On Being Thankful

I love Thanksgiving. I dread Thanksgiving.

There’s so much expectation with this holiday. I love going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for, but before that happens, I get stuck on the food and family and the perfection of those things. Of course, I know nothing is perfect. But still.

And I really, really stress about my menu.

It was so much simpler when all I had to do was bring an appetizer to the feast my grandmother put together each year. Turkey and dressing and fried chicken and the assorted casseroles—green bean, sweet potato, squash—and pecan pie and sweet potato pie and coconut cake.

Now that Thanksgiving is up to me, I spend hours researching recipes and then days comparing them. This stuffing or that one? Green beans or Brussels sprouts? Mashed potatoes or sweet ones?  Pie or cake?

Not this year.

This year, I gave myself permission to simplify. I took one look at the New York Times Cooking suggested menu from Alison Roman who cooks her big feast in a tiny Manhattan kitchen and said, “That’s certainly good enough.”

It took all of five minutes to make this decision. And it will be just fine.

So I’ll make Alison’s Dry-Brined Turkey and (maybe) Sheet-Pan Gravy, Buttered Stuffing with Celery and Leeks, Green Beans and Greens with Fried Shallots, Crushed Sour Cream Potatoes, Spicy Caramelized Squash with Lemon and Hazelnuts and Leafy Herb Salad.

I ordered a chocolate-bourbon pecan pie from Pie Lab, because I am not a baker. And that also is OK. Besides, we have tons of Lebkuchen from friends in Germany.

I’ve assigned appetizers to my kids. We’ll start with Bavarian pumpkin soup and move on to Ashley Mac’s strawberry jam cheese ring. We’ll probably throw in some Dean’s Dip and chips. Maybe just a board with cheeses and nuts. Or rounds of Continental Bakery baguette baked with blue cheese and drizzled with honey.

Even the leftovers are simplified.

I’ll make Becky Satterfield’s Day-After Turkey Soup and Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipes below). And the day after that, it’s the Silver Palate’s Turkey Hash Salad. My family loves that. Then, if there’s still turkey left, I’ll do Sour Cream Turkey Enchiladas with Coriander from the Penzey’s website.

It’s still a lot of work. But I feel really good about it. I am thankful.

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Soup with Sweet Potato Biscuits

Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes (prep time: 30 minutes, cook time: 2 hours)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Turkey Soup

8 cups chicken broth (fresh or boxed) or turkey broth that has been strained through wet cheesecloth before starting new stock

1 turkey carcass, all meat removed

1 carrot, washed, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 whole stalk celery, washed, halved lengthwise

1 medium onion, peeled and halved

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

  • Put everything into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer while covered, about 1 1/2 hours, then strain.
  • When you strain the broth, remove the large bones and carcass with tongs. Strain the broth through a sieve covered with wet cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Add strained broth back into the stockpot.

While your stock is boiling/simmering, prepare:

1 whole carrot, washed, small dice

1 whole stalk celery, washed, small dice

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly

1 bunch rough-chopped, blanched and shocked parsley

leftover Thanksgiving Day vegetables (like green beans, Brussels sprouts and squash)

3 cups leftover turkey meat, white and dark, diced into pieces no larger than a soupspoon

  • In a separate skillet or pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Allow to brown slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the diced carrots, diced celery and diced onions. Sweat over medium-low heat until softened, 7 or 8 minutes. Set aside until broth has been strained.
  • After broth has been strained and added back to the stockpot, add these sweated vegetables from the pan into the stockpot containing the strained broth along with a medium bunch of rough-chopped, fresh blanched and shocked parsley. Also, add 1cup leftover green beans cut in two-inch segments, 1cup leftover Brussels sprouts cut in fourths, 1cup leftover yellow sautéed squash cut in fourths, 3 cups leftover turkey meat light, dark and also turkey neck meat, if on hand. Dice the turkey meat. Make sure the meat pieces are no larger than the size of a soupspoon.
  • Continue to simmer covered for 25 minutes and then serve 6-8 people with sweet potato biscuits on the side. (Store leftover soup in an airtight container after completely cooling in an ice bath. It should be good for a couple of days.)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or cooking release spray. I prefer parchment paper. Set aside.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

  • Sift all above dry ingredients together

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked parsley (optional)

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked chives (optional)

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (2 ounces)

