Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Recipes and menu ideas for flounder, shrimp, okra, macaroni and cheese, bluefish, mahi mahi, butter beans, green tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli stems, tomato paste, greens, gingerbread coffee syrup and cider cocktail.

Recipes and menu ideas for flounder, shrimp, okra, macaroni and cheese, bluefish, mahi mahi, butter beans, green tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli stems, tomato paste, greens, gingerbread coffee syrup and cider cocktail.

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Fish and Shrimp

Here’s a recipe that takes some time—save this for a weekend night when you want to spoil yourself.

One of the most delicious—and rich—dishes I’ve made lately is shrimp and okra macaroni and cheese. I was thinking of a way to combine shrimp and okra, but I didn’t want to do a gumbo. I was really in the mood for pasta so I started looking around and found this recipe. But I’ll warn you, she doesn’t list the ingredients in order, so frustrating. If you want my cleaned up (and tweaked) version of the recipe, email me and I’ll send you my Word doc.

I added bacon and okra to her recipe. I went lighter on the black pepper and heavier on the onion and bell pepper, and added some green bell pepper to the mix. She rinses the pasta, I don’t know why because the starch on the pasta helps thicken the sauce—not that this sauce needed thickening, but there’s no point to rinsing pasta.

Don’t care for okra? Change it out with any green vegetable you like.

This is a fantastic dish, but really rich. Next time I’m going to reduce the cheese, maybe cut the Gruyere and Gouda in half. I might also use all milk instead of heavy cream—that would probably be a better move.

Recipes and menu ideas for flounder, shrimp, okra, macaroni and cheese, bluefish, mahi mahi, butter beans, green tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli stems, tomato paste, greens, gingerbread coffee syrup and cider cocktail.

Now for a quick and easy fish recipe.

Baked Lemon Parmesan Flounder

  • 1 pound flounder fillets
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, dill, chives and/or basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425. Lightly grease the bottom of a large baking dish with cooking spray or olive oil. Place the fillets in the dish and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the Parmesan, breadcrumbs, herbs, lemon zest and garlic powder. Mix together the melted butter and olive oil, add to the dry ingredients, and stir together.

Pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the top of the fillets. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and the topping is golden.

We got some bluefish in one of our weekly CSF shares. I love boldly flavored fish like bluefish, but I know it’s not everyone’s thing. I found this deviled bluefish recipe from Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham (NC) on the Saveur site. I only made the fish since I already had other sides planned.

Another night I just decided to wing it with some mahi mahi fillets. I sprinkled them with Tajin seasoning—a Mexican blend of chile peppers, dehydrated lime juice and salt—and made a “sauce” of sautéed aji dulce peppers, scallions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and Thai basil. We loved it—score one for me.

Recipes and menu ideas for flounder, shrimp, okra, macaroni and cheese, bluefish, mahi mahi, butter beans, green tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli stems, tomato paste, greens, gingerbread coffee syrup and cider cocktail.

Sides

I found a great way to prepare butter beans—or lima beans—in Vivian Howard’s cookbook, Deep Run Roots. You may know her from her PBS show, A Chef’s Life. I started with her stewed fresh butter beans recipe—simmering them in water with bay leaves, salt and pepper. Then I made her baked peas recipe. The beans are baked with onion, garlic, grape tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, brown sugar, sherry vinegar, oregano, rosemary and chili flakes. Wow. Really tasty.

One of our CSA shares included green tomatoes so I made my fried green tomatoes recipe. I see no reason to make them any other way—this recipe is so good.

I’ve been buying up eggplant lately at the farmers market because I know it won’t be around for long. One night I sautéed it with broccoli stems, zucchini, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, red onion and garlic. At the end, I stirred in some flat-leaf parsley and balsamic vinegar.

Let’s talk about broccoli stems. I never throw them away because, well, I hate waste, so I add them to vegetable dishes or frittatas. I slice off the ugly tough end of the stem and trim off any dried nubby things on the stem. I usually slice them in half lengthwise first, then half again and then crosswise. You end up with different size pieces because the stems leading to the florets are smaller than the main stem.

I also made a summery dish of sautéed eggplant, zucchini, peppers (red bell, poblano and aji dulce), grape tomatoes, onion and garlic. I added some tomato paste to the pan to give it some richness. Then I stirred in some basil pesto.

Have you noticed when a recipe calls for tomato paste, you usually only need one tablespoon or something like that? Don’t throw out the rest. Spoon it out of the can into a small freezer bag. Now that I think about it, I think I use a regular sandwich bag. Smoosh it down so it’s a solid cylinder down at the bottom of the bag and stick it in the freezer—somewhere handy where it won’t get lost, like a shelf on the door. The next time you need tomato paste, just slice off the one tablespoon you need and put the bag back in the freezer.

