Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

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Thrice “Baked” Nice

In this, their third cookbook, Brooklyn-based baking dynamos Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito really hit the ball out of the park, or should that be Yankee Stadium?

Baked Elements: Our  Ten Favorite Ingredients (Abrams, September 2012) is jam-packed with the authors’ highly original and decidedly tasty approach to baking and pairing flavors. This book is organized by their 10 favorite ingredients: peanut butter, lemon & lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted  milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate and banana. The ingredients that “we would take to a desert island or rescue from a burning house,” as the authors’ wittily write.

They traverse the landscape of Americana with soul-warming and regionally influenced treats like buttermilk donuts and devil dogs.  Ironic, absent-minded professor humor (i.e., “If you have ever woken up with a slight hangover and a dubious, half-remembered, half-eaten jar of peanut butter at your side. We can empathize. We have lived this shame.”) that make this not only an extremely informed read, but an extremely fun one as well.

Beautifully organized and photographed by Tina Rupp, it is a must-read for Baked fans and bakers everywhere.  Seventy five delicious recipes with fun names (Lacy Panty Cakes, Lemon Pecorino Pepper Icebox Cookies,  Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Tunnel of Hazelnut Fudge Cake, Banana in a Blanket, and a luscious Cheddar Corn Souffle) are bound to bring out the inner baker in anyone.

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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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