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.

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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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Elegant Shrimp Salad Boats Set Sail For Seamless Entertaining

The last year and a half has been so crazy busy in my world, I’ve rarely had time to settle into one of my favorite things in the world to do, simple, joyful cooking. The only thing that has that beat, is cooking for friends, which is something I enjoyed doing this weekend. Planning the menu, doing the prep, setting the table, and all the things that go into making a successful meal, set the groove for a happy mood and an enjoyable meal.

Appetizers are the starting point for any meal, and as such, are perhaps one of the most crucial components to set a successful, tasty entertaining stage. I came across some beautiful, fresh local shrimp at the market, and decided to put them to use in appetizers. I liked the idea of shrimp salad – a Southern staple after all – but wanted to keep it super light and sophisticated. So, the mayo and calorie count is really low, and the flavor comes mostly from fresh lime juice and zest, and oodles of finely chopped fresh chives. Instead of bread, I decided to use delicate, crunchy endive leaves to “wrap” the salad into individual bites. It works nicely, but bread will do just fine, too.

For this salad, I roasted the shrimp, a trick I picked up from The Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten. Roasting at a high heat takes just minutes and really helps preserve the flavor and the nutrients of the shrimp. The best part about all of this? You can prep the salad the day ahead and scoop the salad into the boats as your guests are arriving, which is exactly how it played out at my house on Sunday night.

These would look beautiful on your Easter or any spring holiday table. Happy holidays and happy cooking!

Elegant Shrimp Salad Boats

 

Elegant Shrimp Salad Boats

(Makes about 12 appetizer servings)

3/4 of a pound fresh, shelled shrimp, de-veined and rinsed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Generous dash Tabasco Sauce

1 shallot, finely chopped

Zest of 1 lime, finely chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 – 2 Belgian endive lettuce heads, trimmed, rinsed, separated and patted dry.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Arrange the shrimp on a roasting sheet and toss to coat with the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 3 minutes, or until just opaque and lightly pink. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, chop the shrimp very finely (see picture). Place the chopped shrimp in a medium bowl and combine with the mayonnaise, Tabasco, chopped shallot, lime zest, lime juice, and chopped chives. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. (Note: This can be prepared up to one day in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator).

To prep the endives, trim a bit from their root base and remove any tattered, browned outer leaves. The leaves that are inside are a bit sturdier and best for the boats in this recipe. They can also be prepped ahead, but store them in the fridge wrapped in a damp towel. They should not be exposed to open air or they may discolor.

To finish the boats, simply scoop a rounding, heaping tablespoon into the center of each boat. Top with a drizzle of fresh chives, if desired. Arrange prettily on an attractive service plate.

 

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Announcing Recipes from My Kitchen

As 2012 begins to pick up steam and I begin to outline my professional plans for the new year, I’ve decided to add a “recipe file” of new recipes I develop in my kitchen towards new book and writing projects and, in some cases, from cookbooks I’ve previously published. Such is the case in this post, which re-visits one of my favorite recipes from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook.

Super Food Time!

The Super Bowl demands foods that will satisfy big appetites and this Sweet River Run Farms Grass-Fed Meat Loaf from Summer Farmers Market Cookbook is guaranteed to do just that. Chunky, moist and full of flavor, it could also be formed into meatballs, browned and then baked off. I like it best in loaf form. Over chunky mashed potatoes or even grits, it is a sure winner.

Grass-fed beef makes a big difference in flavor and texture. Try and get your hands on some. I usually score at the farmers’ market at the Sweet River Run Farms booth at the Charleston Farmers’ Market when it’s in season (c’mon April!), but it can also usually be found at higher-end grocery stores, specialty shops, and often, at Costco, of all places.

The content and recipe that follows is adapted from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2009) by Holly Herrick.

Chunky, moist and delicious meat loaf. Photograph by Rick McKee.

Grass-fed beef tastes completely unlike the corn-fed, mass-produced, commercial variety found on grocery store shelves across the country. When cooking, the aromas of the sweet farm grasses upon which the cattle grazed during their gentle, low-stress, antibiotic and hormone-free lives fills your home. It tastes exactly like it smells: clean, pure, grassy, and even a little nutty. The texture is firmer and more elastic than corn-fed beef, too. Because it has a lower fat content, grass-fed beef typically cooks more quickly. Be careful not to overcook it or it will become dry.

Sweet River Run Farms Grass-Fed Beef Meat Loaf

(Serves eight)

2 pounds (4 cups) grass-fed ground beef

1 cup whole wheat panko (or substitute other unseasoned fresh breadcrumbs)

1 cup skim milk

1 large egg

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Tabasco or preferred hot sauce brand

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon barbecue sauce

3 cloves garlic, smashed into a rough puree

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

4 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl and, using your hands, blend thoroughly. Press firmly into a 9-inch terrine mold or regular loaf pan, shaping to round the top slightly, like a traditional meat loaf. Cut the butter into several small squares and evenly dot the top of the meat loaf with the butter, pressing lightly with fingertips to embed. Bake on center rack until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes (or 45 minutes in a traditional loaf pan). Remove, and allow to rest about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess fat and turn out the loaf. Slice into 2″-thick slices and serve immediately.

Where’s the Beef?

If it’s grass-fed cattle, it’s grazing lazily in an open field of waving green grass, the way cows were meant to do.

Cows are healthier eating grass because that’s what their stomachs are designed to process, not the corn and soybean diets fed to commercial cattle. Grass-fed beef is healthier for the consumer because it has a healthy ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, is lower in fat and calories than corn-fed beef, and has high levels of CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, another good fat that’s been shown to prevent cancer.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=southern+farmers+market+cookbook&sprefix=southern+farm%2Caps%2C158

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