Every once in a while I say to myself, “You’re not buying anything at the grocery store today. You just make do with what you have at home.” And that’s when I come up with some recipes I’m positively crazy about. Here’s one of them. You probably have all these ingredients in your pantry and an added bonus is that it comes together in no time flat. This “dip” is a delight served with cold, crunchy celery sticks. Served with some whole grain crackers your family won’t be able to stay away. I found some organic, gluten-free, non-gmo, vegan, black pepper crackers at the grocery store that totally rocked my taste buds. “Mary’s Gone Crackers”. Holy moly. You’d NEVER know they’re so healthful. And they’re pretty, too.
Spread atop grilled fish or chicken, this tapenade is a natural pleaser as all the flavors marry so darn well. And guess what else? It’s pretty low in fat calling for only a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I hope you’re not put off by the one anchovy filet. I promise, scout’s honor (even though I was thrown out of Girl Scouts when I sneaked out of a meeting to call a boy I liked from a phone booth), you will never know the anchovy’s there. The rinsed, dried filet adds a deeper flavor and after being zipped through the food processor you’ll never even know it was there. Leave it out and your dip will be flat and one-dimensional so give it a try. Lemony and garlicky, it travels well to parties and keeps for days in the refrigerator…if it even lasts that long!
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
Okay, so I guess I slowly climbed on the pumpkin band wagon. It’s not the pumpkin flavored coffees at Starbucks. I can’t stand flavors in my morning coffee…too much like candy and certainly not enough kick. Nor is it the stand of cinnamon brooms whose scent assaults my olfactory system like a WWII blitzkrieg the moment I step foot in Publix. No. It was something as simple as two girl’s weekends, both with girls from college, one was sorority sisters and the other girls that I love. It got me to thinking about college days. And Fall. I went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where we had seasons. That’s where I saw leaves change color for the first time. I thought how I walked across the beautiful southern campus; orange, yellow and red leaves bouncing and spinning on gusts of wind as if doing cartwheels. Kind of like sorority sister Anne B. who, drunk and making her way across campus late one night, fell on her face in the middle of a cart-wheel and knocked out her big front tooth. The whole thing. Yup. Serves her right, though. She was never particularly nice to me plus she had borrowed a very expensive pair of gold earrings and when she finally returned them to me one had been completely destroyed. Apparently she had stepped on it. But she was very, very sorry. Anyway, where ever she is, she’s running around with a fake front tooth. Those Autumn nights were chilly for us Florida girls. In my mind’s eye I can see the wool plaid tweed car coat Daddy had special ordered for me. A soft, tobacco brown with ebony black and pumpkin gold flecks. It was sumptuous and luxurious. Striding across campus to get to class on time, I’d turn the collar up and dig my hands deep into my pockets to stay warm. In the dorm it was cozyand comfortable and on weekends music would spill out of our rooms into the halls as we got ready for our dates and went from room to room sharing cocktails before we went out. Those were the days of albums and turntables. We listened to everything! Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Marshall Tucker, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Grinderswitch, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie had us singing and dancing like you wouldn’t even believe. That was our kind of finger poppin’ music. As I walked out of my dorm with girlfriends or on a date with my boyfriend, you could almost touch the excitement in the darkness, the sensation of anticipation in the frosty, brittle darkness. Our eyes sparkled from the cold as we laughed, chatted and guzzled booze in the chilly night air. Fraternity parties were held outdoors on the patio of the lodges. Mammoth speakers were set up inside and out, as were the kegs and garbage cans filled with grain punch. More Atlanta Rythym Section, Doobie Brothers and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston. Lord, I think back and laugh. Those days celebrated the folly of youth and the good looks that come with it. I’ll stop at the risk of divulging any ancient secrets. But, hey! Try this way easy bread pudding. It’s Fall and time for a little pumpkin!
For me figs are one of the best foods Fall has to offer. Dark, autumnal and vaguely naughty, they are a seasonal food that is quite literally “here today, gone tomorrow”. Late summer to fall is their main season and here in south Florida the availability is somewhat unpredictable since they’re trucked in from far away lands. We try to eat local produce but I’m kind of a fig trollop and I don’t care WHERE they’re from OR who cultivated them. I love me my figs! Regardless, this recipe is a wonder blending sweet and salty, spicy heat and creamy coolness. With a cocktail or two I can easily make this my dinner. This little savoury is pretty enough for your cocktail party yet sturdy enough for Sunday’s football get-together. It can be assembled in the morning and baked that afternoon or evening. In the past I’ve only used chevre, plain goat cheese. I’ve seen the honeyed goat cheese at my store, Publix, but until now, I’d never tried it. Gentle Reader, it’s pretty perfect. Just the right amount of sweetness, between the lush, sexy figs and the salty sharpness of the prosciutto, this hors d’oeuvre will have you rolling your eyes to the back of your head. Enjoy!
Figs Roasted with Honey Goat Cheese and Prosciutto
Why is it no one makes dinner rolls anymore? I understand the time crunch and lack of energy when you finally get home from work and then have to crank out dinner for the fam but weekends are the perfect time to stock up on these little luxuries that can be stashed away in the freezer to be enjoyed weeks later…maybe some evening when it’s dark, chilly and rainy. Well, this recipe is one of those kind of keepers. Soft and fluffy, slathered with warm butter and perhaps a drizzle of that honey you picked up at the farmer’s market, these rolls are a rare treat yet exceptionally easy to make. They mix and roll up quickly. There are two risings but the dough sits quietly in the corner while you go about your business.
