Monday, December 23, 2013

Creole Crawfish Treats!

                A few weeks back I wrote about a Southern Louisiana dinner with my wine group.  I not only filled in for the person designated to bring dessert, which resulted in my “Pumpkin Pie in a Glass.” I also brought a first course to complement the theme.
                I made a recipe I’ve been making since my long-ago days of living in New Orleans. If memory serves, it came from the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, although I can’t find anything similar online.
In my recipe software files, it’s listed as “Crawfish Bella Luna.” Bella Luna was a beautiful restaurant in the French Market in New Orleans. It had a great river view and a very talented chef.  Unfortunately, it was badly damaged at the time of Hurricane Katrina and never re-opened.
                The recipe calls for a pound of crawfish tails. You can buy them frozen in many supermarkets, or ask the seafood department of your favorite market to order them for you. Due to current news items, I would avoid any from China. I got mine from Thomas’ Meat Market in Collierville. The ones they sell are from Spain, and I felt quite comfortable using them. 
                The recipe includes what is known in Creole cooking as “the trinity”: celery, onion and bell pepper. You could save a bit of prep by using a 12-ounce bag of frozen Creole mirepoix. It’s usually in pretty big pieces, just drop the frozen contents of the bag on your chopping board and run a sharp knife through it. It will take a bit longer to cook through, since you’ll have a good bit of moisture to cook off before the vegetables start to cook. But it has the advantage of saving a good bit of chopping time.
               This is one of those recipes that can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, making it good for a cooperative dinner, as our wine dinner group is.
                We served it as a seated first course. I put a handful of arugula with a light sherry vinaigrette on the side.  If you wanted to make it a lunch or brunch main course, just make the salad bigger and add grape tomatoes, slivered red onion and a sprinkle of feta or gorzonzola cheese. 
Crawfish Bella Luna
 3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup onion, very finely minced1/3 cup celery, very finely minced1/3 cup green bell pepper, finely minced1/3 cup green onion, with some of the green top, finely minced2 plump cloves garlic, minced½ cup mayonnaise¼ cup Zatarain’s Creole (or other whole grained) mustard1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, such as Tony Cachere’s1 egg1 pound frozen crawfish tails, defrosted in the bag½ cup heavy creamSweet paprika for garnish
               Preheat the oven to 350o. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the butter. When just starting to sizzle add the onion, celery, bell pepper, green onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
               Remove from the heat and whisk in the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Creole seasoning. Mix well, then whisk in the egg. Add the crawfish tails and all the juices from the bag and toss. Divide among 8 half-cup ramekins. Pour two tablespoons of heavy cream on the top and sprinkle with paprika. 
Bake until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or baguette toasts.
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Keeping my promise: Pernod-Marinated Snapper