1 cup leftover sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (or mashed sweet potatoes)

1/8 – 1/4 cup milk (or more, if needed

  • Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Pulse butter into flour mixture until all butter has been blended into the flour. Process in the sweet potatoes to the flour mixture, just until fully combined with flour.
  • Add 1/8 cup of milk to mixture. Add more milk, a tablespoon or two at a time, if necessary, to achieve a ball of dough in your processor. Dough should be soft and smooth, not dry or too wet. If you end up with dough that is too wet and sticky, add a bit more flour so that it can be handled and rolled. If too dry, add more milk.
  • Roll dough on your lightly floured surface so that it is approximately 1/2-inch thick. Cut in 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet. Re-roll remaining dough and continue cutting rounds until all dough is used.
  • Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can prepare this recipe by hand or in a mixer with a paddle attachment. Simply do all the steps in a bowl. If by hand, combine butter with flour using a fork or pastry blender to work the butter into the flour.

If you don’t use leftover sweet potato casserole (a casserole that has had sugar and marshmallows added to it) but use mashed sweet potatoes, I recommend adding 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to your dry ingredients.

Once baked and out of the oven, brush lightly with melted butter or honey or serve plain depending upon your preference.

—Becky Satterfield

Lady Pea Hummus by Dinner.

Carey Thommason of Dinner. in Crestline Village did the chef demo today at The Market at Pepper Place. Carey made Lady Pea Hummus, which I missed tasting because I was sweating next door at Ignite Cycle. However, I know Carey’s food is great, and I couldn’t resist making a batch for my family’s Sunday dinner. I used pink-eyed peas that I got from Knights Farm.

Here’s how you can do it, too.

Lady Pea Hummus by Dinner.

Ingredients

4 cups lady peas

15 basil leaves

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp slat

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¾ cup olive oil

Instructions

Pick over lady peas. Rinse the peas in fresh cold water and drain. Fill a large pot with cold water and add the peas. Bring to a boil. Lower temperature and cook for about 45 minutes or until very tender. Drain and cool completely.

In a food processor, add the cooked peas, basil, garlic and salt. Puree, and, with the motor running, slowly add lemon juice and olive oil.

Serve with raw vegetables and pretzels.

(Leftover) Barbecue and Sheep Milk Fresca Quesadillas

I was at the farmers’ market at Pepper Place on Saturday, wanting tomatoes and peaches and hesitating about buying anything with all the leftovers still in my fridge from our 4th of July family dinner.

Then Ana Kelly, owner of Dayspring Dairy suggested quesadillas made with our leftover Full Moon Bar-B-Que pulled chicken and sliced pork. “Try the Poblano Lime Fresca,” she said. “You can use that.”

So I did.

I bought a package of the fresh cheese (as well as some tomatoes and peaches). I stopped by the grocery for some flour tortillas, and we were set.

I made a salsa of peaches and tomatoes and serrano peppers with a few squeezes of fresh lime and some salt and pepper. I added a little mint from my kitchen garden because I didn’t want to go back to the store for cilantro. Cilantro would have been better. And I longed for one of those oblong red onions from BDA Farm, but maybe next time.

I heated up our Full Moon ‘que (both the chicken and the pork). Next, I generously slathered the Dayspring Dairy sheep milk fresca onto the tortillas, added a little leftover corn (cut from the cob and mixed with some finely chopped serrano), piled on the barbecued meats and cooked the quesadillas on the stovetop.

We served them with some angel hair slaw, dressed simply with fresh lime juice and salt and pepper. I put that fresh peach-tomato salsa on top.

Delicious.

And as a little something extra, here’s a link to a great Alabama NewsCenter story about Dayspring Dairy.

Celebrating an Unsung Hero of Birmingham’s Food Scene

I had the absolute honor of helping out with Alabama NewsCenter‘s awesome coverage of food-related stories to celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of African-American cooks and chefs to our state’s rich food scene (current and past).

One of my favorite pieces was about Juliette Flenoury, a name we all should know.

My editor Bob Blalock made the story I submitted way better when he invited local restauranteur Becky Satterfield (Satterfield’s restaurant and El ZunZun) to Alabama NewsCenter’s studio to narrate a video about her friend Juliette.

You can read the entire piece here and see that video, too.

