The High Cotton

infusing life with Southern food, hospitality, and fun

Category: Food

Mushroom and Ricotta Bruschetta

I’ve had this post on my to-do list all week, but it’s been so busy at work that I’m just now sitting down to do it!  Tom and I are on “staycation” for the Memorial Day weekend starting today and I couldn’t be more excited.  It’s Commissioning Week for the Naval Academy, so we basically have to shelter in place due to all the graduation-related events, parking, and traffic.  Downtown Annapolis isn’t the worst place to be “confined” for a weekend, though!

The Academy really puts on a nice schedule for all the seniors and their families during Commissioning Week.  They’ve already had Ring Dance (kind of like prom), a fancy party at the Superintendent’s home (Vice Admiral Miller), and the Blue Angels did an air show over the Severn River yesterday.  I missed that because I was at work.  Womp womp.  But Tom went and said it was awesome.  Here’s a picture he took from the deck of the restaurant where he and our friends watched the show:

10274341_10152466478373035_4883299798210650487_n

Flying that close together seems ill-advised.

I plan to do a lot of cooking this weekend while I have the time.  I’m sure Tom will get in on the action, too, with some grilling and cocktail mixing.  Can’t wait.

Last weekend, we made the long journey over to Eastport (just across Spa Creek, ha!), for a lovely dinner at our friends’ house.  I was assigned the appetizer, which is my favorite, and brought a mushroom bruschetta that I’ve been making lately.  I had an inferior version of this at a restaurant in DC, and as soon as I tasted it, I knew I could make a better one.  So here it is for y’all to enjoy.

Mushroom Ricotta Bruschetta

1 baguette, sliced

1 container of ricotta (either skim or whole milk)

1-2 T heavy cream (optional)

1 lemon

20 oz mushrooms, sliced

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

1 T chopped thyme

salt and pepper

Start by liberally brushing the baguette slices with olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to each slice, and broil for a few minutes until golden brown.  Flip each slice and repeat.  Meanwhile, begin sautéing the mushrooms in some olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook until a nice brown color.  They give off a lot of liquid at first, but then, like magic, they start to caramelize.

photo

 While the mushrooms are cooking, put the ricotta in a small mixing bowl, add salt and pepper to taste.

photo-2

Add the zest and juice of one lemon to the ricotta.  Mix well until smooth and creamy.  I use a fork to get an even smoother texture.  If your ricotta is on the stiff side, you can add a little bit of heavy cream here.  It won’t surprise anyone to learn that I always add the cream.  Set the mixture aside while you finish the mushrooms.

photo-3

Once the mushrooms are as brown as you’d like, add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar to the pan.  Don’t use the good stuff here.  I use the plain old Trader Joe’s brand.

photo-4

The balsamic will reduce and make a delicious glaze for the mushrooms.  Don’t let it get too dry, though, because you’ll actually end up with candied mushrooms.  I mean, those are great, but not exactly what you want for this recipe.  The vinegar gets sweet, and doesn’t taste vinegar-y at all on the finished product.   It’s tangy, but not sharp.  When the balsamic has done it’s thing, add some fresh thyme to the mushroom mixture and taste for seasoning.

photo-5

You can stop here, refrigerate the components, and construct your bruschetta later.  If you want to fix them immediately, I recommend letting the baguette slices and the mushrooms cool a little bit so you don’t end up with runny/melty ricotta.

When you’re ready to go, spread some of the lemon ricotta mixture on each baguette slice, then top with the mushroom mixture.  I added a few snipped chives to this batch for garnish, but you can really add any herb you want, including leftover thyme.

All the herbs for this recipe came from our garden!  The slate platter I used to serve is from Crate and Barrel.  They have these in a bunch of sizes, and they are very reasonably priced.  I have to stop myself from getting too many!  The slate makes such a nice presentation for so many things because of the dramatic contrast.

photo-6

Close up!

photo-7

Peaches, y’all!

Peaches are my favorite fruit, by far.  I love the fuzz, I love the juice, I love everything about them. Last night I had my first peach of the spring/summer.  It was on the small side, not one of the huge ones you start seeing once summer really gets rolling.  I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the flavor this early in the season, but it was actually good!  I sliced up a couple of small peaches, put each one on top of some arugula, and sprinkled the salads with goat cheese and candied pecans.  I had originally intended to grill the peaches before putting them on the salads, but it was kind of late and I decided to skip that detail this time.

