Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back to the Beach: Seafood Part Deux

Seems like my tastebuds have decided to stay at the beach. At least until things get farther along in our growing season here. We did go to the market to get herb starts and the fresh asparagus, first of the season. Which is a whole other post. We also got some of the herbs and some local ingredients to cook one with more seafood dinner. Think of it as a long goodbye to vacation.

Scallops and Bleu Cheese Grits
This is a riff on the southern Atlantic classic, Shrimp and Grits. You can definitely use shrimp here, and it will work just great.

For the Bleu Cheese Grits:
1 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
1 cups water
3/4 cup grits
6 oz. bleu cheese, crumbled
black pepper to taste
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine butter, salt, 1 cup milk and water and heat to boiling over a medium high heat. Stir in grits, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Reduce heat, cover and continue cooking, stir occasionally. Remove saucepan from heat and blend in bleu cheese.

In a large bowl, mix beat the eggs, add pepper and blend. Add the remaining 3/4 cup milk until blended. "Temper" the egg mixture before adding it to the grits by adding a half cup of the hot grits to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add another half cup of the hot grits. Once blended, mix the eggs and grits in with the remaining hot grits. If you omit this step, the egg mixture will end up "scrambled" by the hot grits when you try to mix it in.

Divide the mixture among four ramekins. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, about 30 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the top begins to turn golden.

While the Grits are Baking, Prepare the Scallops
1.5 lbs. scallops (or shrimp)
4 slices, thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup frozen corn
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup clam juice
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a paper towel to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease.

Cook the scallops in the bacon grease, about three minutes per side for large scallops, or until opaque and cooked through, but tender. Remove the scallops from the skillet and set aside.

Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the green onions and the corn. Saute about three minutes, or until just golden. Add the paprika, saute for a minute. Deglaze the pan with the clam juice, blending the fond into the corn and onion mixture. Taste, seasoning with pepper. Salt only if you need to. Toss with the fresh parsley.

Plate the dish with a ramekin of the grits, scallops and top with the corn and onion sauce. Serves 4-6.

Key Lime Martinis
I was lucky I could still cook after one of these. Always risky to give the cook a martini while I'm trying to come up with a new recipe. We based these off of a drink we had in OBX, at a place called Tail of the Whale. I altered it a fair bit to use real lime juice and none of the premix sour or Rose's Lime.

4 oz. vanilla vodka
3 oz. Midori
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. agave syrup
2 oz. cream
graham cracker crumbs
pinch nutmeg, optional

Rim the glasses with a wedge of lime. Rub in a mix of the nutmeg and graham crackers. Add the other ingredients to ice in a shaker. Give it a good shake. Pour. Makes about four.

This is more of a Florida thing, but ever since we did a "Brazil Night" feast with Avocado Creme Brulee, I've been wanting to try it as a pie. I mean, it has a vegetable in the dessert. I love that when it works. This worked, too.

Key Lime Avocado Pie
For the crust:
1.5 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
1 cup macadamia nuts
5 tbs. melted butter
1/8 tsp. salt

For the pie filling:
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 avocados, peeled, pit removed
6 tbs. key lime juice
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
zest of 2 key limes, optional
1/8 tsp. salt

For the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the cookies in the processor until they are nice, even crumbs. Add the macadamia nuts and salt. Pulse until the nuts are ground well into the crumbs. Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press the crumbs into either a 10-inch tart pan or an pie dish. Either will work.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and let cool.

Add the avocados and cream cheese to the work bowl of the food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add the lime juice, zest, salt and condensed milk. Pulse until creamy, well blended and smooth. Pour into the cooled crust. Refrigerate at least five hours before serving.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Family Reunion in Outer Banks

One of the great things about my spouse is that he came with a wonderful family attached. We gathered in Outer Banks for a week long reunion. Sharing a house on the beach, nineteen of us spent our days walking on the beach, spending time admiring the newest family member only two months old, laughing and of course, eating together.

The Kiddo was in heaven. Not just for the beach and playing outdoors all day long, but the amount of family all around her — including a baby to help care for. It makes you understand why the multi-generational households of the past were a good thing in many, many ways.

The stay at the house was a gift from the older generation. Our gift in return was to try and prepare them some really good meals. Not like we needed much incentive to cook. Fresh, local seafood and a kitchen looking out onto the water were calling me. The late winter, "nothing local to cook" funk vanished somewhere along the way to the beach. I think it was the moment we drove past a farm stand in the same parking lot as the fish market. Definitely right that moment.

I have to admit, I did not cook the first couple nights. We got in too late the first day, and the second, I spent just unwinding from some long months at work. My husband's cousin had crab cakes on the menu plan. And cheese grits. The third night was "Cioppino Night." My spouse helped me with prep, then grilled up tenderloin and a couple bunches of asparagus — the only local produce this early in the season. My job was on the stove with the fish. For those not from the SF area, cioppino is sort of a seafood stew in a tomato broth, with a tiny bit of kick to it. My version contains local crab, scallops, snapper and clams.

Cioppino, East Coast Version
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup red wine
48 oz. of chopped tomatoes
1 cup clam juice
1 cup low salt chicken broth
1 lb. lump crab meat, picked through (check for best varieties)
1 lb. crab claws
12 clams, scrubbed
1-1/2 lb. skinless snapper
1 lb. scallops
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Sweat the onions, garlic, peppers, spices for five minutes. Add bay leaves. Add the tomato paste and saute for a couple minutes. Deglaze with red wine. Boil to reduce the wine for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, clam juice and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Scrub the seafood, cut the fish into 1-inch chunks. Add the crab claws and clams first. Cook for about seven minutes, up to 10 minutes. Remove the clams, discarding any that did not open in the cooking process. Add the fish and scallops, cook for five more minutes. Add the lump crab meat and cook for about five more minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs.

