Peppercorn Blend

Peppercorn Blend in a jar

Peppercorn Blend in a jar

Putting together a peppercorn blend is an easy and thoughtful quick gift for the holidays. You can add a peppercorn grinder and other bits and pieces to round out the gift also. But a nice jar of peppercorns is a nice small gift on its own.

Head out to your big box store and buy large containers of black, pink, white, Szechuan and air-dried green peppercorns. equally measure some of each into a large bowl, mix it up.

A variety of peppercorns

A variety of peppercorns

Add a unique element by choosing whole allspice berries, whole cloves, crush a bit of nutmeg or star anise with a mallet and mix this in with the peppercorns for a unique blend.Peppercorn Blend

Package the peppercorns into a nice jar or container, make a cute label and attach to the jar.

There you have it, a quick, simple useful gift.

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Stuffed Mini Pumpkins

Pile of Pumpkins!Autumn is one of the great seasons; watching the color of the leaves turn, the brisk crisp coolness in the air and the emergence of pumpkins and squash in the market.

These various squash found their way into my basket while shopping this weekend.

These various squash found their way into my basket while shopping this weekend.

Today I saw these mini pumpkins and some white pie pumpkins, so I filled my basket.

This stuffed mini pumpkin makes a great little side dish. The best part is you can fill it with a variety of things, from soup to salad or use it to hold grains or a mix of things like I did here.

When using a variety of things inside the pumpkin, remember to cut them small so you can get a bit of everything in one bite.

I think these would make a really pretty side dish on  Thanksgiving table or buffet.

To present them on a platter, think ‘patch patch’ and decorate around the pumpkins with salad greens or Brussels sprouts.

Serve stuffed mini pumpkins on a platter, think "Pumpkin Patch"

Serve stuffed mini pumpkins on a platter, think “Pumpkin Patch”

To prepare the pumpkins, cut the tops off using a sharp knife. Then gently scoop out the insides and discard.

Season the pumpkins inside with salt and pepper and a small bit of fresh butter.

Steam the pumpkins until the inside flesh is tender. Test by using a fork or tip of a paring knife.

Do not poke through the shell to test doneness, that would cause the pumpkin to leak any liquids you put inside.

Once the flesh is done, place the pumpkins upside down on a clean towel and allow them to drain for a few minutes.

Carefully fill each pumpkin with the filling. If serving warm, cover each pumpkin with tin foil and put it in an oven set at 400°F for 30 minutes or until the contents are warm.

If serving the pumpkins cool or at room temperature, chill before filling.

The filling used for these pumpkins is a filling that reflects the changes of the season. Stuffed Pumpkin

Pumpkins Stuffed Roasted Beet, Sweet Potato, Dried Cranberries with Toasted Pecans and Feta Cheese

  • 1 medium-sized beet, roasted, cut into very small cubes
  • 1 medium sweet potato, roasted, cut into very small cubes
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Keeping the vegetables separate as you cut them, roast them for about 10 minutes in a 350°F oven or until each cube is done through.

Chop the toasted nuts and dried cranberries then combine them in a bowl, add the beets and potatoes as they finish roasting. Mix together and sprinkle in the feta cheese. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. A touch in cinnamon or ginger is a very nice addition and fragrant too.

Either cool the mixture to serve cold or warm the mixture then stuff the pumpkins. Cover with the pumpkin “lid”, wrap in foil and warm in the oven.

Use spatulas to lift the cooked pumpkins because the skin gets delicate and tears easily.

Honey Peppercorn Vinaigrette

Honey Peppercorn Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon ground mixed peppercorns, use pink, white, dried green, black and Szechuan peppercorns for maximum interest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Tablespoon shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup good quality vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients except the oil in a large bowl, whisk together. Add the oil and whisk to combine. Adjust seasonings, stir or shake just before serving.

Top the stuffed pumpkins with a bit of Honey Peppercorn Vinaigrette just before serving and add a bit to the stuffing for added moisture.

I hope you try making these stuffed mini pumpkins this season. Personally I love squashes of all kinds and look forward to  this time of year.

Happy Fall!

Plated stuffed mini pumpkin

Charlotte Cooks Wins a Telly Award!

We won a Telly Award for our Shrimp Creole show!

https://i1.wp.com/www.wtvi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Cooks_Orange_Chicken.jpg

While I can’t post the video yet, here is the recipe for the dish. I hope they release the video soon on You Tube. I think it is circulating now on the channel so I’m guessing when they air a new show this one will become available. When it does, I’ll update this post to include the video.

Until then, enjoy making this recipe which also features Raw Kale Salad.

Creole inspired by NOLA cuisine.

