Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crescent City Skillet

  Crisp mornings, replete with dew and a touch of frost, tree boughs heavy with apples....this is my time of year.  I love autumn in the way I wish I could love spring.  Alas, that's what happens when you live in the worst areas in the United States for allergies.  Naturally, as the seasons go, one may start getting cravings for heartier fare.  Being a good southern girl, I say bring on the cornbread.  If you have been reading this for awhile, you know I've got a fancy for Lodge cast iron and the National Cornbread Festival.  While I've not been to one yet, the recipes coming out of those prize-winnin' skillets make me feel like I was there.  Recently, the first prize winner from 2004 graced our dinner table, the Crescent City Skillet from Valerie Watts Holt.  Being a hectic weeknight, I didn't bother with the garnishes, but boy howdy, the regular dish was something else.

The Crescent City Skillet
Serves 4-6

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound hot bulk sausage
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
15 medium uncooked shrimp, shelled, deveined, and tails removed
1 (6.5 oz) package Martha White Buttermilk Cornbread Mix
2/3 cup milk
Possible garnishes - sour cream, chopped and seeded plum tomatoes, or fresh parsley

  Preheat the oven to 425°F.   Place a 10 inch cast iron skillet on medium heat and add the oil, sausage, and onion.  Cook until the sausage is no longer pink, breaking up the sausage as it browns.  Drain the meat and onion mixture onto a paper towel, and return it to the skillet.  But do not wipe the skillet clean - you need that residual fat.  Add in the chicken stock, cream, garlic and both cheeses.  Drop the heat to medium low, and make sure the mixture doesn't boil.  Stir until the cheese has completely melted.  Move the skillet to a cool stove eye and add shrimp all around the pan, nice and even.

  Stir together the cornbread mix and milk in a small mixing bowl until smooth.  Pour the cornbread mixture evenly over the goodness in the pan.  Don't worry; when it bakes, the cornbread will rise and make a delicious topping.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cornbread is light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and serve with any garnishes, or just tuck in.

Note - I used 8 ounces of shrimp since the smaller ones were on sale.  It worked out perfectly.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Feelin' Saucy

  Sometimes, staring at that chicken in the fridge can be frustrating.  What to do with it tonight?  Marinades can spice things up a bit.  Especially in the heat of summer, marinating chicken and grilling it is an easy solution for dinner.  This one comes from Southern Living's Big Book of BBQ.  I took it a step further by reserving some of the marinade and making a dipping sauce.  It brings a nice heat to the table.

Cajun Citrus-Honey Mustard Marinade & Sauce
Yields enough marinade and sauce for about 1 pound of chicken tenders

1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (mine is labelled hot)
2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce (Frank's is the house hot sauce)

Whisk together all the ingredients.  If you are making dipping sauce, take 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the marinade.  Stash the dipping sauce in the refrigerator until it is time to serve.    You'll have plenty left for about a pound of chicken tenders.  Pour over the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours before grilling.

  Not in the mood for spicy?  That's fine.  I also have a very simple recipe for honey mustard.  You can change up the taste by using different types of mustard.  You can easily scale the recipe using a 1:2:4 ratio.

Honey Mustard

1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons mayonnaise

Whisk together all three ingredients.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dress for Success

  Your salad, that is.  Salads are extremely popular in the summer months, as there is no need to heat up the kitchen to make one.  Me, personally?  I love 'em any time I can get my fork in one.  But that said, not every salad is fantastic, but a few things to keep in mind will circumvent a soggy, wilty mess.

  Perk up lettuce with cold water.  That lettuce in the crisper not quite so crisp?  Fill up your clean sink with cold water and give the leaves a soak.  It'll wake up your greens.  But...

  Dry lettuce is happy lettuce.  Make sure your lettuce is dry before making the salad.  Salad dressing sticks best to dry leaves, leaving you with a better coating with less dressing.  Excess water will also water down any dressing you add.  If you are a serious green grazer, consider investing in a salad spinner.

  Don't stash your tomatoes in the fridge.  The tomatoes will get a mushy texture that is less than appetizing.  But...

  Do consider stashing salad plates in the refrigerator.  It'll help lettuce, especially the delicate types, retain the crispness.

  Now that we can build a good proper salad, how about making some dressing?  Homemade dressings are easy, fresh, and tasty.  This one is from the Tupelo Honey Cafe, based out of Asheville, North Carolina.  The hardest part is simply waiting on the pecans to toast.  I love it on a spinach salad!

Pecan Vinaigrette
Yields 2 cups of dressing, about 16 servings

1/4 cup pecan pieces or halves
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 1/2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup canola oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

   First we're going to prep the pecans.  Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Spread the pecans out on a baking sheet, and roast the nuts for about 20 minutes, or until the pecans are toasted and slightly browned.  You will smell the pecans when they are ready - watch them carefully close to the end, because you can burn them.  Set them aside to cool.  Once they are cool, grind the pecans in a food processor until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs.  Empty the ground pecans into a small bowl.

  Next, to the food processor, add the vinegar, garlic, both mustards, honey, sugar, salt and pepper.  Puree the ingredients.  While the processor is running, drizzle in the canola and olive oils slowly.  Pour into a container, and stir in the ground pecans.  You can stash this in your refrigerator for up to 30 days.