Serves about 14-16 if no one gets seconds.

The next night, the guys were all ready to try their hand at southern-style pulled pork. Which was amazing. Very different from my KC hometown "ribs and sauce." The 5 lb. pork butt got rubbed (hmmm, bet "butt" and "rub" get some interesting search results) with garlic, paprika, sea salt and pepper. Then, smoked for six hours, low and slow. My spouse does the grilling and smoking. I prepared the "vinegar" sauce. Which was not bad for a rookie Midwesterner. But, then, the pork was so good, I think you could put dirt on it and it would still be fantastic.

Pulled Pork Sauce
1 onion, diced
1 tbs. canola oil
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 tbs. paprika
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. mustard (yellow)
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sauce pan. Saute the onion until golden. Add the remaining ingredients, whisking as you go. Bring to a boil. Set aside to allow the flavor to marry. If making ahead, refrigerate. Toss the sauce with the smoked, pulled pork. Makes 5 lbs. of pork. Enough to feed a small army.

After the massive seafood feed the day before. I stuck with seafood appetizers for this night. This dish was the overall favorite of the trip, which says a lot. I loved it. You can make this with either scallops or shucked oysters.

Sauteed Scallops or Oysters with Cilantro Chimichurri
2 bunches cilantro
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
2 tbs. vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
4 bunch green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. very coarse sea salt

1 lb. oysters, shucked, or
1 lb. scallops
2 tbs. butter

1 baguette
1/4 cup olive oil
1 oz. parmesan

Chop the herbs, garlic and the green onions, using all of the green parts of the onions. Add the red pepper flakes, sea salt and mix. Whisk in the vinegar and oil. It will be course, not a blended sauce. Set this aside to allow the flavors to marry while you prepare the toast and seafood.

Heat the oven to lo broil, 450 degrees. Place slices of baguette on baking sheets. Drizzle with the olive oil. Place under broiler for about 7-10 minutes, or until just golden and crisp. Place on platter.

Heat the butter in a skillet on medium-high. Add the scallops or oysters. Be sure to drain and pat dry the seafood. Otherwise, the extra moisture will cause the seafood to "simmer" not saute and get browned. Saute for about 5-8 minutes depending on the size, turning once during cooking. Be sure the seafood is cooked through, opaque, but not overcooked.

Complete the platter with the toasts on the edge, seafood in the center of the platter, tossing some with the herb topping. Extra herb topping can go around the sides. Shave parmesan over the top. Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.

I have to admit, I have a great fondness for crab. Which makes me glad it's one of the more sustainable and safe seafoods. I had this idea for a crab quiche that I wanted to try. Yet, being on vacation, I lacked any motivation at all to make the crust. That's like an hour I would have to miss the beach. I opted for a crab frittata instead. And more time playing in the waves.

Crab and Goat Cheese Frittata
6 oz goat cheese, crumbled
16 eggs
1 lb. lump or backfin crab meat, picked through
2 tbs. fresh tarragon, chopped
2 tbs. parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. butter
3 tbs. grated parmesan

Heat the oven to lo broil, 450 degrees.

Blend the first six ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Heat the butter in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. A well-seasoned cast iron one is your best bet here. Swirl the butter to coat the edges. Add the egg and crab mixture. Cook gently, stirring just a bit until the mixture is set.

Sprinkle the top with the parmesan. Remove the pan from the stove and place under the broiler in the oven. Broil for about 10 minutes until the top starts to turn golden and the frittata looks puffed. Makes about 10 wedges.

The last night I cooked, the dinner entree had already been set. But I didn't want to let my last chance to prepare seafood that fresh go by. So, I volunteered to do the soup course. I had been reading a local cookbook with a lot of versions of seafood bisque in it. Some of the recipes were basically just heavy cream and some seafood. I like to taste the seafood, especially when it is that fresh. I took a shot at my own version of Crab Bisque.

Crab Bisque
4 tbs. butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, well rinsed and chopped
2 carrots, diced very fine
2 stalks celery, diced very fine
1 tbs. paprika
1 tbs. Lemon Herb Old Bay seasoning
4 tbs. flour
1 qt. clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. tabasco
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 pint half and half
1 cup low fat milk, optional
1 lb. lump crab meat, picked through
2 oz. sherry
1 tbs. fresh tarragon or Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrot and celery and sweat the vegetables for about 10-15 minutes until tender and the leeks are transluscent.

Add the paprika and Old Bay seasoning, and mix. Add the flour, whisking the mixture to a paste. Cook for a few minutes, about five, until the flour smells nutty and not raw. Add the clam juice and stir as it thickens.

Add the tabasco, sherry and Worcestershire. Stir. Add the half and half, stirring. Add the milk if the mixture is too thick for your taste. Heat to a simmer. Add the crab meat and heat to a simmer again. Blend in the tarragon. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8-10 "starter" portions.

So, now we are back. I can't think of a lot of reasons why we came back. I guess the cat was happy to see us. Glad the fuzzy bugger is happy, that makes one of us. I am still trying to adjust to wearing shoes. Much less hair dryers and traffic. And work.

What to serve on the side? Try this light, spring salad as a perfect match:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Our kitchen sink is white. I'm not sure who picks out "standard" colors for such things as sinks, but I tell you, it's probably not someone who cooks healthy foods. Same goes for any clothing manufacturer who makes a kid's garment in white. Or, heck, one of my shirts, too.

What in the world, you say, does the color of your sink and your clothes have to do with healthy food? Well, I have this theory that if a food doesn't contain artificial colors and it stains permanently, it must be good for you. Let's put it to the test here.

Beets. The red ones get their crimson color from a phytochemical called betacyanin. This compound is also a powerful cancer-fighting agent.