Stay tuned for my great-grandmother’s peach cobbler recipe.  It’s a good one, but deserves the big peaches!

Easy and (sort of) healthy appetizer

On Saturday, we were relaxing on the porch swing when the need for a snack arose (no surprise there).  I used some things we had in the kitchen already to whip up a quick appetizer that was so good, I actually made it again on Sunday!

photo (43)

I say this is sort of healthy because I used low fat Laughing Cow cheese wedges.  The appetizer is just a pita cracker with a little bit of Laughing Cow spread on it, plus a dollop of fig preserves.  After I took the picture, I decided to sprinkle some finely chopped basil on top.  That’s it!  One of the best things about these is that they are so easy to eat.  No mess, and no plate required.  The pita crackers (from Trader Joe’s) are small enough to eat in one bite, which prevents crumbs from falling all over your shorts.  Win.

Mussels and a Double-Duty Recipe

Last night, we made this delicious recipe from Garden & Gun.  I’ve made it a couple of times now, and although the original recipe calls for clams, last night I made it with mussels.  It was SO good.  There are lots of ingredients, but it’s really okay because once you’ve made this, you will make it over and over.  Also, it makes a lot, so is great for a crowd.  The investment in a few special ingredients is really worth it.

The best part, though, is that if you make it for a smaller number of people (2-4), you will have plenty of broth/sauce leftover.  This stuff is liquid gold, I tell you.  Not only is it fantastic sopped up with a piece of baguette while you’re enjoying the mussels, it is also the most perfect sauce for making pad thai.  I’m super picky about pad thai, so I was extremely excited when I had the revelation about the leftover mussel sauce.  It might be one of my best ideas ever.  Just prepare pad thai noodles according to the package directions, stir in some scrambled egg (if that’s your jam), some scallions, some crushed peanuts, and whatever else you like.  Toss everything with the leftover mussel sauce, and enjoy.  The pad thai is even better the next day.  Making pad thai this way is the closest I’ve ever come, by far, to the flavor of restaurant pad thai.  Our local Thai place serves a pad thai with crab meat (because it’s Maryland and everything has crab on it).  I think I’m going to try that this weekend using last night’s leftover sauce.

Growing Our Own Food

Over the last couple of weekends, we have been installing a tiered vegetable garden in our back patio area.  It was more work than originally planned, but turned out really well.

We ordered a kit from Amazon that was super easy to put together.  That part took only a few minutes.  Once we had it constructed, we placed our plants where we thought they should go.

photo (29)

We chose plants and got a lot of guidance about which ones grow well together from this great book:

photo (30)

I’ve had the book for a few years, and have used it repeatedly for container gardening (back when we had a deck, but no yard).  I found it to be just as useful for this compartmentalized gardening approach.

After we laid out the plants, we started filling the compartments with Miracle Grow soil.  It took about 16 large bags in all.

photo (28)

This photo shows the whole garden before we got all the plants in.  We ordered two single-layer boxes and one tiered box.  When we hooked the three sections together, we had enough parts leftover to construct a third single-layer box.  Bonus!

We got all our plants in, stood back, and admired our work.  It was around that time that our neighbor stopped by to point out that the garden was actually on her property by about a foot.  Sigh.  This problem comes up with old neighborhoods like ours.  Original records showing property lines, if they existed at all, are long gone.  We all usually use our fence lines as property lines.  There is no fence between our house and our neighbor’s house in the area where we put the garden, unfortunately.  The houses are close together, and although we were not encroaching on anything usable for our neighbor, we decided to maintain relations by moving the garden to our back fence.  We will all be living near each other for a long time so keeping things friendly is of paramount importance.  And to be fair, our neighbor was really nice about it, and even called us later to say she felt bad for saying anything in the first place.

photo (33)

Here’s the garden in place along the back fence.  I took this picture before we filled in the dirt for the tiered section, but you get the idea.

photo (32)

 

So far, the plants are doing really well!  We’ve already cooked with some of the herbs, including basil and thyme.  I can’t wait until the other vegetables start coming in.  We have several varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, collards, lettuces, herbs, kale, and a bunch of other things.  We’re growing a salad bar back there!

