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Archive for January, 2012

Broiled Flounder

31 Jan

Broiled Flounder

M: Last April, tornadoes tore through Raleigh. I was away in Tennessee when it happened and wasn’t sure what I was coming back to. Huge trees were uprooted three doors away from me. A mile from my house a farm was destroyed. For weeks following, the streets were flanked by towering stacks of wood as country workers processed fallen trees and debris to be hauled away. I was lucky. Aside from a branch or two down, my property was untouched. Blessings counted. But what does all of this have to do with enjoying a nice piece of fish?

One of the great things about living in North Carolina is access to great fresh seafood. My favorite place to get it is a shop called Earp’s Seafood, a local fishmonger with a 43 year history, terrific service and a tremendous selection of fish, oysters, shrimp, etc. straight from the coast. They were less fortunate last April. The roof was torn from their cinder block building, forcing them to close until they could rebuild. Nine months later, I am happy to report Earp’s opened their doors again last week. I didn’t stop eating fish while they were gone. There are other places to go. But I sure missed a Saturday jaunt over there to peruse the day’s catch, pick something out and have them fillet it and wrap it in newspaper for me. When I heard they were re-opening, I went right to my trusty SFA cookbook to see what we’d be having for dinner tonight. Welcome back, Earp’s. Thanks for the flounder.

This is a nice, simple recipe that takes you from “What’s for dinner?” to moist, tender fish on the table in about 15 minutes. Hard to beat that. When the fish is good, I’ve always felt that you don’t need much more than a little seasoning, but I love this easy twist by coating it with a little mayonnaise. I like cooking with mayo. It’s just egg and oil, right? Used well, you’ll forget it’s there, but it gets the job done. Here it is a taste builder without getting in the way of the subtle flavor of the fish, but the real boost is the great job it does of keeping that moisture in and adding a smooth glaze that brings a little something extra to the plate.

Recipe: Broiled Flounder

Summary: A quick and clever way to add flavor and moisture to flounder without forgetting what makes fish so good in the first place. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 4 Flounder Filets
  • 6 T Mayonnaise
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Ground Cayenne Pepper
  • Minced Parsley and Lemon Wedges, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Coat broiler pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Arrange filets on pan and coat evenly with mayonnaise using a dinner knife or pastry brush.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with paprika and cayenne pepper.
  4. Place under broiler 5-8 minutes until opaque and mayonnaise transforms to a golden glaze.
  5. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.
Earps 2 Earps 3

 
1 Comment

Posted in Fish, Main Dish

 

Rice Pudding

25 Jan

Rice Pudding

M: When this recipe for rice pudding came up, I was reminded of a poem by A.A. Mile that begins…

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again -
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

I imagine there was a time when I might have identified with the six-year-old in this poem, throwing a tantrum over a bowl of mushy glop mixed with eggs and milk. Certainly my palate has matured over the years, but I also suspect this is not the recipe poor Mary Jane was served.

Versions of rice pudding have a long and varied history the world around.  Asia, The Middle East, Europe, South America… they all have versions going back hundreds of years.  In cultures in which rice has been plentiful and inexpensive, rice pudding has been a staple for sustenance and health.  Easy to digest for young and old alike, it has longstanding value in the fields of medicine and nutrition.  Rice was first cultivated in America in Georgia and South Carolina  in the late 1600’s, along the West African slave trade routes.  Rice pudding quickly became a staple throughout the colonies.

I know.  Sustenance food.  Medicinal value.  Easy to digest.  That’ll send anyone scrambling for a spoon.  For many who have never had the opportunity to enjoy a well made rice pudding, it has probably never made it beyond “that mushy glop”.   If you are one of those (and most certainly for the already enlightened), I encourage you to give this recipe a try.

This recipe doesn’t seem to work too hard, but manages to get it just right.  Not overly sweet, spiced delicately and it’s creamy, but firm.  It’ll still fill you up nicely and fits the bill if you’re under the weather or warming up on a cold, rainy day.  But now you’ll also be happy to find it on the table to fuel the sunniest of days or dispositions.

Now let’s check back in on little Mary Jane, shall we?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well and she hasn’t a pain,
And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

Still complaining?  Well, you know.  She’s six.