Of course, we’ve had all kinds of greens, mixed together and sautéed with bacon (sometimes), onion, peppers of all types, grape tomatoes (sometimes) and garlic. Whenever I get turnips or radishes, I take the greens off right away and store them in a bag in the fridge. I’ll give them the sauté treatment along with collards, kale, and/or spinach, or whatever other greens we get from the farm or farmers market.

Gingerbread Coffee Syrup & Cider Cocktail

I like chilled coffee in the morning, not just in the summer but throughout the year. Sometimes if it’s a really chilly morning, I might mix it up with tea or regular coffee, but I usually have a container of cold coffee in the fridge. I don’t like to sweeten hot coffee but I like just a hint of sweetness and flavor in my chilled coffee. My go-to sweetener is this homemade gingerbread coffee syrup.

But, before we get to the recipe, I’ve got to tell you about a drink I made this weekend. I bought a half-gallon of cider at the farmers market for the first time this season. I had the urge for some type of cocktail Saturday in the late afternoon (happy hour) and decided to mix cider and reposado tequila. Thinking it might just be meh, I added a dash of gingerbread coffee syrup. Oh my. Talk about fabulous. I just found my new fall drink.

Gingerbread Coffee Syrup

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the water, maple syrup, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small saucepot and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Simmer it a while so it reduces a bit and the spices dissipate.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

You can strain the mixture through a cheesecloth if you wish, but I just pour it through a funnel into a jar or bottle. I keep mine in an old Torani gingerbread syrup bottle. Store it in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 cups syrup.

That’s all for now!


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Recipes and menu ideas for fish (red porgy, amberjack, triggerfish, grunt and snapper), shrimp scampi, shrimp broth, succotash, greens, roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes and butternut squash).

