Tomorrow is my favorite and only brother’s birthday. I tease him because we are so different yet our lives seem to run along the same parallels. Tommy is wonderful. He rescues me when my dishwasher is falling out of the wall and when my life is falling apart. He often walks the dog and constantly walks with me through Scripture. He gives me strength to get up…the kind of strength needed when life knocks you down so hard you can’t breathe. He doesn’t simply say “C’mon. Get over it.” No. And he doesn’t judge. He gently offers two hands to lift me up out of the secluded corners of pain; he softly brushes off the mud of hard knocks and always has soothing words and hope when my soul has been hurt and buffeted. I lean on him as frequently as he leans on the kitchen bookcase, long and graceful legs crossed, drink in hand, patiently waiting for a taste of whatever I’m cooking. He is my treasure. It hasn’t always been this way. Tommy was separated from our family when he was married. We missed him terribly but he’s back with us now and we’re damn glad. He’s the family prankster, always leaving a couple of sweet potatoes and the odd grapefruit on James’ bed pillows as his calling card. James always came out of his bedroom jubilantly stating, “Uncle Tommy was here!” When I lived at my parents’ house before Jimmy and I married, Tommy hung a few brightly colored bras of mine and a few pairs of bikini panties on the paddles of my bedroom ceiling fan. Round and round they leisurely rotated for any and all to see. He was just pleased as punch at my outrage. As goofy as he sometimes is, he is equally sharp-witted and highbrow in his humor, right up my alley. But his heart…his huge, sweet, kind and giving heart is something to behold. As I type this my eyes sting with tears. My emotions are so close to the surface; I know my 3:00 tequila has nothing to do with it, I love my baby brother so. To celebrate his birthday he’s coming over for dinner tonight and one of his dishes will be these asian brussel sprouts. Because he’ll eat anything and everything, he was given the childhood nickname of “Pigdog” by our little sister and me. I happen to know for a fact he LOVES these brussel sprouts. I have 4 pounds for 3 people. So happy birthday, Pigdog. I love you!
I’ve been obsessed with these asian brussel sprouts for a couple of weeks now. I eat them as a snack they’re so doggone good. Hot, warm or cold, I think they’re fabulous. I find most of the ingredients at my grocery store, Publix, but the bonito flakes I picked up at Whole Foods. Fresh Market probably carries them as well. The sriracha chili sauce adds a tiny bit of heat so if heat ain’t your thing leave it out. The honey gives the sprouts a smooth sweetness while the lemon grass, ginger and fish sauce round out this deep flavor blast. I include any random sprout leaves to the roasting pan as they become crisp and savory during the roasting process much like potato chips. In retrospect maybe they are best straight out the oven but they’re mighty fine the following day, too. Hope you like ’em!
Asian Brussel Sprouts
- 2 pounds brussel sprouts, root end trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 6″ piece lemon grass, cut into thirds and bruised to release flavor
- 4 garlic cloves, grated
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2-3 generous tablespoons bonito flakes
- 1 rounded tablespoon chili garlic sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- Pre-heat oven to 400°. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil and lightly cover with non-stick baking spray. Set aside.
- In a large bowl combine trimmed brussel sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well with your hands until all the sprouts are coated with the olive oil.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until the outside of the sprouts are dark and any leaves are crispy.
- While the sprouts are baking, combine all the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat.
- Cook the sauce for 4-5 minutes until the garlic and ginger are soft. Set aside until the brussel sprouts have finished roasting.
- Remove sprouts from the oven and transfer to a large, shallow bowl.
- Discard lemon grass pieces from sauce, drizzle the sauce over the sprouts and toss well with two large spoons.
- Serve immediately.
I hate saying goodbye to friends. I loathe it. It saddens me beyond measure. But that ‘s what I did this past Tuesday. Over coffee my friend, Craig, and I caught up with each other after not seeing each other for a good three or four years. We kept in touch every now and again through Facebook. Craig is a professional chef on yachts…yachts that cater to A-list movie stars. The opposite of that penny-ante galley position I accepted for one summer in the Abacos. Regardless, I look at his life as one big, fat adventure. We chuckled over adventures gone wrong, shared and rejoiced culinary triumphs and discoveries. Both of us had lost close friends and understood the encompassing heartache and profound loss. He announced he’s trading palms for pines. Turns out Craig is moving to the Pacific Northwest. And although I don’t see him often enough and may not ever see him again, I rejoice in his leap for the good in life, his optimistic outlook towards life situations. We’ll continue laboring to recognize goodwill, tolerance, charity and beauty in the darker corners of our personal worlds no matter the struggle. That said, I will miss him. He left me with happiness, a bag of his homegrown tomatoes and a fabulously simple recipe. I share that with you.