Note: I put my dressing in a Mason jar.  I dump the ground nuts in the bottom, pour the dressing over it, seal and shake.  I'm all about the easy.  *winks*

Monday, May 21, 2012

Strawberry Daze

  This past weekend, my hometown had a strawberry festival.  Succulent, ripe rubies are in abundance in May around here, although with the mild winter, the berries have weighed down the vines earlier than usual.  Recently I blended up this recipe from Southern Living's Big Book of BBQ - Strawberry Tea Slush.  Cool strawberries hit the tongue, and background notes of tea and lemonade round out this slightly tart slush.  I believe this is what summertime tastes like.  Here's the beauty of this recipe, though; it uses frozen strawberries that can be found in your freezer section year-round.  Keep in mind this has just a little over of an hour of chill time before blending.

Strawberry Tea Slush
Yields 6 cups

2 cups water
4 tea bags, regular size
1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
6 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
1 cup ice cubes
1/4 cup powdered sugar (can add more to taste if you prefer a sweeter drink)

  Start by steeping the tea.  In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Take the pot off the heat and add in the tea bags.  Cover and let the tea steep for 5 minutes.  Remove the tea bags and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

  Add the chilled tea, frozen strawberries, lemonade concentrate, ice and powdered sugar to a blender and process until the mixture is slushy and smooth.  Serve right away and enjoy!

Note: Resist the urge to squeeze those tea bags when removing them.  Squeezing releases very bitter liquid into the tea.

  Now that you are sippin' on strawberry goodness, want something to nibble on?  One of my dear friends brought in this amazing salsa made with not tomatoes, but strawberries to work.  Heavenly!  This is another treat from Southern Living, found in the March 2012 issue.  She didn't have the avocado, but it was still fantastic.  The magazine suggests serving this with grilled or pan-fried meats, seafood or poultry aplenty, but it was very tasty on plain ol' tortilla chips.  Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

Strawberry Salsa
Yields about 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup red pepper jelly
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups fresh chopped strawberries
1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 small avocado

  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the jelly, fresh herbs, lime zest and juice, and red pepper.  Gently fold in the strawberries and dried cranberries.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Right before serving, dice the avocado and add to the chilled salsa mixture.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Weighty Matters, Part II: Consider the Scale

  There are many makes and models to choose from when shopping for a scale.  The most common types on store shelves are spring scales and digital scales.  My money is on the digital variety.  Spring scales are easy to use, but some of the spring type may have difficulty registering small amounts of ounces or see more wear and tear on parts versus the digital scale.  Spring scales may be cheaper, but consider the features available on digital scales.  Today's digital scales can have handy functions like metric-customary conversions, fraction-decimal conversions, or even some models may have the specific feature of measuring liquids based on a liquid's unique density.  While each cook will need to decide what is important for them, I ultimately look to three major factors - tare functionality, sizeable maximum weight, and accuracy,
  The tare function is a great feature that extremely useful.  Taring sets the scale back to 0.  This aspect will allow you to ignore the heft of mixing bowls or weigh individual ingredients as you add them in. 
  Another consideration when choosing a scale would be the scale's maximum weighing capacity.  With a large enough max load, you don't have to weigh ingredients before adding them to a bowl; you could put the work bowl on the scale and weigh as you go.  Think about the size of your work bowls - the scale will bear them along with the recipe elements.
  Accuracy.  There's no point in owning a scale if it doesn't work properly.  This is why I like digital scales - accurate and I don't have to adjust anything.  I'm a klutz, so I avoided a manual scale I could blunder with.  Also check to make sure you can read the output.  Tools are to help, not make things more difficult. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weighty Matters, Part I

  Meet Escali.  Escali is strong...nicely built...handsome...intelligent...precise...helps me in the kitchen.  The perfect partner, really.  I am in love.

You wanna meet him, don't ya?

Huh?  What were you thinking about?!  Escali is my kitchen scale.

  I hope to expound upon something I wrote earlier on this blog and on various food forums in the past about measuring ingredients, and the difference between volume and weight. Most American recipes are written with the ingredients doled out by volume, compared with much of the rest of the world that measures by weight.  Some attribute the deviation to early settlers using what was on hand, which more often than not, included teacups and the like, but no scales.

  Many cooks swear by using weight instead of measuring by volume.  Some of the benefits are:
  • Consistent results each time a dish is made.
  • Baked good especially benefit - factors such as humidity or how tightly the flour is packed into a cup can cause variances in the amount that goes into a recipe.
  • Less equipment used and dirtied up during prep (or mise en place, if you please.)
What IS the Difference?

  Now you've thought about some of the advantages, what exactly is the difference between volume and weight?

  Volume, quite simply,  is how much space something takes up.  Weight, on the other hand, is how much an object weighs - how heavy, how much mass it has.  These two properties aren't exactly the same, and this can be seen particularly with dry ingredients.  A cup of shredded cheese does not weigh 8 ounces like a cup of water.

  Really!  I'll prove it.
 The same cup filled with water would have the same volume (space), but different weights (quantities of mass).  That 2 cup package of pre-shredded cheese in your fridge weighs 8 ounces.  In fact, I've found most cheeses -harder, shreddable, sliceable, crumbly varieties- are half the weight of the volume you'll need to shred or crumble.  [i.e. 3/4 cup shredded cheese takes up the same volume as 6 ounces of water is 3 ounces of cheese in brick form.  Handy to keep in mind while shopping.]  Frequently on my recipes, I'll try to include weights in parentheses along with the more traditional volume measurements.

Next time, Weighty Matters, Part II: Consider the Scale