Recipes and menu ideas for fish (red porgy, amberjack, triggerfish, grunt and snapper), shrimp scampi, shrimp broth, succotash, greens, roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes and butternut squash).

~~~

I’m writing this in the dark. [I wrote this on Thursday.] The tropical storm knocked out our power. At least, it didn’t knock over any trees. I don’t know what’s happening elsewhere in my state right now, but I’ll tell you, thousands of people in eastern and southern North Carolina are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence. If you can help those who have lost their homes and/or livelihoods because of Florence flooding, please consider donating to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

Quick and easy fish recipes

Sometimes I love to spend hours in the kitchen and sometimes I just want to get a meal on the table as quickly and easily as possible. I’m sure you can all relate to that. Tonight, I’m not sure what we’ll eat. I was planning to make some fish (mahi mahi with an almond-coconut crust), greens (sweet potato and spinach) and roasted sweet potatoes. Now I need a Plan B. [Plan B ended up being a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich.]

Anyways, one of my reliable stand-by recipes is sweet and spicy citrus fish. I don’t always stick to the amounts specified on the Cooking Light site because that would mean getting out measuring cups and spoons. I eyeball it and it’s just fine. In recent weeks I’ve made it with red porgy (which looks and tastes like snapper) and amberjack. As long as there’s an orange, lime and cilantro in the fridge, it’s go time for this recipe.

Another old stand-by is cornmeal-crusted fish. I’ve mentioned this fish dish before. Dredge fish fillets in seasoned flour, then in buttermilk spiked with hot sauce (or beaten egg and regular milk), then in a spicy cornmeal mixture. Use whatever spices catch your fancy. I gave some triggerfish fillets this treatment and, oh my, it was so good. And good in a sandwich the next day too—with tartar sauce, of course.

Sidenote: If you ever see triggerfish in a seafood market, grab it. Thank me later.

My third quick-and-easy preparation is blackened fish—you can find my recipe at the bottom of this post. I gave grunt the blackened treatment, a wise choice. You can eyeball and modify that recipe too.

And finally, Asian-inspired roasted fish (red snapper) with braised greens. I got some pac choi from the farm so we had that instead of the baby bok choy specified in the recipe. Instead of adding potatoes to the fish, I served it with jasmine rice.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish (red porgy, amberjack, triggerfish, grunt and snapper), shrimp scampi, shrimp broth, succotash, greens, roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes and butternut squash).

Glorious shrimp broth

Wait, one more favorite: shrimp scampi pasta. It doesn’t take long to peel and devein a pound of shrimp, especially if you have lots of practice. If you save this one for a Friday night, you can have a glass or two of wine while doing the prep.

Don’t throw out those shrimp shells. Instead, throw them in a pot along with a few other ingredients and make delicious shrimp broth. You can add some of the broth to the pan with the pasta or (gasp!) cook your pasta in it—that’s what I did. Or, save the broth for shrimp and grits, or any other seafood/fish dish that calls for liquid.

Here’s how I make it, based on an Emeril recipe:

Shrimp Broth

  • Shells/heads from 1 pound of shrimp
  • 1/2 onion, coarsely sliced
  • 1/2 carrot, coarsely sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped into large pieces
  • 2 smooshed large garlic cloves
  • Dozen peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt

Place shells/heads in pot. Add water until it’s at least 2” above shells, or higher if you want more broth. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve or cheesecloth. Use right away or freeze in doubled freezer bags—chill it down in the refrigerator first.

Shrimp broth can make the difference between a good dish and an oh-my-god-that’s-amazing dish. I would only use shells from fresh shrimp, meaning shrimp that hasn’t been out of the water long—local shrimp. I wouldn’t make it with Asian shrimp—god only knows what those shells have been exposed to.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish (red porgy, amberjack, triggerfish, grunt and snapper), shrimp scampi, shrimp broth, succotash, greens, roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes and butternut squash).

Farewell summer, hello autumn vegetables

Summer vegetables are still lingering at the farmers market but it won’t be long before they’re gone. I planted my two poblano pepper plants late so the peppers are just starting to get big. I pushed them up against the house under the deck roof so the winds don’t tear them apart. Hopefully they’re doing okay. [They did fine.]

I got in one last succotash with okra, butter beans, corn, tomatoes, poblano and red bell peppers, onion, basil and bacon. Okra isn’t everyone’s favorite because of the slime, but when you have it in a dish like this, the slime disappears.

Greens aren’t going anywhere, thankfully. We enjoyed a mix of turnip greens and collards sautéed with red bell, poblano and jalapeno peppers, red onion, garlic and the last of the bacon jam.

The green beans just started appearing in the market a few weeks ago. I sautéed green beans with bacon, sweet peppers (aji dulce), red onions and garlic—sort of based on this green bean recipe. I used to add chicken broth but I was thinking that might mask flavors. Instead, I added water so the ingredients wouldn’t get stuck to the bottom of the pan while the beans got crisp-tender.

Roasted root vegetables are another stand-by, for example, roasted potatoes with fresh rosemary and garlic salt. Or, roasted butternut squash with smoked paprika, cayenne, cinnamon, thyme, and garlic salt.

That’s all for now!


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pork chop with tomato gravy

Recipes and menu ideas for dogfish, red (vermillion) snapper, yellowfin tuna, mackerel, salmon, collards, okra, bacon jam, corn, kale, eggplant, chicken, pork chops with tomato gravy, pancakes, pickled eggs and boiled peanuts.

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Phew, it’s been a wild few weeks. We spent a week hiking in northern Arizona and then came home to Hurricane Florence. We visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. What a gorgeous place, I’d love to return and spend more time there. We hiked 14 miles down the North Kaibab trail from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Jim and I were determined to get to the canteen in time for a beer before dinner, our Phantom Ranch tradition, and we did. Does doing something twice count as a tradition?

We stayed overnight down there in the bunkhouses. The next day, we hiked 10 miles up the Bright Angel trail to the South Rim. The hikes were grueling but stunning. I kept thinking how privileged we were to spend so much time in the beautiful canyons of Grand Canyon.

Then we headed to Sedona by way of the Navajo Nation. In Sedona, we hiked the strenuous (and hot) Bear Mountain trail and the relaxing West Fork trail.

Originally, the hurricane was heading straight for us but it veered south. We lost a dogwood and lots of branches but were relatively unscathed compared to other North Carolina communities. I can’t get over the horrific flooding in the eastern and southern parts of our state—and the rivers and creeks are still rising.

If you have any money to spare, please consider donating to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. The N.C. Farm Bureau has established a relief fund for farmers and the agricultural community. And, our independent weekly has a list of organizations helping hurricane victims.

