Vegetable


For a long time C had a habit of bringing me back a cookbook whenever he had a conference in what might conceivably be called a ‘food’ city.   Usually he would have a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and then, if the restaurant had a cookbook, he would kindly bring one back for me.  Once he returned home, he would inevitably recount his wonderful meal and I would attempt to control my food jealously.  I suppose he thought that giving me cookbooks from these restaurants would alleviate some of this jealously, but in truth it only made it worse.  And when he came home from New Orleans a few years back with a cookbook from Commander’s Palace, I knew I would just have to tag along at his next trip to the city, because it was clear that this restaurant was not to be missed.

Long story short – I did accompany C on his next trip to New Orleans and we had a fabulous meal at Commander’s Palace – it was how we celebrated our move to Nashville.  And once I had experienced that wonderful restaurant – and all the wonderful foods they prepare there – I realized I was ready to fully explore my Commander’s Palace cookbook.   Before I explored too long though, I found a recipe that would go on to become one of my favorite comfort foods – Cauliflower and Brie Soup.

I’ve never been a big cauliflower fan – I always found it sort of bland.  But in this soup,  when it’s combined with onions, celery and garlic, it has a wonderful savory sweetness.  And the addition of brie – well that is pure genius.  Some of the brie melts seamlessly into the soup, some stays in a semi-solid state and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.  The brie is a perfect addition to a soup that is mainly vegetables.

Once you add some heavy cream – or half and half if you’re watching calories – the finished soup is creamy beyond belief.  The fact that it’s also savory and has a hint of sweetness is all part of why this is one of my favorite soups.  There really is nothing better on a cold, rainy autumn day.  And every time I eat it I think of New Orleans and Commander’s Palace  – and mentally plan my next trip.

Cauliflower and Brie Soup

From Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and James Shannon

Ingredients:

2 heads of cauliflower cleaned and trimmed

10 T. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and diced

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

1 medium bunch of celery, diced

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 T.  AP flour

8 ounces Brie Cheese, cut into a medium dice

1/4 c. heavy cream

Directions:

Clean the cauliflower by removing the leaves, coring, and cutting into large florets.

Melt 8 T. of butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, garlic and celery, cover and cook over medium heat to “sweat”, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in cauliflower, cover and cook for 5 -7 minutes.

Combine the cauliflower and stock and puree with a hand mixer, a blender or food processor.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly and add the flour.  Cook until the roux smells nutty and is the consistency of wet sand.  Do not brown it.  Whisk into the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the brie, a few pieces at a time, and blend until the cheese has melted into the soup.  Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste.

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.

So the farmers’ markets around Nashville are exploding with tomatoes. Every time I take a stroll through the market, all I find are tomatoes encroaching on all the other produce. They are pushing the peaches to the side, making the peas inconsequential, and shouldering aside the squash. And as I am faced with these displays of lycopenean bloat, I’m faced with with one hard, irrefutable fact. I hate tomatoes.

Well, let me qualify that. I hate raw tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes, whether they be in marinara sauce, pasta or even ketchup are another story. Cooked tomatoes don’t have that weird slimy texture that, in my mind, has always doomed the raw, ripe fruit. Cooked tomatoes are also the titular ingredient in that most perfect of soups: tomato soup.

I’ll admit it – I love Campbell’s tomato soup. There is usually a can in my cupboard that can be pulled down and made in five minutes when I need a comforting bowl of the stuff. But I also love the the non-canned variety – and I’ve made it at home before. It’s just that my tomato soup cravings usually come on a rainy, cold day in late fall – and I have to end up using canned tomatoes rather than fresh, ripe summer tomatoes. This year though, I was determined to correct this and make use of the current torrent of tomatoes.

I found a basic recipe from a cookbook appropriately titled The Soup Bible. I added in a few more tomatoes than the recipe suggested and cut down a bit on the broth. I also used a free hand with the spices as well – doubling the garlic, adding in a dash of hot red pepper flakes, and using copious amounts of black pepper. What came out was as smooth as Campbell’s soup, but with freshness of taste that just can not be replicated in a can. I’m tempted to buy bushels of tomatoes over the next few weeks, before the season inevitably comes to an end, and fill my freezer with enough tomato soup to last me through the dreariest of winter days. It’s almost enough to make me reconsider my loathing of the raw fruit – almost, but not quite!

