5 fresh green Thai chiles, halved lengthwise (or Serranos), optional
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss eggplants with chiles, honey, and oil to coat.

Roast eggplants (skin sides up) and chiles on a rimmed baking sheet until eggplant is golden, about 20 minutes (if using cubes of eggplant, stir once every 5 to 7 minutes). Flip, and roast until eggplant softens, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
NOTE: You can omit the chilies if you want or use red pepper flakes too.

Since we can't forget about a sweet ending, here are some lighter alternatives for your next holiday, you'll still get great taste but we'll skimp on the calories and fat a little......

Mini-Chocolate Cheesecakes.- Quick and easy to make and full of chocolate taste, YUM!

12 foil baking cups
12 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed (2/3 cup) like Oreos
12oz 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1oz bittersweet or semisweet baking chocolate, melted

1/3 cup fat-free hot fudge topping
Fresh raspberries, if desired

Heat oven to 325°F. Place foil baking cup in each of 12 regular-size muffin cups. With back of spoon, firmly press slightly less than 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs in bottom of each foil cup.

In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Beat in sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Beat in cocoa. Beat in whole egg and egg white until well blended. Stir in melted chocolate. Divide cheese mixture evenly among crumb-lined foil cups. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on cooling rack 15 minutes. Remove cheesecakes from pan; cool 15 minutes longer. Refrigerate about 1 hour or until chilled.

To serve, carefully remove foil baking cups. Spread fudge topping on cheesecakes. Garnish with raspberries. Store cheesecakes covered in refrigerator.

Key Lime Yogurt Pie.- Here's an easy version of this favorite for you!..... If you like a tart pie, simply add more lime juice.....

2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
4oz (half 8-oz package) fat-free cream cheese, softened
3 containers (6 oz each) Yoplait® Light Thick & Creamy Key lime pie yogurt
1/2 cup reduced-fat whipped topping
2 teaspoons grated lime peel
1 graham cracker crumb crust or lemon cookies crumbled in blender wish some sugar and melted butter added, pressed onto pie tin

In 1-quart saucepan, mix water and lime juice; sprinkle gelatin on lime juice mixture; let stand 1 minute. Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes.

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add yogurt and lime juice mixture; beat on low speed until well blended. Fold in whipped topping and lime peel. Pour into crust. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

We're all done, leaving you with some great dishes to enjoy with your family. I hope you will try them and let me know about your results. I'm working on some new recipes that I should have ready soon and will share with all of you, so keep checking in with me, ok?

Wishing everyone a Happy Valentines Day (President's Day too..) and this year the Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 14th so it makes this day doubly auspicious for everyone's celebrations... This year will be the year of the tiger..... so if you live in an area with a good sized Chinese population you're in luck..... you could have a great Valentine's with an oriental flavor and a super celebration too!

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