Monday, December 23, 2013

Creole Crawfish Treats!

                A few weeks back I wrote about a Southern Louisiana dinner with my wine group.  I not only filled in for the person designated to bring dessert, which resulted in my “Pumpkin Pie in a Glass.” I also brought a first course to complement the theme.
                I made a recipe I’ve been making since my long-ago days of living in New Orleans. If memory serves, it came from the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, although I can’t find anything similar online.
In my recipe software files, it’s listed as “Crawfish Bella Luna.” Bella Luna was a beautiful restaurant in the French Market in New Orleans. It had a great river view and a very talented chef.  Unfortunately, it was badly damaged at the time of Hurricane Katrina and never re-opened.
                The recipe calls for a pound of crawfish tails. You can buy them frozen in many supermarkets, or ask the seafood department of your favorite market to order them for you. Due to current news items, I would avoid any from China. I got mine from Thomas’ Meat Market in Collierville. The ones they sell are from Spain, and I felt quite comfortable using them. 
                The recipe includes what is known in Creole cooking as “the trinity”: celery, onion and bell pepper. You could save a bit of prep by using a 12-ounce bag of frozen Creole mirepoix. It’s usually in pretty big pieces, just drop the frozen contents of the bag on your chopping board and run a sharp knife through it. It will take a bit longer to cook through, since you’ll have a good bit of moisture to cook off before the vegetables start to cook. But it has the advantage of saving a good bit of chopping time.
               This is one of those recipes that can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, making it good for a cooperative dinner, as our wine dinner group is.
                We served it as a seated first course. I put a handful of arugula with a light sherry vinaigrette on the side.  If you wanted to make it a lunch or brunch main course, just make the salad bigger and add grape tomatoes, slivered red onion and a sprinkle of feta or gorzonzola cheese. 
Crawfish Bella Luna
 3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup onion, very finely minced
1/3 cup celery, very finely minced
1/3 cup green bell pepper, finely minced
1/3 cup green onion, with some of the green top, finely minced
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Zatarain’s Creole (or other whole grained) musta
rd1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, such as Tony Cachere’s
1 egg
1 pound frozen crawfish tails, defrosted in the bag
½ cup heavy creamSweet paprika for garnish
               Preheat the oven to 350o. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the butter. When just starting to sizzle add the onion, celery, bell pepper, green onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
               Remove from the heat and whisk in the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Creole seasoning. Mix well, then whisk in the egg. Add the crawfish tails and all the juices from the bag and toss. Divide among 8 half-cup ramekins. Pour two tablespoons of heavy cream on the top and sprinkle with paprika. 
Bake until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or baguette toasts.
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Cocktails for the Holidays!

                You may remember that I’m in a wine dinner club that produces some very good food. I’ve shared several recipes with you previously.  Last week we met at the home of Mary and Joel Smith.  They did a main course of deep-fried quail with root beer red-eye gravy, a Southern Louisiana dish.  I’ll get that recipe for you another time.
                The pre-dinner cocktail was the responsibility of Jennifer Biggs. In keeping with the Louisiana theme, we had Vieux Carré cocktails.  She altered a recipe she found online and it was delicious. It went particularly well with packaged kettle potato chips that she had heated in the oven, then sprinkled with sea salt and herbes de Provence that she had ground to a powder.

                She used Absinthe, and said that you could substitute Herbsaint. Both are anise flavored liqueurs. But guess what: remember that bottle of Pernod that I had you buy for a seafood soup back in June, which we used again in a marinated fish dish in September? If you have that, you may quite nicely substitute that. She used a simple syrup made with turbinado sugar, a raw (unrefined) cane sugar. You may use that, or substitute light brown sugar. Mix 1 part sugar with one part water in a small pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved.
                The couple who was to bring the dessert had a late change of plans, so I volunteered to bring a dessert cocktail. I’d read about ones made with a pumpkin cream liqueur that sounded pretty tasty. I adapted mine from several similar ones found online.  I added a puff of whipped cream to the top. With a crispy cookie, it made an excellent dessert. I kept the various components chilled until ready to make; I even keep the vodka in the freezer. 

                Both can very nicely be made ahead and kept refrigerated until ready to serve.   I’m sure sometime between now and the end of the year, many of you will want a special beverage to either begin or end a meal.  We’ve got you covered!!

 Jennifer’s Vieux Carré

 1 cup rye whiskey
1 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup turbinado simple syrup
1/3 cup plus one more little splash of absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod
A couple of dashes each of Peychaud and Angostura bitters
Lemon peel for garnish

                Combine all ingredients except the lemon peel.  Pour over crushed ice in martini or other small footed glass.  Give the lemon peel a twist over the top to release some of the oil and drop it into the glass and serve. Six servings.