Back in June, when we made a fish soup that required Pernod (or other pastis-type apéritif), I promised that if you bought it for that dish, I would give you another that would use it.
            Just to refresh your memory, pastis (pronounced past-eese) is the regional drink of the Midi area in Southeastern France. It is typically served on ice, with a generous splash of water. It has an anise flavor, which some don´t care for as a beverage, but it is great for cooking, especially when using seafood. There are several brands of pastis available here; I use Pernod.
            I had invited neighbors for a casual dinner. A trip to the farmers’ market netted tiny zucchini, some beautiful tomatoes and a couple of skin-on filets of red snapper.  I wanted to put the fish on the grill, and I find that the filets with skin-on hold together better.  If you’d rather, this can be done under the broiler of your oven, or on a pre-heated cast iron grill pan on top of the stove for about the same amount of time.
            There’s a marinade I’ve been making for years, using pastis.  It is also delicious on other seafood.  It’s particularly good on shrimp.  You can also use it on salmon, but leave out the tomatoes in the re-warmed marinade that you’ll serve as a sauce.
            After removing the fish the reserved marinade is brought to a simmer and cooked for a few minutes. Then fresh tomato, chopped, is added to complete the sauce. We can still get good tomatoes, but when the fresh tomato season is over, you will still have great success with canned diced tomato, drained.
            It is important not to leave the fish (or other seafood) in this marinade for more than about 30 minutes.  Any longer and the flesh of the fish will take on a “cooked” appearance and will have an unpleasant texture when grilled.
            I made a simple rice pilaf to go along with this. I also split the zucchini lengthwise and brushed a little of the marinade on the cut side and cooked them on the grill beside the fish.
            Altogether a very nice dinner for an early autumn evening!
Southern French Snapper
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup Pernod, or other pastis-type liquor
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon finely ground pepper
1 ½ pounds snapper filet, skin on (see note)
3 large tomatoes, cored and diced
            In a glass bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar and pastis. In a mortar and pestle crush the fennel seeds slightly, or put them on a chopping block and chop coarsely with a sharp knife. Add to the bowl with the garlic, salt and pepper.
            Put the snapper in a plastic bag and add one half cup of the marinade, reserving the rest.  Place in a flat pan and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, turning once about halfway through. 
            Preheat a charcoal or gas grill. Place the reserved marinade in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Let cook for a couple of minutes, then add the diced tomato.  Let it simmer for about five more minutes.
            Remove the snapper from the marinade. Spray the grill grates generously with cooking spray, or brush with vegetable oil.  Place flesh side down and cook for about five minutes.  With a spatula, turn carefully and cook skin-side down for another four to five minutes.
            Remove the fish filets to a platter and ladle on the sauce. Divide into four portions and serve immediately.
NOTE: Other full flavored firm-fleshed white fish can be used, such as amberjack or cod. 
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Friday, October 11, 2013

Everything is better with bacon!!

                 Every summer for the past few years my son Christopher and his wife Nicolle, who live in Massachusetts, have organized a “Bacon-Beer Fest.”  Everyone is to bring a six pack of beer they haven’t had before to share, and something made with bacon.
                You simply cannot imagine what people come up with. My son made chicken-fried bacon. Yes, he dipped each half strip into a beer/egg batter and deep-fried it. I mean, what’s not to love: fat on fat deep-fried in fat.
                Another guest had taken almost fully cooked bacon (so it wasn’t crisp) to his favorite sushi place and they made salmon and crab sushi, wrapped in avocado, then bacon. 
Still another had found a popcorn popper at a garage sale, one that looks like a small version of what they use at the movies.  She had fried bacon until very crisp and crumbled it finely. Then she popped corn in the bacon fat, setting a dish of bacon crumbles to sprinkle on top.
                There were desserts: bacon-mincemeat tarts, Guiness and brown sugar candied bacon, and bacon-butterscotch cupcakes.
                For my beer contribution I took Ghost River from Memphis, Yazoo from Nashville and Lazy Magnolia from Mississippi.  I pitted fresh dates and stuffed them with gorgonzola cheese (any good blue cheese would do).  I wrapped them in Benton’s bacon and skewered them, so they could be finished on the grill, although they can also be done in a hot oven until the bacon is lightly crisped.  This is an exceptionally tasty combination and so easy that it should be in your repertoire.
                One of my favorite appetizers was made by Cristina Ferri: Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Bites.  She had just thrown the seasonings together, so there was no recipe, but she told me what she did and I was able to very closely replicate it.
                Christine used chicken breasts. I used chicken thighs since I had some, and besides they are less likely to overcook if your timing is off a little. You can decide which you would like to use.
                This would made a great tailgating dish, since they are just as good at room temperature as they are hot right out of the oven.  Just be sure to make a lot.  I made two dozen for an appetizer before a dinner for four. I was anticipating leftovers. They were all gone!
Christine’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Bacon Wrapped Chicken Bites
1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs
12 ounces applewood smoked bacon, thin sliced
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons creole seasoning (I used Tony Cachere’s)
2 tablespoons chili powder (I used Penzey’s Chili 9000)
                Preheat oven to 350o. Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes.  Cut the bacon into thirds. Wrap a bacon piece around each chunk of chicken and secure with a skewer or long toothpick. 
                In a flat bowl, combine the sugar, creole seasoning and chili powder and mix well.  Roll the chicken bites in this, patting a little extra on to made sure it’s well covered.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet with sides. Bake for 20 minutes for breasts, 30 minutes for thighs.  May be served hot, warm or at room temperature but if you aren’t going to eat them shortly, refrigerate until about 20 minutes before serving. Makes two dozen or more.
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Things I've noticed about France

Some observations from one who used to spend a lot of time in France, but hasn't in many years:

No matter how big and crowded a bar or café is, the server leaves your tab on a little plate on your table. No need to give a credit card to run a tab.

