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Crawfish Boils at Rosewood Crawfish Festival - May 1, 2010

Some events are just flat out cool – even when it’s burning up hot!  The Rosewood Crawfish Festival is one of those events.  This year on the first of May, folks gathered in the Rosewood neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina to celebrate that Louisiana delicacy crawfish.

There was food – crawfish gumbo, crawfish e’touffe’e, and of course steamed crawfish – and we tried it all.  There’s camaraderie among people sitting at communal tables popping the heads off crawfish and sucking down the delicious meat from the tail.  It’s a decent amount of work for a little bit of meat, but it’s totally worth it – there’s a whole sub-culture of cool that goes with it.  The group sitting next to us were college students eating their first crawfish – and they were very proud of themselves when they finished their plate of crawfish.   As for me, after the first ten or so crawfish, my mouth started to numb, so at least the heat of the crawfish didn’t bother me – heck, by the time we finished the plate, I wasn’t sure if I had lips or not.

Crawfish working the crowd at the Rosewood Crawfish Festival - May 1, 2010

Great local bands, lawn chairs, children running around, some poor sole walking around in a crawfish costume, and pole vaulting are signatures of this event.  I’m not sure how I’ve lived my life and never seen pole vaulting before.  We stood there watching absolutely beautiful athletes from local high schools and the University of South Carolina gracefully running and lifting themselves high above us earth-bound humans in the ninety degree weather.  Though, I have to admit to a catty comment about the unseemly lack of cellulite displayed by the women vaulters.  I’d be more than happy to share some of mine. 

I have occasionally cooked crawfish at home, simply boiling the crawfish in water seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning.  Delicious, but not nearly as much heat as those at the festival.

 Thanks to the Rosewood Merchants Association for one cool (and hot!) afternoon.  We’re ready for next year!

Gnocchi with Mesquite Grilled Chicken and Avocado Cream Sauce

 

A little over a third of 2010 is in the books, so here’s an update on my anti-resolutions (aka goals) for 2010.  This year it is all about changing habits, starting with eating breakfast.  I’ve never been a breakfast eater, at least not a hop out of bed, eat a bowl of cereal breakfast eater.  I have to move around awhile and would rather have my breakfast later.   I started taking my breakfast to work – usually a piece of fruit and reduced fat peanut butter on a slice of toast – and munch on it around 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning.  Another goal was to start brown-bagging my lunch so I would eat a better and more healthy meal.  This was easier than I thought it would be and so far I’ve only had to buy my lunch twice this year.  I also wanted to exercise more – at least three times a week.   I joined a gym and have done pretty well meeting the three times a week and almost enjoy it – almost.

I’m not having so much success with getting up earlier.  I’d really like to get my day going around six each morning and go to the gym and walk the dog before leaving for the office.  Right now I’m getting the dog walked but haven’t been able to make it to the gym in the morning yet.  I’ll have to keep working on this one.

Another goal was to waste less fresh food. A typical scenario is my buying food to prepare three or four dishes, but the reality it, I could only one or two dishes, and beautiful fresh food (usually vegetables) goes to waste.  That’s crazy – a total waste of food and money.  I get flashbacks of my mother telling the starving children story every time I toss out a bunch of celery.

So tonight, with no plan, I looked in my fridge to see what was on the verge of despair.  There was about a cup of cream nearing expiration, leftover mesquite grilled chicken, and on the counter two ripe avocados.   The result was Gnocchi and Mesquite Grilled Chicken with Avocado Cream Sauce.  And it was good! 

(Note: For the chicken, I had leftover mesquite grilled, but roasted chicken will do as well.  Shrimp would be a good substitution.)

Gnocchi and Mesquite Grilled Chicken with Avocado Cream Sauce

Ingredients

1 small onion, minced

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup cream

2 cups of mesquite grilled chicken (fully cooked)

1 12 oz.  package of potato gnocchi

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 avocados

Melt butter in medium sauce pan, add onion and sauté until onions are translucent.  Add a little freshly ground sea salt and pepper, then the cream.  Reduced the heat and let the cream reduce by about a third.

Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil.  Add potato gnocchi (of course any pasta will do) and a little sea salt.  While the gnocchi cooks, slice the chicken breasts into half inch pieces.    Split and pit the avocados, then spoon the meat out of the purplish leathery shell and just dumped it into the cream and onion mixture.  Slice the avocado meat in irregularly sized pieces with the spoon while in the pan and stir.  Some of the smaller pieces will dissolve into the sauce while the larger pieces remain intact.

Serving is simple – in the bottom of a wide bowl spoon the gnocchi, then place the chicken on top, and covere it with the avocado sauce.

Spilled Farfalle

Oops!  Followed by expletive of choice! The black slate floor of my hallway was littered with cream colored bowties – talk about a night at the Oscars!  Known to the English-speaking world as bowtie pasta, farfalle is a festive little carbohydrate.  After cooking them for dinner and plating them in a cobalt blue bowl. I was heading down my hallway to the den (yes, I was planning to eat in front of the television – I know, bad, bad Misti) when I remembered I needed something in the pantry.  Quick turn around and whoosh!  Bowties a-flying! 

I was able to hang on to the bowl, so there was no broken glass to deal with, just pasta that had to be cleaned up and thrown out (with my
dog Tallulah, my neighbor’s cat Emily, and myself walking up and down that hallway daily there was no thought of salvaging, although Tallulah did manage to nab a few pieces of pasta before the paper towel clean-up began).

Fortunately there was a little more pasta in the pot so I started over, mixed in a little Boursin herbed cheese which when melted over the pasta turns into a great cheese sauce.  Boursin is a rich, sweet, cow’s milk cheese similar to cream cheese in taste.  I then ground a little fresh black pepper over the top.  Easy dish for a spring evening!

A salad with grape tomatoes, sliced yellow bell pepper, cucumber, spring onion, and a quick balsamic vinaigrette was a good start to the meal. With this dinner I served my “house wine,” a 2008 Bogle Old Vine Zinfindel.

Disaster averted!

Oyster Gratin with Horseradish and Parmesan

Louisiana Super Chef, and Iron Chef Alum, John Besh, published his first cookbook last year, My New Orleans (Andrews McMeel, publisher).  I, of course, nabbed it as soon as it was available.  I had become a fan of Besh when he was competing to become the next Iron Chef (he was beaten out in the finals by Chef Michael Symon).  His cuisine appealed to me because of his deft mixture of Louisiana and French flavors.

This week Chef Besh’s My New Orleans was awarded an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Award.  While I had read Chef Besh’s cookbook, I hadn’t tried any of the recipes, so in honor of his award, tonight I made the Oyster Gratin with Horseradish and Parmesan. The dish was fairly simple to make, and I almost followed the recipe. 

For some reason some cooks are intimidated by a roux.  The secret is stirring – you just have to keep that whisk in motion – figure eights, just like a skater!  It will smooth out.  And I don’t think I’ve ever used a clove for any recipe that didn’t involve decking the halls.  Cloves are the aromatic dried buds of a clove tree, a member of the evergreen family that is indigenous to Indonesia. Cloves are used as a spice in cuisines worldwide.  That hint of clove was delicious but I’m thinking nutmeg would probably have done just as well. 

Confession time – I took the easy way out.  I didn’t press the sauce through a sieve.  Chef Besh was making an elegant sauce using his French training and I countrified it, leaving in the pieces of onion and garlic.  I did pull the bay leaf and the clove out of the sauce before pouring over the oysters.  (I’d hate to bite into a clove!)

Since the liquid from the oysters weren’t needed in the gratin, I saved it and put it in the freezer – it will be a flavorful add to a soup or sauce later.

I was surprised that the topping called for olive oil rather than butter, but it worked well with the Panko, Parmesan, and red pepper.   Coming out of the oven, it added a delicious crunchiness to the creamy sauce and juicy oysters.