 Alyce’s Pumpkin Pie in a Glass

 1 cup pumpkin cream liqueur
1 cup Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 cup vanilla-flavored vodka
½ cup whole milk (or more to taste)
Whipped cream

                Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Strain into martini or small dessert wine glasses.  Top with whipped cream.  Six servings.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Keeping my promise: Pernod-Marinated Snapper

Back in June, when we made a fish soup that required Pernod (or other pastis-type apéritif), I promised that if you bought it for that dish, I would give you another that would use it.
            Just to refresh your memory, pastis (pronounced past-eese) is the regional drink of the Midi area in Southeastern France. It is typically served on ice, with a generous splash of water. It has an anise flavor, which some don´t care for as a beverage, but it is great for cooking, especially when using seafood. There are several brands of pastis available here; I use Pernod.
            I had invited neighbors for a casual dinner. A trip to the farmers’ market netted tiny zucchini, some beautiful tomatoes and a couple of skin-on filets of red snapper.  I wanted to put the fish on the grill, and I find that the filets with skin-on hold together better.  If you’d rather, this can be done under the broiler of your oven, or on a pre-heated cast iron grill pan on top of the stove for about the same amount of time.
            There’s a marinade I’ve been making for years, using pastis.  It is also delicious on other seafood.  It’s particularly good on shrimp.  You can also use it on salmon, but leave out the tomatoes in the re-warmed marinade that you’ll serve as a sauce.
            After removing the fish the reserved marinade is brought to a simmer and cooked for a few minutes. Then fresh tomato, chopped, is added to complete the sauce. We can still get good tomatoes, but when the fresh tomato season is over, you will still have great success with canned diced tomato, drained.
            It is important not to leave the fish (or other seafood) in this marinade for more than about 30 minutes.  Any longer and the flesh of the fish will take on a “cooked” appearance and will have an unpleasant texture when grilled.
            I made a simple rice pilaf to go along with this. I also split the zucchini lengthwise and brushed a little of the marinade on the cut side and cooked them on the grill beside the fish.
            Altogether a very nice dinner for an early autumn evening!
Southern French Snapper
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup Pernod, or other pastis-type liquor
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon finely ground pepper
1 ½ pounds snapper filet, skin on (see note)
3 large tomatoes, cored and diced
            In a glass bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar and pastis. In a mortar and pestle crush the fennel seeds slightly, or put them on a chopping block and chop coarsely with a sharp knife. Add to the bowl with the garlic, salt and pepper.
            Put the snapper in a plastic bag and add one half cup of the marinade, reserving the rest.  Place in a flat pan and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, turning once about halfway through. 
            Preheat a charcoal or gas grill. Place the reserved marinade in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Let cook for a couple of minutes, then add the diced tomato.  Let it simmer for about five more minutes.
            Remove the snapper from the marinade. Spray the grill grates generously with cooking spray, or brush with vegetable oil.  Place flesh side down and cook for about five minutes.  With a spatula, turn carefully and cook skin-side down for another four to five minutes.
            Remove the fish filets to a platter and ladle on the sauce. Divide into four portions and serve immediately.
NOTE: Other full flavored firm-fleshed white fish can be used, such as amberjack or cod. 
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Things I've noticed about France

Some observations from one who used to spend a lot of time in France, but hasn't in many years:

No matter how big and crowded a bar or café is, the server leaves your tab on a little plate on your table. No need to give a credit card to run a tab.

Olive drab seems to be the new black in France. So it probably will be in Memphis in a couple of years. Just a heads up, fashionistas!

Nobody’s plate is removed from a restaurant table until everyone is finished eating. That’s good for me because I talk a lot and eat slow so often I don’t finish just because I’m the only one at the table who still have a plate in front of me.

Also in restaurants you could still be waiting at closing time if you don’t ask for your check. They don’t rush you. If you want to sit way past the time your coffee is done, they won’t bother you. Once you ask, you typically get it right away.

There sure are a lot of motorcycles here, and they’re loud. And many of their drivers are just plain crazy.

What I used to admire about the well-behaved French children when out in public seems to have declined immensely.  We’ve seen more than a few temper-tantrum, loud, whiny, or otherwise snotty little kids since we’ve been here.

A double dip dish of ice cream costs almost $4.00.  Of course, that’s extremely good ice cream.

A glass of rosé is rarely more than $3.50. A bottle for the fridge is between $4.50 and $6.00.  And that´s very good rosé.  Of course we´re still down South where the best of it is made.

French women are not as slim as they used to be. Of course we’re still out in the provinces. That well might change when we get to Paris.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bacon-Beer Fest!

Several folks have expressed interest in the goodies at my son's annual Bacon-Beer Fest, held a couple of weeks ago near his home in Massachusetts. This is by no means everything, but should give you some kind of idea of all the treats!