I don’t include specific amounts of ingredients in this salad as it can be made as small or as large as you wish. As with all simple recipes the quality of your ingredients is paramount. If you try to cut corners or even leave out a component, the recipe will be compromised. When the outcome is less than perfect or an utter disappointment you’ll know why. French thyme, whether fresh or dried, will not yield the same results. It must be lemon thyme. If you can’t find it in the produce department at the grocery store most likely you can pick up a pot at your nursery or gardening center. It’s well worth the trip! This salad is best served at room temperature. Any bits left over are fabulous the following day tucked into an omelette. And the dressing is like liquid sunshine drizzled over a mixed green salad, boiled new potatoes, asparagus or roasted chicken. Imagine it on grilled shrimp or mahi. The possibilities are without end. Enjoy!
Heirloom Tomato, Feta and Lemon Thyme Salad
- Meyer lemons or regular lemons if Meyers are not available in your area
- good olive oil
- salt and pepper
- heirloom tomatoes
- Greek feta cheese
- fresh lemon thyme
- Pour equal amounts of fresh lemon juice and olive oil into a glass jar with a lid.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, cover tightly with the lid and shake vigorously.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Slice tomatoes and arrange on serving dish.
- Crumble the feta cheese by hand and scatter generously over the tomato slices.
- Sprinkle fresh lemon thyme leaves over salad. Garnish with a few sprigs of the lemon thyme.
- Shake salad dressing to mix well then spoon over salad.
- Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Here we are in March…in like a lion, out like a lamb. In south Florida we are most definitely enjoying lamb-like weather. Jimmy and I are found in the courtyard often, reading and writing, the dog typically sprawled at our feet. Jimmy will spend his mornings outside working on his laptop, leisurely smoking his pipe which, by the way, smells positively heavenly. We read the New York Times in the morning and take pleasure in a simple happy hour or dinner in the evening. Clearly the mosquitos haven’t found our house yet…but they will. In the meantime, if it’s morning or evening, assume we’re puttering outside. This dish is a spring and summer joy. Simple and healthful, it may be served as a vegetable side dish or as an entree with a piece of grilled tuna or chicken atop. It’s lovely at a picnic or poolside as it travels extremely well. Spaghetti squash is much lighter than pasta and undeniably lower in calories. Those who are allergic to wheat will love this alternative. No more sneezing and itchy eye! Regardless of your reason to try this dish, I think you’ll truly enjoy it and so will your family.
Fresh Tomato and Pesto Spaghetti Squash
- 2 spaghetti squash, medium size
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 pints grape tomatoes
- 1 1/2-2 cups fresh basil leaves plus a few sprigs for garnish
- 1 7-ounce container of store-bought pesto or approximately 1 cup of homemade, I use store-bought, reduced fat
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese. This is completely optional and may be left out for a dairy-free, vegan or paleo dish. It’s still absolutely delicious.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 400°. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil and cover foil lightly with non-stick baking spray. Set aside.
- Cut both squashes in half lengthwise.
- Using a large, metal spoon, scoop out all the seeds from the squashes. Discard the seeds.
- Place the squashes cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45-60 minutes or until the flesh is fork tender. I check them at 45 minutes and return to the oven checking for doneness every 5 minutes or so.
- While the squashes are baking finely mince the garlic and place in a medium size, non-reactive bowl. I use glass.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and add them to the garlic.
- Using your hands, rip the fresh basil into small, bite size pieces and add them to the garlic-tomato mixture.
- Add the pesto and olive oil to the tomato mixture. If using parmesan cheese, add it as well. Mix thoroughly so all ingredients are well combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the squashes have baked.
- Remove the squashes from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes or until they’re easy to handle.
- With a small paring knife cut the flesh of the squashes lengthwise down to the shell being careful not to cut through to your hand, making 3 or 4 parallel cuts, each cut about 3/4″-1″ apart. This allows bite size pieces and makes it easier to assemble the dish.