Juliette grew up in Birmingham’s historic Fountain Heights neighborhood, and as a child she cooked alongside her mother. Before she was even a teenager, Flenoury was honing her skills, baking cookies and gathering fans among friends and family.

She began her first food-industry job working at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Birmingham. By day, she worked as a cashier, and at night, she cooked foods for the daily menu at the cafeteria in the bus terminal.

Juliette left the bus station job to cook at the Mountain Brook Club, where she remained for 43 years.

She says, “After cooking passionately for most of my life, I am best known for my corn pones, fried chicken, cornbread dressing, chicken potpies, greens and many other selections of Southern cuisine.”

Those corn pones, especially, are delicious little works of art, and watching her make them is art in motion. I was lucky enough to see this for myself one day at Becky’s home. Becky had invited her fellow members of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier to meet Juliette and watch her cook. (We also enjoyed some amazing collards and black-eyed peas.)

Juliette retired from the Mountain Brook Club several years ago. She has spent some of her time since retirement cooking for family and friends; making gift baskets; listening to gospel music; taking care of elderly neighbors; and volunteering for Christian Service Mission when that organization needed her help cooking for the homeless and for student interns visiting Birmingham from various colleges.

Here’s Juliette’s recipe for her famous corn pones. Enjoy!

Juliette Flenoury’s Corn Pone Recipe

Preheat convection oven to 450 F

INGREDIENTS

5 lbs. Martha White (plain) cornmeal

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup salt of your choice (Juliette keeps everything old-school with regular Morton Salt)

4 cups of melted Crisco shortening at 450 degrees F

4 gallons of boiling water to pour into mix

Another gallon and a half of boiling water for the dipping spoon

INSTRUCTIONS

Spray four half-sheet pans with cooking spray and put into hot oven for 10 minutes (be careful not to let them stay in longer than that because they get too smoky). Then pull them out to use for panning the pones. This helps create a little caramelization.

Use a large commercial-grade metal kitchen spoon for mixing and shaping the pones.

Mix all dry ingredients first in a very large stainless steel mixing bowl (industrial/commercial grade).

Pour hot, melted Crisco into the cornmeal, stir quickly and incorporate well.

Pour boiling water, four cups at a time, until you have the right consistency. (The video will help with this part.) You might not need all of the water you prepared for this recipe, but have it on hand just in case.

Stir vigorously, and be reminded that this batter is very dense; at times, it will be hard to stir but needs to be fully incorporated.

Build a ridge on the side of the bowl nearest yourself, and smooth it off.  Start scraping your spoon toward yourself as the cornmeal mixture kind of curls inside the spoon. Take it and turn your spoon to the left, tap it to release the pone. Repeat this the same way every time. All pones should be right next to each other and uniform. (A little extra hot water should be added via the large kitchen spoon at intervals to keep hydration level correct. Smooth out, pat it down, back and forth, then scrape to roll the pone into the spoon. Also, halfway through this recipe, you will need to change out your dipping water with fresh boiling hot water to keep the temperature up for the conduction through your spoon so the pones will curl uniformly within the spoon and so the spoon will stay clean.)

Put pones in the preheated convection oven and bake for 45 minutes at 450 F. Check halfway through, and rotate the pan. The pones should be brown on the top ridge and the rounded sides to give you the crunch you desire.

This recipe, straight from Juliette’s time in the Mountain Brook Club kitchen, and in her own words, makes a lot of corn pones—several dozen, in fact.

Sunday Dinner: Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

I’ve looked forward all week to an afternoon of cooking. It’s cold and gray outside, and I wanted to make something warm and comforting. A from-scratch stew–rich and deeply savory–is about as comforting as it gets. This recipe from the New York Times Cooking website is an exercise in the meditative process of quality time spent with a cast-iron Dutch oven and a long, wooden spoon. It is as satisfying, in some ways, as the end result.

Here’s what I did differently:  I substituted pancetta for the salt pork–1/3 of a pound–and I added it back in with the mushrooms. Also, I used Maille Old Style mustard instead of Pommery. And I used only 2 tablespoons of that instead of 4.

Regina Schrambling brought this recipe for Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew to the Times in 2001–after the World Trade Center attacks. I remember cooking many dishes like this stew in my own kitchen. I cooked almost constantly in those dark, scary days, taking portions to neighbors next door, inviting friends for impromptu dinners. It was how I coped and how I showed love to those I love the most.

