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!
I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep when my body rebelled and I awoke at 4:00 Sunday morning. I lay in bed wondering what the day would bring…would I go to church or work out? Would it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I watched the silent paddles of the ceiling fan slowly rotate in giant sweeps, appreciating the cool, early morning darkness. When early morning sleep eludes me, I typically reach for my cell phone and peruse my favorite news outlets, NYT, BBC and CNN. This Sunday was no different until I glanced at all the screaming banners across the face of the phone. Now we know all the horrific details of the Orlando shootings. And my heart aches for all the friends and families of those whose lives were so brutally ended. As I write this I can’t get past the thought that those kids, and they were kids, weren’t hurting anyone. And now their loved ones are suffering indescribably and they weren’t hurting anyone either. Life for them, those left behind, will never, EVER be the same. When I want to give comfort or take away someones pain and helplessly can’t, I turn to food. Many an almost-strangers door I’ve knocked on with a pan of hot, buttermilk biscuit, a gentle and calming pound cake or a warm, reassuring casserole in hand. Whether my offering is for a close friend or neighbor or someone I’ve never met, food is always my contribution…my way of wrapping my arms around someone I may or may not know. So this is what I wish I could take to all those in pain. I’m not foolish enough to think it would ease their agony but it is all I have to give. That and my sincere and earnest prayers.
This recipe is incredibly forgiving. If you’re a little low on ingredients it rolls with it. Really the only part that can’t be played with is the broth/rice ratio. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables or any combination you prefer. The final baking in the oven ensures the rice will be beautifully cooked. There’s enough for your family and another family. It always seems to be what a loved one with a cold wants. If you plan to take it to another household don’t bake it just include the baking instructions. That way it can be frozen and pulled out to bake when needed. It really should be served soon after baking.
Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
I don’t often make pies because I’m not crazy about them. But every now and again I get a hankering for a taste and recently that resulted in not one but TWO pies. And both from Bill Neal’s “Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie”. That cookbook is a baking treasure trove. It’s out of print but I’m fairly certain you can still get it. Anyway, chocolate chess and lemon chess were the pies I baked. Which one’s best? Well, you can’t compare the two…you just can’t. It would be like comparing two children and we all know how wrong that is. Chess pie is a Southern classic, rich, sweet and intense. Vanilla and/or nutmeg is the traditional choice, chocolate the rich choice and lemon, oh lemon, probably the South’s favorite. Lemon is my pet, my treasured pie if I have to pick; the juice and zest adding such depth to the soul of the custard. It makes me moan. But don’t despair. Chocolate is sinful, too. A small amount of bourbon or rum flavors the custard and raises the desire for another bite to scandalous proportions. Chess pies improve with a day or two in the refrigerator before serving. Lemon and vanilla chess pies always includes cornmeal in the recipe, however, it is never found in chocolate. I always serve these pies cold, with or without whipped cream, but always cold. Of course, a store-bought crust may be used but if you have a favored recipe these pies will make the pie shell positively sing. Possibly because it’s such a simple pie but you’ll take note and appreciate everything that makes a crust made by hand special. I know none who don’t love chess pie. And this pie is worthy of being a hostess gift, (she can tuck it into the back of the refrigerator and enjoy it the next day while having a post-party chat on the phone with you), or is perfect to take to the house of a friend who’s lost a loved one. Chess pie says “I love you”, “I’m so sorry for your loss” even “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”. But whatever the reason you prepare this, that pie will make everyone happy!
STIR in the salt, buttermilk, cornmeal and melted butter until smooth. Flavor with lemon zest and juice, and nutmeg.
Pour the custard into the partially baked pie shell. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325° and bake until the custard is just set, but not puffed-about 35 minutes. (Mine takes about 10 minutes more.)