Many of us are most at home in our kitchen. I can’t stop thinking about all the people in my state who no longer have a kitchen or a home, who will either try to salvage what they can or be forced to start all over. It’s awful. Let’s all be thankful for what we have and not forget our fellow Carolinians who have lost so much.

dogfish with bacon jam

dogfish with bacon jam and tomatoes

Dogfish, Snapper, Tuna, Mackerel and Salmon

One of my summer favorites is dogfish with its firm and slightly sweet white flesh. I read somewhere that dogfish is used for fish and chips in many parts of Europe, maybe here too. I found an alluring recipe on the Flavor NC site for pan-seared dogfish with bacon jam, but I followed the bacon jam recipe from Leite’s Culinaria. The bacon jam made a few more appearances in the following weeks as you will see below—it’s so good. I did take the advice of Flavor NC and added slow-roasted tomatoes to the plate.

An absolutely delicious dinner was pan-seared vermillion snapper in a dry vermouth, tomato and basil sauce. I’ve made this recipe several times with cod and white wine, but I didn’t have any wine in the house (gasp!) so I relied on the dry vermouth in my pantry. More aromatics can’t hurt, right?

I relied on one of my old recipes for another vermillion snapper preparation: Greek-style pan-fried porgy/snapper. I added tomatoes, capers and olives thanks to inspiration from a Greek trout recipe in one of my new favorite cookbooks, Debbie Moose’s Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast. I’m just starting to read this cookbook from beginning to end so I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about it in the future.

Here’s another delicious recipe: pan-seared yellowfin tuna with avocado, ginger, soy sauce and lime. Wow, it’s going to be difficult to make tuna any other way—it’s that good.

Mackerel is such a boldly flavored fish that it can overpower a subtle glaze or sauce. This maple barbecue glazed mackerel recipe (originally for salmon) hits the right notes—a perfect match.

Another winner: salmon with chile, orange and mint. My planter of mint was overflowing so I looked for a way to use some it. I pulled some salmon out of the freezer for this one. I cooked the salmon on the stovetop, instead of broiling it, and then removed it from the pan. Next, I let the butter and aromatics do their thing for quite a while, put the salmon back in the pan, flesh side down, and took it off the heat while the fish soaked up all the goodness. Fantastic.

spicy Southern hot corn

spicy Southern hot corn

Summer vegetables: best corn ever, okra and collards with a bacon jam encore

OMG. This spicy Southern hot corn was so damn delicious—the best corn dish I’ve ever had. I did add some onion to the other ingredients—red bell pepper, jalapeños, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, paprika and butter, yeah, how could you go wrong, right?

Some other tasty flavor combinations: sautéed okra with sweet peppers (ají dulce from the CSA), onion, carrot, garlic, corn, tomatoes and bacon jam.

And, collards with bacon jam, red bell pepper, ají dulce pepper, poblano pepper, onion, carrot and garlic.

Asian-style sides

I made both these sides the night we had the yellowfin tuna mentioned above. This Asian kale slaw (more like a side salad) was excellent. The kale softened up after a few days in the refrigerator making it even better somehow. I omitted the bok choy and used julienned broccoli stems instead of broccoli slaw.

It’s been a while since I made this Chinese-style eggplant recipe. I could eat this all day—it’s very good.

pork chop with tomato gravy

pork chop with tomato gravy, collards and spicy Southern hot corn

More dinners

After seeing a few references to tomato gravy, I decided to give it a try with some pan-fried pork chops. This Charlotte Observer article goes into the history of this Southern specialty. I referenced several recipes to come up with one of my own:

  • 1/4 cup of bacon drippings (butter, vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of milk (making a béchamel for the sauce base)
  • 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained but not pressed out
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste

Jim wasn’t that impressed. I thought it was fine. I liked it even better the next few days when I had the leftover tomato gravy with grits for breakfast and again with rice for lunch. Next time, I’ll add bacon to punch it up a bit. If the gravy needs more liquid, instead of plain water, I’ll add Better Than Bouillon ham base. Too much pork?

Thankfully, buttermilk lasts a good long time in the refrigerator but you still need to find ways to use it, and I did. This recipe for southwestern buttermilk baked chicken thighs called for ten thighs but I made it with six. I adjusted the ingredients a bit: used equal amounts (2 teaspoons) of cumin and smoked paprika, and added 1 teaspoon of oregano. I meant to sprinkle it all with cilantro but forgot. It’s a keeper.

Blueberry Pancakes

We went wild with blueberries when they were in season—sometimes we came home with two pints each in one week—and that included blueberry pancakes one Sunday morning. I tried out the blueberry pancake recipe in a cookbook I picked up for $2.99, America’s Test Kitchen Pancakes and Waffles. They were light, fluffy and tasty. I’m looking forward to other Sunday morning recipes from this cookbook.

pickled eggs

pickled egg

Southern snacks

Remember back in the day seeing those huge jars of pickled eggs on the back of a bar? Usually you saw them in the kind of bars where older men hung out, well, they seemed old at the time. Those eggs always skived me out, but I guess now that I’m older, I got curious when I saw an empty pickle jar full of juice.

I hard-boiled some eggs, peeled them after they cooled down and added them to a jar of leftover pickle juice. Wow, they’re really good. The pickling isn’t over-powering, just enough to slightly penetrate the egg. Now, leftover pickle juice has a purpose.

I met and fell for Jim at the beach. One afternoon, he pulled a can of boiled peanuts and a jar of pickled jalapenos from his cooler. He poured them on a Frisbee and passed them around—my introduction to boiled peanuts. Since then I’ve seen huge vats of them cooking away in stands along the road.

I’m not a huge fan of boiled peanuts like Jim is, but I enjoy some now and then. When I saw fresh peanuts at the farmers market, I thought I’d make some for my honey. Because it was 90-something degrees outside, I made them in two slow-cookers instead of on the stovetop. In one slow cooker, I added a ham hock and lots of garlic salt to the peanuts and water. In the other, I added Emeril’s Essence and salt.

I must have cooked them for six or eight hours, sorry, can’t remember, just keep testing them until you get them as soft as you wish. But they also needed to sit in the brine in the refrigerator before the flavors really penetrated the shells. They were better than the canned boiled peanuts for sure.

That’s all for now!


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Recipes and menu ideas for shrimp burgers, shrimp broth, dill pickle potato salad, four-bean salad, creamed collard gratin, oven-fried parmesan green beans, pink-eyed peas, striped mullet, tilefish, and pork Milanese—plus adventures with plant-based burgers.

Recipes and menu ideas for shrimp burgers, shrimp broth, dill pickle potato salad, four-bean salad, creamed collard gratin, oven-fried parmesan green beans, pink-eyed peas, striped mullet, tilefish, and pork Milanese—plus adventures with plant-based burgers.