The recipe makes 24 rolls so you’ll have plenty of leftovers to freeze, (and they freeze beautifully), or they can be served at breakfast as is or pulled apart and stuffed with a sausage patty or egg. The slight sweetness of this bread pairs well with a scoop of homemade chicken salad or spicy crab salad served in the opened middle. With cooler weather right around the corner consider stocking up on these little golden treasures. You’ll pat yourself on the back for planning so well!
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed
1 sachet active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, melted, to brush on before serving
1 tablespoon honey, to brush on before serving
In the bowl of a stand up mixer fitted with a dough hook combine flour and yeast.
In a small saucepan combine milk, 1/4 cup honey, sugar, 1/4 cup butter and salt, stirring until all ingredients are combined and heated to 105° and 115°.
Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat until just blended.
Add the egg and beat the dough for 3-4 minutes until the dough becomes thick and soft and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It will probably be very sticky depending on the humidity in your area. If the dough is too sticky to handle add one tablespoon of flour to the bowl and beat another minute or so. If needed add another tablespoon of flour to thicken and continue beating.
Beat the dough until smooth and elastic about 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease the top as well.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm corner to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly spray 2 muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Punch dough down and cut in half with a bench knife or large, sharp knife. Cover half of the dough and set aside.
Cut one half of the dough into 12 equal pieces.
Cut each of the 12 pieces into 3 equal pieces, you should have 36 chunks of cut dough.
With your hands gently roll each chunk into a small, fluffy ball and drop three into each muffin cup.
Continue in the same manner with the 2nd half of the dough that was set aside.
Cover both muffin tins and set aside to rise for 45 minutes or until double in size.
Bake in a pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until slightly golden on top.
Remove rolls from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Mix the melted butter and tablespoon of honey until well incorporated. Brush on top of each roll.
Warm any leftovers in a pre-heated 300° oven for 5-7 minutes.
We are a house divided. Jimmy and James are Greek Orthodox and I am Roman Catholic. However, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the Greek church and nothing thrills me more than when I discover a new dish. Several years back while we were in Boston, we went to church with Jimmy’s brother, George. Jimmy and all his siblings grew up in the cathedral, with all the big city hustle and bustle of downtown. All the Greek families grew up in the church. The church was the religious and social nucleus of the Greek community. The cathedral’s youth group was enormous. All the kids went to the church after school and on weekends for pick-up basketball games, church dances and just to hang out. It was where most of Jimmy’s friends met their future wives and husbands. Here we were, years later, and as always, in the church hall after Sunday service. While my husband and brother-in-law caught up with old friends I strolled the perimeter of the coffee table. A pretty, little basket caught my eye as it held some sort of coffee cake or bread or maybe it’s cake…I didn’t know but I sure was going to try it out. It was life altering. Chewy on the outside yet moist and yielding on the inside, its mysterious, warm flavors caught me off guard. Turns out it was a bread called Artos, redolent with the flavors of the Middle East. At first bite I was reminded of the gifts the Magi offered the Christ child because of the heady fragrance of cinnamon, cloves and ground aniseed. I had to make it. I had to! Well, here it is. Artos is an easy bread to make but it is a bit messy and does require a little rising time. Well worth it if you ask me. The recipe can be doubled and I feel you may as well make two then you can give one to a friend or someone special. The recipe is adapted from Anissa Helou’s book “Savory Baking From the Mediterranean”. The bread is fabulous with almond butter or Nutella accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee. It’s great as breakfast or as a snack and is fabulous as sandwich sliced, stuffed with bananas and nut butters then grilled. Try it. You’ll amaze yourself!
These sweet yet salty crab cakes are every crab lovers dream. How many times have we gone to a shi-shi restaurant and hopefully ordered crab cakes which should be crunchy and buttery on the outside, pearly white, sweet but briny on the inside only to be served a couple of heavily doctored, gluey, deep-fried, fish-like patties? Gosh, I hate it when that happens. So many restaurants trash seafood, from overcooked tiles of fish or rubbery, heavily breaded fried shrimp to our loved crab. It was different when we were growing up here in Lauderdale. As a child, there wasn’t the selection of dining spots we now have available. Our grandfather, Grandpa, had moved here from Cleveland when our grandmother passed away. He, too, lived on the water and loved to throw out a dozen or so crab cages. Every two or three days he’d let me walk down to the canal with him and pull up the cages. Each cage had small, round floater tied with a piece of monofilament making it easy to haul up the cages and check our catch. Every crab cage had been baited with either pieces of mullet, their heads, bodies and tails, or raw chicken necks. I loved everything about it!
After strolling down to the water’s edge I would lie on my stomach on the dock while Grandpa pulled up the heavy metal cages. My job was to tell him if we had caught anything. If we had he’d continue pulling, if not he’d drop the heavy box back down to the muddy depths of the canal. Most of the time, though, there were sweet, luscious blue crabs. We’d throw our haul into waiting plastic buckets, always being careful not to get pinched, then walk back to his apartment where Grandpa would spend the rest of the morning picking the crabs. I wasn’t allowed because I guess my parents thought I’d cut myself with a knife…and I probably would have. The waters were clear back then and the meat that came out of those crabs was the sweetest I’ve ever had. Grandpa made a gorgeous crab salad and his bisque was magnificent.
I’m sharing with you my recipe for crab cakes. I think they’re fabulous and they taste of crab…nothing else. No crackers, mashed potatoes or breadcrumbs mixed in. No fillers here. The Panko crumbs and butter make a light and crispy coating allowing the crab meat to positively shine. Serve with a homemade remoulade sauce or simply with freshly cut lime wedges but either way I hope you enjoy them!