Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Recipes from My Kitchen

Recipes from my kitchen – either from my cookbooks or recipes tested for events or for upcoming books I’m working on.

Bechamel Embellished

Voila!  The stock and fumet chapter is put to bed, so now it’s onto bechamel in the new sauce book. Some might argue, and in fact some of my friends have, that bechamel is boring. One of the five French mother sauces, I agree that it is certainly basic. It’s a simple white roux, sometimes flavored with a bit of onion and finished with milk and/or cream and seasoning.

But to me, that’s a huge part of bechamel’s beauty. The simple flavor backdrop and creamy, slightly thick consistency sets a dynamic flavor potential stage that help it evolve into anything from a Nantua to a Soubise with the addition of herbs, stock, cheese, or really just about anything that makes sense depending on what you’re pairing it with. Consider a chive and Parmesan bechamel over soft-scrambled eggs and toast or seasoned with mushrooms and wine as a tasty pasta topper? The possibilities are literally endless!

Not just a sauce, bechamel is also the tasty glue that holds together casseroles and gratins, as it does in this recipe I tested in my kitchen yesterday.

Crunchy Crustacean Gratin

 

The inspiration for the recipe came from a visit to my local fish monger. I found some gorgeous seasonal shrimp and some beautiful fresh stone crab (one pound of each). I crushed the crab with a mallet, leaving the raw flesh in place, and peeled and de-veined the shrimp. Both the crab and the shrimp shells went into a large pot with a bit of butter and a finely chopped leek and a finely chopped small onion. After it softened, I deglazed the pan with a fat splash of Chardonnay, reduced it down, added 8 cups of water, and allowed the whole thing to simmer lightly, skimming along the way (see previous post) until it reduced by half. Then, I strained the entire fumet, discarding the solids, returned it to the pan and reduced it until it was down to a cup of liquid. The result is known as a glace – in this case a crustacean glace. Two tablespoons of this were whisked into the bechamel, along with some herbs and seasonings to top the beautiful fresh shrimp and some more lump crab. The result was creamy, rich goodness that utterly defies the concept of a boring bechamel! Sacre bleu!

Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Gratin

(Makes 8 to 10 portions)

Basic Bechamel

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons All Purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cold skim milk

1 cup cold Half & Half

Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and shallot and sweat to soften, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, whisking, and avoiding coloring the roux. Add the milk and Half and Half all at once, whisking to incorporate smoothly. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the bechamel up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue cooking until thickened enough to coat a spoon and the flour flavor has cooked out – about 5 minutes. Season careful to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm for the gratin recipe, which only uses half of this recipe. The rest will store fine in the refrigerator for a couple days until you’re ready to make those eggs!

For the gratin:

1/2 recipe Basic Bechamel (above)

1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth

2 tablespoons of crustacean glace (see top of the column for instructions on preparation) OR substitute best quality fish stock or clam juice

2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

Generous dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped

1 pound lump crab meat

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the basic bechamel. Divide in half reserving the remainder for future use. While still warm, whisk in the Vermouth, glace, scallions, parsley, Old Bay Seasoning, Tabasco, lemon juice. Taste carefully and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp in the bottom of a shallow,   baking dish or pie pan. Top with an even layer of the crab. Pour the bechamel over the top, spreading with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with a layer of the bread crumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm! All this needs is a small salad to be a meal, and also makes a great appetizer with toast points.

Bon appetit!

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Taking Stock and Making Some, Too.

A series of conflicting emotions and thoughts have been running through my head this week. They include: joy, gratitude, panic, exhaustion, elation and the constant, silent internal scream of “help!” I’d be very, very concerned  about my sanity unless I hadn’t experienced this strange emotional series before. It was the same way I felt with the last four cookbooks I undertook writing and researching and eventually publishing. And, that’s where I gratefully am, once again.

The next book will be about sauces, classic French sauces with accompanying recipes for putting them to use in readers’ kitchens. Yesterday, I began the first round of recipe testing for the basis of many reduction and classic French sauces, stocks, or “fonds” as they’re called in French. Instantly, I was transported back to my training days in France at Le Cordon Bleu and in professional Parisian kitchens. As I was adjusting the temperature of the beef stock, Chef Renee’s voice was echoing in my ear, “Il ne faut pas troubler la sauce, Holly.”  Or, as I was skimming the fat off the top of the chicken stock, another joked (in slightly more foggy French), not to over-skim or there would be nothing left.

