Saturday, August 26, 2006

Diane's New Backyard

I was sad to hear Diane demolished her "Happy Hula Hut" which was the site of many good parties years ago. But when I visited recently, and saw the changes she has made, it was absolutely unbelievable. The whole yard looks like a vacation paradise. She has been hard at work, with the help of a few good men, and her new backyard is amazing. I've been to expensive hotels that don't even come close to this place. It is so beautiful. Fire pit, tikis, spa, and new outdoor furniture that makes my living room look like a catbox. A gorgeous deck and patio that practically covers the whole yard, new sod, and palm trees. Then she went out and bought a brand new shiny stainless steel BBQ grill with all the bells and whistles, the kind of BBQ that makes big grown-up men go all misty-eyed and drool with envy. I talked to her on Thursday and she's still working on putting in more tropical flowers and shrubs.

This article by Chet Flippo on describes the kind of BBQ that I know she'd love to throw. Diane would add her white zinfandel, and more Toby Keith. I would bring tequila, limes, freshly made salsa, fresh tortilla chips, and a big antipasto platter. I like most of the same music choices as Chet, but maybe add songs from Buck and the Man in Black, God rest their souls. I'd also add songs from Miss Patsy, Miss Loretta and Wynonna. You've got one helluva menu here, thanks Chet! This post is dedicated to Diane and her beautiful new backyard---Whoo-Hoo!!

NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.
A Recipe For An Ideal Country Summer Saturday
Here's the recipe for a perfect Nashville country Saturday afternoon. Take five or six pounds of baby back ribs. Slice them into manageable little
racks of two or three ribs each. Marinate them overnight in the refrigerator in a big baggy full of a solution of olive oil, wine vinegar, minced garlic, lemon juice, a dollop of honey mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, rosemary, basil and sage.

In a separate baggy, marinate some chicken thighs -- the only chicken part that smokes well -- and some sausage links of your choice. Me, I prefer chorizo. Meanwhile, soak three or four handfuls of mesquite and hickory wood chips in a coffee can of water for a couple of hours before smoking.

You have invited some friends to come over at about 5 o'clock. Put the coals in the smoker at about 3 o'clock, soak them in lighter fluid for a minute or so and then light them up. When the flames finally settle down, in an hour or so, and the coals are white hot, sprinkle the wood chips over the coals and start arranging the goodies on the racks above the coals and fill the smoker's water pan with water and the remaining marinade. Put the ribs on the lowest rack, because they need a little more love and heat and attention from the hot smoke. I've got vertical rack inserts, so the smoker holds more ribs. Put the chicken and sausage on the top rack and put the cover on and prepare for a lovely aroma to begin wafting out.

Put your music on, because the early birds will show up around 4 to "help." Here's a sample Saturday afternoon barbecue soundtrack: Alan Jackson's "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "Livin' on Love," Willie and Waylon's "Good Hearted Woman," Waylon's "Luckenbach, Texas," Willie and Toby's "Beer for My Horses," Willie's "Whiskey River," Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs," Ralph Stanley's "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud Loud Music," George Jones' "White Lightnin'," Flatt & Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," Shenandoah's "Next to You, Next to Me," Merle Haggard's "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses" and "Caffeine, Nicotine, Benzedrine (And Wish Me Luck)," Kenny Chesney's "When the Sun Goes Down," Jerry Lee Lewis' "Drinkin Wine Spo-Dee O'Dee" and "What's Made Milwaukee Famous," Jerry Jeff Walker's "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother," George Strait's "Living and Living Well" and "Designated Drinker," Kinky Friedman's "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed," Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Screw You, We're From Texas," David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name," Brad Paisley's "Alcohol," Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes," Shooter Jennings' "Fourth of July," Alan Jackson's "Pop a Top" followed by Jim Ed Brown's original, Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass," Delbert McClinton's "Two More Bottles of Wine" followed by Emmylou Harris' version and "Amanda" by Don Williams followed by Waylon's version.

Bring out bottles of chilled La Crema chardonnay and Ecco Domani pinot grigio and some Ferrari-Carano merlot and a tub of iced down longneck bottles of Beck's beer.

Pull a few of those big ol' ripe red and yellow tomatoes from your garden, and slice them up and serve them with some little slabs of fresh mozzarella cheese you got at Wild Oats when you ran out on your lunch hour Friday. Drizzle the tomatoes and mozzarella with some good olive oil. Sprinkle with shredded fresh basil leaves from your garden. That's your appetizer.

When the ribs and chicken and sausage are ready, serve them with some Publix New York Style potato salad. Forget that southern potato salad with eggs all in it. New Yorkers do know how to make tater salad, after all. Face it. May as well have some Publix cole slaw for those finicky people who demand green vegetables.