I started my meal with a simple mixed green salad dressed with a light vinaigrette, and sipped a 2008 Bordeaux Blanc, Chateau Bonnet, which was perfect with both the salad and the oysters.

Congratulations Chef Besh, and thank you for sharing your New Orleans with us!

Oyster Gratin with Horseradish and Parmesan

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup flour

½ medium onion, sliced (I minced)

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 cups milk (I used reduced fat milk)

1 clove

1 bayleaf

½ cup prepared horseradish

Salt

3 dozen shucked oysters, drained and patted dry

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup dry bread crumbs (I used Panko)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over moderate heat.  Stir in the flour and cook the roux, stirring frequently, until it turns blond; this should take no longer that 5 minutes.   Add the onions and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onions are soft/

Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, the immediately reduce heat to low.  Add clove and bayleaf; let sauce simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the horseradish.  Season with salt, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the sauce to prevent a skin from  forming.  Set sauce aside and let it cool.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Season the oysters with salt and pepper and lay them in the bottom of a baking dish in a single layer; then pour the sauce on top, evenly over the oysters.

In another bowl, mix the bread crumbs, olive oil, Parmesan, and pepper flakes.  Sprinkle over the oysters and sauce in the casserole.  Bake about 15 minutes or until the topping becomes golden brown.

The Cupping Room Sandwich
The Cupping Room Sandwich

We had been to The Cupping Room Café once before – for breakfast.   And while we had very simple fare on that visit (bagels, muffins, and a honey bun the size of the moon), it was good, the service efficient and pleasant, and the atmosphere exceptional.  So this year we decided to give The Cupping Room a try at lunch.

A minute on the atmosphere of The Cupping Room – it’s like you want your living room to be.  Warm and cozy yellow walls, beautiful flowers, and unique art, warm wooden tables, and a friendly staff that brings you what you ask for.  The weather was horrendous – pouring rain.  You know that feeling – finding a haven in a storm.  And on top of that – a haven with really good food.

When possible I try to order signature dishes at restaurants, then taste other items on the menu.  So I had to try The Cupping Room Sandwich – grilled carrots (carrots on a sandwich? – a first for me!), grilled plum tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and grilled smoked ham on an onion roll spread with a grainy mustard.   Of, course a side order of fries was required.   I love grilled vegetables and they were delicious paired with the smokiness of the ham.  The fries were thin, crispy, hot and yummy with the perfect amount of salt on them.  Some restaurants tend to over-salt French fries.  These were perfect.  A crisp sauvignon blanc was just the right accompaniment.

There’s nothing particularly complicated about this sandwich.  Any of us could make it at home – the key is quality ingredients.   We’ve already decided that next year we’re heading to The Cupping Room for dinner – it will be our first dining hat-trick (to borrow my soccer-playing nephew’s lingo).  I’ll keep you posted.

359 W. Broadway
New York, NY, 10013

Tel: (212) 925-2898
Fax: (212) 966-5617

Email: info@cuppingroomcafe.com

Web site: http://www.cuppingroomcafe.com/zgrid/proc/site/sitep.jsp

 

Collards, ham and onions

So I guess I broke all of the workout rules, but I spent Saturday watching the Food Network while walking a few miles on the treadmill at my gym.  To be honest, I was glad that the gym wasn’t crowded as I kept cutting my eyes over to the person two machines over, hoping she couldn’t see what I was watching, totally grateful my face was flushed from walking and the casual observer couldn’t tell that I was a little embarrassed.  What does that say about my commitment to the workout?  Hmm… it’s probably best not to think about it too much.

The Neelys were making Swiss Chard Soup, which put me in the mood for collards.  As a Southerner, I have a deep affinity for collard greens.  My grandmother, Frances Cribb, would cook and “put up” collards in the freezer so that we could enjoy them year-round.  And while today you can get collards pretty much all of the time at the local grocery store, there are those who believe collards are best “in season,” myself included.  Collard season is in the colder months after the first frost – we’re at the tail end of cool weather in South Carolina, and I figured this was my last shot for collards for a while.