~~~

Local shrimp goodness

I only buy North Carolina shrimp—oh, here she goes on her soapbox again. Nothing against shrimp from the Gulf or elsewhere along the east coast, but I like to buy local when I can. If you can’t find local shrimp, opt for shrimp that’s been caught in American waters—not by slaves in Asian waters.

Do you know about Asian slave shrimping? If not, do some Googling so you can make informed decisions when purchasing shrimp in markets and restaurants, or when reaching for shrimp at an event. I rather pay more to support the American fishing industry. Think about it, shrimp used to be a luxury for special occasions. Now, thanks to slave labor, you can fill up on the cheap. Just say no to slave shrimp.

My local seafood shop had a sale on big brown shrimp with heads so I stocked up my freezer with several pounds. But first, I put aside a pound for a North Carolina coastal specialty: shrimp burgers.

We’ve passed a few places on the coast famous for shrimp burgers—like Big Oak in Salter Path and El’s in Morehead City—but never when we’re hungry. A few weekends ago, I decided to make my own shrimp burgers.

First, I tossed all the shrimp heads and shells into a pot to make shrimp broth for the freezer. I can’t resist making shrimp broth if I’m peeling fresh shrimp, especially if they have heads—more flavor! Just pinch those heads off before peeling the rest of the shrimp. You can find my shrimp broth recipe in this shrimp and grits post.

I found a recipe for a Holden Beach (NC) restaurant’s shrimp burgers. I used sweet onion instead of white, and added lemon zest. I did use the optional breadcrumbs because the mixture was pretty wet without them.

Wow, shrimp burgers, what a beautiful concept. I served them on a bun with lettuce and tartar sauce. I can’t wait to make them again, so darn good.

Recipes and menu ideas for shrimp burgers, shrimp broth, dill pickle potato salad, four-bean salad, creamed collard gratin, oven-fried parmesan green beans, pink-eyed peas, striped mullet, tilefish, and pork Milanese—plus adventures with plant-based burgers.

NC shrimp burgers

Summer veggies

Alongside the shrimp burgers, we had dill pickle potato salad, a no-mayo recipe from Food52. I love mayo but Jim hates it. We both love pickles so this potato salad was a winner all around.

I realized I hadn’t made a four-bean salad yet this summer—and I love bean salads, they’re so refreshing. It’s an old love forgotten but reignited last summer when I visited my aunt and cousins in Rhode Island. My aunt served a bean salad that haunted (in a good way) my memories, so I made my first one last summer. I started with this three-bean salad recipe from Our State but made lots of changes:

  • Added green beans, red bell pepper, celery and pickles.
  • Subbed sweet for red onion.
  • Omitted the corn.
  • Cut the sugar in half.
  • Used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of salt.
  • Added cilantro.

This household loves greens. We have them at least once a week. I found a good recipe for creamed collards gratin on the Epicurious site. Of course I used country ham, not prosciutto, because…North Carolina. I like the idea of “creaming” with a béchamel, rather than with cream cheese or cream. I adapted the recipe by adding the diced vegetables from my deluxe creamed collards recipe. The gratin takes some prep but it’s delicious.

This recipe for oven-fried parmesan green beans takes less time. Very tasty, I’ll make it again.

In my continuing exploration of southern legumes, I made slowly simmered pink-eyed peas—and they were delicious.

Recipes and menu ideas for shrimp burgers, shrimp broth, dill pickle potato salad, four-bean salad, creamed collard gratin, oven-fried parmesan green beans, pink-eyed peas, striped mullet, tilefish, and pork Milanese—plus adventures with plant-based burgers.

Fish, Meat and “Meat”

I’ve been predictable lately with my fish, but these preparations are quick and easy, and the leftovers make good sandwiches the next day.

I soaked striped mullet fillets in buttermilk seasoned with garlic salt and Texas Pete. Then I dredged them in cornmeal and pan-fried them for a few minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels and squeeze some lemon over it all. Yum.

Another night I did something similar with tilefish. First, I dredged them in flour, then in mixture of egg and hot sauce, then in cornmeal mixed with a Mexican chile/lime seasoning called Tajin.

Another tried and true is pork Milanese. I always make extra so I have enough leftovers for sandwiches.

When I was in a Chicago restaurant recently I was intrigued by a burger on the menu. It was topped with jalapeno pimento cheese and served with kohlrabi fries on the side. But here’s the thing, this Impossible Burger was a plant-based burger. Now, you know I’m an omnivore but I wanted to give it a try. I figured the toppings would mask any off-flavors. But you know what? It was delicious. And, it didn’t leave me feeling weighed down like most burgers do.

