Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shrimp and Sausage Stew with a Creole Flair

There are times when I crave spicy food and nothing fills the bill better than a seafood and sausage stew with a little kick. When I think of seafood and sausage stews, my mind immediately goes to Louisiana with their rich jambalayas and fragrant, spicy gumbos. Louisiana is also where they catch some of the best sweet wild caught pink shrimp in the world, fresh out of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps I feel that way because I grew up in the south and all of our shellfish came from the Gulf. If pink Gulf shrimp aren’t available, feel free to use any wild caught shrimp. I’m also fond of the excellent quality wild caught shrimp caught off of the coast of North Carolina, one of my adopted home states.

If you were to ask me what my favorite food in the whole wide world is, I used to answer “shrimp.” Now, I answer the question with a qualifier – it has to be wild caught shrimp or I’ll pass. Personally I don’t like the iodine taste in the farm raised shrimp and thank you very much, I prefer to peel my own (no easy-peel for me). I also like ‘em even better if I have to remove the heads. So there, I’ve set the record straight about how I like my shrimp.

This recipe starts off with what is called the “holy trinity” in Louisiana Creole & Cajun cooking – an aromatic mixture of onions, celery, and bell peppers. It differs from a French mirepoix in that in Louisiana they substitute bell peppers for the carrots in a traditional mirepoix. The heat in this dish comes from a fiery mixture of canned tomatoes and chilies sold under the Rotel brand. This recipe, adapted from Cooking Light, serves 4, can be put together in 20 minutes, and is 191 calories per serving. It doesn’t have the depth of flavor you would gain if you were to make a Louisiana roux, but making a roux takes time and patience. I think you’ll find this quick version very satisfying. If you’re lucky enough to buy heads-on shrimp, add about 10 more minutes, but de-heading fresh shrimp is well worth the extra few minutes it takes. I think you’ll enjoy this spicy, simple Creole shrimp and sausage stew.

Creole Shrimp and Sausage Stew
Adapted from Best of Cooking Light Fast Healthy Meals in 30 Minutes or Less – serves 4

3 teaspoons olive oil
½ of a small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small rib of celery, finely chopped
1 cup chopped sweet red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced low-fat smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or smoked turkey, about 6 ounces
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
¾ cup low-sodium, fat free chicken broth
1 (10 ounce) can un-drained diced tomatoes & green chilies, (such as Rotel brand)
8 ounces wild caught medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (15 ounce) can dark kidney beans, rinsed & drained
2 tablespoons or more chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, sausage and garlic to the pan and sauté 3 minutes or until the bell pepper is tender, stirring occasionally and taking care that the garlic doesn’t burn. Season with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add chicken broth and tomato/chilies mixture and bring to a boil. Stir in the shrimp and beans, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or so until shrimp are done. Divide among 4 bowls, sprinkle each serving with parsley, and serve right away with crusty bread to mop up the spicy sauce.

On a separate note, I thought you might enjoy seeing the beautiful oil painting that artist Carol Schiff painted. She used a photograph taken by my husband Meakin as her inspiration for her painting of the lighthouse on Elbow Cay in Hope Town. The lighthouse is in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, where we lived for ten years. The Elbow Cay lighthouse is one of the most photographed in the world. Here’s Carol’s beautiful rendition, which is available for sale at Carol Schiff Studios.

To see Meakin’s original photo, check out Island Time in Abaco. Didn’t Carol do a beautiful job?

This will be linked to Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Asparagus – Easter’s Favorite Side Dish

Asparagus is our favorite side dish to serve for Easter. It spells springtime for me and besides, almost everyone loves asparagus. Each year I try to find a new asparagus recipe to add to my every growing list of favorites. When I saw Grilled Asparagus & Melon Salad in Giada de Laurentiis cookbook Giada’s Kitchen – New Family Favorites I knew I had the perfect recipe for this year.

This is a very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a gas or charcoal grill or in your kitchen on a stove top grill, which is what I did. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes great. What more can you ask for from a recipe?

I put my own twist on this by replacing the olive oil in the vinaigrette with pistachio oil and substituting pistachio nuts for the pine nuts Giada used. I happened to have a bottle of pistachio oil for a recipe of Dorie Greenspan’s that calls for dribbling a little pistachio oil over an avocado with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper that is divine. Feel free to use good extra virgin olive oil if you don’t have the pistachio oil.

Asparagus is one of the few vegetables where fat is better than thin. Look for straight, fresh looking, bright green stalks with compact tips. Asparagus is usually sold in bundles. When choosing a bundle, I first look at the tips for freshness, avoiding those with tips that are open, and then I turn the bundle over and look at the bottom of the stalks. If the bottoms look old and dry like a stick, don’t buy that bundle. Asparagus continues to age and toughen after it’s been harvested, so the sooner you cook it the better.

