Two Recipes That Will Start 2019 Just Right
Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip and Lucky Prosperity Soup
My grandfather used to say nothing good ever happens after midnight and my parents generally subscribed to the same ideology. So, for the most part, my sister and I especially (not so much my brothers) were required to be home by 11 p.m. starting in 10th grade until college. The one year my parents did make an exception was New Year’s Eve of 11th-grade in high school. I remember that because of the onslaught of a drunken boy’s midnight “kiss” and the unpleasant aftermath of a cheap Andre’s Cold Duck hangover the next morning – both firsts unfortunately not easily forgotten.
Ever since, I’ve been one to mostly stay home on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. A day of end-of-the year feasting and quiet reflection with friends takes top billing in my book, and so do both of these recipes. Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip, from my latest, The New Southern Chef’s Table Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, May 2018), offers just the right blend of ooey-gooey, sweet, buttery, warm blue crab dip for a decadent start and the Lucky Prosperity Soup (from Mashed – Beyond the Potato, Gibbs Smith) a smooth, gilded finish.
Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip
(Makes 4 – 6 Appetizer Portions)
Situated literally on the edge of what is alternatively deemed “The Edge of America” (or simply Folly Beach), Rita’s Seaside Grille is just a stone’s throw from the frothy, popular surfing waters of the Atlantic. Its breezy, beachy locale lends itself both to the mood and look of the place, as well as the hefty, gutsy menu options, which include lunch, and dinner and a very popular brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Though casual, Rita’s also retains a kind of muted elegance that comes through its captain chairs, high , glossy wood bars and tables. Beyond beach chic, it’s a great stop before or after the beach, or anytime your belly is aching and in search of a good time. And, your canine pal(s) are welcome on the covered outdoor patio, which also houses some great live bands.
Executive chef Billy Spencer has been at the helm here since Hall Management (of Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton, Halls Chophouse, and Old Village Post House Inn fame), bought it a few years ago. The Johnson & Wales grad describes Rita’s crab dip, which was originally inspired by a restaurant where he worked in Florida, as “creamy, but not too heavy.” It’s rife with crab meat that he sources from a fisherman in North Carolina and as he points out, each portion is roughly 50 percent chock-full of crab. It’s lovely that it can be made ahead and re-heated just before serving.
For the dip:
1 1/2 cups cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into strips or a chiffonade
2 cups claw crabmeat
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup roasted, drained and finely diced red peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese for garnish
Serve with tortilla chips or these dipping chips:
Two 6-inch pitas, each cut into eight wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
Generous sprinkling kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the cream cheese and heavy cream together in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl and set aside to cool. Fold the remaining ingredients into the cream mixture, stirring gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Portion out into six microwave-proof ramekins or small bowls. (Note: The dip can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated up to a day in advance).
Meanwhile, prepare the chips. Preheat oven to 4ooF. Toss together the pita wedges with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer, and toast until golden brown (tossing once or twice) about 12-15 minutes. Reserve warm.
To warm the dip “cups,” microwave, uncovered, on high for one minute. Sprinkle each bowl with the cheddar cheese garnish and broil under a hot broiler until melted, just before serving. Serve warm with the freshly prepared, warm chips.
Lucky Prosperity Soup
(Yields 8 to 10 servings)
New Year’s Day in the South ushers in a call to wealth and prosperity, which are symbolized by black-eyed peas (representing coins) and collard greens (representing greenbacks). Often, they’re cooked separately, usually with some ham hock for flavor, and put together on the same plate with rice. This delicious soup takes the best of the bunch and puts them all in one pot, with the exclusion of rice. If you can’t find collard greens, substitute kale or another sturdy green. This soup is finished with a traditional sweet and onion splash from a southern garnish known as chow-chow. If you cannot find it, substitute a traditional relish, but modify the results as suggested in the recipe.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 cups (1 1/4 pounds/ 565g) re-hydrated black-eyed peas, rinsed
3/4 pound (340g) smoked ham hock
8 cups (1.9l) water
1 large bunch collard greens, rinsed, tough stems removed and discarded, and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) strips
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or Tabasco
1/3 cup (80g) chow-chow or 2 tablespoons traditional relish
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to coat. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar and reduce quickly to a glaze.
Add the peas, ham, water, collard greens, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 1 hour, until thickened and the greens have cooked down and the peas are soft, but holding their shape. Remove the ham hock from the pot and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, using an immersion blender, briefly mash the soup in the cooking pot to help incorporate the beans and the greens. When cool enough to handle, cut off and remove outer fat and skin layers from the hock. Cut off any visible meat, finely chop, and return to the pot; discard the rest. Just before serving, stir in the hot sauce and chow-chow. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve steaming hot and sit back and count your lucky stars.
Wishing you and all you love all things wonderful and delicious as you transition into a new year and a happy, healthy 2019!
Holly and Rocky (principal taste tester and best friend!)