That’s one of the things I love most about cooking. It’s constantly transporting me to other times and places and loved ones, even as I’m completely immersed in the moment.  Naturally, with this book these memories will largely be about France, one of my most favorite places on the planet.

There, sauces are so revered you’re encouraged to sop them up with bread and drink them with wine. Oui!

Many sauces begin or end with a stock, fumet, or bouillion. Of these, there are many kinds, but the one I want to address here is a beef stock.  The essence of this stock is the flavor derived from meat, bones, vegetables, tomato, wine, and an herb bundle called a bouquet garni.  They’re quick to put together, but the best are cooked very slowly over many hours (3 to 5) to pull out the rich flavor and color. Getting good roasted color and flavor on the beef bones, beef and veggies is the most important first step. I do this by beginning the sear on the stove, and finishing with a good roasting in a hot, 500F oven. Finally, this is de-glazed with a good red wine (I used Merlot), reduced and returned to the stock pan with enough water to just cover the whole mixture.

This is brought up to a boil and reduced to an extremely gentle, uncovered simmer. The water should barely be moving on the top of the stock and there is no stirring required or even suggested. This is the part Chef Renee was talking about, not “troubling” the sauce. If it gets stirred and addled, the proteins and fats start working their way through the mixture, which can lead to a cloudy, murky stock and ultimately, sauce. The only thing you really need to do from here is set up a medium bowl with cold water and a shallow ladle near your stove top. Once the stock comes up to its initial boil (then simmer!) it will produce a lot of foam and fat skin on top. This needs to be removed with the ladle, rinsing it in the water as you go. After that, skimming is only required about every 30 minutes. This is an excellent time to grab a book and soak in the gorgeous aromas coming from your kitchen.

Sure, in today’s world we can find good quality “stocks in a box” and gourmet quality demi-glace, but nothing replaces the slow, steady, fragrant simmer of a homemade stock.

Classic Beef Stock

(Yields about 8 – 10 cups)

2 TBS olive oil

2 TBS butter

2 pounds beef marrow bones

1 1/2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

2 large stalks celery, cut into 2″-lengths

1 large leek, well-cleaned and rinsed, cut into 2″-lengths

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2″-lengths

2 TBS tomato pasted

1 cup full-bodied red (suggest a good quality Cabernet or Merlot)

14 cups cold water

3 cloves garlic, peeled

Bouquet Garni – several sprigs thyme, parsley, and 2 bay leaves tied in a bundle

5 peppercorns

Preheat oven to 500F. In a large, heavy-bottomed roasting pan, heat olive oil and butter together over medium high heat on the stove-top (Note: You may need to use two burners). When sizzling add the bones and short ribs all at once. Season very lightly with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper (Note: This is forbidden classically, but I like to give the bones a tiny jump start on seasoning – very, very light on the salt). Allow to brown on the side-down, then stir to toss the bones and beef to brown remaining sides, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, celery, leek, carrots and saute together for about 5 minutes.

Put the roasting pan in the preheated oven and roast another 10 minutes. Once the color is starting to become a rich golden brown (like in the picture above), add the tomato paste and stir in to combine. Roast another 10 minutes or so, until the bones are a deep golden brown, but not burned.

Remove from the oven. Deglaze by pouring the wine over the hot meat and veggies, stirring to pick up any brown bits. Reduce the wine to half its quantity over high heat on the stove top. Pour all of the ingredients into an 8 quart stock pot or Dutch Oven. Add the cold water (just enough to cover), garlic, peppercorns and bouquet garni. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a very gentle simmer, following “skimming” advice provided above.

Simmer for at least 3 and up to 5 hours. Strain through a strainer, and later a finer strainer (Chinois) if any solids made it through the first pass. Stock will store well in the freezer for several months and in the refrigerator for up to one week. It’s best to store it in containers that correlate with the size batches you will need in the future on an as-need basis.

(Note: Do NOT waste the flavorful beef on the short ribs. It will be fall off the bone tender. Pull it off, when cool enough. I tossed mine with a little barbecue sauce and had it with a salad for dinner. Amazing! You can share one of the bones with your dog if you like. Mine was very, very happy I did. The cat was not).

