Main Course


Friday was a miserable day.  It was rainy.  It was grey.  It was freezing cold…in every building I entered.   The combination of all three made me crave soup.   I was nudged a little in that direction thanks to the foodie stylings of S and E, and as we all know, I can eat soup any time of year. With my former home of South Louisiana at the fore front of my mind this past week, it seemed like the only solution would be a warm, rich gumbo.

Now, I am very much a born and bred Californian, so I was not born with that gene Louisiana people are born with…You know the one where you can make a perfect roux.  My friend KK swears by the two beer method of roux making.  It seems so flawless when she does it, however, I am never able to replicate it.  Some swear the color of the roux should be like peanut butter, while other advocate a more chocolate syrup colored roux.  So tonight, after deciding I wanted to fall more on the chocolate end of the roux color spectrum, I found myself wondering, should it be milk chocolate or dark chocolate syrup?!?!?

Enter glass number one of beer.  I decided, I would follow KK’s method and whatever it looked like after a second beer was the color I was going to embrace as my roux.  So with the oil and the flour in my dutch oven, I stood there with a beer in one hand and a whisk in the other, just hoping it would turn out ok.

Two beers and I successfully made a chocolately colored roux.  As usual KK was right and with my “Trinity” (chopped celery, onions, and green pepper…an essential in almost every South Louisiana recipe) ready to go, I felt more certain that this gumbo would work.

I say work because my first attempt at gumbo about 3 years ago was just plain sad.  I tried a oyster and shrimp gumbo and when it was done, it was more like burned flour and over cooked oyster soup.  I vowed that I would wait before I attempted it again.  So before making tonight’s rendition of gumbo, I looked over five different recipes, three from Jr. League cookbooks, including Talk About Good, Susan Spicer’s fabulous book, and finally a recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website from Dookie Chase.  In particular, I loved Susan Spicer’s suggestion to put the chicken bones in my store bought stock to deepen the flavor.  I thought it was fabulous.

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

4 pounds bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1/8 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
salt and pepper to taste
8 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Cup Oil
1 Cup Flour
2 Medium Onions, diced
2 Green Peppers, diced
4 Celery Stalks, diced
6 cloves of Garlic, minced
12 oz. Pork Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
12 oz. Turkey Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tsp. Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Paprika)
5 Springs of Fresh Thyme
1/8 Tsp. Cayenne
1/4 Cup Parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Filé powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the chicken out in a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Roast in the oven until the chicken reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove the meat from the bones. Set the chicken meat to the side and add the bones to your stock pot. Bring the stock to a boil and allow it to boil for a few mintues, then reduce to a simmer while you work on your roux.

**Before you go any further prep all your ingredients. The best way to stop the roux at right time is to pour in the veggies, so it is best to have then prepped and in bowls near the stove.**

The Roux
In at least a 7 quart dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and the flour, stirring constantly. I prefer to use a whisk (a flat whisk works best), but others I know like to use a wooden spoon, either will work, but make sure you keep it moving. You do not want to burn the flour, but if you do, just start from the beginning. No worries. Keep stirring until the roux reaches a chocolate syrup color (or you finish two beers).

Reduce the heat to low and add the onions, celery, green peppers, and garlic. Cook the mixture for 4 minutes. Combine the chicken and sausage. At this point everything will look like a brown mess. Add the paprika, cayenne, and thyme to the pot and stir to combine. Finally discard the chicken bones and add the stock a ladle-full at a time. Increase the heat to medium again, and while stirring constantly, bring the gumbo to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 45 minutes. This is usually just enough time to make some rice to go with your gumbo. I like long grain brown rice.

Remove the dutch oven from heat and add salt and pepper. If you will eat all your gumbo tonight, add the parsley and filé powder. I have read that while filé powder will thicken a gumbo, it can also make it stringy. Since H and I planned to eat this over the course of the week, I sprinkled a little on top of each portion.