Recipe: Rice Pudding

Summary: Traditional rice pudding done right. Hearty, creamy and oh, so tasty.   From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 c Raw White Rice
  • 2 c Water
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/3 c Raisins
  • 1 T Whiskey
  • 2 c Whole Milk
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 c Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Mace

Instructions

  1. Bring rice, water and salt to boil in a saucepan, then cover and reduce to simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Combine raisins and whiskey in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat milk in a saucepan to 180 degrees, then remove from heat.
  4. Whisk eggs, sugar, cinnamon and mace together in a large bowl.
  5. Stir in raisins and whiskey.
  6. Stir in rice.
  7. Add milk slowly, whisking constantly.
  8. Pour mixture into a greased 1 and 1/2 quart baking dish.
  9. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. If pudding is set, but not browned, place under broiler for a few minutes.
  11. Serve warm.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted in Dairy, Eggs, Rice

 

Macaroni and Cheese

20 Jan
Macaroni and Cheese IMG_0308

M: We didn’t have macaroni and cheese in my house when I was going up.  I did eat a fair amount of a product *called* macaroni and cheese, made with an enclosed pouch full of impossibly orange powder. Admittedly tasty, but not the same thing, of course.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved that stuff, especially with a hot dog or two cut into pieces and stirred in.  Next to bologna sandwiches it was my favorite lunch throughout childhood.  But there comes a time when we put childhood things aside and I think it probably wasn’t until my late teens that I really encountered what macaroni and cheese is supposed to be.  My brother had a roommate who on occasion would declare he would be providing dinner and would dive into the kitchen, emerging an hour or so later with an enormous casserole dish bubbling over with tender macaroni noodles, three or four sticks of butter and about 8 pounds of gooey cheese.  It was fantastic and I was hooked.  In years to come, I found a favorite served in a chili joint in my hometown of Cincinnati called Price Hill Chili.  Served only on Fridays and never lasting long, I rarely managed to hit the narrow window of availability, but it was comforting to know it was there.  It was not the powdered kid stuff of my youth.  Even today, I am disappointed when I order mac and cheese in a restaurant only to discover it is something made with that cheese sauce that comes in gallon sized cans.  I know I revealed my snobbery on this subject recently when discussing crab dip, but the heart wants what it wants.   If it helps, I do still break out a box of the old “Mac ‘n Cheese” on occasion.

This is a fairly grownup version of the classic.  Fresh spices, a little white wine, dijon mustard… truly macaroni and cheese for a post-“flavor pouch” lifestyle.  I liked the flavors a lot, but did find I needed to double the flour to get it to thicken up properly.  Left to my own devices, I would probably have increased the amount of cheese used as well, but I’d do my best to keep it under 8 pounds.  I’m not a teenager anymore.  I still kind of want to cut a hot dog up and toss it in though.

K:  Liar.  You want bacon in this and you know it. (M:  Yeah, OK.  I’ll give you that. But then, what don’t I want bacon in?)

So, macaroni & cheese and me? OLD friends. I grew up eating both the homemade and the box version, and I am not ashamed to say that I loved them both.  It also never really occured to me that they were the same thing at all.  (Not all that dissimilar to the same kooky-kid logic that at 11 told me I could be a vegetarian except for pepperoni, because somehow pepperoni wasn’t meat in my head.)  I mean, yes, they were both CALLED macaroni & cheese, but they just never….merged in my head until my teen years.  I pretty universally prefer the homemade these days, though I am in the distinct minority in my house.  Nevertheless, I’ve made this particular recipe no fewer than 4 times in the last month or so while trying to get it to work for me. I know, right? Poooooor us.

It turns out that, sadly, I had a couple different issues with this recipe. The first is the flour/milk ratio in the base sauce. Even the thinnest of white sauces (which is the base for most dishes of this type) calls for 1 tablespoon of flour and butter for each cup of milk, and this recipe calls for just under half of that, meaning that it really never thickened in any noticeable way, and that there wasn’t enough starch to buffer the melting cheese which clumped like CRAZY.  So I tweaked the sauce to get it up to a ‘thin white sauce’ consistency by using 1/4 cup each of the flour and butter, with great success. My other issue, however, was not so easily solved. It was the prepared mustard, or more specifically, the vinegar in said mustard that kept causing my sauce to ‘break’.  Hot milk plus acid equals coagulation, and even when I put the mustard in at the very end, off the heat, just before stirring in the pasta, it still broke in the oven while the casserole baked. Since it doesn’t affect the flavor, we cheerfully ate every bit of it and loved it, but I wouldn’t have been able to take it to potluck.  On the final attempt, I went back to the more traditional ground mustard, but put it in with the flour to try to extract the most flavor possible, and that was just the ticket.  And just in time, too, this was killing several of my new year’s resolutions.