Frying Bread in Butter – Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Yesterday, I posted about the mushroom bruschetta I made for lunch over the weekend.  The base of that dish was bread I cooked in butter and a little bit of olive oil.  Well, last night I was at it again!  We had artichokes with greek yogurt dip and fried bread on the side.  It was one of those dinners where I kept saying “yum” out loud.

photo (26)

The recipes for the artichokes and dip are from a cookbook called Five Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson.  I can’t find them online, unfortunately.  Basically, you just put four artichokes in a pot so that they touch each other.  You poach/steam them in a mixture of water, salt, peppercorns, and lemon until you can easily pierce the stem part with a fork or knife.  The dip is fat free greek yogurt with some herbs in it.  You can just use whatever herbs you have on hand.  The dip also calls for a whole clove of garlic, which I find to be too much.  We left it out entirely, and it was no problem.  After that, just add a slice or two of fried bread (from a large baguette in this case).  Viola!

Claire Robinson is Southern and many of her recipes have a Southern influence.  This is not necessarily one of them.  I don’t know about y’all, but I didn’t eat a whole lot of steamed artichokes growing up in South Carolina.  I happily eat them now, though.  Claire used to have a show on Food Network, but I don’t know if it is still on.  I use her cookbook fairly regularly.  The appetizers are especially great, and almost worth the price of the book by themselves.

Easter Weekend (Running and Eating)

We had a nice, relaxing Easter weekend.  We spent some time yesterday finishing up a little project in the back yard (I use the term “yard” loosely).  I’ll post about that tomorrow.  Otherwise, we just hung out with friends, worked out, and ate.

On the workout front, I’ve started doing an hour-long spin class on Saturdays for cross-training.  I think it’s good for me, but since my long runs are on Sunday, my legs are super tired.  This Sunday was the half-way point in my training.  There is a little break in the schedule at this point, so instead of doing a long run, I did a 5K for time.  I beat my goal time by one minute, but I did not count all the times I had to stop and stretch out my calves.  Is that cheating?  Yes.  I was still pretty happy with myself because I didn’t walk at all and ran pretty fast.  I need to use the roller on my calf muscles, though, especially if I’m going to keep going to spin class.

On the eating front, I cooked more this weekend than I have in a while.  It was nice!  I made a quiche for breakfast on Easter Sunday:

photo (23)

Fresh out of the oven. This is a store-bought crust, btw.  I make a lot of things, but homemade pie crust is not one of them.  It’s just not worth it to me.  Judge away.

photo (24)

Immediately pre-consumption.  I was so hungry, I can’t believe I actually stopped long enough to take this picture.

For lunch, I made mushroom bruschetta with ricotta and a small arugula salad.  I fried the bread in a mixture of butter and olive oil, thereby negating any “light lunch” characteristics this would have had otherwise.  Oh well.

photo (25)

To make the mushroom topping, I sliced up a container of regular button mushrooms.  Then I sauteed them in butter and oil until they were nice and brown.  I deglazed the pan with about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  I leave the mushrooms in the pan during this step.  They soak up the extra vinegar that doesn’t evaporate, and the released brown bits stick to the mushroom slices.  Yum.  I also added some fresh thyme, salt, and pepper.  The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  So easy.  The salad is just arugula with pine nuts and sundried tomatoes.  I dressed it with with champagne vinaigrette from Trader Joe’s.

Speaking of pine nuts, a friend of mine recently told me about something called “pine mouth.”  I’d never heard of it, but apparently you get it from eating a bad pine nut.  It totally deadens your sense of taste for weeks.  What?!  She said that pine nuts from China are the primary culprits.  If you buy pignolis from Italy, you should be okay.  She owns a specialty food store and has stopped carrying pine nuts altogether (even the Italian kind) because of this.  One of her employees got it from a random pine nut somewhere, and said it was just awful.