After you've all eaten everything you possibly can, bring out a plateful of paletas (those tasty Mexican fruit popsicles you also bought Friday on your lunch hour at that little paleta store on 12th Avenue South). And bring out a bottle of Maker's Mark and some cracked ice and spring water and a mason jar of 'shine. And some cigars. Light something up. Live life.

Share the love. Give it to a stranger. You're s'posed to share it with your friends.
Article by Chet Flippo.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Summer Mango Muffins

My last visit to Costco, which was about two years ago, came to over $200.00 and all I wanted was to pick up double prints. YIKES! How did all that stuff get into my oversized shopping cart? I never renewed my card. The best Costco products are actually outside, the hot dogs, the cardboard pizza, and that sticky sweet soft-serve swirl ice cream cone. With a relatively small household, we no longer have the need for mass quantities of goods. But Michael and Lauren are taking their relationship to another level---doing Costco shopping together! They really did pretty well, and one of the benefits of their adventure was bringing home a case of mangos. These mangos are juicy and full of flavor. We did the usual smoothies and fruit salads. I'm doing a salsa for a roasted pork butt tomorrow. But I took these sweet mangos to another level and came up with some lovely muffins, adapted from a recipe by Curtis Aikens. Moist and delicious, and with some dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds, they are great with a cup of coffee on these cool mornings.
Many thanks to Michael & Lauren for the mangos!

SUMMER MANGO MUFFINS - adapted from FoodTV Curtis Aikens
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar, if needed
1/2 unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
1 cup fresh mangos, peeled, pitted and mashed
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds or diced nuts, your call
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin or coat with a non-stick spray. Check the mangos for sweetness, and leave out the 1/4 cup granulated sugar if the mangos are sweet enough. Cream the butter and sugar till light in color. Add the eggs and beat until fluffy. Add in the mashed up mangos, seeds, cranberries and mix till combined. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the mango mixture, stirring by hand. Do not overmix. Fill each of the muffin tin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 25 minutes or till muffin springs back when touched. Let cool for 10 minutes in muffin tin, then remove to cooling rack.
Makes 12 muffins.
Note: Mix the muffin batter and refrigerate overnight to bake them in the early morning. The cranberries become softer and the spices will blend together nicely.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Never Enough Chocolate!

Can you believe it, I finally baked something this week! Thanks to the "June Gloom" that finally arrived, these cool mornings are perfect for entering into my A/C deficient kitchen. That's OK, I found out that my neighbors with A/C must suffer with their outrageously high Edison bills. Well, I deserve to be rewarded for my energy conservation and my sweaty forehead. Bring forth the baked desserts!

This chocolate delight is adapted from the new Pampered Chef booklet, Fall/Winter 2006 Season's Best Recipe Collection. Although there are quite a few steps, it is still fairly simple. Such a decadent sweet, it has a rich chocolate toffee flavor, and will make an excellent treat for the holidays coming up soon. Is there ever enough chocolate? Neh-vah!

CHOCOLATE PECAN LATTICE TART - adapted from Pampered Chef

1/3 cups chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 package refrigerated pie crusts, not the frozen one in a pie tin
Ice cream, optional
Additional pecan halves and chocolate for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate on high 20-40 seconds, stir, then nuke again for an additional 20-30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add the pecans, brown sugar, egg, corn syrup, vanilla, whisk and set aside.

Place one unrolled pie crust in the center of a lightly floured pizza pan or baking stone, set aside. Unroll the second crust onto a cutting board and gently fold in half, do not crease. To make the lattice strips cut into strips about a half-inch wide using a crinkle edged cutter, if available.

Spoon the chocolate mixture onto the center of the crust on the pizza pan, gently spreading it out to a circle, but avoiding the edge. Carefully twist the lattice strips and place over the filling, placing the longest strips in the center. Twist the remaining strips and place across, forming a lattice pattern. Fold the edge of the crust over the strips and pinch to seal. Add pecan halves between the lattice strips, if desired.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then cut into wedges. Serve slightly warm with a scoop of ice cream if desired, Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch is my personal fave, and drizzle melted chocolate on top.
Serves 12 or more, this is a very rich dessert!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Frozen Key Lime Cups

I love Ina Garten's books. Everything is very clear, precise, with great photos and presentations. Her show on FoodTV doesn't get as much play as some of the other less-qualified unmentionable ones who seem to be hogging up the whole channel. And I don't mean Sandra Lee---anyone who comes up with new cocktails in every show deserves a hearty SALUD! from La Vida Dulce. In an effort to find a Key Lime dessert that didn't require baking and heating up this house, I knew I could count on Ina for this simply fabulous, quick, light, and delicious take on the famous Florida pie. We went for a no-bake crust, a cooked egg yolk base, and calorie-wise individual portions, leaving out the whipped cream topping, which make this dessert just the right finish to a Big Salad dinner. Lauren loves it!