Macaroni Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

 

Recipe: Macaroni and Cheese

Summary: Tangy, creamy, cheesy goodness. How could this be anything but fantastic?  From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

    • 1 tsp Sea Salt
    • 1 Lb Uncooked Macaroni
    • 2 T Butter (K: I used 1/4 c)
    • 1 Small Onion, chopped
    • 1 Clove Garlic, peeled and bruised
    • 1 Sprig Thyme
    • 1 Sprig Rosemary
    • 1/4 c Dry White Wine
    • 2 T Flour ( We used 1/4 c)
    • 3 1/2 c Whole Milk
    • 2 T Dijon Mustard
    • Salt and Pepper
    • 4 1/2 c White Cheddar Cheese (M: Mine was not so much white as orange)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add salt an macaroni to cook 3 minutes.
  3. In a heavy saucepan, saute onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary in butter until onion is soft (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add wine and cook until liquid nearly gone (about 3 minutes).
  5. Discard garlic, rosemary and thyme, then sprinkle flour to pan and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  6. Slowly add milk to pan, stirring well to avoid clumping.
  7. Stir in mustard and season with salt and pepper and simmer until thickened (about 3 minutes).
  8. Stir in 3 c of cups of cheese a handful at a time, letting each addition melt before adding more.
  9. Remove for heat and stir in macaroni.
  10. Transfer to 9×13 baking dish, top with remaining cheese and bake 20 minutes, until cheese is golden (about 25 minutes).

 

 
3 Comments

Posted in Pasta, Sides

 

Chicken and Roasted Root Vegetable Pie

11 Jan

Chicken and Root Vegetable Pie

M:  Before I talk about how much I liked this pie, I want to address yet another question to which I cannot seem to find a satisfying answer.  Is there a difference between a chicken pie and a chicken *pot* pie?  I figured a quick pass through the old interwebs would provide a quick answer.  And it did.  In fact, it provided a whole bunch of quick answers, many directly contradicting each other.  So I hit the streets, asking anyone who would make eye contact if they could give me a solid answer.  And they could.  Time and again.  And here is what I learned.

  • Chicken pot pie has top and bottom crust, chicken pie only top.
  • Chicken pot pie has only a top crust, chicken pie top and bottom.
  • Chicken pie has only a bottom crust.
  • Chicken pot pie has noodles.
  • Chicken pot pie does not use pie crust, but is instead topped with biscuits.
  • Chicken pie is shallow, pot pie is deep.
  • Pot pies are single serving.
  • Any pie made with meat is a pot pie.
  • The difference in name is only regional (although no regions could be specified).
  • There is no such thing as a chicken pie.
  • And lastly, one smart aleck who suggested a chicken pie is like a cow pie.

 

So there you go.  The difference between a chicken pie and a chicken pot pie.  Needless to say, my ears are still pricked.  Tell me convincingly and I will absolutely believe you until someone tells me differently.

Disappointing research aside, I liked this one plenty.  First, what a terrific use for the copious root vegetables piling up in the pantry.  The author wisely suggests that you make use of what is available rather than prescribe specific vegetables.  In my case, it was turnips, parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes. On a different week, rutabagas or daikon radishes my have made an appearance.  I was very pleased with my choices and, although they would probably cook fully inside the pie, roasting them first really brought out the flavors (I also sprinkled them with a bit of sea salt before roasting).

My crust came out a little denser than I might’ve gone for, but who cares?  That might’ve been my doing or just the recipe itself, but it didn’t really matter.  Including crackings more than made up for it.  Come to think of it, I may have been a little heavy handed on that front, but I assure you there were no complaints.

Finally, I’m a sucker for a single recipe that makes use not only of the chicken, but also the resulting stock.  This flavorful filling stood up nicely.  A top crust only dish runs the risk of winding up like camouflaged soup, but it was thick and luxurious.  And how convenient that this recipe yields two pies. That first one disappeared mighty fast.