As Schrambling pointed out:  “… long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”

Amen to that.

Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

INGREDIENTS

¼ pound salt pork, diced

1 large onion, finely diced

3 shallots, chopped

2 to 4 tablespoons butter, as needed

2 pounds beef chuck, in 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons butter, as needed

½ cup Cognac

2 cups beef stock

½ cup Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons Pommery mustard

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into half-moon slices

½ pound mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned and quartered

¼ cup red wine

PREPARATION

Place salt pork in a Dutch oven or a large heavy kettle over low heat, and cook until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon, and discard. Raise heat, and add onion and shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.

If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat. Dust beef cubes with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Shake off excess flour, and place half the cubes in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to a bowl with onions. Repeat with remaining beef.

Add Cognac to the empty pan, and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add stock, Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon Pommery mustard. Whisk to blend, then return meat and onion mixture to pan. Lower heat, cover pan partway, and simmer gently until meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Add carrots, and continue simmering for 30 minutes, or until slices are tender. As they cook, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender.

Stir mushrooms into the stew along with remaining mustard and red wine. Simmer 5 minutes, then taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

Easy Apps

The holidays are hectic for everyone, but entertaining doesn’t really have to be hard. Here are some quick and tasty appetizers that are truly super-easy—–especially when you start with already-prepared ingredients.

I made all these recipes for a Portico Mountain Brook story. It’s in the Winter issue, which is out now, and you can access it here.

Meanwhile, these delicious dishes—delighting your guests in under 30 minutes—range from subtly sophisticated to unbelievably easy. Most have five or fewer ingredients, and every one of these things can be found in local shops and grocery stores. The secret is to incorporate ingredients that are already made for you. Then you combine them in ways that make the dishes your own.

Romesco and Bucheron Dip with Almonds

INGREDIENTS:

2 containers romesco from The Continental Bakery’s cold case

6 ounces bucheron (also from that cold case), rind removed and discarded, sliced into ¼ inch-thick strips (you can substitute a goat cheese log)

¼ cup sliced almonds

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Smooth romesco in the bottom of an ovenproof baking dish or small cast-iron skillet. Top with cheese, and bake until bubbly (about 10 minutes). Top with almonds, and serve immediately with crackers or French bread.

(This dip can be assembled up to eight hours ahead of time and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to cook it, remove the plastic wrap and add five minutes to the baking time. )

Serves 6

Prep time:  5 minutes

Total time:  15-20 minutes

Blue Cheese and Honey Bruschetta

INGREDIENTS:

1 baguette from The Continental Bakery

6 ounces blue cheese

4 Tbsp local honey

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Preheat oven to broil.

Thinly slice the baguette (the folks at the bakery can do this for you), place rounds on baking sheet and broil them until they are toasted (about 1 ½ minutes per side).

Place pieces of blue cheese on the toasted bread slices, and drizzle honey evenly over them.

Serves 8-12

Prep time:  10 minutes

Total time:  10 minutes

Ham and Cheese Skewers

INGREDIENTS:

½ pound smoked deli ham from The Pig or Western, sliced ¾ inch thick

1 5-ounce blue cheese wedge (or a block of cheddar)

1-2 large gala apples (or not-too-ripe pears), sliced

1 bunch fresh watercress (or arugula)

60 skewers

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Cut ham into ¾-inch cubes. Break or cut cheese into 60 small pieces. Cut apple slices into bite-size pieces.

Thread cheese, apple, watercress leaves and ham onto skewers (with ham at the bottom). Stand skewers upright, ham ends down, on a serving plate.

Makes about 60 skewers

Prep time:  20 minutes

Total time:  20 minutes

Skinny Buffalo Chicken Dip

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups chicken from a plain rotisserie chicken, shredded or roughly chopped (again, this is available at The Piggly Wiggly or Western).

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, cubed and softened

1/3 to 2/3 cups hot sauce (such as Frank’s RedHot)

¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 packet ranch dressing

1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

Optional: sliced green onions and blue cheese crumbles

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese, hot sauce, cheddar, ranch dressing and Greek yogurt until well combined. (If the cream cheese is hard to mix, microwave it for a few seconds.)

Fold in the chicken, and combine well.

Pour mixture into an 8 x 8 baking dish or a small cast-iron skillet, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until dip is hot throughout. If desired, top with sliced green onions or crumbled blue cheese.

