About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Phi Beta Kappa Grilled Cheese

I decided I had to go.  Why not?  When would I ever experience that much brain power and hopefully a dab would rub off on me.  It was bound to be a rare experience for an average person.  I was invited to attend my goddaughter's induction to Phi Beta Kappa. She's not my blood kin but comes from a power house of what I'd call bainiacs.  It's in their DNA and as natural as breathing to be an exceptional student and of good character.  I, on the other hand, was more inclined to excellence in social activities and serious study of members of Greek lettered organizations.  I can still sing the Greek alphabet like a sorority pledge.  My goddaughter actually took her opportunity to learn at a great university to heart.  She's also a beauty. God blessed her with many gifts and I know she will do something really great some day.

It's time for finals and what college student isn't living on grilled cheese, pizza and popcorn?
Here's my suggestion to keep those brain cells perking during a study marathon. A bit more sophisticated than Kraft slices, Gruyere has a complex nutty flavor that pairs well with honey. Keep in mind, honey has a long association with power in religion, history and medicine.

 Study hard young people and give yourself the edge.  "Love for Knowledge be the Guide for Life."

2 slices of good bread
2 tbls soft unsalted butter
3 oz. sliced Gruyere cheese
1 tbls good honey

Spread each slice of bread with butter.  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Lay buttered slice of bread down in heated skillet. Lay on cheese. Drizzle honey over cheese.  Place other slice of bread, buttered side up on top. Grill each side, pressing down with a spatula until golden brown.  About 3-4 mins on each side.

Simple elegance.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Brunch - Shrimp & Grits

What a glorious Easter Day here. Crystal clear blue skies with azaleas and dogwood in full bloom. Everyone is decked out in their finery and it's the perfect occasion for Shrimp & Grits.  I might add, any occasion is a good one for this gorgeous dish as long as you can get fresh shrimp.  I don't recall eating this growing up and we ate plenty of shrimp.  Every summer at the beach in South Carolina or Georgia, we ate shrimp galore and brought many pounds of it cleaned and frozen back to the city for consumption whenever desired.  Fresh shrimp frozen in the summer in small amounts could be pulled out for shrimp salad, shrimp curry, shrimp gumbo or whatever, but never - Shrimp & Grits. 

I can't really remember my first encounter but it was such an obvious pairing.  I looked through Charleston Receipts and no mention of it or in any other vintage cookbook publication.  I suppose if I researched it long enough I'd find when this sublime dish made it's debut and went viral.  Maybe grits held it back for a while.  Grits where not always held in the esteem they've acquire now that network and Internet cooking has introduced the world to so many new foods. They only acquired a respectable national reputation when they married shrimp.  It's kind of like when the share cropper asked the plantation owner's daughter for a date and the sparks flew.  When I was young, grits where looked down upon by folks outside the South as something inferior and associated with poverty or some nonsense. I have no pity for those fools. Grits can be ghastly if not cooked right or not enriched with milk and butter but they can certainly hold their own with  risotto or polenta.

 Well, sometimes, the brilliance is right in front of you and you just don't know it.  Shrimp & Grits are for any occasion but on a fine Easter Day like this, nothing else would do. This is an easy crowd pleaser dish for a novice or a sophisticate.  Variation on the dish is endless but this is mine.

Serves 6

For the Grits:

1 1/2 cups yellow stone ground grits
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
4 tbls unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy pot sprayed with vegetable spray, add the water, salt and soak the grits over night or several hours.  Add the chicken stock, milk.  Cook slowly over low heat, stirring frequently for an hour until thickened.  Add the butter and just before serving the Parmesan cheese. Keep covered until ready to serve and add water it necessary.  Grits should be creamy and without lumps.

For the Shrimp:

3 lbs fresh shelled and deviened shrimp
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup sliced porcini mushrooms
1 cup diced fresh tomato, seeded
1 red pepper stemmed cored and sliced into thin stripes
2 tbls minced fresh garlic
2 tbls chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
1 tsp fresh chopped fresh thyme
4 tbls unsalted butter
2 tbls olive oil
1 cup dry white wine (drinkable)
1 tbls Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste ( I like 1 tsp)
2 tbls fresh chopped chives

Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper and cook stirring for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms an cook another 4 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley and thyme cooking 1 minute more. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half ( 2-3 mins).  Add the Worcestershire and shrimp.  Cook, tossing shrimp just until shrimp is no longer pink. Add Tabasco.

Serve over cooked grits and garnish with chives.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

There WILL be Deviled Eggs

I'm not sure what I'm serving for our family Easter gathering but there WILL be Deviled Eggs.  I've been puny this week suffering from a bug that has left me washed out and weak.  I have no appetite, which is like a sex change for me.  I can't quite gather my thoughts yet on the looming meal that I usually work over like the battle plan for the Normandy invasion. No momentum has gathered in my refrigerator which is fairly sparse now except for the Gator Aid, ginger ale and saltines I've been existing on for the last few days. I should be back up to speed, I keep telling myself as I put off the decision to bake cookies one more day in hopes the sight of flour and butter won't send me to the bathroom. 