Grilled Asparagus & Melon Salad
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis – serves 4 to 6

2 ounces thinly sliced good prosciutto
1 pound asparagus, fat ends snapped off, ends trimmed
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons pistachio oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
¼ of a small cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the prosciutto in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until crispy. Drain on paper towels and chop the prosciutto into ¼” pieces.

Preheat a stove-top grill pan over medium high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. In a medium bowl, toss the asparagus and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes each side until crisp tender. Remove from grill and set aside.

Make vinaigrette by combing the lemon juice and the pistachio oil in a jar with a screw top lid. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and shake the vinaigrette well. Put the cantaloupe and cheese in a medium bowl, add the vinaigrette, and toss carefully until combined.

Toast the nuts in a dry non-stick skillet over medium high heat until toasted, taking care not to burn the nuts. Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the cantaloupe and mozzarella cheese on top of the asparagus. Drizzle with any remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the prosciutto and nuts and serve.

These are two of my other of my favorite asparagus recipes.

Asparagus Goldenrod is an elegant, easy to prepare dish that can be made ahead of time. It’s perfect for a buffet and is a terrific dish served with baked ham. Basically it is poached asparagus, served cold with a light vinaigrette sauce and garnished with grated hard-boiled eggs. The name Goldenrod comes from the bright green asparagus garnished with yellow egg yolks. Classic dishes such as this were a mainstay on the menus of the grand hotels in a bygone era. It’s also known as Asparagus Mimosa because the grated hard-boiled eggs resemble mimosa blossoms. Here’s the recipe.

Asparagus with hearts of palm, grape tomatoes, and slivers of red onion tossed in a lemony olive oil vinaigrette. It’s easily put together in fifteen minutes or less and is very colorful on the plate. Hearts of palm give it a tropical twist. Here’s the recipe.

I wish everyone celebrating this special time of the year a joyous holiday.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coastal Living Magazine Features Elbow Cay: The Island Time Forgot

Coastal Living magazine’s current issue features our old stomping grounds of Elbow Cay in the Bahamas in their April travel section. The main settlement on Elbow Cay is Hope Town, where their picturesque  kerosene powered candy striped lighthouse greets guests on arrival in the little harbour. The article is titled “Elbow Cay, The Island Time Forgot.” You can read it in their on-line addition of the magazine and see more pictures of the tropical paradise.

Elbow Cay is located in the Abaco chain of "out-islands" in the northern Bahamas where we lived for ten years on the tiny nearby tropical cay of Lubbers Quarters. For a tour of Elbow Cay and more about Abaco and Lubbers Quarters, please visit my blog Island Time in Abaco.

In conjunction with Coastal Living's article I thought that, since this is a food blog, it would be fun to go to the grocery store on Elbow Cay. So hop aboard my “imaginary” run-about boat and we’ll head to Hope Town. The welcome sign at the entrance of the harbour reminds us to “Slow down, we’re in Hope Town.”

Here is the lovely harbour where power and sailboats are tied up to buoys.

We’ll park our boat at the Hope Town Sailing Club Dinghy Dock and walk to the grocery store. Vernon’s grocery store to be more exact. Vernon happens to be a good friend of ours and I want you to meet him.

Hope Town was founded in the late 1700’s by Loyalist from the United States fleeing the wrath and intolerance of the American Revolution. Their loyalties lay with Great Britain, so they left the victorious United States in order to remain within the British Empire. Wyannie Malone was one of the first loyalist and many of her descendants still live on Elbow Cay, including our friend Vernon Malone. Along the Queens Highway, a narrow concrete main lane that winds its way through the settlement, there are old loyalist’s cottages resembling New England that have been lovingly restored. Here are a couple of examples.

Since we’re going to Vernon’s Grocery, we need to take a right at the Jib, named because it is shaped similar to the head of the sail at the forward end of a sailing sloop.

Ah, here we are at Vernon’s Grocery.

Let’s look and see if he’s open. Stores in the islands close for lunch as well as holidays and Sundays.

We’re in luck. Vernon’s here.

As you can see, island grocery stores stock a little bit of everything, not just food. Vernon is famous throughout Abaco for his homemade Bahamian bread and delicious key lime pies. His motto is “let them eat key lime pies.” Vernon also has a fabulous sense of humor as you can see by his little humorous signs strewn throughout the store.

Here’s a glimpse of Vernon making his signature key lime pies. They are a perfect balance of sweet and tart.  It's smart to buy them the moment you see them on the shelf; otherwise they will be snapped up before your very eyes.

I can personally attest to the fact that the very best Bahamian bread in the Bahamas is made by Vernon. They remind me of the sturdy white loaf my mother made when I was a child. There's nothing better than a club sandwich made with Bahamian white bread. Here are some of his loaves of bread rising in the window of the bakery.