Olive drab seems to be the new black in France. So it probably will be in Memphis in a couple of years. Just a heads up, fashionistas!

Nobody’s plate is removed from a restaurant table until everyone is finished eating. That’s good for me because I talk a lot and eat slow so often I don’t finish just because I’m the only one at the table who still have a plate in front of me.

Also in restaurants you could still be waiting at closing time if you don’t ask for your check. They don’t rush you. If you want to sit way past the time your coffee is done, they won’t bother you. Once you ask, you typically get it right away.

There sure are a lot of motorcycles here, and they’re loud. And many of their drivers are just plain crazy.

What I used to admire about the well-behaved French children when out in public seems to have declined immensely.  We’ve seen more than a few temper-tantrum, loud, whiny, or otherwise snotty little kids since we’ve been here.

A double dip dish of ice cream costs almost $4.00.  Of course, that’s extremely good ice cream.

A glass of rosé is rarely more than $3.50. A bottle for the fridge is between $4.50 and $6.00.  And that´s very good rosé.  Of course we´re still down South where the best of it is made.

French women are not as slim as they used to be. Of course we’re still out in the provinces. That well might change when we get to Paris.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bacon-Beer Fest!

Several folks have expressed interest in the goodies at my son's annual Bacon-Beer Fest, held a couple of weeks ago near his home in Massachusetts. This is by no means everything, but should give you some kind of idea of all the treats!

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Cool salad for a hot day!

                 When I go to the farmers’ markets, I can pick a cantaloupe perfectly almost every time: it needs to be a little soft around the stem end, and smell like melon on the outside. But the art of properly picking a ripe sweet watermelon eludes me. I just can’t quite understand the sound I need to get when I thump on it.
                So I always ask someone at the market to pick one for me.  Most of the time that works.  I did that last week, even though I thought I had no real need for a watermelon. That big pile of melons was just calling out to me. And boy, was it a good one!
                And then I passed the Paradise Seafood truck and couldn’t resist a container of scallops. I was having guests that evening, and turned the watermelon and scallops into a very nice first course salad.
                I’m not going to give you the full scallop lecture; you’ve heard it from me before. Just remember “dry” scallops are un-processed.  The two places I know you can always get them are at the Paradise Seafood trucks at most of the farmers’ markets, or Thomas Meat Market in Collierville. Ask before you buy anywhere else.
                For the past few years, balsamic vinegar has been hugely popular. What we get in most stores is not real balsamic, which can be made only in Italy, in Modena or neighboring Reggio Emilia. Aged in several different wood barrels for a minimum of 12 years, and sold in distinctive bottles, it’s not the real thing unless the word “tradizionale” is in the name. And it will set you back a minimum of $70 for a small bottle.
                What you see in groceries may just be labeled balsamic vinegar.  These are usually made of wine vinegar with caramel coloring and flavoring. Read the ingredient label. These might sell for under $10 and are not worth buying.  But when you get up a bit in price, you can finds ones labeled “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.” Aged for at least three years, these come closer to the taste of “real” balsamic. The flavor can be enhanced by reducing it down by about 25%. This is what I did for this salad.
                I didn’t use salad greens with this, but the slight bitterness of arugula would be perfect with the other flavors if you’d like to have something green on the plate. Either way, the addition of lime wedges to squeeze over at serving time definitely enhances the flavors.
                You can have everything prepped for the salad, and assemble just before your guests arrive. Then at serving time, just sear your scallops, drizzle with the oil, garnish and you’re ready to serve.
Mediterranean Watermelon Salad with Scallops
 ½ medium seedless watermelon
1 small red onion, cut into very thin slices
3/4 cup mint leaves, lightly packed, slivered
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup Balsamic vinegar, reduced slightly and cooled
1 pound dry scallops 
1 tablespoon Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Good fruity olive oil
Pitted kalamata olives
Lime wedges.
                Cut the watermelon half lengthwise into two quarters. Turn on the side and slice ¾” thick. Cut the ripe meat away from the rind and discard the rind. Cut each wedge into two triangles. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the onion and mint leaves. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble.                                    Arrange the watermelon on individual serving plates and sprinkle with any mint or onion that might have fallen off. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
               Pat the scallops dry and dust one side with a mixture of the Cavender’s seasoning and flour. Heat a thin film of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops, floured side down, and sear for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and cook two to three minutes more. Place one atop each salad. 
                Drizzle lightly with additional olive oil, garnish with the olives and lime wedges and serve immediately.  Serves 6 to 8.
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Another cold soup for hot days!