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Cool salad for a hot day!

                 When I go to the farmers’ markets, I can pick a cantaloupe perfectly almost every time: it needs to be a little soft around the stem end, and smell like melon on the outside. But the art of properly picking a ripe sweet watermelon eludes me. I just can’t quite understand the sound I need to get when I thump on it.
                So I always ask someone at the market to pick one for me.  Most of the time that works.  I did that last week, even though I thought I had no real need for a watermelon. That big pile of melons was just calling out to me. And boy, was it a good one!
                And then I passed the Paradise Seafood truck and couldn’t resist a container of scallops. I was having guests that evening, and turned the watermelon and scallops into a very nice first course salad.
                I’m not going to give you the full scallop lecture; you’ve heard it from me before. Just remember “dry” scallops are un-processed.  The two places I know you can always get them are at the Paradise Seafood trucks at most of the farmers’ markets, or Thomas Meat Market in Collierville. Ask before you buy anywhere else.
                For the past few years, balsamic vinegar has been hugely popular. What we get in most stores is not real balsamic, which can be made only in Italy, in Modena or neighboring Reggio Emilia. Aged in several different wood barrels for a minimum of 12 years, and sold in distinctive bottles, it’s not the real thing unless the word “tradizionale” is in the name. And it will set you back a minimum of $70 for a small bottle.
                What you see in groceries may just be labeled balsamic vinegar.  These are usually made of wine vinegar with caramel coloring and flavoring. Read the ingredient label. These might sell for under $10 and are not worth buying.  But when you get up a bit in price, you can finds ones labeled “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.” Aged for at least three years, these come closer to the taste of “real” balsamic. The flavor can be enhanced by reducing it down by about 25%. This is what I did for this salad.
                I didn’t use salad greens with this, but the slight bitterness of arugula would be perfect with the other flavors if you’d like to have something green on the plate. Either way, the addition of lime wedges to squeeze over at serving time definitely enhances the flavors.
                You can have everything prepped for the salad, and assemble just before your guests arrive. Then at serving time, just sear your scallops, drizzle with the oil, garnish and you’re ready to serve.
Mediterranean Watermelon Salad with Scallops
 ½ medium seedless watermelon
1 small red onion, cut into very thin slices
3/4 cup mint leaves, lightly packed, slivered
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup Balsamic vinegar, reduced slightly and cooled
1 pound dry scallops 
1 tablespoon Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Good fruity olive oil
Pitted kalamata olives
Lime wedges.
                Cut the watermelon half lengthwise into two quarters. Turn on the side and slice ¾” thick. Cut the ripe meat away from the rind and discard the rind. Cut each wedge into two triangles. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the onion and mint leaves. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble.                                    Arrange the watermelon on individual serving plates and sprinkle with any mint or onion that might have fallen off. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
               Pat the scallops dry and dust one side with a mixture of the Cavender’s seasoning and flour. Heat a thin film of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops, floured side down, and sear for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and cook two to three minutes more. Place one atop each salad. 
                Drizzle lightly with additional olive oil, garnish with the olives and lime wedges and serve immediately.  Serves 6 to 8.
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Another cold soup for hot days!

                 A few weeks ago I gave you a recipe for a chilled pear soup with cardamom. I was surprised at the number of emails I received saying they’d tried it and loved it, and asking for more chilled soups.
                The second best part about chilled soups—the very best part is how tasty and refreshing they are in summer—is that they must be done ahead.  That leaves your time just before serving dinner free for other tasks, or for just socializing.
                This soup is based on a recipe I found in the French culinary magazine Cuisine et Vins de France. I made it once for our wine dinner club, and it was so good that I’ve served it four times since.  That’s really rare for me! It’s the perfect beginning to a main course salad dinner, or for dinner on the grill. It also makes a great brunch soup beside a quiche or frittata.
This soup will keep beautifully for several days in the fridge. I had less than a cup left the last time I served it, and it made a pretty tasty sauce over a grilled chicken breast. I think it would be good on fish or shrimp as well.
Red Bell Pepper Gazpacho with Goat Cheese
4 red bell peppers (See note below)
4 large very ripe tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp. sherry wine vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
6 oz. goat cheese crumbles, divided
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
                Over a very hot grill or a gas flame, or under the broiler of your oven, roast the peppers until the peel is very dark and charred, turning often. Place into a paper bag, roll the top to close and let rest until completely cool.  When cool, rub off as much of the skin as you can. You should be able to get most of it, but a little stubborn bit here and there won’t hurt. Cut in half and remove the stem, seeds and veins. Cut into chunks and place in a large glass bowl.
                Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. Using a small spoon, scoop the seeds into a strainer set over a small bowl. Cut out the core and cut the unpeeled tomatoes into chunks. Add to the bowl with the peppers.
                With a rubber spatula, rub the juice around the seeds through the strainer. Discard the seeds and add the juice to the bowl, along with the garlic, sherry wine vinegar and salt. Toss to combine, cover and refrigerate at least four hours.
                Working in batches, in a blender or food processor pulse the pepper mixture with 2 tbsp. goat cheese, the honey, olive oil and basil. It should be just a little bit chunky, not perfectly smooth. Taste and add salt if needed.
                When ready to serve, pour into small glasses or clear bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining goat cheese and serve at once. Serves 6-8.
NOTE: I roasted my own peppers, but if you prefer, you can substitute two 12-oz. jars of roasted peppers, drained.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Oriental Pork Burger--A Little Rest from Beef Burgers!