Serve hot with celery and carrot sticks.

Serves 8 to 10

Prep time:  5 minutes

Total time:  20 to 25 minutes

Goat Cheese Log Rolled in Nuts, Herbs & Cranberries 

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped (or pecans or walnuts)

2 tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped

¼ cup cranberries (fresh or dried), finely chopped

1 large goat cheese log (keep it cold so it’s easier to work with)

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Mix nuts, thyme, rosemary and cranberries together in a small bowl.

Spread the nut, herb and cranberry mixture onto a piece of waxed paper or parchment and roll the goat cheese log across the mixture, making sure it is well coated. Press down gently as you roll, to pack the mixture onto the log of cheese.

Just before serving, drizzle generously with honey.

Serve at room temperature with crackers and more honey and any leftover nut, herb and cranberry mixture.

(Note:  This recipe can be easily changed to incorporate things you like. Roll the goat cheese in freshly cracked black pepper and chives, edible lavender flowers, or chopped bacon and pecans. Really, the choice is yours.)

Serves 10-12

Prep time:  7 minutes

Total time:  7 minutes

Party Crackers

INGREDIENTS:

1 package The Original Savory Party Cracker Seasoning (available at Smith’s Variety)

1 2/3 cups canola oil

4 sleeves saltine crackers

1 2-gallon zip-top plastic bag

HERE’S HOW TO MAKE IT:

Follow the directions on the spice packet. Combine canola oil and one package of Savory Seasoning mix in a large plastic bag, and mix well.

Add all four sleeves of saltine crackers. Seal bag full of air. Tumble crackers in the bag every five minutes until all of the Savory Seasoning is absorbed.

Let crackers rest in the bag at least overnight for best results. Store in an airtight container. Refrigeration or freezing extends the flavor, but they probably won’t last that long

Serves 10-12

Prep time:  5 minutes

Total time:  25 minutes, but they get better overnight

Finally, Brie topped with things you like is one of the easiest appetizers ever, and it always looks (and tastes) amazing.  The Cook’s Store of Mountain Brook offers Brie recipes with every Brie bowl they sell. I love my piece from Tena Payne‘s Earthborn Pottery available at The Cook’s Store and Alabama Goods in downtown Homewood! The basic instructions go like this: Place a small round of Brie into your lovely Brie baking bowl, and top it with what you want. Bake it at 350 for about eight minutes.

Seriously. That’s it.

Some topping suggestions: Pesto from a jar. Jam from a jar. Chutney from a jar. (Consider Holmsted Fines balsamic red onion. Rebecca Williams, the owner of Holmsted Fines, discovered the versatility and joy of gourmet chutneys when she trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Alabama Goods has a nice selection of these chutneys.)  Add chopped nuts for some texture. If you want to get a little fancier, top the cheese with cranberry sauce, triple sec and brown sugar, or cover the cheese with some bourbon, almonds and brown sugar and bake.

Serve with crackers or French bread and sliced apples or pears.

Happy Holidays to you all!

XOXO,

Susan

One Mississippi … Roast

I read the New York Times Cooking story last week about America’s love affair with ranch dressing and immediately started craving Mississippi Roast.

This Pinterest favorite dish is traditionally made in a slow cooker with chuck roast, pepperoncini peppers and a package of ranch dressing. The Times recipe by Sam Sifton calls for making your own ranch dressing, which isn’t hard at all.

The peppery roast is a great Sunday dinner option that might give you leftovers for a busy weeknight. Might. We served it on Sunday with egg noodles and a salad. I planned to have leftovers on Monday with roasted sweet potatoes and red onion wedges and buttermilk biscuits (because the dressing calls for a mere teaspoon of buttermilk, and it seemed such a waste to not use some of the rest of it). That turned out to be optimistic. My family ate it all the first night.

Mississippi Roast

INGREDIENTS

1 boneless chuck roast or top or bottom round roast, 3 to 4 pounds

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 to 12 pepperoncini

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon dried dill

¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon buttermilk, optional

Chopped parsley, for garnish

 

PREPARATION

Place roast on a cutting board and rub the salt and pepper all over it. Sprinkle the flour all over the seasoned meat and massage it into the flesh.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan set over high heat until it is shimmering and about to smoke. Place the roast in the pan and brown on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes a side, to create a crust. Remove roast from pan and place it in the bowl of a slow cooker. Add the butter and the pepperoncini to the meat. Put the lid on the slow cooker, and set the machine to low.