 

Good, roasted color on beef bones and veggies is essential for a good beef stock-.
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Petite Packages, Huge Lowcountry Flavor

When I was a kid growing up in rural Massachusetts, Memorial Day meant summer, summer meant long vacations in Maine, and vacations in Maine meant long days clambering on rocky beaches and splashing in cool waters with my brothers, sister and the seven-strong O’Brien clan. Long, dreamy nights almost always sealed these happy days around a fire on the O’Brien’s beach where we would all gorge ourselves on lobster, corn on the cob, and clams. Some days, we’d tool around in our faithful Vista Cruiser station wagon and find one of the many road-side shacks serving up more of the same, with plenty of drawn “buttah” for generous dipping.

Back then, this budding epicurean and eventual chef, thought I had tasted the best possible food on the planet, and didn’t even dare to dream that I ever would come that close to that kind of taste and texture perfection ever again.  Fresh Maine lobster and clams, all salty, sweet and somewhere creamy, seemed (and still do) like some of God’s finest food creations – incomparable to just about anything else.

Fortunately, the road that lay ahead has been a long and tasty one, seasoned with long stints in Paris and rural Southern France and many delicious meals along the way.  Then, I arrived in Charleston, and that’s when an entirely new food love affair began. Its name is “shrimp.”

Spanking fresh Lowcountry shrimp fresh from the fryer and served dock-side.

Lowcountry shrimp is like that Maine lobster, utterly delicious and unlike any other you’ll find around the globe. Whether the spring and summer’s white species or fall’s brown species, they’re coddled by the pluff mud bottoms, creeks, marshes,  and tides that work in tandem to forge an impossibly distinct flavor that screams “Lowcountry.”   As far as I’m concerned, any other shrimp is an imposter.

I’ve had some darn good shrimp around these parts, but earlier this week, I was like that little kid in Maine all over again, beside myself with glee that I was savoring one of the best possible things to eat on the planet.

The setting and company probably had a lot to do with it. I was invited to join my friends Genny and Hugh on their creek-side dock in Hollywood, SC for a fish fry. I’d been there before, so I knew what I was in for – lots of laughs, delicious, salt-air breezes, and wide-open vistas of sparkling water and swaying marshes that seem to go on forever until they reach the sea. On past occasions, too, Hugh has proved himself to be one heck of a great cook. The last time was a Lowcountry boil of crabs pulled up right from the dock, kielbasa, and corn,  drained and poured out onto newspapers for all to enjoy.

This time, he outdid himself. The shrimp had been brought in that morning from a next door neighbor’s shrimp boat, netted from Lowcountry waters just a few miles from where we were sitting. Petite, pale pink jewels glimmered with freshness as he gave each a brief bath in buttermilk generously seasoned with black pepper and a bit of salt. After, each was tossed in the lightest cloak of seasoned flour. Then, the trick, as Hugh said, is to fry them in small batches (as in 4 or 5) so the oil temperature stays consistent. The second trick, Hugh said, as he poured the first batch out onto a paper towel, is to eat them hot from the fryer.

That part, I assure you, was not too difficult. After the first batch, the air already smelled sweetly of shrimp, and our stomachs were rumbling.  The first bite was the sweetest, yielding to the slightest, just right crunch of the flour crust and right into the heart of the matter – sweet, milky, briny Lowcountry shrimp. I think the three of us went through four or five batches before we even got to the catfish. With each bite, my gratitude for the glory of the Lowcountry and her shrimp bounty, as well as the blessing of good friends, grew.  And, so did my love for one of the world’s most perfect foods – fresh, fried Lowcountry shrimp. And, no “buttah” needed.

RECIPE

Although nothing really beats the simple deliciousness of Hugh’s fried shrimp, the following is a great, easy to prepare recipe from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2009) by yours truly that is an effortless and delicious shrimp-stuffed tomato delight – perfect for any Memorial Day or upcoming summer celebration as tomatoes just start to come into peak season.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Orange-Basil Shrimp Salad

(Serves 4)

4 large, ripe tomatoes

4 cups raw, fresh Lowcountry shrimp, shells on

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

8 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbon-like strips

1 table grated orange zest (optional)

Prepare the tomatoes for stuffing. Cut out the remains of the stem, leaving a trim, even “incision.” Cut an X into the entire top. Fan the four sections open into a circle, to open up the tomato. Using a soup spoon, scoop out the excess flesh and seeds from the inside of the tomato, reserving for another use (as in a sauce, for example). Place the tomatoes on a plate and reserve.