- With a large, metal spoon scoop the flesh out of the squashes and place into a large bowl.
- Pour the tomato-pesto mixture over the squash and gently toss until all the squash is well coated.
- Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with any fresh basil leaves and serve.
- If serving within a few hours the bowl may be covered with plastic wrap and then transferred to the serving platter right before serving.
It’s the season of Lent and, for those of you who don’t know, that means no meat in our house. For a total of 40 days and 40 nights. It wasn’t easy when my husband and son decided to abstain but over the years we’ve kind of gotten into the rhythm of it to the point we now feel perfectly comfortable kidding around about the dish we truly miss. It goes something like, “Oh, my gosh. You know what I really craved today? A burger. A great big, juicy burger with lettuce and tomato and pickles and mustard, ketchup and mayo. With a big pile of crispy fries.” Then the other person replies, “I know. I’d totally kill for a chicken wing. Super hot and covered with sauce. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.” Every year it’s the same song and dance. This salad, however, alleviates some of the pain. I won’t lie and say it’ll take the place of meat but it does fill the hole. It’s wonderful topped with a warm fillet of fish just off the grill. I scoop it onto bruschetta followed by a slow drizzle of olive oil for a tempting and pretty hors d’oeuvre. White beans will never take the place of crispy, spicy sopressata on a pizza, comforting spaghetti and meat balls or a savory, homemade chicken salad sandwich but for right now, they’ll do. They’ll do just fine.
One of the finer points of this salad is that it requires no marination time. Once it’s prepared it can be served. That said, it can also be put together a few hours prior to serving and it’s still fantastic. The recipe is easily halved or doubled with perfect results. The salad travels well to parties and picnics, feeds a crowd and is pretty inexpensive to make. Meyer lemons are much sweeter and not as sour as regular lemons but if Meyers are not available in your area, no worries. Regular lemons are just fine and no one will know the difference. This bean salad can be served as a main dish or as a side.
Meyer Lemon, White Bean and Mint Salad
- 4 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 bunches of flat leaf parsley, rinsed and dried
- 2 bunches fresh mint leaves, rinsed and dried
- 1 small red onion, chopped and all tough skins discarded
- 1 large Meyer lemon or 2 regular lemons
- 3/4 cup good olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chop the parsley and mint leaves and place in a large bowl.
- Zest the lemon then juice it, adding both to the bowl with the parsley.
- Add the olive oil to the parsley mixture and stir well until all the ingredients are completely combined.
- Add the beans to the parsley mixture and gently toss so as not to break up the beans but to completely coat the beans with the parsley mint mixture.
- Taste for salt and pepper.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until serving.
Most people think of Saint Patrick’s day when the 17th of March rolls around but I’m reminded of my older sister, Cynthia’s, wedding anniversary. Almost 40 years ago I was working in Puerto Rico with Delta Airlines and being away from home had missed all the wedding planning and preparations. Unable to leave work until the afternoon of the rehearsal dinner, I flew into Fort Lauderdale in time for the rehearsal dinner after-party which I was hosting. This was almost 40 years ago, when tropical drinks were thought of as exotic and slightly dangerous. My post-dinner party was to be a Puerto Rican pina colada celebration and I arrived well prepared. My suitcase was loaded with small cans of Coco Lopez cream of coconut, a product almost unknown here in south Florida at the time, my blender and a blender I had borrowed from a friend. I had boarded the flight with two handles of golden Puerto Rican rum…one in each hand. My only instructions for Mama were to stock up on ice, pineapple juice and limes. Knowing my flight would touch down at about the same time the dessert course was being served I had told Mama I would take a cab to the house; there was no need to send someone to fetch me. The taxi driver helped me to the front door with all my goodies. The house was quiet. I opened the front door and gaily called out, “Hi, everybody! I’m home!” My eyes swept the high ceilinged living room and quickly accessed the mood. Mercy. Every guest was sitting quietly…politely…ram rod straight. I turned to my little brother and sister and murmured their orders. They understood the tragedy of a flat party and the importance of their chores. Within minutes we had salsa playing, both blenders whirred away offering up a frosty concoction to the waiting crystal goblets which were whisked out of the kitchen and served to the waiting guests. My brother Tommy, sister Pamela and I happily buzzed about the kitchen mixing batch after batch of rum drinks while enjoying the laughter, cocktail chatter and music from the rest of the house. We all had a delightful time. The following day the weather was glorious, the bride was beautiful and glowing and the wedding was exquisite. We had done our jobs and done them well. All these years later I wish you a happy anniversary, Cynthia and Wash!
