Saturday morning, H, our friends Bentina, and I ventured off to one of our favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill. There are times when all I think about is a hot plate of shrimp and grits, and the shrimp and grits from hominy grill are about as close to perfection as you can get. The flavors are simple, Shrimp, Bacon, Green Onions, Mushrooms, Cheese Grits, and a spritz of lemon. Nothing is over sauced or too buttery. Just perfect comforting food…mmmmm!

Of course, a meal at Hominy Grill is not complete without some fried green tomatoes. Now, if you are not a shrimp and grits fanatic like me, the Fried Green Tomato BLT is my second favorite thing on the menu. I think fried green tomatoes are the greatest southern food discovery I ever made. I really love them, not just a lustful love, but more of a long lost soul mate love.

If you are in Charleston, stop by Hominy Grill for an amazing brunch destined to get your day started off right. Love on the food and let it make you whole.

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Hot Charcoal

There are a couple of smells I associate with late spring and one of them is the smell of a hot grill. Nothing is better on a hot grill than a juicy burger. Personally, I love burgers. I once watched the Barefoot Contessa stick a pat of butter into the middle of burger…genius! In reality, a burger should never be considered a low fat food. No matter what kind of meat you choose. Just embrace the fatty goodness.

Burgers on the Grill

That being said, H and I are trying to be a little more mindful of what we are eating. So more fresh vegetables and a close eye on our fat consumption. Weeknight dinners are usually hectic, but now with sun being up later, there is plenty of time to slap together some burgers. This night in particular, we had a package of ground lamb, originally intended just for JC, but now to be shared with mom and dad. After a quick bike ride over to our local grocery store to pick up some fresh mint, lemon, and local goat cheese, we were ready to go.

Feta on the ScaleChivesRosemary

This year, my mother in law brought us tons of wonderful herbs, which have flourished in our backyard, even with my black thumb. So I decided a little rosemary, oregano, and chives would go nicely with the fresh mint and lemon. A little garlic and salt along with the feta and it was ready for me to stick my hands in and mix it all up.

All the ingredients ready to be mixed

We put them on the grill with a little fresh corn and we were set for a delicious meal. JC at least tried the bruger, but was more excited about eating the corn. Who can blame him grilled corn is always incredible! But I will talk more about grilled corn another day.

Condiments

With a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes, avocado, and lettuce, we were ready for a late spring feast. I dislike mayo, so I always substitute avocado for it. I know the tomatoes still have a few months before they reach perfection, but these weren’t too bad.

Completed Burger

I needed to flatten out the burgers a little more and possibly add a little more mint, but in all this weeknight concoction was pretty tasty and something we will add to our ever increasing menu.

Lamb Burgers
Serves 4 – 12 points without a bun, 15 points with a whole wheat bun

1 pound Ground Lamb
Zest of one lemon
2 oz. Feta Cheese
2 tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. each of Mint, Chives, Rosemary, and Oregano
1 Avocado
2 cups Spring Mix
1 Tomato
4 Whole Wheat Buns

1. Mix the lamb, lemon, Feta, Salt, and Herbs together with your hands, so that everything is evenly distributed.
2. Divide the meat mixture into 4 and make into patties. Spray the patties with Cooking Spray to keep them from sticking.
3. Place on grill until done.
4. Dress the buns with avocado, lettuce, and tomato. Buns can be placed on the grill to warm and toast a little.

Note: We store our buns in the freezer. If you do the same, wrap the buns in foil and stick on the grill 5 minutes before you place the burgers on the grill. They should defrost quickly and be ready to toast right before you take the burgers off.

Whole Purple Artichoke

Thank goodness for impulse purchases. Heading into the grocery store this past weekend, I had no idea I would be buying artichokes. My mind was more focused on the cheese counter, but the pyramid of the purple leafed vegetables had a siren call I could not ignore – and more importantly, they were on sale. Once the artichokes were back in my apartment, though, I had to contemplate how to cook them. I had made boiled artichokes many times before, but had never really been satisfied. While the artichokes would come out tender, the leaves often seemed bland and best used as transporters for lemon butter or aioli.

Cut Artichokes

In one of my many cookbooks, I found a recipe for a savory broth of peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, onion, lemon and wine. At first, I struggled to get my artichokes to lie facedown in the broth and I finally resorted to using my fondue pot as a weight to immerse them fully in the broth. I’m sure some day, an enterprising soul will invent the artichoke weight – until then my fondue pot will serve as a workable multi-tasker.

Then, I set about making aioli. My previous attempts at making aioli had been failures, but I had been using a food processor. This time I figured the whisk and arm strength method would probably be my best bet. On this occasion, the aioli came together easily – the only problem, however, was that the garlic I had used was a bit green and I thus found the aioli to be bitter. Next time I’ll use roasted garlic – that should ensure an aioli with a much more mellow flavor. But for this attempt, well let’s just say I was lucky that lemon butter was so easy to make.

Leaf and drip

The artichokes came out tender and flavorful – and the heart of the artichoke was spectacular. Its texture was crisp, yet soft and smooth at the same time. All in all it was a nice, relatively light (so long as you went easy on the lemon butter) vegetable meal for a late spring evening.