NOLA Style Shrimp Creole

  • 2 pounds Peeled and De-veined Shrimp, save shells to make Shrimp Stock
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons All- purpose flour
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Ribs Celery, finely chopped
  • 1 small Green Pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoon Creole Seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
  • 2-1/2 Cups Very Ripe Fresh Tomatoes, Diced
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 2 Cups Shrimp Stock
  • 2 Tablespoon Garlic, minced
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Cayenne to taste
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon White Pepper
  • 1 bunch Fresh Thyme
  • 2 Tablespoon Tabasco or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Green Onions, green tops thinly sliced, white part sliced into 1/4″ thickness
  • 2 Tablespoons Flat Leaf Parsley, minced

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan with the vegetable oil over medium high heat.

Add the flour and stir so it looks like wet sand on the beach.

When the butter begins to froth add 1/2 cup of the onions. Cook until the onions are golden brown.

Add the remaining onions, celery, and bell pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium and season with 1 Tablespoon Creole Seasoning and a healthy pinch of salt.

Sweat the vegetables until soft.

Add the tomato paste mixing well, and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste begins to brown, add the fresh tomatoes. Stir well.

When the tomatoes start to break down into liquid add the white wine, bring to a boil and boil for 1-2 minutes.

Add the Shrimp Stock, remaining Creole seasoning, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne (to taste), and thyme.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer.

Simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Add the hot sauce, Worcestershire, and adjust seasonings.

Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low and add the shrimp.

The key is to not  to over cook your shrimp. Let them slowly simmer in the sauce until just cooked through.

If you boil them, they get tough so just simmer gently. They cook quickly!

Serve with boiled rice and garnish with the remaining green onions and parsley.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

I hope you join us in WTVI-PBS Charlotte Thursday evenings at 8:30 to see our new shows.

As always, thanks for watching Charlotte Cooks!

Sorta “Socca”

Socca are flat breads from the Nice area of France. Made with garbanzo bean flour, cooked in a screaming hot oven until they blister and brown, sprinkled with salt, pepper and sometimes a bit of olive oil, these tasty bits are simply delicious.

I call these “sorta socca” because I use different kinds of flours and add seasonings and herbs to the mix before cooking. Traditional socca are simply flour, water, oil and salt.

David Lebovitz writes a great recipe for socca in his book Sweet Life in Paris and has another post about it on his blog. Check those out too. He gives some great information. For the most part, this recipe is based upon Davids recipe.

For these “Sorta Socca” you  will need:

  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup chestnut flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean (chick pea) flour
  • 9 ounces water
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Final seasonings: Freshly ground black pepper, sea or kosher salt, slight drizzle of olive oil which is totally optional.

Special equipment: Sturdy heat-resistant pan such as cast iron or steel. I use a crepe pan I bought in Paris and it works great! Just be sure there are no plastic handles on the pan you choose. A sturdy tart pan would work well, cast iron, although heavy, is ideal.

Here is some advice: if you go researching recipes and cooking methods you will find some call for cooking in a 450°F oven for 10-12 minutes. Please take my advice and realize this is not hot enough.

Use the broiler on high or use your grill if you can get it that hot.

To prevent the oil from burning on the pan, as it would if you were to pre-oil and then pre-heat the pan under the broiler, oil it just before you pour in the batter.

Mix all the ingredients together and allow the mix to sit for a couple of hours. This allows the flours to hydrate.

15 minutes before you are going to cook the socca, turn on the broiler and place the pan in the oven to get screaming hot.

Be SURE to use a good hot mitt or strong towel to handle the hot pan. Avoid getting burned! (Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial suggests using welding mitts for managing very hot things in the oven)

Pour the batter into the hot pan

Pour the batter into the hot pan

When the oven and the pan are really hot, pour enough batter into the pan, swirl it around and place the pan back under the broiler. Make sure there is room for the socca to rise while it is under the broiler, if it touches the heat source, it will burn.

You will see the dough puff and begin to turn brown. This only takes a few minutes and how long depends totally upon the strength and heat of your broiler.

The socca is done when it is dark brown to black around the edges and the top has golden brown spots.

Done!

Done!

Remove from the oven, place the socca on a cutting board, sprinkle with salt and fresh black pepper and a drop or two of olive oil.

Socca is meant to be rustic so either tear it into serving portions or cut it into wedges.

Put the warm socca on a rack to cool so it does not become soggy.

Sprinkle with seasonings, a little goes a long way

Sprinkle with seasonings, a little goes a long way

Sometimes I’ll re-warm any left-over socca by placing it on a hot pizza stone on the oven for a few minutes. This tastes so good warm!

Today’s socca was served with lemon hummus, baba ganoush and cabbage cruciferous soup.

If you have no idea what socca is, try it.