To serve, add about a 1/2 cup of rice to the bowl, then ladle the gumbo over it. Make sure you have hot sauce on the table, and if you are feeling indulgent, I like to eat my gumbo with a fresh sweet corn muffin with garlic butter.

Summer Corn

Summer Corn

This chowder isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it is definitely a winner in the kitchen. The recipe comes from a little book called 50 Chowders by Jasper White, and it could be overlooked given that the book is full of the most wonderful sounding soups and chowders. It’s the kind of recipe that you run across that easily could have come from your mother. My mom never made corn chowder when I was growing up, but this is exactly the kind of thing we would have had when summer was sinking into fall.

This is the perfect time of year for this chowder. It combines the last of the summer corn with the warmth and comfort of a fall soup. If this dish were clothing it would be that light sweater you put on during late summer evenings when you can feel the cool air of fall creeping into the night. This chowder is simultaneously a farewell to summer and a welcome to autumn.

This chowder is sure to become one of those recipes that we make for years to come. It’s very flavorful and comforting. The spice is just right and the ratio of stock to cream lends to a rich chowder but not overly so. The chowder also keeps well overnight and makes for a perfect lunch the next day.

If you head to your farmers’ market this weekend and come home with the last few ears of summer corn, I hope you try this. Maybe it will become one of your favorites, too.

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder
Excerpted from 50 Chowders by Jasper White

3 medium ears of fresh yellow or bicolor corn
4 oz bacon, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion (7 to 8 oz), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper (6 to 8 oz), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 cups chicken stock or broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
For Garnish
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or thinly sliced scallions

1. Husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub the ears with a towel to finish the job. Cut the kernels from the cobs and place in a bowl. You should have about 2 cups. Using the back of your knife, scrape down the cobs and add the milkly substance that oozes out to the corn kernels.
2. Heat a 3 to 4 quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
3. Add the butter, onion, bell pepper, thyme, cumin, and turmeric and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion and pepper are tender but not browned.
4. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, cover, and boil vigoursly for about 10 minutes. Some of the potatoes will have broken up, but most should retain their shape. Use the back of your spoon to smash a bit of the corn and potatoes against the side of the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and season the chowder with salt and pepper.
5. Stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the pot, stirring constantly. As soon as the chowder has come back to a boil and thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let is sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
6. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat, don’t let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives.

Last week, E, S, and I talked about the lack of peaches on our blog.  How could we live in the South and not have yet posted anything about peaches?!  So in honor of the peach, we decided to declare this week, Kitchen Confit Peach Week. In my mind, eating a sweet juicy peach is one of the glories of summer.  Then there is the intoxicating peach smell.  It really is hard to imagine anything better. Rarely do I think of a peach as anything but a sweet treat at the end of a summer meal.  So when we all decided to find a peach dish to make for Peach Week, I decided to seek out something savory.  That’s when I found a recipe for Grilled Shrimp Satay with Bok Choy and Peaches in the July Bon Appetit.  It sounds like it would be a little sweet, a little spicy, and all around delcious.

The sauce was a mix of peanut butter, sugar, nectar, Chili sauce, rice vinegar, and soy sauce…really when you combine these ingredients does it get any better. Salty and Sweet.  The only thing I thought it might need was a little extra chili sauce, a thought I was glad I had. Everything was easily grilled and tasted good.  However, it just is not going to look good on a plate.  As a grilled summer salad, it was quite delicious and refreshing. I will say, the grilled bok choy was probably my favorite part of this entire meal.  I know I should be praising the peach, but I think I am just a tried and true Peach as dessert type eater.  If I do decide to try this recipe again, I think I will add a little more acid to the sauce…maybe a little fish sauce.  Also, while the heat came through in the bok choy and on the shrimp, it was barey noticable on the peaches.  Anyone ever have that happen?