Hardly anything I can think of trumps the utterly simple deliciousness of a well-prepared French onion soup. Similarly, I can think of nothing utterly worse than a thin, flavorless ill-prepared version. Like all dishes with very few ingredients, the key is making each one count. For an exquisite French onion soup it boils down to three things: a top-quality, rich dark beef stock, long, slowly simmered caramelized onions, and Gruyere or Comte cheese for topping. Therefore, if at all possible make your own stock, don’t rush the onions, and go for the best quality imported cheese you can afford. Processed Swiss will work in a pinch but the flavor and color will be diluted. Aside from its heady layers of sweet onions marrying with nutty, bubbling cheese and a rich broth, this is an ideal soup for entertaining (such as New Year’s Eve or Day!). All of the components can be made ahead and put together at the last minute before serving, and I’ve never met a soul (French or otherwise) that doesn’t love the stuff.
(Adapted from pre-published pages for The French Cook: Soups and Stews, Gibbs Smith, Fall 2014)
Soupe a L’Oignon Francaise
French Onion Soup
(Makes 6 servings)
Special equipment: Six 1 1/3 cup oven-proof bowls or ramekins
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large sweet onions (preferably Vidalia), or substitute regular white onions, peeled halved and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3/4 cup good quality white wine (suggest Chardonnay)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 cups best-quality, unsalted beef stock (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the croutons and cheese garnish:
12 slices 1 or 2 day old French baguette bread, cut into 1/2”-thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups grated Gruyere or Comte cheese
In a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, melt the olive oil and butter together over medium high heat. When melted, add the onions, garlic and a generous dash of salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Continue cooking another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the onion “water” is cooked off and the onions have become quite soft. Add the thyme and continue cooking. The onions will start turning golden and caramelizing in 10 minutes. This is what you want. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Increase heat to high, add the wine, stirring to pick up any brown/caramelized bits and reduce by half. Add the vermouth and also reduce by half. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the soup, and stir to mix into the onions, cooking for one minute. Add the beef stock, stir. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking another 15 minutes, uncovered. Meanwhile, turn the broiler on high. Arrange the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle each side lightly with olive oil and rub it into the bread. Place the sheet on the top shelf and broil until just golden on each side, turning once. You can stop here and store the soup separately from the garnishes overnight in a refrigerator or continue to finish the soups. To serve, taste the soup again, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Ladle boiling hot soup into each bowl/ramekin. Top each with 2 or 3 croutons and about 1/2 cup grated cheese. Arrange on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 4 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh thyme sprigs for garnish if desired.
Bon appetit et Joyeux 2014!
Of late, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to waste. Wasted clothing, wasted time, wasted paper, and especially wasted food. Most Saturday mornings I go through my fridge to assess what I need to shop for that day. This involves cleaning out food that’s “past due” and that horrible sensation of throwing out and wasting what was once perfectly good food.
I’ve always hated doing this, my mother taking the motto of “waste not, want not” to epic proportions (she even re-uses underwear!), but in a world where so many are in need from the ravages of storms, disasters, poverty and more, it seems even more reprehensible.
So, when I saw three forgotten Winesap apples I had picked up at the farmers’ markets several weeks ago were starting to soften and fade, I refused to render them refuse and instead, decided to turn them into a tart. I also had some prepared frozen puff pastry in the freezer left over from recipe testing for a book I wrote on tarts, so there was yet another reason to make it happen.
With holidays on the horizon and Thanksgiving coming in two weeks, this tart is delicious and incredibly easy to make. In fact, it comes together in less than 30 minutes, and could be prepared while the turkey is resting and baked while everyone’s digging into their Thanksgiving feast, simultaneously perfuming the air with its heady aromas.
Normally, I’m not a fan of prepared pastry, but prepared puff pastry is so complicated to make and increasingly delicious prepared. I say, go for it! I like Pepperidge Farm best. All you have to do is remember to defrost it over-night in the refrigerator or set aside 40 minutes for it to thaw at room temp. Tart/sweet, nutty, and rife with the aromas of cinnamon and vanilla, a warm slice of this tart practically begs for a generous scoop of best-quality vanilla ice cream. You can prep and assemble it a few hours ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator before backing. Bon appetit!
Easy Peasy Apple Walnut Tart
(Makes 6 servings)
3 apples (suggest a tart/sweet variety like Granny Smith or Winesap), peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Seeds scraped from two fresh vanilla pods (or 1 TBS vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Generous pinch salt
Generous pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 sheet thawed prepared puff pastry
Egg wash: 1 yolk mixed with a splash of cold water and a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pats
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchement paper. Gently unfold the thawed pastry and place on the parchment, pressing with fingertips to gap any holes in the creases or elsewhere. Combine the apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg and walnuts in a medium bowl, tossing well with your hands to coat evenly. Arrange in the center of the puff pastry, spreading the filling out to all but the last inch of pastry. This should be left “naked,” as it will puff around the filling to form the edges of the tart. Smooth out the filling with your fingers or a wooden spoon so it is even and about the same thickness all around. Scatter the butter pats on top of the filling, spacing evenly. Prepare the egg wash in a cup and brush the naked edges of the tart lightly with the wash, being careful not to let it slip under the pastry and onto the paper.
Bake in the center rack for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut and serve with a fat scoop of delicious ice cream. (Note: This tart is also delicious at room temperature or cold).