If you’ve never tried making this cocktail at home you must. This pina colada may be served over ice or with the ice blended in as with a “slushy”. Either way you’ll find, unlike many mixed and served in bars, hotels and restaurants, it’s not too sweet and much lighter than the aforementioned drinks. It is best mixed in your largest pitcher or an empty plastic gallon jug then chilled. If you plan on serving the iced “slushy” version, pack your blender half full of ice, pour in the already mixed drink then blend until liquified. This recipe doubles or triples well. Your cocktail will also inspire tropical trade winds when garnished with fresh pineapple spear. But beware. They go down quite easily!
- the juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 cup (8 ounces) cream of coconut
- 2 cups golden rum
- 4 cups pineapple juice, canned is fine
- Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a large pitcher and set in the refrigerator to chill until serving.
- Just before serving mix again then pour over ice or pour into blender half packed with ice and blend until liquified.
- Serve immediately.
Oh, y’all. Taking these photos is killing me. I crank the music loud and that’s okay except if I hear loud music often I pour a drink…regardless of the time of day. This recipe liked to kill me. I had several ideas for props and one of them was to stack a few biscuit hot from the oven in the background. I baked them off and although I didn’t even use them in the photos I ate two. I’m filled with shame. I thought maybe I’d toss a few potato chips behind the photo of the shrimp po’ boy. As I walked down the chip aisle at my neighborhood Publix, my eyes fell on “Hot ‘N Spicy Pork Rinds”. Well! I’m half Puerto Rican. Pork rinds hold deep meaning for us. Into the cart they went alongside the frozen biscuit I knew I wouldn’t eat because…c’mon, they’re frozen. I don’t eat that garbage. I ‘magine that’s why I only ate two. I stopped by the bakery to pick up a few freshly baked hoagie rolls for the po’ boy photo and I can honestly say all I ate of THAT product was the tip I cut off of one roll for aesthetic purposes. People, I was like the mayor in the movie “Chocolat”, who also went crazy during Lent. He couldn’t control himself from eating chocolate and that’s how I was with all these tempting carbs while taking these photos. I didn’t touch the shrimp…I needed them and this was the fourth and last time was frying them to take some photos. No. I focused on the biscuit and pork rinds…and my cocktails…at 2:17 in the afternoon. Ugh. I keep thinking, “Can I get any fatter?”, and the answer always, always is yes. But I had a good time setting up the shoots. I danced alone in the house with the dog and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chaka Khan and Bobby Womack may have shown up. I boogied to “Love Rollercoaster” and Shalamar’s “Make The Move”. And when the shoots were over there’s a chance I indulged in a shrimp or two. (Insert shameful face emoji.) So I will share with you this recipe that, again, I have made four (4) times because my family and I kept eating all of it before I took pics. It is heavenly!
Once you fry shrimp in cornmeal you will never batter up again. It’s just a light dusting of cornmeal but its presence makes all the difference in the world. I start with good size, large shrimp, shelled and deveined. Sometimes with and sometimes without the tail, but always wild caught, never farmed. Farmed shrimp has a muddy, dull, one-dimensional taste. I’ll do without shrimp rather than eat farmed. I prefer a medium ground, white cornmeal as I find a fine ground is too processed and without flavor. If I’m ingesting these cornmeal calories, by God, I want to taste and enjoy them! I keep Tony Chachere’s in my pantry as my all time favorite but Zatarain’s is probably just as good for an all-around Creole or Cajun spice blend. I’ll admit the amount of cayenne is somewhat alarming for some readers but I find cooking with hot spices seems to tame their heat greatly. These shrimp are not as spicy as you think they’d be. That said, if they’re not spicy enough for you, lightly dust each batch with a little cayenne pepper immediately after taking them out of the hot oil and placing on some paper towels to drain. And that’s all there is to it. This shrimp recipe is perfection in a po’ boy…especially if you slip a couple of spicy pork rinds in the sammie for a little crunch. On top of slow cooked grits, alongside corn bread or standing alone, these shrimp are a phenomenal flavor bomb.