Rinse the shrimp and drain in a colander. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp and reduce to a simmer. Cook until uniformly pale pink in color, or until the shrimp start to float to the top, about 1 – 2 minutes; remove from the heat and drain. Rinse with cold water until cool. Shell and devein the shrimp; chop coarsely.

Place the shrimp in a large bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the basil and zest and stir to combine. Scoop a fourth of the salad and place it in the center of each prepared tomato. Form the salad into an even, round mound. Put on plate garnished with fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of grated orange zest. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Welcome to summer….or at least Memorial Day!

 

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Turnips, Parents, and the March of Time

Every spring, my parents make their annual trek from their winter home in Naples, FL to their summer home in Kansas City. Along the  winding Amtrak railways they make a stop first in Charleston to visit me for about a week, and then head up to Boston to do the same with my twin sister, Heather. It’s a familial tradition that always includes lots of laughs, a few tears, lots of delicious food, lots of wine, lots of long walks, and countless hands of Hearts.

Mom and Dad, affectionately known as Hen and Herb, completed the Charleston leg of their journey two days ago.  All the usual suspects were at play, including lunch at two of my mothers favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill and Magnolias. And, even though she is loathe to deviate from her preferred Charleston restaurant path, Hen (and less reluctantly, Herb) agreed to try some of my newer favorites, including Zen Asian Fusion and Martha Lou’s Kitchen. Of course, there were many meals at my kitchen table, which Hen and Herb, sweetly, declared “the best of all.”

Enjoying lunch in my kitchen with my sweet, hungry dog Tann Mann, Hen, and Herb.

 

But, there was a new,  sad element at play on this occasion. It was evident in my Dad’s and dog’s slowing gaits, my Mother’s increased nap time, and my own aching shoulder. It was even more evident in conversations, many heavily peppered with memories of those long passed, like my Nanna, and those of recent passing, like several of Hen and Herb’s friends. But, it was most evident to me as I sat with my father at a Riverdogs game and watched my nearly 80 year-old father beam with the joy of the small boy he was almost as many years ago when he met his idol, Babe Ruth, and began a life-long love of baseball.  He loved explaining the game to me, and even as he did, I realized with powerful clarity that I wouldn’t always have my Dad or Mom. Tears seeped from my eyes as he described the job of “The Closer,” even as I squeezed my Mom’s hand that much tighter during the fireworks she so loves.

Of course, I’ve always known we won’t always be together in this life, but it really hit home on this trip. Father Time is catching up with all of us. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it, and boy, do I. The house has been painfully silent the last few days as I’ve re-lived the many memories of this past visit both while waking and in dreams. Reality struck this morning, again, when I finally decided to get on the scale after all of that indulgence. The numbers told a cruel, three pound weight gain story.

Small matter, nothing that salads and lots of veggies won’t cure. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook that is the perfect seasonal ticket for light and delicious eating, using two of spring’s sweetest, onions and fresh, creamy turnips, one of my Nanna’s favorites. Both elegant and simple, it’s perfect for early spring entertaining. And, it’s so healthy, it will help stave off Father Time and create memories to last a life time, like my past week with Hen and Herb.

Creamy White Turnip Soup with Spring Onions and Roasted Garlic. Photo by Rick McKee.

 

Creamy White Turnip Soup with Spring Onions and Roasted Garlic

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 head roasted garlic

1 bunch (about 4 cups) white turnips, peeled (outer layer discarded), and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 medium spring onion, root and green top trimmed to 1-inch lengths from the bulb and cut into 8 wedges

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips and 1-inch lengths

1/4 cup creme fraiche or whole cream

Green onion tops to garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim the top of the garlic and wrap with foil. Place in the middle of the oven and roast until soft to the touch, about 30 to 45 minutes. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the soft pulp by pressing the blade of a chef’s knife against the bulb to release the roasted flesh; discard the papery casing.

Place the garlic, turnips, onions, and chicken stock in a large saucepan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the turnips are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the stove and puree until smooth with a handheld blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pan. Add the nutmeg, prosciutto, and creme fraiche. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings as required. Garnish with a sprinkling of freshly chopped green onions and serve immediately.

Note: This soup can be prepared in advance and frozen or stored in the refrigerator. However, if you plan to do so, add the cream just before serving, not before storing.

Bon appetit!