I got brave again when I saw the Beyond Burgers—another plant-based burger—on sale at the supermarket. I had one yesterday for lunch and the other one this morning for breakfast—delicious. I still prefer venison burgers but I rather have one of these than crappy industrial beef burgers.

That’s all for now. I’m still behind on my “reporting,” but at least now I’ve caught up to mid-August.


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Recipes and menu ideas: tomato sandwiches, pasta salads, lamb pasta, Thai chicken, Thai corn, Thai red curry cauliflower, peach blueberry pie, peach sugar, shrimp and grits, pecan-crusted flounder, and oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime.

Recipes and menu ideas: tomato sandwiches, pasta salads, lamb pasta, Thai chicken, Thai corn, Thai red curry cauliflower, peach blueberry pie, peach sugar, shrimp and grits, pecan-crusted flounder, and oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime.

~~~

Summer treats

Back in my teenage days when I was a counselor at Wheaton Farm, I had a tomato sandwich every day for lunch. I suppose it must have been easy enough for me to put together and take with me as I biked to camp every morning. I still eat them the same way—tomato, salt and pepper, lettuce, American cheese and lots of mayo. I probably used Cain’s growing up in Massachusetts, but now Duke’s is my brand.

And now the tomatoes are fancier, sometimes. I’ve been buying Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, and some kind of yellow heirloom tomato, as well as good ol’ Johnston County field tomatoes.

Another treat recently has been the sweetest meloniest cantaloupe ever. The lady at the farmer’s market picks them out for me. She asks when I’m going to cut it open and picks one that will be ready that morning. Good golly, what flavor.

Recipes and menu ideas: tomato sandwiches, pasta salads, lamb pasta, Thai chicken, Thai corn, Thai red curry cauliflower, peach blueberry pie, peach sugar, shrimp and grits, pecan-crusted flounder, and oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime.

Party Pasta Salads

Pasta salads are always a sure bet for daytime parties in the summer. Recently I made a no-mayo peperonata pasta salad from Food 52. I added zucchini because I had too many, but didn’t add the nuts. And I increased the vinegar because it just didn’t have enough oomph for me.

I took home some of the leftovers and turned them into dinner. I cooked some ground lamb and tossed it with the leftover pasta salad, and added more tomatoes plus basil pesto. I liked the pasta dish better than the original salad.

My favorite pasta salad is pesto pasta salad. I make mine with:

So much flavor, much better than the peperonata pasta salad. Maybe the peperonata one would be better with some chopped salami and mortadella. Hmm, that’s a really good idea.

Recipes and menu ideas: tomato sandwiches, pasta salads, lamb pasta, Thai chicken, Thai corn, Thai red curry cauliflower, peach blueberry pie, peach sugar, shrimp and grits, pecan-crusted flounder, and oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime.

Thai Tuesday

Another stretch of hot nights and I turned to southeast Asia again. This time I made Thai basil chicken—a recipe from Leite’s Culinaria, one of my favorite food blogs. The recipe was for a pork dish but I used ground chicken instead. I also subbed in red cherry peppers instead of bird’s eye chiles.

I added cilantro and mint in addition to the Thai basil called for in the recipe—I love that mix of herbs. I’m growing mint and Thai basil in pots on the deck. I can never grow enough cilantro (or flat leaf parsley) for my needs so I rely on the store for them.

I went with Thai recipes for the sides too: Thai corn salad and Thai red curry roasted cauliflower steaks. I added that same herb combo to the corn salad and used jalapeno instead of bird’s eye chiles—can’t find those in our markets. The cauliflower recipe was real simple—just brush red curry paste onto the cauliflower steaks and roast them.

Why can’t I make pie every weekend?

Seriously, I wish I could make a pie every weekend but I don’t feel like gaining 40 pounds. However, I couldn’t resist making one with the perfect peaches I brought home. And then I thought, ooh blueberries too. I found a recipe for Peach Blueberry Pie on the Taste of Home blog and went to it.

I used the double pastry crust recipe from Ken Haedrich’s Pie Hero because it’s so buttery and flaky, and he’s one of my favorite pie people. I sprinkled vanilla sugar—add a vanilla bean to a jar of sugar and let sit—on top of the top crust.

This was my best pie in forever. I will make it again but probably not until next summer since peaches are on their way out. Of course we had it with vanilla ice cream.

I don’t remember what possessed me to wonder about the skins I peeled off the peaches, but I found myself making peach sugar. I dried the peels, ground them in my extra coffee grinder, ground the same amount of sugar, and ground both together again. What will I do with peach sugar? Good question but something will come to me, I’m sure.

Recipes and menu ideas: tomato sandwiches, pasta salads, lamb pasta, Thai chicken, Thai corn, Thai red curry cauliflower, peach blueberry pie, peach sugar, shrimp and grits, pecan-crusted flounder, and oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime.

Warm from the oven and spreading all over my plate.

My week in seafood

We hadn’t had shrimp and grits in a while so when I got some NC shrimp in my fish share, I pulled out my old recipe. The secret to the best grits ever is cooking them in shrimp broth instead of water—along with all the other tasty ingredients in that grits recipe. I had the leftover grits with fried eggs for breakfast.

On the side, I made Rodney Scott’s BBQ collard greens. He just won the James Beard best chef in the Southeast award for his BBQ place (or maybe places) in South Carolina. I made a few changes: used oil instead of lard and added cherry peppers.

Later in the week, I made pecan-crusted flounder. We loved it but I had trouble getting the pecans to stick—I probably should have chopped them even finer. Next time I might use buttermilk instead of milk and add hot sauce, or not. On the side, some regulars: roasted broccoli with garlic, lemon zest and parmesan, and roasted spicy sweet potatoes.