                 A few weeks ago I gave you a recipe for a chilled pear soup with cardamom. I was surprised at the number of emails I received saying they’d tried it and loved it, and asking for more chilled soups.
                The second best part about chilled soups—the very best part is how tasty and refreshing they are in summer—is that they must be done ahead.  That leaves your time just before serving dinner free for other tasks, or for just socializing.
                This soup is based on a recipe I found in the French culinary magazine Cuisine et Vins de France. I made it once for our wine dinner club, and it was so good that I’ve served it four times since.  That’s really rare for me! It’s the perfect beginning to a main course salad dinner, or for dinner on the grill. It also makes a great brunch soup beside a quiche or frittata.
This soup will keep beautifully for several days in the fridge. I had less than a cup left the last time I served it, and it made a pretty tasty sauce over a grilled chicken breast. I think it would be good on fish or shrimp as well.
Red Bell Pepper Gazpacho with Goat Cheese
4 red bell peppers (See note below)
4 large very ripe tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp. sherry wine vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
6 oz. goat cheese crumbles, divided
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
                Over a very hot grill or a gas flame, or under the broiler of your oven, roast the peppers until the peel is very dark and charred, turning often. Place into a paper bag, roll the top to close and let rest until completely cool.  When cool, rub off as much of the skin as you can. You should be able to get most of it, but a little stubborn bit here and there won’t hurt. Cut in half and remove the stem, seeds and veins. Cut into chunks and place in a large glass bowl.
                Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. Using a small spoon, scoop the seeds into a strainer set over a small bowl. Cut out the core and cut the unpeeled tomatoes into chunks. Add to the bowl with the peppers.
                With a rubber spatula, rub the juice around the seeds through the strainer. Discard the seeds and add the juice to the bowl, along with the garlic, sherry wine vinegar and salt. Toss to combine, cover and refrigerate at least four hours.
                Working in batches, in a blender or food processor pulse the pepper mixture with 2 tbsp. goat cheese, the honey, olive oil and basil. It should be just a little bit chunky, not perfectly smooth. Taste and add salt if needed.
                When ready to serve, pour into small glasses or clear bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining goat cheese and serve at once. Serves 6-8.
NOTE: I roasted my own peppers, but if you prefer, you can substitute two 12-oz. jars of roasted peppers, drained.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Oriental Pork Burger--A Little Rest from Beef Burgers!

I think most everyone loves a burger on the grill. But sometimes, by the middle of summer, we’re tired of the same old beef burger every time. I recently had a friend accompany me to an occasion where her support was most welcome. Afterwards, we came back to the house. I’d made the burgers and slaw earlier in the day and within a very short time the grill was hot and the burgers were on.
            I had picked up cole slaw mix, the kind with carrots already in it, but I wanted more carrots. I was going to grate them myself, but as I passed by the salad bar and saw the nifty long strands of carrot, I picked up a container of that instead. 
            I thought the slaw would be enough for a topping, but after tasting, we thought it still needed a little something, so I whipped up the sesame aioli. It was the perfect finishing touch.
            I served it with store-bought sweet potato chips, which went very well with the flavor of the burgers. If you are a bit more ambitious, roast cubes of sweet potato and toss them with a little more of the sesame aioli and chopped cilantro for sweet potato salad.