As the roast heats, make a ranch dressing. Combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, dill and paprika in a small bowl and whisk to emulsify. Add the buttermilk if using, then whisk again. Remove the lid from the slow cooker and add the dressing.

Replace the top and allow to continue cooking, undisturbed, for 6 to 8 hours, or until you can shred the meat easily using 2 forks. Mix the meat with the gravy surrounding it.

Garnish with parsley, and serve with egg noodles or roast potatoes, or pile on sandwich rolls, however you like.

 

Summer Edit Part 2: More Food and Drink and Life

St. George Island never disappoints. Even on a cloudy day, and those have been few, it’s my favorite place to be.

Life is here simple:  hours and hours of reading books on the beach under a huge umbrella. We listen to Oyster Radio (100.5 WOYS) and don’t turn on the television. I’ve had oyster dates with my kids and husband at Lynn’s Quality Oysters on the bay side. We’ve spent hours in a sea kayak looking for turtles and dolphins (and finding them).

We timed our visit to coincide with the Perseid meteor showers and thrilled to a couple of long, slow, colorful earthgrazers most nights. On Sunday (the peak night), we sipped Buffalo Trace bourbon and watched into the wee hours seeing dozens of shooting stars, some with spectacular tails. Orange. Green. Blue. A few evenings we’ve woken to incredible thunderstorms just outside our window, lightning striking the water turning night into day. Another kind of light show.

We’ve eaten lots of tomatoes, just old-fashioned slicing ones from Chandler Mountain in Steele, Alabama, shipped all the way down here to the Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola, Florida (imagine!). We’ve made salads by adding fresh peaches or watermelon to them–whatever my hand grabs first. Brother caught a redfish on his fly rod the other day, and we ate it a few hours later baked on the half shell with just salt and pepper and a little olive oil.

Best. Fish. Ever.

We spend our days in swimsuits here, very rarely dressing more than that. Even then it’s shorts and t-shirts. A sundress, maybe. In fact, we’ve not gotten much fancier than dinner for two at The Owl Cafe in Apalachicola one night. If you’re here, you should go. The food is delicious and the service so quietly friendly.

I can’t show you the turtles we’ve seen. Green turtles? Loggerheads? We only get a glimpse of a yellow-spotted head and they are gone. Likewise, a red fox crossing the road on our way home from dinner that one night was as fleeting as a thought. I saw this kingfisher cozying up to a guy fishing from the shore one day. I think he knew the guy had a bite before the guy knew.

Rick rode his bike on the island and off. And then off some more. While cycling on the logging roads in Tate’s Hell State Forest, he saw bear tracks but, thankfully, no bear. He also saw a deer and a sizable black snake. I told him if he wasn’t back by noon, I would come looking, so when he was done, he texted me:  “I’m out of Hell. Headed back … all good.”

All that is Gulf-coast specific, but what we enjoyed on our dining table is not necessarily so. Most of these things don’t require a beach to enjoy, but of course, they might taste better down there.

Shrimp a Different Way

Before we left for vacation, I made a batch of harissa with shrimp in mind. I had come across a recipe for Quick Broiled Shrimp with Harissa and Beer and felt it was absolutely necessary. Turns out it was.

I mostly followed the recipe from Serious Eats. Mostly. Here’s what I did to serve four:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pound 16/20 shrimp, shell-on, deveined
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer, whatever kind you’re drinking
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup homemade harissa paste (see recipe below)
  • crusty bread and more beer to serve

PREPARATION

Place a sheet tray lined with foil or a large cast iron skillet under the broiler to preheat. Toss the cleaned shrimp with salt. Set aside.

Add the beer and garlic to a small, 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce until it is sticky and only about 3 tablespoons in volume, about 10 minutes. The beer will foam up while boiling. Set the pot askew on the burner to prevent it from boiling over.

Add the butter to the beer one tablespoon at a time while constantly swirling until incorporated and thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the harissas.

Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp and toss to combine. Pour the shrimp and all the sauce on the preheated sheet tray or skillet. It will hiss and sputter. Make sure the shrimp is in one even layer and place the tray or the skillet under the broiler (but not too close; make sure they don’t burn) until shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Homemade Harissa Paste from Bon Appetit:

Harissa is a key ingredient in North African cuisine. This batch will last up to a month in the fridge, and you can put it on everything from scrambled eggs to rice. It makes a lovely rub for grilled meats, too.

