Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

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.


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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