I also made Easter dinner but was too busy cooking, eating, and laughing to stop and take pictures of it.  Here’s what I made: hot smoked salmon with dill sauce, cheddar dill scones, roasted carrots (sans dill because enough is enough), and lemon pie.  It was a Barefoot Contessa Easter!  We did the salmon on our Big Green Egg.  They are expensive, so not for everyone, but ours has been a game-changer for us.  We keep a gas grill around for quick weeknight dinners, but the Egg is definitely a major part of our outdoor life at this point.

 

Quick Trip Down South and Related Running Fail

I just got back from a quick work trip down to lovely Aiken, SC (by way of Columbia, SC).  I was travelling with a co-worker (the same one who is running the half marathon with me in May), so that made it a fun trip.  When we landed in Columbia, we immediately met a good friend of mine for drinks at a place called Dano’s Pizza.  It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t, but the beer flowed like wine and we had a great time catching up.  He recommended a good spot to grab some dinner, so we headed over for a bite to eat at Il Giorgione before driving to Aiken.

We started with some garlic bruschetta (does anyone know how to pronounce that?).  It was really simple: just roasted garlic spread on some toast.  The garlic was the color of shoe leather, which sounds unappetizing but was really great.  It had none of that garlicky sharpness left because it had been roasted within an inch of its life.  After that, I ordered a basic pasta with red sauce.  I do this a lot at Italian places that are new to me.  I think it’s a good indication of whether the chef knows what he is doing.  This one does.

photo (22)

Pardon the shadow!  Mood lighting is not good for food photography.  That is one of the many reasons I don’t typically take pictures of my food in restaurants.  I couldn’t resist this one because it was pretty much the only picture I was able to get during the trip.  As a general rule, though, I think busting out your phone/camera to photograph your food at restaurants is tacky.  Quick story.  I was lucky enough to eat at the chef’s table at Volt in Frederick, MD a few years ago.  A friend who was with us is a HUGE foodie and chef groupie.  There were about two dozen courses (not exaggerating), and she took pictures of every single one.  The celebrity chef was cooking that night and tweeted that she should enjoy the food instead of photographing it.  SO embarrassing.  

The pasta was fresh and cooked just right.  The tomato sauce had plenty of flavor, too.  I like things pretty saucy, and this had the perfect amount.  Highly recommend.  The wine selection was just okay, but the food makes up for it.  Oddly, I can usually get great wines at restaurants in SC.  Stuff I can’t find other places.  They must have a good distributor down there.  Il Giorgione should give whoever that is a call.

In other news, the trip sort of messed up my half marathon training this week.  I’m only two miles behind schedule, but it feels like a lot more.  I can’t believe I only have ~6 weeks left of training.  Even though I’m definitely worried about the race, I’m starting to get stronger.  More importantly, my endurance is finally starting to improve.  I did a spin class last Saturday for cross training and rocked it like never before.  I know that is because of all the running.

Croquet!

It’s easy to forget, but Annapolis is really a college town.  We have two colleges here that could not be more different, but somehow exist together in harmony.  There’s the United States Naval Academy, of course.  And there’s also St. John’s College.  The culture at the Naval Academy is probably well-known to everyone.  St. John’s, however, is a horse of an entirely different color.  It is crunchy granola activist bookworm central.  Naturally, I mean all those things as a compliment.  Every spring, these two institutions of higher learning drop everything, pick up croquet mallets, and have at it.  It’s something we all look forward to.  The 32nd annual match took place this past Saturday during some of the best weather anyone can remember.  I had so much fun, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures of the actual croquet!  I did get at least one shot of the St. John’s library.

photo (21)

Our street usually has a reserved space on the St. John’s lawn, and we all bring a little snack to share.  It was busy at work last week so I called my mom in a mild panic on Wednesday to get ideas for what to bring.  As usual, she had the perfect answer: party roll-ups!  I’d never made these before, but they were so easy, and turned out so well, that I will definitely be adding them to my go-to list.  One of the best parts is that they can be made in advance.  I made two varieties – one with salmon and dill cream cheese, and one with prosciutto and basil cream cheese.  I just picked the ingredients I thought sounded good.  You could definitely mix these up, using whatever you have or whatever sounds good to you.  I took some photos of the process so you can see just how easy these are.  Recipes for both kinds are below.

photo (18)

Spread the herb cream cheese on a flour tortilla.

photo (17)

Add a layer of fish or meat (smoked salmon in this case).

photo (19)

Roll the tortilla up as tightly as you can, and then wrap in plastic.

photo (20)

After refrigerating overnight, slice each roll into 1-2 inch slices.