INGREDIENTS

  • 15 dried chiles de árbol
  • 2 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1 dried ancho chile
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1½ teaspoons hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, divided

PREPARATION

Place árbol, guajillo, and ancho chiles in a large heatproof measuring glass. Pour boiling water over to submerge, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until chiles are very pliable and cool enough to handle, 15–20 minutes. Drain; remove stems and seeds and discard (wear gloves for this part if you have them).

Toast cumin and coriander in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, add garlic, and pulse until spices are broken up and garlic forms a paste.

Add chiles and pulse until chiles form a coarse paste. Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, and salt and process until mostly smooth but mixture still has a little texture. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup oil. Process until oil is incorporated.

Transfer harissa to a bowl. Pour remaining ¼ cup oil over top and keep in the refrigerator.

 

I’ve made Alton Brown‘s Gazpacho recipe so many times, I can do it by heart (and feel OK taking my lazy-girl shortcuts). It’s a great way to enjoy summer’s bounty of tomatoes, and you can make it your own by adding things you love like a hotter pepper or things you have on hand at a beach house or lake place like a little bit of Old Bay.
Brown’s recipe proper (which involves removing the skin of the tomatoes) is in the link above. Here’s my take on it:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds really ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped and sort of seeded
  • 1 small container of tomato juice or V8
  • 1 large cucumber, some skin removed, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup (or more if you want) finely chopped red onion
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
  • dash of Old Bay (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh basil leaves to garnish
PREPARATION
Put the tomatoes and tomato juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, Old Bay if you want, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
You can leave it as is, with lots of crunchy bits in soup or transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.
Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight.
Serve with a chiffonade of basil.

Because Pimento Cheese is Good (and It Opens Doors)

This is true:  I have managed to get an invite (more than once!) to a fabulous beach house in return for bringing the world’s best pimento cheese.

I really have Frank Stitt and Miss Verba to thank for it. You’ll find the recipe in Frank Stitt’s Southern Table:  Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. And I never ever go to the beach without it.

It makes a big batch, and we enjoy it for days with saltines. We save the last few servings for grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwiches on a day when I just cannot leave the beach before 7 p.m.

We serve these sandwiches with whatever salad we care to pull together, (I show it with a fresh, juicy mix of watermelon, tomato and fresh basil with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt and pepper.)

These sandwiches are great with the gazpacho mentioned above.

Here’s Miss Verba’s recipe. Prepare to be addicted.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound sharp yellow cheddar
  • 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholulu
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

PREPARATION

Grind the cheddar in a food processor fitted with the grating disk, or grate it on the small-holed side of a hand grater.

Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, white pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce, and cayenne, if using, and blend all together thoroughly. I also add a splash  of Worchestershire.

Refrigerate and serve chilled. (The spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before then.)

Easiest Daquiri Ever!

photo by Melinda Hammer for The New York Times

Here’s a simple yet absolutely delicious Santiago-Style Daiquiri recipe from The New York Times Cooking website. It’s based on Eduardo Corona’s recipe at El Traguito in Santiago de Cuba. You can read the entire story here.

There’s no blender involved. It makes one really great drink.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces white or three-year-old light rum
  • 5 drops maraschino liqueur (optional)
  • Lemon or lime slice for garnish

PREPARATION

In a cocktail shaker filled with 1 cup crushed ice, combine the sugar, lemon or lime juice, rum, and maraschino, if using. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.

Pour into a chilled martini glass.

Garnish with lemon or lime slice.

Edible Art: Geode and Agate Cookies

Sugar cookies + artists = some delicious awesomeness.

On a recent rainy afternoon, my daughters and I made geode and agate cookies, and we had an absolute blast. We used a simple sugar cookie recipe from PureWow (I’ll include it below), Alton Brown’s royal icing (recipe below), some clear rock candy (which I bought at Party City), a few colorful sugar sprinkles, some food coloring and our imaginations.

We relied upon two different online sources to guide us:  PureWow’s Easy Geode Cookies and Alana Jones-Mann’s DIY Agate Cookies.