Eaten Artichoke Leaves

Artichokes Cooked in a Lemon & Wine Broth

Adapted from Big Small Plates by Cindy Pawlcyn

2 Large Artichokes

Poaching Liquid

2 quarts water

The juice and zest of a lemon (nothing fancy with the zest – I just used a vegetable peeler)

1 small onion – chopped

1 bay leave

5 peppercorns

3 cloves of garlic

3 coriander seeds (I didn’t have these so I left them out)

2 tablespoons of salt

1 cup of white wine

Lemon butter

3-4 tablespoons of melted butter

The juice of half a lemon

Cut off the top inch of each artichoke and cut the stems off the bottoms. (Note – the stems of an artichoke are very good as well – just peel them with a vegetable peeler and poach in the same liquid) Put all the poaching ingredients in a large pot and bring to boil. Add the artichokes face down (you may need to place a weight on top of them to keep them in this position), bring the water back to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook the artichokes until they are tender at the heart – 30-45 minutes – a sharp knife will easily slide into the base of the artichoke when they are done. Remove from the water and drain. Serve with lemon butter or aioli.

**Note on eating artichokes: if you’ve never eaten a whole artichoke before, they can be a bit daunting. The outer leaves are tough and you scrape the leaves over your teeth discarding the inedible parts. As you get closer to the heart, each leaf will be more tender and more of the leaf will break off in your mouth when you eat it. When you reach the fuzzy choke, don’t be tempted to eat this – use a knife to gently remove the inedible fuzz. What remains will be the heart. This is arguably the best and most tender part of the artichoke and you can eat it all.

Popovers with Lemon

 

Some people love chocolate, but I love lemon.  It is, without question, my favorite flavor.  As I peruse cookbooks, recipes, magazines any mention of lemons, lemon juice, lemon zest pique my interest.  It’s that tart zing that it lends to everything that I love the most.  The flavor is fresh and bright.  To winter braises it adds a touch of summertime and with just a squeeze it can wake up a bland dish.

 

In the April 30th LA Times a recipe for popovers with lemon could not be resisted.  The article recommended them for breakfast so I popped out of bed on Sunday morning to whip up a batch.

 

                 Lemon Popover BatterThe BatterReady for the Oven

 

A note on equipment: When we moved to Charlotte, I couldn’t bring myself to pack my popover pan for storage despite having used it only once three years prior.  What seemed like a waste of space at the time was now a must have.  I checked several sources and all of them noted the importance of using a true popover pan when making popovers.  The cups in a popover pan are deeper and narrower than the average muffin tin.  Rather than forcing the popovers to expand wider, the popover pan’s narrow cups force the batter to rise, resulting in the fluffy crowns you expect from true popovers. 

 

The popovers were very good albeit slightly dense for my taste.  Where I was expecting light and fluffy I got heavy and doughy.  I’m not sure if this is my blame or the fault of the recipe.  Or, perhaps popovers are meant to be a bit heavy (I’ve only had them at home when I’ve made them).  The flavor, however, was light and the lemon was subtle perfection.  I was somewhat skeptical of the parmesan cheese topping, but it turned out to be the best part of the popover.  The parmesan lends a salty crunch to an otherwise mild popover. 

 

Wondering where I might have gone wrong, I researched popover recipes in my other cookbooks.  Several noted that the popover batter should be mixed only until the ingredients are combined (as with most baked goods, it is important not to overwork the flour).  The LA Times recipe says to mix for 1 to 2 minutes.  Other recipes even suggest ignoring lumps.  I whisked until all of the lumps were gone (a couple of minutes).  In hindsight, I should have mixed the batter far less.  Something tells me that allowing the batter to rest for 30 minutes (as with pancake batter) would improve the texture of the popover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Fresh Out of the Oven

 

To be sure, the popovers were beautiful.  They puffed up much larger than I anticipated, and they baked to a beautiful golden brown.  If you have children, be sure to let them peak through the oven window to watch the popovers pop.  They also fill the house with the soft, citrus scent of lemon.  Who wouldn’t love that on a summer Sunday morning? 

 

Popovers with Lemon

LA Times, April 30, 2008

Total time:

50 minutes
Note: This recipe calls for popover pans.

4 tablespoons melted butter, divided

2 cups milk

6 eggs
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons finely grated Grano Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional) 

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray the cups of two popover pans with nonstick cooking spray, then drizzle 1 tablespoon melted butter evenly among the 12 cups; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, zest and remaining 3 tablespoons butter until combined.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk thoroughly until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Divide the batter among the cups in popover pans, then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the batter.

5. Put the pans in the center of the oven and bake, without opening the oven, for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until dark golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes more.

6. Remove the popovers from the oven and immediately poke each with a thin metal skewer, cake tester or the tip of a paring knife to allow steam to escape. Turn the popovers out of the pan and dust with powdered sugar, if you like. Serve immediately, or reheat later in a 350-degree oven until just crisp.

Each popover: 174 calories; 7 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 8 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 121 mg. cholesterol; 154 mg. sodium.