 

 

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Summertime and the Chili is Easy

Lest you fear I’ve completely lost my marbles, I’m aware it’s not summer yet. However, here in balmy Charleston, spring is well past her fullest bloom, though still lovely. The official first waves of feels-like-summer-heat will arrive in a few weeks with the arrival of the Spoletians; invariably the two go together year after year.

So,  I’m a little ahead of myself seasonally, a sensation that started, ironically when I went to the first Charleston farmers’ market of the season a Saturday ago. Sifting through luscious strawberries, long spears of asparagus, and pungent sweet onions, I was giddy with the fruits of spring. Yet, the grass fed beef and pork sausage I purchased from one of my favorite vendors jump-started my culinary mind to summer. Specifically, peppers, tomatoes, and their culinary bedfellow, chili.

Even in the doggiest days of August heat, I can’t resist making the stuff. So utterly wholesome, I load it up with colorful, peppery heat and plenty of grass-fed beef and beans. I usually finish it with some dark chocolate and a dab of local honey for sweetness, and it’s utterly delicious and very nutritious.

Though it’s a bit early for the season, that’s what I found myself doing once again yesterday, and loving every minute of it. The fragrance of making chili is at least half the fun and my dog, Tann Mann,  makes a virtual dance out of it the process that makes me smile.

This time, and in keeping with the true spring season, I decided to add some color and fiber in the form of Swiss chard. It’s a mild, tender green, and just needs a few minutes of cooking to wilt, soften and heat through at the very end of the cooking process. Think parsley on steroids! Be sure to wash the chard thoroughly, break off and discard the tough stems, and dry well.  I cut them into thin strips, or a chiffonade. This is easily done by stacking the leaves, rolling them into a bundle, and  cut into thin strips, horizontally across the bundle.

A chiffonade of Swiss chard.

Another nice thing about this recipe, is that you can store it in the refrigerator for a couple days, where the flavors will continue to develop. Re-heat it in the batch sizes you need only, as you want to avoid over-cooking the Swiss chard, which will make it soggy and more grey than green.

To keep the fat content very low and the flavor high, I used sausage, too, but drained it very well after the browning process to remove almost all but a few tablespoons of the fat. This is why it’s important to add the majority of the spices after the browning and draining process, otherwise they will end up down your sink or in your garbage disposal, instead of in your chili. Feel free to lighten up on the heat if you have a tender palate. As always, be sure to taste and modify salt and pepper quantities to suit your taste. Happy cooking!

Chunky Spunky Farmers’ Market Chili

(Makes 10 – 12 portions)

Chunky Spunky Farmers' Market Chili

 

One Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 pound grass fed beef (or substitute organic or ground beef)

1 pound sweet sausage (casings removed if applicable)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 Tbs roasted ground cumin

1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes

generous dash paprika

pinch ground cloves

1 Tbs Mexican oregano

1 Tbs thyme leaves

1 medium Bermuda onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper,  halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

1 poblano pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

2 habenero chiles, halved, seeds removed, and minced (Note: wear protective gloves if your hands are sensitive to the heat from the chile oil)

1 jalapeno pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

1  1/2 cups medium bodied, good quality red wine (such as Pinot Noir)

2 cups quartered rainbow Heirloom cherry or grape tomatoes

One 15.5  ounce can black beans

One 15.5 can Great Northern beans

1 1/2 cups beef stock (or water)

1 square (about 1 Tbs, chopped) dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao

1 Tbs honey

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Garnish: Sour Cream

In a large soup pot or Dutch Oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the beef and the sausage, crumbling into small chunks as you’re adding. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir, occasionally, continuing to break the meat into small, uniform pieces. Cook until browned, about five minutes. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat, discarding. Return the meat to the pan.

Over medium heat, add the cumin, red chile pepper flakes, paprika, cloves, Mexican oregano, and thyme. Stir to combine. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, poblano, habenero, jalapeno and garlic. Continue to cook over medium to medium low heat, stirring, until all of the vegetables have just softened, about five minutes.

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and continue to cook until it has reduced by half.  Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomatoes, black beans, Great Northern beans (both with their liquor – it contains nutrients and fiber), and beef stock. Increase heat and bring up to a low simmer. Stir in the chocolate and the honey. Taste and add salt and pepper lightly as needed.

Cook on a low simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes. Serve very hot in shallow bowls with a generous dollop of sour cream. (Note: Left-overs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The chili also freezes very well for up to 3 months).

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