The other fish in my share that week was black sea bass—that was a treat. We had oven-roasted black sea bass with ginger, scallion and lime. A bold, tasty preparation that would also be great on flank steak, chicken thighs or salmon.

That’s all for now!


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Recipes and menu ideas: eggplant caponata, summer southern succotash, charred shishito peppers, summer squash gratin, peach glazed chicken thighs, roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika, and southwestern striped mullet.

Recipes and menu ideas: eggplant caponata, southern summer succotash, charred shishito peppers, summer squash gratin, peach glazed chicken thighs, roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika, and southwestern striped mullet.

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Eggplant Caponata

About a month ago, eggplants of all kinds and shapes appeared at the farmers market. When I first saw a display of them, eggplant caponata came into my head. I made it on a Sunday to serve as a side later in the week. My version (linked above) has eggplant, red onion, red bell pepper, garlic, capers, olives, oregano, basil, and balsamic vinegar.

Caponata also makes a great snack or appetizer on toast points or small slices of crusty white bread. Come to think of it, I bet it would be terrific tossed with pasta too.

Recipes and menu ideas: eggplant caponata, summer southern succotash, charred shishito peppers, summer squash gratin, peach glazed chicken thighs, roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika, and southwestern striped mullet.

Southern Summer Succotash

Okra is at every farm stand now too. I know okra isn’t everyone’s thing because of its mucilaginous (isn’t that a great word?) innards. But that’s a shame because it’s darn tasty. I’m still discovering Southern dishes. One of my recent favorites is fried pickled okra. Oh. My.

A few weekends ago, the Greenville (NC) convention center hosted my state association’s conference. One night, waiters passed trays of fried pickled okra with a remoulade sauce (or something similar) for dipping. I hovered and partook. Repeatedly. I now have two different, highly-rated, deep fat fryers on my kitchen Amazon list. I’m either going to wait for a sale or my birthday to buy one of them—whichever comes first.

And a totally random observation that will be of interest to meeting planners and caterers: the waiters at the Greenville Convention Center wore white t-shirts with hand-written stickers describing what dish they were carrying on their tray. So smart!

Succotash is a traditional way to use okra around here so that’s what I did recently: southern summer succotash. I adapted a recipe from two different sources: the Spicy Southern Kitchen and Deep South Dish blogs. My version included butter beans, bacon, sweet onion, red and orange bell pepper, okra, corn, grape tomatoes, garlic, and herbs (thyme, oregano, basil).

Recipes and menu ideas: eggplant caponata, summer southern succotash, charred shishito peppers, summer squash gratin, peach glazed chicken thighs, roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika, and southwestern striped mullet.

Charred Shishito Peppers

I first had shishitos at a place in Nashville. Then my CSA started growing them. My CSA is on hiatus right now so I picked up a bag of them at the farmers market to make charred shishito peppers.

I cook them in a black pan that’s not cast iron but acts the same way. Heat up the pan, add a few glugs of olive oil and let it heat up, add the whole peppers (stem and all) and let them char while you toss them around so they don’t get too burnt on one side only. I like to cook them so some sides are charred and some are just blistered. Take the pan off the heat and sprinkle on a generous amount of sea salt and then some squirts of lemon juice.

Summer Squash Gratin

I made an easy summer squash gratin with a mix of yellow and zucchini squash that I based on this recipe from Peas and Crayons. I added red bell pepper and skipped the spinach. Since I had saltines left over from making an Atlantic Beach pie, I used them for the topping.

Recipes and menu ideas: eggplant caponata, summer southern succotash, charred shishito peppers, summer squash gratin, peach glazed chicken thighs, roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika, and southwestern striped mullet.

Peach Glazed Chicken Thighs

We have a new summer favorite: peach glazed chicken thighs. The farmers market is overrun with peaches. I was having trouble keeping up with my supply before they got too soft so I decided to turn some of them into dinner. I found this recipe on The Seasoned Mom blog. The only change I remember making is reducing the brown sugar. I may just eliminate it next time since in-season peaches are soooo sweet.

King Mackerel and Striped Mullet

I can’t talk about cooking without mentioning fish. Every week, I pick up my CSF (community supported fishery) share of two pounds of North Carolina fish from Locals Seafood—who have a new website, nice. Two weeks ago (I’m a little behind on my blogging here), my share included king mackerel and striped mullet.

Mackerel is full-flavored so doesn’t need much—unless you don’t like all that flavor, but we do. I found an Epicurious recipe for roasted mackerel with garlic and paprika—real simple and tasty. I just noticed it’s a Gordon Ramsey recipe. I didn’t make the vinaigrette, only the garlic/paprika paste—a fabulous idea.

The next night we had southwestern striped mullet. Striped mullet, per Locals Seafood, has a “rich, nutty flavor and buttery texture… [that] can be cooked in almost any fashion.”

I read somewhere about soaking striped mullet fillets in spiced buttermilk, so that’s what I did. My buttermilk was seasoned with garlic salt, ground ancho chile powder, chipotle powder and coriander. Then I dredged the fillets in cornmeal and pan-fried them in grapeseed oil, a few minutes per side. As they were done, I transferred them to a paper towel-lined plate and squeezed lemon juice on them. Good and quick. I’ll do that again.

More to come!


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Creative Commons licensed images by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash (okra), pameladebutler on Pixabay (shishitos) and Diego Duarte Cereceda on Unsplash (peaches).

Recipes and menu ideas for fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

Recipes and menu ideas: fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