Wow, was last week great, or what? The week ended with a brilliant Easter day here in south Florida. I didn’t cook. Jimmy, ever so generously, took us all to brunch. James ordered Crab Benedict which got me to thinking THIS week about crab….and remoulade sauce. Homemade remoulade sauce. And not some chemical-laden, jarred mayonnaise with a bunch of dried up, processed herbs and spices thrown in. NO, I craved the mile-long list of ingredients remoulade from the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Reed sitting alongside Pat Conroy’s crab cakes. Lee Bailey’s recipe is also lovely but his makes up 6 cups. A little more than I need on this spring day. Easy and quickly made, the sauce does require quite a few components but I’ve got to tell you, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator. I ate my weight in remoulade during the late 70’s in New Orleans. I was living in Atlanta and I was so lonely and lost. Those were bad…BAD years for me. Since I worked with Delta I would fly to N’awlins any chance I could and stay with a dear, sweet ex-neighbor from midtown Atlanta. His partner had up and left him for a richer man so my friend, Tommy, put in for a transfer to New Orleans and got it. We spent countless nights depressed and unhappy, losing ourselves in bourbon and gorging ourselves with the freshest of local seafood. Every time I left I was still a sad mess but I always welcomed the incredible escape of that city and its celebrated cuisine. Remoulade is spicy and the heady mix of ingredients will play in your mouth hard and long. It’s heaven. And it stays fresh in the refrigerator for a good week as long as you are diligent making sure your knives, cutting board, food processor and blade, etc. are spotless before using. Don’t skimp on the lemon and vinegar as those two ingredients also help to prevent bacteria. Furthermore it’s not just good with seafood. How about a BLT on a pretzel roll slathered with remoulade? Oh, and the tomato is a tart, fried green tomato. Mercy. This recipe is from Julia Reed’s book “Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties”. You’ll love it!
Poking around the produce section of my grocery store I found a real treat…fresh peanuts. They’re green peanuts. They’ve not been shelled or roasted, just picked and sent to me. Ready to boil to make this snack. Boiled peanuts. All three of us love these as well as the rest of my family. I was introduced to them when I went to school in Georgia. Friends of mine had all kinds of tips and pointers for me. My friend Parks told me how her daddy’s favorite boiled peanut stand was on a road outside of Athens, Georgia on the way into the university. My college boyfriend initiated me to the joys of boiled peanuts at Southern gas stations So here’s the delicacy that makes everyone just a little happier. Except maybe your doctors. These precious goobers are highly addictive so watch out. You can add flavorings to the salty water making them completely to your liking. A handful of fresh garlic gloves make these tremendous and adding red pepper flakes makes my heart sing. Often they’re eaten outside where you can throw the shell in the grass or on the ground. If you plan on storing them make sure you keep them in the salty water in which they were cooked. It keeps them fresh two or three days longer in the refrigerator. Just a few years ago when Dana, Andrea and I went on girl’s weekend at Hawks Cay I found them at some gas station in Islamorada. Driving around after a full day of sun with a styrofoam cup of boiled peanuts and cold gallon jug of rum punch in the back seat makes for three very happy girls. Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you they’re divine made in a crock pot. Can it get any easier? I think not. So I, for one, am going to count my blessings and pony up to a big pot of boiled peanuts. Or as they say in the South “boll” peanuts.
2-3 tablespoons red pepper flakes or a handful of fresh, peeled garlic cloves, both are optional
a large pot of water
Add salt and washed peanuts to the pot of water along with red pepper flakes or garlic if using and bring to a boil.
Maintain a medium bubble and boil for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
If made in a crock pot use the same ingredients but add a couple of tablespoons of salt for every quart of water used. Cook in crock pot 4 to five hours or all day depending on your taste. The longer they sit in that salty water the saltier and tastier they become.
In preparation for The Prince to come home for spring break I made Hummingbird Bread Pudding with a runny Cream Cheese Pecan Sauce. People, it was crazy good! I wish I could take credit for the recipe but that would be outright theft. I’ve had Hummingbird cake a million times but I’m not a big cake baker. Then I saw it as a bread pudding as I was flipping through my “go to” channels on television. Hummingbird Bread Pudding? Brilliant. It’s easy, fast and oh, so satisfying. And just a computer search away. From the Cooking Channel, its proper name is “Donna Bell’s Bakeshop’s Hummingbird Bread Pudding”. I tweaked it just a little; for instance I used 2% milk instead of whole and I doubled the Cream Cheese Pecan Sauce and also made it a bit thinner…I like to drizzle my sauce rather than drop dollops. An old, old recipe with a brand new twist…and CREAM CHEESE! Making the first two of my spring break crew happy, happy boys.