Recipe: Chicken and Roasted Root Vegetable Pie

Summary: Seasonal root vegetables anchor this versatile and satisfying savory chicken pie. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 2 c Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 2 heaping T Pork Cracklings
  • 1+1/4 Sticks Unsalted Butter, cubed and chilled
  • 4-6 T Ice Water

Filling

  • 1 (3 1/2 – 4 Lb) Chicken
  • Salt and Black Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 4 c Assorted Root Vegetables (such as parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, etc), peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1-2 T Olive Oil
  • 3 T Bacon Grease or Butter
  • 1 Medium Onion, diced (about 1 1/2 c)
  • 2 Celery Stalks, diced (about 1 c)
  • Pinch Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • A Few Sprigs Fresh Herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, sage)
  • 3 T Flour
  • 1 c Milk
  • 2 c Chicken Stock (from cooking chicken)
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 T Water

Instructions

  1. Put flour, salt, sugar and cracklings in food processor and pulse to combine.
  2. Add butter and pulse until pieces of butter are the size of peppercorns.
  3. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in enough water to form large clumps of dough.
  4. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic and chill at least 20 minutes.
  5. Place chicken, salt and pepper and bay leaf in a large pot.
  6. Cover with water, bring to boil, then reduce to medium-low heat for one hour.
  7. Remove chicken from pot and pull meat from bones (once cool enough to handle).
  8. Cut meat into bite sized pieces and set aside.
  9. Strain stock and set aside.
  10. Preheat oven to 365 degrees.
  11. Place vegetables on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast until tender (about 20 minutes).
  12. Saute onion and celery with red pepper flakes and herbs in bacon grease in a large pot over medium high heat until onions are soft (about 8 minutes).
  13. Season with salt and pepper, then add flour, stirring constantly until flour browns slightly (about 4 minutes).
  14. Slowly stir in milk and cook until thickened (about 3 minutes).
  15. Stir in stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to boil.
  16. Remove from heat, remove any herb stems and stir in chicken, root vegetables and zest.
  17. Let filling cool to room temperature and divide between two 9 in. pie pans.
  18. Roll out pie dough and top each pie, crimping edges.
  19. Brush with egg wash and cut a few slits in each crust to let steam escape.
  20. Bake 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees until golden brown.

 

 

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

05 Jan

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

M: The term “country” ham seems to date back to the 1940’s, but only because before refrigeration became common it didn’t need a special name, as this was ham in its most common form.  That is, pork that has been salt-cured to extend it’s shelf life and stability. While smoking is not a requirement in the process, it is commonly done and gives the meat that especially reddish color.  It’s salty as all get out, but dang it’s tasty.  Especially on a biscuit and topped with red-eye gravy.   Ah, red-eye gravy.  So good, but what the heck is in it?

The story goes that when Andrew Jackson was a General, he sat down to breakfast and when asked by a clearly hungover cook what he’d like to eat, asked him to bring some gravy as “red as his eyes”.  More likely, it got its name from the pools of reddish fat that form on the gravy when reducing.  Whatever the origin of its moniker, this simple gravy speaks to what culinary delight can result from cooking what’s at hand.  There can be little doubt that this was not conceived so much as borne from a desire to rescue all the flavor left in the skillet after frying up a little country ham for breakfast and reaching for that cup of coffee resting on the sideboard (or even buckboard).

This is the classic combination, but a little red eye stirred into a bowl of rice or your morning grits goes a long way too.  It  is amazing how much flavor can be pulled from a little scrap of ham fat.  This recipe adds a bit of brown sugar, which is most welcome (especially against the saltiest of salty, the country ham). Nothing makes me feel like I’m in the South like a good gravy and this one lands high on the list in ingredients, name, and the deeply Southern ability to pull a little extra magic out of an all but empty skillet.

Recipe: Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

Summary: The distinctive salty pleasure of salt-cured ham topped with a gravy conjured from ham fat and coffee turns a journeyman’s breakfast into something fit for a General. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 2 Slices Country Ham
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil, as needed
  • 1/2 c Hot Coffee, divided
  • 1 T Brown Sugar

Instructions

  1. Trim fat from ham and cook in at medium heat in cast iron skillet until rendered (about 3 minutes). Add vegetable oil, if needed.
  2. Pour 1/4 c of coffee into skillet.
  3. Add brown sugar and stir until melted.
  4. Place ham in skillet, place lid on skillet and heat until steam rises.
  5. Remove lid and cook until ham is lightly browned.
  6. Remove ham and set aside on warm plate.
  7. Remove any remaining pieces of fat and add 1/4 c coffee.
  8. Increase heat to medium-high and stir until gravy thickens and cooks down.
  9. Serve hot with ham slices (and biscuits!)