Spicy Oriental Pork Burgers
 1 ½ lb. ground pork
2 green onions, with some of the green, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ginger paste from the produce section (or 1 ½ tbsp. grated fresh ginger)
2 tbsp. Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp. Oriental sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
6 Kaiser rolls (or other crusty buns)
Asian Slaw (recipe below)
Sesame Aioli (recipe below)
             In a bowl, combine all ingredients for the pork burgers. Form into six patties about 5” in diameter. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour so flavors meld, or until ready to cook. 
On a very hot gas or charcoal grill (or stove-top ridged grill pan) cook five to six minutes per side, until no longer pink in the center.  Place on the buns, top with the slaw and drizzle with the aioli.  Serves six.
Asian Slaw
1 bag cole slaw mix
1cup shredded carrot
1 minced green onion
3 tbsp. cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
            In a bowl, combine the slaw mix, carrot, green onion and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and vinegar. Pour over the slaw and toss together.  Let set at room temperature for up to an hour, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
 Sesame Aioli
 ¾  cup mayonnaise
1 tsp oriental sesame oil
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
            Mix together, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Luscious Latino Shrimp Salad

               I had invited friends for a Sunday supper, and wanted a first course that wouldn’t take a lot of time to prepare that day. I also wanted something with a bit of a Latino flair to complement the main course I was serving.  Looking through my recipe files, I came across a shrimp cocktail recipe that was perfect.  It calls for tiny salad shrimp, but I like to use larger shrimp and put it atop a bed of greens. 
               I usually dice avocados for garnish, but I’d made guacamole in anticipation of a Friday evening concert at the Levitt Shell. When it stormed about the time we were to leave, we changed our minds. So I used the guacamole that was still in the fridge to top the salad. It was so much better than just the plain avocado that I will make it that way from now on.
                You can use your favorite gucamole recipe. While not quite the same as home-made, the Wholly Guacamole brand, in the refrigerated section of your supermarket, is also pretty tasty.
               The recipe calls for Maggi seasoning, a liquid seasoning. You might be able to find it in either the Hispanic or oriental sections of your market. If not, use ½ teaspoon each soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
               By increasing the amount of shrimp to about 2 ½ lb., this would make a fine main course for lunch or dinner on a hot summer day.
 Latino Shrimp Salad
1 lemon, rinsed and sliced
2 tbsp. Penzeys salsa seasoning (or one pkg. taco seasoning)
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 ½ lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chili sauce (see note)
Juice and finely grated zest of one orange
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
I tsp. Maggi seasoning
2 tsp. chipotle Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1 cup prepared guacamole
4 to 5 oz. arugula
Cilantro, for garnish
1 lime, cut into six wedges, for garnish

In a non-reactive Dutch oven, place the lemon, salsa or taco seasoning, wine and bay leaf.  Add 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about five minutes. Add shrimp. Add water if needed to completely cover shrimp. Bring to a slow boil, cover, and remove from the heat. Wait 8 minutes, then drain.  Place with the lemon slices in a flat glass or plastic container and chill. 
                In a bowl, whisk together the chili sauce, orange and lime juice and zest, Maggi seasoning and Tabasco.  Cover and chill completely. About half an hour before serving, pour over the shrimp, tossing to coat.
                Divide the arugula among six salad plates. Top with the shrimp, then the guacamole.  Drizzle with the sauce remaining in the container, sprinkle with cilantro and serve. Serves six.
Note: This calls for the mild chili sauce that’s right beside the catsup on market shelves.
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Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Mafia is Not a Myth!

Many people, especially down in the South, believe that the Mafia is an invention of the movie industry.  Films such as The Godfather, or Goodfellas, are not far from the truth here in the United States.

This is even more true in Italy.  Although most of the Mafia families are in the south, their hold spreads all over Italy.  According to the United Nations, Italy’s major Mafia organizations are tied to 116 billion euros, or about $150 billion, in revenue each year,

In the New York Times Travel Section this week, there's an article about a bakery owner,Vincenzo Conticello, who refused to pay his "protection" money.  He went through trials and tribulations but ultimately triumphed.

The owner has now expanded to several locations where tourists can be sure they aren't supporting organized crime in Italy.  You can read all about it here.