FROZEN KEY LIME CUPS - adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
16-18 galletas Marias crackers
6 extra-large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk, 14 oz. can
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest, divided
3/4 cup fresh lime juice, divided, about 4-5 limes
cupcake papers
cupcake tins
whipped cream, optional

Line two cupcake tins with 16-18 cupcake papers. Press a Marias cookie into the bottom of each. Don't worry if it cracks, it will be fine. Set aside.

Combine the egg yolks with 1/2 cup lime juice in a small saucepan. Set over a larger saucepan with simmering water. Constantly whisk over medium heat until it comes up to 140 degrees F and becomes thicker, not curdled. Take off heat and set aside.

Place the egg mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on medium speed. Gradually add the sugar, then add the remaining lime juice, 1 tablespoon of lime zest, and pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Mix on high speed for 5 minutes until thickened and slightly fluffy.

Spoon mixture into the prepared cups, almost to the top, and distribute the mixture evenly. Garnish each with a bit of the remaining lime zest. Cover each pan completely with plastic wrap and freeze 4-5 hours or overnight. Serve topped with whipped cream if desired. Makes 16-18 cups.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tropical Storm Chris & Sangria Blanco

Sounds just like me, one minute a full-on storm approaching hurricane strength, the next minute only a mild tropical depression. We don't live in the path of such terrible storms but we had a heat wave like I've never been through before. Como un horno! Inside this oven of a house, with no A/C, it was hovering around 95-98 degrees in the early evening. Poor kitties, they looked like Salvador Dali paintings, melting and stretched out on the floor. I stayed out in the patio at night with Needles the Iguana, who is happy as all heck in this heat. It was cooler outside than in the house! This week has seen cooler weather thank goodness.

Although it seemed the right time to indulge, a cold beer or boozy cocktail only made me more uncomfortable and sweaty. What to do in this awful heat besides drinking gallons of water? Ah, enter in the Sangria Blanco! There are many recipes out there, and it's becoming a very popular choice. And no wonder, it is refreshing, not too sweet, and makes use of some delicious summer fruits available right now. To make a virgin Sangria Blanco, substitute a bottle of Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider and a half a two-liter bottle of lemon-lime soda for the wine and booze. My namesake storm may not have enough huffing and puffing to become a true hurricane, but this Sangria Blanco will take the edge off any sweltering weather system. Salud!

2 bottles inexpensive white wine - Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
or what you have on hand (we liked the fizziness of the Riesling)
1 can frozen Welch's White Grape & Peach concentrate, undiluted
4 oz. vodka, peach flavored or plain
3 white nectarines or peaches, unpeeled and sliced
1 small lime, sliced
1 small basket of fresh raspberries, frozen
Crushed ice, store bought
(it makes a big difference when presented to your guests)

Prepare the fruits. Place the raspberries in a plastic ziplock bag and freeze for about an hour. Slice the white nectarines and the lime. In a very large glass pitcher combine the wine, the vodka and half the can of frozen concentrate. Use the remainder for another pitcher or to mix a virgin Sangria Blanco. Stir and add the nectarine and lime slices, place covered in the refrigerator. Can be made the day before serving. When ready to serve, fill wine glasses with clear ice and a few frozen raspberries. Pour the Sangria Blanco in each glass, and with tongs, gently add a couple of the white nectarine and lime slices. Serves about five or six. Or more if you share.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Will Ferrell's Chonies

Ever since he dressed up as an over-grown leprechaun on Conan O'Brian, I wondered about that boy. He was singing in the style of a lounge lizard, slinking around the guest sofa in tiny ill-fitting green gym shorts, and he ended up on top of the desk, right in Conan's face. It was both hilarious and icky. In the interest of good taste, La Vida Dulce says ya basta, cochino, sin verguenza! Enough with the tighty whitey chonies and pasty white flesh already. Does he have to run around like that in every movie? OK, don't answer that, but I have grown tired of seeing him do the same thing over and over. And it's time somebody told him to stop it. Will, por favor, for the love of God, won't you please wear some grown-up chonies for a change? In fact, keep all your clothes on until you get a spray-on tan. In honor of his new movie, where the loco does it again, here's the appropriately titled Honey Nut White Fudge.

HONEY NUT WHITE FUDGE - adapted from Nestle

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 can evaporated milk 5 oz. size
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups honey roasted nuts, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla

Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil, letting it extend over the edges of the pan, to make the fudge easier to remove when done.

Combine sugar, milk, and butter in a heavy saucepan. Bring it to a full rolling boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Don't answer the phone, pet the dog, or walk away. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes, continue stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add the marshmallows, chips, and one cup of the nuts, and vanilla. Stir vigorously for 1 minute, until the marshmallows are melted. Pour into the pan. Coarsely chop the rest of the nuts, sprinkle on top and press them into the fudge. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm. When ready to serve, lift from the pan and cut into squares. Makes about 36 to 49 nutty squares, depending on how you cut them.