Here are the recipes:

Smoked Salmon Roll-Ups

2 blocks of cream cheese, softened

1/4 chopped fresh dill

2 T dried minced onion

1 large package of Scottish smoked salmon

1 package of flour tortillas (10″ size, I used the plain flavor)

Mix the softened cream cheese, dill, and minced onion until well blended.  Spread a few tablespoons of cream cheese mixture on a tortilla to get an even coating.  Place a few slices of smoked salmon on top of the cream cheese.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic.  Repeat until you run out of ingredients.  Place the rolls in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to serve, remove the plastic and slice the rolls into even pieces (discarding the ends).

Prosciutto and Pepper Roll-Ups

2 blocks cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

2 T dried minced onion

2 packs of sliced prosciutto

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced

1 package flour tortillas (10″ size, I used the sundried tomato basil flavor)

Mix the cream cheese, basil, and minced onion until well blended.  Spread a few tablespoons of cream cheese mixture on a tortilla to get an even coating.  Place a few slices of prosciutto on top of the cream cheese, followed by a sprinkling of sliced peppers.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic.  Repeat until you run out of ingredients.  Place the rolls in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to serve, remove the plastic and slice the rolls into even pieces (discarding the ends).

Meal Planning and Dinner in Five Minutes

People on cooking shows say this all the time, and I really believe it: you can make a healthy, delicious dinner at home in less time than it takes to pick up something or eat out.  It’s true!  Tom and I try to cook at home at least 5-6 nights a week, and are generally successful even though we both have stressful, full-time jobs.  The key is planning.  My mother always has a weekly menu written out, and I’ve adopted the same practice.  On Saturday or Sunday morning, while we’re still sitting around enjoying our coffee, I make a menu.  Then I use the menu to make a grocery list.  That way, when the week gets crazy, I know I have everything I need to quickly make anything on the menu.  Another key to this method, I think, is not assigning specific dishes to specific nights.  Being kind of loose about it allows us to eat what we’re in the mood for that day.  It also allows us to meal plan throughout the rest of the day for maximum health benefits.  For example, if we choose to have pasta one night, I know I need to eat a little lighter during that day.  Deciding what we’re going to eat for dinner the morning of also means I always have things thawed when I get home.  There’s nothing worse than being tired and hungry, and then remembering you forgot to thaw the shrimp for dinner.  Disaster.

Last night, we got a later start on dinner than planned.  Sometimes work just gets in the way, you know?  Luckily, I’d planned for just such a scenario.  We had some smoked salmon and romaine lettuce in the fridge.  Dinner was born!

A week or so ago, I was standing in the seafood department at the grocery store waiting for my turn at the counter.  I turned around and looked at the refrigerator case behind me and saw this amazingness.

photo (15)

Tom and I are both big fans of smoked salmon, so could not pass this up.

We used the smoked salmon to make tartines with goat cheese, and then I made a quick caesar salad to go with it.  It was such a tasty and fast dinner.  Tom was on toast duty.  He halved a small baguette, and then split each half open long-wise.  Then he brushed each piece with olive oil.  He toasted the pieces under the broiler for a minute or two, then spread each slice with goat cheese.  I put a piece of salmon on each tartine, and added some cracked black pepper.  While Tom was making the toast, I sliced up some romaine and mixed it with a TON of grated parmesan cheese.  I added cracked pepper to that and tossed everything with my new favorite caesar dressing, Ken’s light creamy caesar.  You seriously cannot tell this dressing is “light.”  It has so much flavor (probably from salt, but whatever).  The result was satisfying without being heavy.  And, in case it wasn’t clear, this dinner was ready in NO TIME.

photo (16)

Finished product immediately before consumption.  So fast and so good!

I really liked the flavor of the salmon.  I was worried that the ginger would be overpowering, but it wasn’t at all.  I was also concerned that the goat cheese would mask the subtle flavor of the tea cure.  Fortunately, I was wrong about that, too.  The flavors worked well together, and I was really pleased with this product.  It’s Charlie Trotter’s so I shouldn’t be surprised.