The Geode cookies had metallic sprinkle edges and rock candy centers. We broke up the rock candy in a plastic bag using a rolling pin and then painted the crystals with food coloring to make them look like citrine, amethyst and sapphire. For the Agate cookies, we let the royal icing dry a bit and then we painted our rock layers with food colors, which we mixed and shared.

The Most Perfect (and Easiest) Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever

INGREDIENTS

3 cups all-purpose flour

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

PREPARATION

  1. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the baking powder and salt and then whisk gently to combine.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, then mix to combine. Scrape the side of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to ½ inch thick. Cut the dough into amorphous shapes with a samll, sharp knife. Then transfer the cookies to an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. For even baking, rotate the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool completely before decorating or serving.

Makes about 3 dozen odd-shaped cookies.

Royal Icing

INGREDIENTS

3 ounces pasteurized egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

PREPARATION

  1. In large bowl of stand mixer, combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy.
  2. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high, and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add food coloring, if desired.
  4. For immediate use, transfer icing to a pastry bag or heavy duty storage bag and pipe as desired. If using storage bag, clip corner.
  5. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

 

Dinner at My House: Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions

When my family requests something specific for dinner, I almost always comply. Cooking for my husband and kids is one of my favorite ways of showing how much I love them. Sometimes, though, the requests are bigger than other times.

Melissa Clark‘s Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions is a big ask.

This recipe, from the New York Times Cooking site, involves multiple steps–the first being the shopping. That’s not entirely a chore because it takes me to Mi Pueblo, which is always a treat. (See my blog post about the delights of shopping there.) This recipe also involves a trip to The Fresh Market for the cured (cooked) chorizo (do not substitute!). But then, with the shopping done, there are several steps to this recipe and it can take a while to make.

It’s worth it though. The sauce especially, made with fruity, smoky dried pasilla peppers, takes this Mexican casserole to a whole new level.

You can get your ingredients ready early and then assemble this casserole and cook it later in the day. The best thing (other than the incredible textures and flavors):  There are usually lots of leftovers, and this dish is even better the next day.

Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions

INGREDIENTS

1 cup Mexican crema, crème fraîche or sour cream

Zest of 1 lime and 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 red onion, halved root to tip and thinly sliced into half moons

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed

2 ½ teaspoons sugar

2 ounces dried pasilla (also called negro) chiles rinsed, seeded and stemmed (6 to 8 chiles)

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound cured (cooked) chorizo, finely diced

1 white onion, diced

1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained

4 cups chicken stock

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

12 6-inch corn tortillas

12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (3 cups)

½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Make the lime crema: In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and lime zest. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Make the pickled onions: In a separate bowl, combine red onion, lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Let the onion pickle at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the chiles for the sauce: Heat a very large skillet (or use a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until hot. Lay chiles flat in skillet and toast until fragrant and pliable and color darkens, 10 to 15 seconds a side; do not let them burn and turn bitter. Transfer chiles to a large bowl, cover with hot water and let stand 30 minutes. Wipe out skillet.
  4. Make the bean-chorizo mixture: While chiles soak, heat 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
  5. Stir white onion into skillet and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Finely chop 1/4 cup cilantro stems and add to pan, along with cumin. Cook 1 minute.
  6. Return chorizo to pan. Stir in beans, 1 cup stock and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook gently 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  7. Make the chile sauce: Heat broiler. Place garlic cloves (in skins) on a baking sheet. Broil, turning once, until very tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Peel garlic when cool enough to handle.
  8. Drain chiles and place in a blender or food processor. Add peeled garlic and 2 cups stock. Purée until smooth.
  9. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chile purée and simmer vigorously, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Be careful, and do not let it burn! Add remaining 1 cup stock, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently, stirring often, until sauce reduces to 1 1/2 cups, about 25 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and remove from heat.
  10. Assemble the casserole: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread a quarter of the chile sauce over bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of 6 overlapping tortillas on top of the sauce, followed by another layer of sauce, half the bean mixture and half the cheese. Cover with another layer of 6 tortillas, a layer of sauce, remaining bean mixture and remaining cheese. Spoon remaining sauce on top. Cover pan tightly and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until casserole is bubbly around edges and cheese is melted, 20 minutes more.
  11. Let casserole rest 10 minutes, then serve topped with dollops of lime crema, some pickled onion, pumpkin seeds and cilantro leaves.