Grilled Shrimp Satay with Bok Choy and Peaches
Adapted from Bon Appetit from July 2008 Serves 4

Sauce
6 Tbsp Smooth Natural Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar (I only had light brown sugar on had, but Bon Appetit recommends Dark Brown Sugar)
3 Tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Hot Chili Sauce like sriracha
5 Tbsp Peach Nectar

3 Peaches, each cut into 6 wedges
16 raw large Shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 head Baby Bok Choy, halved lengthwise
4 Bamboo Skewers, soaked in water

Fire up your grill!

Combine the ingredients for the sauce and mix until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Skewer the Shrimp on bamboo skewers. Brush the peaches, bok choy, and shrimp first with nectar then with a little of the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

We grilled each item individually, so first the peaches, then the bok choy, and finally the shrimp. The peaches should be charred, shrimp just opaque, and the bok choy tender.

Once removed from the grill, arrange the bok choy, peaches, and shrimp on a platter and drizzle with a little more sauce. Serve with remaining sauce.

Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas

Have I cooked dinner all week? No. Do I come home, eat pizza, and lie on the sofa watching Seinfeld? Yes, yes, and yes. I am a poor excuse for a girl who fancies herself as a foodie. It’s been a lazy week, but I have the perfect lazy, summertime recipe to share with you. This salad is a no-cook (except for the orzo) dish that completely blew my expectations out of the water. When I first saw it, I immediately wanted to try it, but I thought it was going to be your average pasta salad — tasty but nothing especially stellar. I was wrong.

Sliced English Cucumber

The salad has quickly become our new favorite dish. It makes for the perfect dinner on steamy summer nights. I don’t know about you but I’m not much in the mood to stand over a hot stove this time of the year. Plus it’s light and the perfect depository for all of those lovely vegetables you bring home from the farmers’ market wondering what to do with them.

It gets better.

The salad (minus the romaine) keeps beautifully overnight. What was a delicious dinner one night becomes the perfect lunch for the next day. The flavors mingle together to become one very tasty dish.

Chopped Heirloom Tomatoes

Given how easy this is to toss together, I have no excuse for my couch potato ways. And it’s done long before the pizza guy can deliver the goods.

Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2008

3/4 cup orzo
1 (15 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 large tomato, diced (1 cup)
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise, cored, and diced (1 cup)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, slivered
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp finely chopped oregano
2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped romaine
1/2 lb feta, crumbled (1 cup)
4 to 8 peperoncini

1. Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well.
2. Toss all ingredients together except romaine, feta, and peperoncini. Marinate for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Place mixture over romaine and top with feta and peperoncini.

As far back as I can remember eating, I have been eating grits.  I know it sounds strange for a born and raised Californian to say she has been eating grits her entire life, but I take it as a sign that I was destined to spend a part of my life living in the South.  Grits in my house growing up were almost always prepared simply (just boiled in water) and then served with lots of butter.  Occasionally my grandmother would bake them, or fry them, but the majority of the time, I would just smother my grits in butter and devour them.  Of course, I never realized that I was missing out one of the more fabulous ways to eat grits…with Shrimp.


Had I known this when I was younger, I would have made a point of eating shrimp and grits at every meal.  I guess in the long run, it was a good thing I had to wait to learn of the glories of Shrimp and Grits.  You know, good things come to those who wait.  Boy did it last week when we had shrimp and grits with Crawfish and Pork Andouille Sausage!

One might call it excessive.  One might call it gratuitious.  I call it the perfect early Saturday morning breakfast.  A pound of leftover shrimp, a half pound of sausage, leftover diced onion from the previous nights dinner, a green pepper, a little shredded cheese, a sprinkle of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, and of course GRITS!  Now if you are not sausage fan, you can always substitute a couple slices of bacon.  It was just what I needed to get the morning off to the right start.

Shrimp and Grits
Serves 6

1 Cup Stone Ground Grits
4 Cups Water
3 Tbsp Butter

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 pound of Andouille Sausage split in half, then sliced
1 pound of Shrimp, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 of a large Vidalia Onion, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

Salt and Pepper, to Taste

1. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the grits. Return the grits to a boil and then reduced the heat to simmer. Stir frequently until they reach your desired consistency. I usually cook them until the water is absorbed and they are thickened. Add 3 Tbsp of butter and stir to combine.