~~~

Ocean Isle Beach

We spent a few days visiting cousins who were vacationing at our regular coastal haunt, Ocean Isle Beach—where I met my honey. Usually when we stay on OIB, we hardly ever leave the island except for grocery shopping. But this time we had an early dinner at Makai Brewing Company. Enjoyed a few beers while listening to two guys doing 90s covers.

The brewery is connected by a hallway to an Italian market. This place used to be The Butcher of Brunswick, but I can’t remember what it’s called now. I enjoyed something I haven’t had in a long time, a meatball sub.

The next night we ate at Dockside Seafood House Restaurant in Calabash. We sat outside so we could enjoy the water view. The inside has that dated old school look, no surprise since this place has been in business since 1955. Calabash is a renowned style of fried seafood in these parts. The fish or shellfish is only lightly battered, just enough to give it the fried taste but without the heaviness of regular fried food. I enjoyed a big plate of flounder, scallops and oysters.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

Thai Coconut Red Curry Sauce

On another hot evening, I went back to one of my tried and true recipes, fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce. I pulled some cod from the freezer for this one. My recipe has evolved a bit from the original. I add red bell pepper and garlic, a whole can of coconut milk, brown sugar instead of regular sugar, and a mix of fresh basil, Thai basil and mint. This time I also added julienned collards to the dish too and served it over jasmine rice.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

Green Beans with Mushrooms and Herbs

We loved the blackened amberjack I made recently so I decided to make blackened skipjack tuna. For one of the sides, I roasted a mix of sweet and new potatoes with some sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder and sea salt, and green beans with mushrooms and herbs.

Green Beans with Mushrooms and Herbs

  • Olive oil
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 4 to 8 ounces cremini and/or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds green beans
  • 1/2 cup or more diced tomato
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth (plus extra just in case)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, parsley or basil or a combo
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add bacon, let cook for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and onions, cook a few minutes, until they’re starting to soften a bit. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute, or until the garlic starts to golden.

Add green beans and tomatoes, toss it all together. Cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add a little chicken broth and cook (covered if you want to speed it along) until the liquid evaporates or green beans are crisp-tender, whichever comes first. If the broth evaporates before the beans are done, add some more. When done, toss with herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

Shrimp Scampi

I got a pound of North Carolina brown shrimp in my CSF share and made one of the most satisfying dishes ever, shrimp scampi with pasta.

Shrimp used to be a luxury, remember that? Now you can buy cheap packages of frozen Asian shrimp in every supermarket—but don’t. In addition to the horrid issues mentioned in this article—slave labor being just one of them—the compromised Asian shrimp industry has put many American shrimpers out of business. They can’t compete with slave labor.

Recipes and menu ideas for fish with Thai coconut red curry sauce, blackened skipjack tuna, green beans with mushrooms and herbs, shrimp scampi, Southern tomato pie, and pork Milanese.

Southern Tomato Pie

We are in the midst of tomato season here. I bought some German Johnson and Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes to make Vivian Howard’s Southern tomato pie. This is definitely a Sunday recipe due to all the steps involved—making the pastry, drying tomatoes, roasting tomatoes and making the filling—but it was worth it.

We had slices of the pie alongside pork Milanese—and the rest for breakfast. I also cooked some collards and kale with banana peppers, red and yellow onions, mushrooms, red bell pepper, and bacon.

More to come!


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