I encourage playing with flour mix. While traditional socca is made with garbanzo bean flour, you can mix it up a bit with other flours too. An added bonus is this is also gluten-free unless you decide to use some wheat, rye or barley flours.

If you do know what socca is, while not quite the same as the street food in Nice, this comes pretty close.

Socca with soup, hummus and baba ganoush

Socca with soup, hummus and baba ganoush

Butternut Squash Soup Sautéed Apples and Rosemary Flowers

I made butternut squash soup in the vita mix for lunch today. Tasty!

Processing the soup for about 8 minutes heats it and leaves quite a delicate texture.

Put the ingredients in a blender, except the cream

Put the ingredients in a blender, except the cream

The texture actually seems to evaporate as it hits your tongue leaving a wonderful rich flavor and aroma behind. It is like eating essence.

Even though it is butternut squash, this elevates simple into the sublime!

1 whole butternut squash, washed

1/2 Granny Smith Apple

1/4 sweet onion

1 teaspoon rosemary needles

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 cup heavy cream

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly pierce the squash with a knife in a couple of places. Place the whole squash on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast the squash for 1-2 hours or until done. You can tell when it is done by piercing the squash with a knife. If it goes in without resistance, the squash is done. Remove from the oven and cool.

Peel and remove the seeds from the center of the squash.

Place the squash, and remaining ingredients except the cream, into the blender and process. Begin on low variable and move up to number 10. The mixture should form 4 mounds inside the work bowl. If you want, thin with chicken stock or water at this point.

Process for 7-8 minutes or until the mixture releases steam.

Blend madly for 7-8 minutes

Blend madly for 7-8 minutes

Add the cream and process for another minute.

In the meantime, dice some of the apple and saute in a very small amount of butter. Using a light hand, sprinkle them with cinnamon and nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Set aside to garnish the soup.

saute the diced apples for garnish

saute the diced apples for garnish

Rosemary Flowers

Rosemary Flowers

Harvest some rosemary flowers, also for garnish and a great flavor burst.

To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls, garnish each with sautéed diced apples and a few rosemary flowers.

Butternut Squash Soup with Sauteed Apples and Rosemary Flowers

Butternut Squash Soup with Sauteed Apples and Rosemary Flowers

Enjoy!

Easy Grilled Vegetable Rosemary Skewers

The other day Robert was going to the lake with some of his friends. They were going to grill out and get caught up on each others lives.

He asked me if I could make a vegetable they could grill so I made these vegetable kabob on rosemary skewers.

Rosemary Vegetable Skewers

To make these skewers, cut the rosemary twigs on a bias to form a point.

You will need:

  • 2-3 zucchini
  • Whole button mushrooms
  • Pappadew peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Rosemary stems
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette

Slice zucchini very thin the length of the zucchini. Wrap the zucchini around a drained pappadew pepper, thread it onto a rosemary skewer.

Next, thread a button mushroom, the top with a cherry tomato.

Marinade in a balsamic vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes.

Season each skewer with kosher salt and pepper.

Grill on each side for 2-3 minutes each side or cook over indirect heat for about 8-10 minutes.

Serve with grilled meats.

Since Robert does not eat red meat, when he stays out I usually turn into a carnivore. This particular evening I had some beautiful lamb chops marinated in garlic, rosemary, mint, lavender, oregano, olive oil, and black pepper. We grilled fresh buckwheat bread seasoned with olive oil and rubbed with raw garlic. Marvelous.

I had some mint sauce I made from an arm load of mint during the summer so I couldn’t wait to eat some lamb.

With Robert away, my friend Joanie and I grilled and set the table in the courtyard, poured some wine and had quite a feast.

All because of a rosemary vegetable skewer.

Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Broccoli

This Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Broccoli is quick and refreshing.

Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Broccoli

Whenever I cook pasta I always cook more than we need for 1 meal. This makes cooked pasta ready to go during summer months for refreshing and quick meals.

If you have cooked pasta on hand, it is only moments to put together a nice meal from what you might have in your refrigerator.

This dish came about because I was hungry and we had angel hair, cooked, steamed broccoli from last night, an amazing vine ripened tomato and a bushy basil plant that needed trimming.

To make this dish, you will need:

  • 1/4 pound cooked angel hair pasta; per person
  • 1 chopped fresh tomato; per person
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (ribbons)
  • 1/4 cup steamed broccoli; per person (optional)
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 whole basil leaves for garnish

Method:

Combine everything but the pasta in a bowl, mix well.

Re-heat pasta in boiling water, drain well. Place the pasta in a bowl or on a plate.

Spoon the tomato mixture over the pasta, garnish with whole basil leaves.

Sprinkle with Asiago or Parmesan cheese if desired.

Enjoy this refreshing summer dish!

Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Broccoli