2. In a separate pan, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the onions and green peppers and saute for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. In another pan add the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and saute the sausage for 10 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. Reserve some of the grease from the sausage

4. Using some of the reserved grease, saute the shrimp until pink.

5. To assemble, fill the bowls with Grits, then onions and peppers, shrimp, and sausage. If you so choose (and I always do) top with Tony’s and shredded cheese.

As an inexperienced cook, I am often overly ambitious when I plan a dinner party.  Of course, I see it as my opportunity to try out a new dish I have found, which is great, but it also means I spend too much time in the kitchen and not enough time hanging out with my friends.  The Barefoot Contessa talks about this in her book, Barefoot Contessa Parties!  Her first party was an omelet party, which sounds great in theory, but in practice means very little time with those you have invited over.

A few weeks ago, I talked about my love of oysters and the fun H and I had roasting oysters over a fire pit on our vacation.  That same night, H and I were responsible for planning all of dinner.  A couple days before we left on our trip, I got my Splendid Table newsletter, “Weeknight Kitchen.”  It contained a fantastic fish taco recipe.  (If you are not signed up for this newsletter, you should be.  The recipes are great!) Seeing as we would be at the beach, H and I thought it would be great for our dinner night.  The best part was that it could be made in pieces, so I told myself, we could do some of the prep ahead of time, so we did not spend an entire evening in the kitchen.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening and there are H and I furiously whipping together our meal.  I should have also remembered that on a beach vacation, my motivation drops to nil and all I want to do is sit by water and sip on margaritas.  So we got started later than we planned and the timing was a little off.  The nice thing about sharing a house with 10 other people is that you are never lacking for an extra pair of hands.  Everyone had a hand in doing this meal.

Enter the Oysters…yes, they provided us with a great distraction, thus lots of prep time.  While H built the fire for the oysters, I made the coleslaw and the marinade.  Then while the oysters roasted on the fire pit, the fish and chicken had a little time to soak in the marinade.  After we ate some oysters, the table had to be cleaned, so while our helpful crew cleaned and reset the table, H cooked the fish and chicken on the extra grill, and I heated the tortillas over the fire pit.  (Thank goodness this house was equipped with multiple grills)

In the end, these were the most flavorful fish tacos I have ever had.  Even a day later when I ate them as leftovers at lunch, they were fantastic.  We served the tacos with some black beans that H made.  I did heed a little of Ina’s advice and purchased guacamole and fresh pico de gallo.  In the end, H and I sat down surrounded by 9 of our friends and ate delicious fish tacos and sipped on homemade margaritas.  Just the kind of feast you need at the beach.

Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro and Lime Coleslaw
Adapted from Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen on Jun 25, 2008. Excerpted from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley (Running Press Books, April 2008). Copyright 2008 by Jeanne Kelley.
Serves 10-12

Coleslaw:
2 small head cabbage (about 1-1/4 pounds each) – I used one green and one red
1 1/3 cup light sour cream
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons ground cumin
3 garlic clove, pressed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cup diced white onion
1 cup chopped cilantro

Fish:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 chiles from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo
3 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds red snapper fillets
1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
50 corn tortillas
Guacamole (Homemade is best, but good store-bought will save time)
Fresh Pico de Gallo or other Fresh Salsa

Coleslaw:
1. Thinly slice the cabbage. You will most likely want to quarter it and core it before slicing. I kept slicing until my bowl was full.
2. Mix together the sour cream, lime juice, cumin, garlic, and salt together in a bowl
3. Combine the cabbage, onion, and cilantro, with the dressing and place in the refrigerator.
(According to Lynn Rosetto Kasper, the coleslaw can be prepared to this point up to 1 day ahead.)