Collards are part of the cabbage and broccoli family and are full of vitamin C and fiber, and also contain nutrients with strong anti-cancer properties.  And to top it off they are very low in calories with about a quarter cup of cooked collards containing less than 50 calories.

I had recently eatten a good collard soup at Cantina 76, a Mexican restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina and I had wanted to make one.  I used the Neely’s as a basis.  To see their complete recipe click here.

Below are the adjustments I made when making Collard Soup.

Collard Soup

Ingredients

  • 6 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 (1-pound) piece smoked ham steak, diced into 1/4-inch cubes, reserving the bone if there is one
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 pounds collards, sliced into into thin ribbons
  • 1.5 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (16-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes

Directions

Add the bacon to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry until crisp, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve. To the same Dutch oven, add the onion, garlic, and carrot, and saute until the vegetables are tender, roughly 4 minutes. Add the ham steak (and the bone if you’ve got it – it adds great taste!) and red pepper flakes and adjust the seasonings with salt and black pepper, to taste. Add the collards and saute until it begins to wilt.

Stir in the chicken broth, black-eyed peas, and the canned fire-roasted tomatoes with their juices. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and sprinkle each serving with bacon.

This is a great soup to share!  I gave some to my neighbor and my parents and they all raved over it.

Enjoy!

Mac-n-Cheese Trio at Cafeteria

While snowmageddon will long be the key memory in some hearts when thinking of this past winter,
and in midlands of South Carolina we saw more than our normal two flakes of the white stuff, I’ll dub this winter, the Winter of Mac and Cheese.  This staple of homecooked comfort food has hit the menus in some pretty swanky places, and has evolved past its elbow macaroni and cheddar cheese origins to include some exotic ingredients. 

Just last Wednesday night at Columbia’s Momo’s Bistro, the oohs and ahs were profound when the regulars noticed the return of favorite Lobster Mac-n-Cheese.  Over the winter it had been replaced for a while by Duck Mac-n-Cheese, and then Rabbit Mac-n-Cheese.  Both were delicious, but while eating both the duck and the rabbit, the conversation had invariably returned to the lobster dish.  All three of these dishes use the slightly concave orecchiette pasta, which literally means “little ears.”  Orecchiette is especially nice for creamier sauces because those “little ears” serve as pockets to hold sauce while you get a forkful of pasta and perfectly cooked, juicy lobster.

While recently dining at New York City’s Cafeteria Restaurant, our group was served a trio of mac-n-cheese as an appetizer.  One was a fontina and cheddar sauce with fresh chives sprinkled on top, one had smoked gouda cheese with bits of hearty bacon mixed into the sauce, and the third was a luxurious truffled mac-n-cheese.  All were delicious, although my favorite was the truffled mac-n-cheese with the earthiness of the truffle oil sprinkled atop the creamy fontina cheese.

My mac-n-cheese is a three-cheese monster mac with cream cheese, cheddar, and gruyere flavored with caramelized onions and sweet red peppers mixed in with the ridged penne pasta.  This mac-n-cheese is a great base for any number of additions (can you say bacon?).  I’ve also cooked it in small individual casseroles for a wonderful presentation.

Enjoy!

Misti’s Mac-n-Cheese

8-oz uncooked penne pasta

1/3 c. butter

1 small onion, minced

¼ red pepper

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 c. milk

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. whole-grained Dijon mustard

1.5 c, cubed Cheddar cheese (1/2 inch cubes)

1 c. cubed Gruyere cheese (1/2 inch cubes)

1 c. fresh bread crumbs

2 tbsp. butter, melted

2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 400°.  Cook penne according to pkg. directions and drain.  While pasta is cooking, in 3-qt. saucepan melt 1/3c. butter; add onion and red pepper and sauté over medium heat until onion is sweetly carmelized.  Add flour, stirring occasionally until flour is smooth and bubbly.  Stir in milk, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and mustard. Continue cooking until, stirring occasionally until sauce is thickened.  Stir in penne and cheese.  In a small bowl stir together remaining ingredients; sprinkle over pasta and cheese.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.