Vernon is a jack-of-all trades and, in addition to be a shop owner and baker, he is also a lay minister of the local Methodist Church. In case you would like to get married, he can perform the ceremony for you. Here is a wedding of a lovely couple who honeymooned in our rental house on Lubbers after Vernon married them on Tahiti Beach on the south end of Elbow Cay.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our imagionary trip to Vernon’s, our favorite island grocery store and bakery, on Elbow Cay in Hope Town in the Bahamas. Don’t forget to take a look at Coastal Living’s April 2011, either by picking up the April 2011 issue or on-line. For more pictures and information about Abaco, Elbow Cay, and Lubbers Quarters, please visit Island Time in Abaco.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wild Mushroom Toasts with Eggs Recipe

Eggs are probably the original convenience food. According to Sara Foster of Foster’s Market fame in the Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, “When it comes to convenience food, you can’t do much better than eggs; they’re nourishing, they cook in minutes, and they’ll keep in your refrigerator for weeks." I totally agree. Eggs are so versatile and you can add just about anything savory to eggs and they’ll be delicious.

We’re the kind of people who can eat eggs morning, noon, or night. How about you? Do you think eggs are only for breakfast? If you do, I hope this recipe for wild mushroom toasts topped with eggs will convince you otherwise. This is adapted from Sara Foster’s delightful cookbook Casual Cooking, More Fresh Simple Recipes from Foster’s Market. The book has an entire chapter titled “Anytime Eggs,” and features such recipes as individual prosciutto, spinach, and egg “pies,” and smoked salmon toasts with poached eggs and Dijon dill sauce, which we had for dinner recently and it was so good we ate them before we got a chance to take a picture.  

The recipe calls for assorted wild fresh mushrooms. I bought a box of assorted mushrooms at the market, but next time I might try to choose my own mushrooms. The box I bought had a couple of exotic mushrooms, but the majority were baby bellas.

I didn’t have my wonderful egg poacher here that I so love, so we did what I call “soft fry” the eggs. They’re a cross between fried eggs and poached eggs. To “soft fry” the eggs, break them in a skillet with hot fat just as you would for fried eggs and, after a couple of minutes, add a little water and cover the eggs with a lid for the remainder of the cooking time. This method is much easier than poaching eggs and they turn out prettier than fried eggs in my opinion.

Enjoy eggs “anytime” as Sara Foster recommends.

Wild Mushroom Toasts with Eggs
Adapted from Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking

Serves: 4
Level: Easy

2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the bread
4 ounces assorted wild fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced if needed
1 shallot, peeled and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped minced chives, plus more for garnish
4 1-inch-thick slices of crusty, rustic-style bread
4 large eggs

Heat the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the mushrooms are golden brown and soft. Add the shallot and sauté about a minute more, until the shallot has softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the chives. Remove the mushrooms from the heat and keep warm.

Preheat the broiler. Brush one side of each bread slice lightly with olive oil. Place the bread under the broiler for about 1 minute per side to toast lightly. Set aside while you cook the eggs.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack eggs into pan and cook 2 minutes. Add one tablespoon of water, cover with a lid and cook an additional 2 minutes until whites are set, then remove the skillet from the heat. Remove the eggs with a slotted spatula and place one egg on each toast. Top the eggs with the mushrooms and chives. Season with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper if desired and serve warm.

Now for the winner of the give-away. The question I posed on my last post with the French Bistros photos – “Do you wish you had gone to culinary school?” yielded a lot of interesting answers and I enjoyed reading each and every one of them. Many of you, in fact more than half, said you had dreamed of going to culinary school.  Some of you actually have attended culinary school and I really admire you. Others said they were dreaming of winning a contest that would whisk them off to the bistros of Provence to enjoy the food. Moi aussi. How about this charming bistro in Arles, Le Café La Nuit, which supposedly was the bistro that inspired Vincent van Gogh’s painting Café de Soir.

Le Cafe La Nuit in Arles, France

It’s wonderful to be able to dream, isn’t it? Where would we be if we didn’t dream? Walt Disney said “All of our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” Walt was right about my dream of culinary school. I didn’t have the courage to pursue it. But there are others in the world that do have the courage to pursue their dreams. Of course I’m referring to the people in the Middle East and their dreams of freedom. It’s a very dangerous but exciting time in parts of the world today.

I wish that each of you could receive a copy of this fun read - Under the Table, Saucy Tales from Culinary School. It’s Katherine Darling’s memoir of adventures in the student kitchens of the legendary French Culinary Institute in New York City. However, there is only one winner and the winner is Ally from Sweet & Savory.  Ally’s name was drawn the old fashioned way, from a hat, and she too has dreamed of going to culinary school. Ally just delivered an adorable baby girl so you might want to drop by her blog and say congratulations on the new addition to her family. Ally, if you’ll contact me with your mailing address I’ll get the book off to you. Keep dreaming everyone.

For those of you that wished me well with our move in to our condo that is being renovated from head to toe, we're in but not quite settled. In any renovation, especially a major one, there are glitches. I'll have pictures when we're complete.