Fish
1. Throw the olive oil, chipotles, lime juice, and cumin in a blender and puree.
2. Place the chicken and fish into a shallow baking dish.
3. Pour the mixture over the fish and chicken, coating the pieces thoroughly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. (At this point, Lynn Rosetto Kasper says you can be prepared to this point up to 8 hours ahead.)
4. Preheat the grill. Right before you place the fish on the grill, soak a paper towel with a little oil and carefully with your tongs, run the paper towel over the grill.
5. Carefully put the fish fillets and chicken on the grill and cook until just cooked through. The chicken will take much longer to cook than the fish. Once thoroughly cooked, transfer the fish and chicken to separate platters.
6. Meanwhile, heat the tortillas over a fire pit. Wrap them in foil to keep warm.
7. Using two forks, break up the fish into large pieces. The chicken can be sliced at an angle. Serve the fish and chicken, with warm tortillas, guacamole, coleslaw, and salsa, let everyone make their own tacos.

Oysters…in most people they ellicit one of two responses, love them or ick!  I fell madly in love with my first Oyster in Charleston, SC at a restaurant called Bowen’s Island, where all-you-can-eat steamed oysters are served by the shovelful.  If you’re in Charleston, the directions are easy: drive towards Folly Beach and turn right on the road right after the Boat. (Now if you have ever driven from downtown Charleston to Folly Beach, you know about the boat perched on the side of the road.)  After turning right, you follow the road to the end where you will find a low wooden building surrounded by huge piles of oyster shells.

Of course, now that we live in Nashville our opportunities for fresh oysters to throw on a grill are a little more slim.  So imagine our delight when we found a fire pit in the backyard of a rental house in Florida.  A few weeks ago, H and I joined nine other friends for a week of beach bumming and general relaxation in Florida.  We rented a house about a block from the beach with a pool in the backyard…and of course, the previously mentioned fire pit.  Within seconds of stepping into the backyard, H and I both noticed the fire pit and with that we both started strategizing how we were going to replicate the Bowen’s Island oysters on our assigned dinner night.  The fire pit demanded oysters and we happily planned to oblige.

Of course, roasting the oysters would not be the hard part, but seeing as it was July, we were both a little worried about finding fresh, local oysters in the shell.   At Bowen’s Island, the degree to which the oysters were cooked varied greatly.  Some were smokey and well done, while others were practically raw.  I love them either way, but since it was not oyster time of year, I was a little worried about someone getting sick.  (Many believe that oysters should only be consumed raw in months with an R, so basically anytime except between May and August.)  The last thing I wanted on the third night of our trip was to give people food poisoning.

As Tuesday night rolled around, H and I went to pick up the fish for our fish tacos (I promise to post on these soon because they were off the charts!).  At Goatfeathers Seafood Market in Blue Mountain Beach, we asked about the oysters, were they local?…yes. how fresh are they?…caught this morning. if given the option, would you eat them raw right now?…yes. With that said, H and I picked up a 22 pound box of Apalachicola oysters, 2 bags of Charcoal, and an oyster knife.

Apalachicola oysters come from Apalachicola Bay in Florida.  According to a June 2002 article in the New York Times, Chefs tend to prefer them because of their larger size and more “mellow” flavor. I have to agree, they are not terribly salty and they are almost always quite large in size.  Once home, H built a large fire and poured the box out onto the grate.  He then spend the next 20 minutes stirring the oysters in the hopes of evenly cooking them.  After a careful removal process, we sat down to an oyster feast.  All 22 pounds were gone within 20 minutes.  While some slathered their treasures in cocktail sauce,  I just popped mine in my mouth and savored one of the glories of coastal living.

Roasted Oysters

2 bags Charcoal or enough to cover the areas with hot coals
22 pounds of Oysters
dish cloths and oyster knives for each person

Get a nice hot set of coals and pour oysters onto a grate right above them.  Try to evenly distribute the oysters so they cook fairly evenly.  Let cook until they start popping open.   Pour onto a table and enjoy.

NOTE:  The easiest way to open an oyster shell is to the insert the oyster knife at the hinge of the shell and pop it.  Once you pop the hinge, it is much easier and safer to get the oyster out.

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