The one  required dish is the ever popular Deviled Egg.  They are good just about anyway you prepare them and thankfully,they require modest effort and time, which I believe comes under the "quick and easy" tab. I think I can handle it.  They are a winner anytime.

6 large hard boiled eggs, halved and yolks removed to a seperate bowl.
 1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbls sweet pickle relish
1/8 tsp salt
dash of pepper

Mash egg yolks and add remaining ingredients. Spoon or pipe into egg white halves and top with a sprinkle of paprika.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beef Stew - Which Method is Best?

That's a good question but it's like deciding which is the best way to roast a chicken.  Just the word "stew" implies something complex and substantial. There are lots of acceptable methods and a wide variety of ingredients.  The key to beef stew is to start with good quality meat.  Don't just buy a package labeled stew meat, it could be anything including the scraps that fell on the butcher's floor.  I suggest buying a chuck roast and slicing it into 1 inch cubes, after that, it's hard to screw up.  Slow cookers are a possibility as are really long sessions on the stove top.  Liquid ingredients vary with stock and wine and perhaps a splash of brandy - the vegetable options are endless.  For me, the critical steps are how the meat is browned and how the stew is thickened - the rest is up to you.  I like the meat lightly dusted with seasoned flour and then browned in a neutral oil.  It solves two issues in one, browning and thickening. Without question, I prefer the browning on a cook top, adding the liquids and flavor enhancements to a heavy dutch oven,  then cooking covered in a 350 degree heated oven for a while and then uncovering with vegetables added periodically for appropriate cooking time.  Cooking covered in an oven always insures an even temperature surrounding the stew and the end product is tender meat and vegetables that aren't mush in a sauce that coats them the way a proper sauce would cling to pasta.  This recipe include "pee wee" potatoes which may not be available but any red skin potato cut into bite size works. I know short cut are tempting but if you love beef stew, this is time well spent.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3 lbs of chuck stew meat
 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Kosher salt and pepper
3 tbls canola oil (adding more as needed for browning)
32 oz. beef stock
1 cup hearty red wine (a good pinot noir)
4 garlic cloves chopped
1 tbls chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tbls Worcestershire
4 ribs celery cut in 1 inch pieces
4 carrots cut in 1 inch pieces
1 lb. pee wee potatoes
1 cup frozen pearl onions

Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Put the flour, 1 tbls salt and 2 tsp pepper in a plastic bag.  Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium until shimmering (2-3 mins). Add 10 to 12 pieces of meat at a time to the flour mixture and shake to coat. Shake off the excess flour and brown in the oil on all sides in batches.  Adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning but still get a nice brown. Remove browned meat to a plate and cover with foil.  Half way through the browning process cut the heat and wipe out the accumulated fond in dutch oven with paper towels (or sooner in fond turns black). This is a lot of meat to brown and brown fond will enhance flavor but burned will not.

After all the meat is browned, return all to the pot.  Add the beef stock and wine, garlic, thyme, Worcestershire and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and add the celery and carrots, then back in the oven for 30 more minutes. Remove and add the potatoes and pearl onions. Cook uncovered 30 more minutes.

Check the vegetables by piercing with a knife or fork and correct seasoning.  Sim off any excess fat. Serve and garnish with parsley.  Freezes well.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Taxman's Black Beans & Rice

The tax man cometh.  My husband is a dentist but my accountant is the one who really delivers an annual root canal for those who are privileged enough to pay taxes.  I’ve often wondered which is more dreaded, the accountant or the dentist.  April 15th  always reminds me of the 1963 Surfaris’ song “Wipeout”.  The song opens with maniacal laughter and then screams, “WIPEOUT”.  It’s a vintage surfer song but I think it’s the secret anthem of the IRS.  I can just imagine the mail room goon opening my envelope and with check enclosed giving it that treatment.  They’ve taken the meat off the plate, deflated the soufflĂ©, the champagne has gone flat and the order of Beluga caviar cancelled.
It’s time to tighten the belt and eat on a budget, but no pity party here, there are some mighty fine meals to fit the order.  Black beans and rice, scented with cumin, to begin with.  Nearly all of Central and South America have some version of this savory dish.  Full of flavor and nutrition, it’s satisfying with or without a splurge on pork or sausage and pairs well with beer.  I used a little Chorizo tonight.
3 tbls olive oil  
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup diced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
3 cups black beans (canned or cooked dried in vegetable stock
1 tbls red wine vinegar
2 cups rice cooked with 1 tsp turmeric
1 lb Chorizo sausage sliced in 1 inch pieces
Heat olive oil over medium heat then add onion and peppers.  Saute’ for 2-3 minutes until vegetables soften. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the next four ingredients (add cayenne if not using Chorizo or another spicy meat).
Add the beans and vinegar, cover and simmer for 30 minutes on low.
Cook rice, adding turmeric and 1 tbls olive oil, according to direction.
Service cooked black beans over rice with a slice of lime and garnish with sliced green onion and a dollop of sour cream.