Fresh Tomato Soup

Adapted from The Soup Bible

Ingredients:

2 1/2 to 3 pounds very ripe tomatoes

2 T. Olive oil

1 Onion, chopped

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 T. Sherry Vinegar

2 T. Tomato Paste

1 T. Cornstarch

1 Bay leaf

2 cups, Vegetable or chicken stock

Dash of Crushed red pepper

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 cup Creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)

Basil Leaves for garnish

Directions:

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and pulp to a strainer set over a bowl. Press down on the pulp until all the liquid has been released. Set aside the liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a pan, and add the onion, garlic, sherry vinegar, tomato paste, and tomato halves. Stir and then cover the pan and cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When done, process the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and then pass through a sieve to remove pieces of skin. Return to pan.

Mix the cornstarch with the reserved tomato pulp liquid, then stir into the hot soup, along with the bay leaf and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, seasoning with the red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the sour cream (you can skip this step if you don’t like creamy tomato soup) and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot.

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.


Frank Stitt's Pea Cake

Frank Stitt's Pea Cake

Fresh summer peas are really a southern thing. Up north we have sugar snap peas and snow peas, but the idea of fresh, shelled, green peas and beans were not really anything I grew up with. Oh, I may have heard of other children being forced to eat peas, but my mother – due probably to the fact that she didn’t like them herself – never made us eat them. And even if they were eaten up north in other families’ households, they just don’t seem to have the cult-like following summer peas have down here in the south.

Fresh Limas

Fresh Limas

My dear mother would be proud, as I held out almost three years down here before I gave in to the pea cult. But the pea/bean stand at the Nashville Farmers’ Market has a homey charm I can’t quite withstand. Plus I had my brand new Frank Stitt cookbook, Southern Table, waiting to be cracked open and put to good use. If you don’t have this cookbook, you need to buy it – now. Mr. Stitt not only provides recipes for his fabulous dishes, but he holds forth on all the wonderful southern ingredients that people take for granted – like corn, peaches, and, of course, peas.

Chives

Chives

Mr. Stitt suggests using various types of peas I had never heard of to make his pea cakes – chowders, pinkeyes or butter peas. After consulting with the pea lady at the farmers’ market, I went with limas, which she assured me are also called butter peas. I’ll be honest, in the end, I’m not sure what kind they were, but when I cooked them up with some thyme, bay leaf and onion they tasted absolutely delicious. For a moment I considered stopping right then and forgetting about adding in the cornbread, egg, and chives and just eating the warm, fresh peas straight out of the pan.

Pea Cake Mixture

Pea Cake Mixture

But I persevered – I sacrificed my delicious peas to make pea cakes and I was glad I did. Savory and tender and with a nice crispy fried crust, they were like nothing I had ever had before. C and I devoured the first batch while we were waiting for the second to fry and we continued eating them all through evening. They were absolutely delicious. And as for southern peas, I can honestly say this northerner has been converted to the fresh summer pea cult – I can’t wait to make them again.

Frying Pea Cakes

Frying Pea Cakes

Pea Cakes

Taken from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked peas, such as pink eyes, butter peas or crowder (recipe below), cooking broth reserved.

1 cup crumbled corn bread or more if needed

1 T. chopped chives

1 T. minced hot red chili

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 T. AP flour, plus extra for dredging

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 large egg beaten

2 T. vegetable oil

Directions:

Puree 3/4 cups of the peas with 1/4 cup of the reserved broth in a blender until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl, add the remaining whole peas, 1 T. reserved broth, the corn bread, chives, hot pepper, olive oil, flour, salt, pepper and mix well. Add the egg and mix again. You may need to adjust the “wetness” by adding a little more corn bread or broth to the mixture; it should be moist enough to hold together.

Form 8 to 10 small cakes by shaping about 3 T. portions of the mixture into 2-inch-wide disks, compressing the mixture with your fingers and patting it together.

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Dust the cakes with a little flour and gently place them, in batches if necessary, in the hot oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve hot.

Cooked Butter Beans

Ingredients:

6 cups of water

1 onion, quartered

1 bay leaf

4 thyme sprigs

4 savory spring

Kosher Salt

1 pound small green butter beans, picked over and rinsed

2 T. fruity extra virgin olive oil, bacon fat, or butter

Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

Combine the water, onion, herbs, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the beans, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans rest in their liquid for 10 minutes. (For the Pea Cakes you can stop here)

To serve cooked – sprinkle with herbs and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with cracked black pepper.

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.

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