Creole Cornmeal Fried Shrimp
- 2 cups medium ground white cornmeal
- 1/4 cup paprika, NOT smoked
- 2-3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, Tony Chachere’s or Zatarains are my favorites
- 2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 egg white
- canola oil to fry
- Pour 3/4″ canola oil into a large skillet and heat to medium high.
- In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, paprika, cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning. Mix well with a whisk or fork until all the ingredients are completely incorporated. Set aside.
- In a separate small bowl combine shrimp and egg white. Using your hands, toss the shrimp lightly until all the shrimp is coated with the egg white.
- Drop 1/3 of the shrimp into the cornmeal mix with your left hand.
- With your right hand lightly toss the shrimp so it is completely coated with the cornmeal mixture.
- Rinse your hands and gently drop each cornmeal coated shrimp into the hot oil.
- The shrimp will fry for 1 minute. While the shrimp fries, mix the second 1/3 of the shrimp in the cornmeal mixture. Set aside.
- Using tongs turn each shrimp over and fry for 1 minute.
- With a slotted spoon or spider, remove shrimp from frying pan and place on paper towels to drain.
- Place waiting shrimp in cornmeal in hot oil and fry for 1 minute.
- While shrimp is frying, coat the last third of shrimp in the cornmeal and set aside.
- Turn the shrimp in the pan over and fry for 1 minute.
- Remove from pan and move to paper towels to drain.
- Place last third of shrimp in hot oil and fry for 1 minute on each side, removing to drain on paper towels when done.
- Serve immediately.
When I first tried giving James cornbread he was three years old and decidedly not a fan. I included cheese in the recipe but he was not to be fooled. All manner of changes were made to the recipe but to no avail. Then one day I asked, “Jamesy, would you like some Johnny cake?” Johnny cake is usually baked on a griddle, flat and thin. I didn’t even have to do that. I baked up the usual cornbread in my cast iron skillet and he scarfed it down. He was sold. My boy had heard the word “cake”. That’s all it took. Don’t you wish all eating problems could be solved so easily? James has since grown into a young man who is confident in the kitchen and more than happy to eat Mama’s spicier version of cornbread. This recipe is roll-your-eyes delicious. By baking it in a pre-heated iron skillet the bottom of the cornbread becomes crispy and the flavor of the cornmeal is heightened. I’m fully aware the addition of sugar in cornbread is individual and also more common up North. However, in the south it’s just not done by us old timers, at least not this one. Corn is naturally sweet…there’s no need to add sugar. But scallions and jalapenos are always welcome in cornbread. It bakes up so beautifully and pairs well with so much. Can’t have collards without cornbread. Or chili. Served with fish chowder or southern BBQ, cornbread is tradition . Both black eyed peas and tortilla soup demand a healthy wedge. Quite simply, there’s nothing like cornbread crumbled over a small bowl of cold buttermilk. Now THAT’S southern!
Simple, fast and cheap, this recipe will become a family favorite. Although 1/2 cup of chopped jalapenos seems like a lot, the peppers lose quite a bit of their heat during the baking process. However, feel free to cut back on them if you’re not crazy about heat or you’re feeding little ones. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet I suggest you save this recipe until you do have one. It just won’t crisp up and will be a huge disappointment. Most importantly, don’t forget to be super careful about grasping the handle of the skillet while moving it in and out of the oven. It’ll be screaming hot so make sure you have several dry kitchens towels available to make maneuvering easy.
Jalapeno Skillet Cornbread Southern style
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup jarred jalapeno slices, roughly chopped
- 1 large bunch (approximately 7-8) scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups buttermilk, not reduced fat
- 2 cups medium ground cornmeal, I like white best but that’s just me
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pre-heat oven to 425°.
- Place the oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet. Spread the oil all over the pan so that it coats all of the bottom and up the sides. You can use your fingers, a basting brush or simply swirl the oil all over.
- Immediately place the skillet in the pre-heating oven.
- In a small bowl combine the chopped jalapeno, scallions, egg and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined.
- USING A HOT MITT OR DRY DISH TOWEL remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into it.
- CAREFULLY return the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.