I think most everyone loves a burger on the grill. But sometimes, by the middle of summer, we’re tired of the same old beef burger every time. I recently had a friend accompany me to an occasion where her support was most welcome. Afterwards, we came back to the house. I’d made the burgers and slaw earlier in the day and within a very short time the grill was hot and the burgers were on.
            I had picked up cole slaw mix, the kind with carrots already in it, but I wanted more carrots. I was going to grate them myself, but as I passed by the salad bar and saw the nifty long strands of carrot, I picked up a container of that instead. 
            I thought the slaw would be enough for a topping, but after tasting, we thought it still needed a little something, so I whipped up the sesame aioli. It was the perfect finishing touch.
            I served it with store-bought sweet potato chips, which went very well with the flavor of the burgers. If you are a bit more ambitious, roast cubes of sweet potato and toss them with a little more of the sesame aioli and chopped cilantro for sweet potato salad.

Spicy Oriental Pork Burgers
 1 ½ lb. ground pork
2 green onions, with some of the green, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ginger paste from the produce section (or 1 ½ tbsp. grated fresh ginger)
2 tbsp. Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp. Oriental sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
6 Kaiser rolls (or other crusty buns)
Asian Slaw (recipe below)
Sesame Aioli (recipe below)
             In a bowl, combine all ingredients for the pork burgers. Form into six patties about 5” in diameter. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour so flavors meld, or until ready to cook. 
On a very hot gas or charcoal grill (or stove-top ridged grill pan) cook five to six minutes per side, until no longer pink in the center.  Place on the buns, top with the slaw and drizzle with the aioli.  Serves six.
Asian Slaw
1 bag cole slaw mix
1cup shredded carrot
1 minced green onion
3 tbsp. cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
            In a bowl, combine the slaw mix, carrot, green onion and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and vinegar. Pour over the slaw and toss together.  Let set at room temperature for up to an hour, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
 Sesame Aioli
 ¾  cup mayonnaise
1 tsp oriental sesame oil
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
            Mix together, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Luscious Latino Shrimp Salad

               I had invited friends for a Sunday supper, and wanted a first course that wouldn’t take a lot of time to prepare that day. I also wanted something with a bit of a Latino flair to complement the main course I was serving.  Looking through my recipe files, I came across a shrimp cocktail recipe that was perfect.  It calls for tiny salad shrimp, but I like to use larger shrimp and put it atop a bed of greens. 
               I usually dice avocados for garnish, but I’d made guacamole in anticipation of a Friday evening concert at the Levitt Shell. When it stormed about the time we were to leave, we changed our minds. So I used the guacamole that was still in the fridge to top the salad. It was so much better than just the plain avocado that I will make it that way from now on.
                You can use your favorite gucamole recipe. While not quite the same as home-made, the Wholly Guacamole brand, in the refrigerated section of your supermarket, is also pretty tasty.
               The recipe calls for Maggi seasoning, a liquid seasoning. You might be able to find it in either the Hispanic or oriental sections of your market. If not, use ½ teaspoon each soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
               By increasing the amount of shrimp to about 2 ½ lb., this would make a fine main course for lunch or dinner on a hot summer day.
 Latino Shrimp Salad
1 lemon, rinsed and sliced
2 tbsp. Penzeys salsa seasoning (or one pkg. taco seasoning)
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 ½ lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chili sauce (see note)
Juice and finely grated zest of one orange
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
I tsp. Maggi seasoning
2 tsp. chipotle Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1 cup prepared guacamole
4 to 5 oz. arugula
Cilantro, for garnish
1 lime, cut into six wedges, for garnish

In a non-reactive Dutch oven, place the lemon, salsa or taco seasoning, wine and bay leaf.  Add 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about five minutes. Add shrimp. Add water if needed to completely cover shrimp. Bring to a slow boil, cover, and remove from the heat. Wait 8 minutes, then drain.  Place with the lemon slices in a flat glass or plastic container and chill. 
                In a bowl, whisk together the chili sauce, orange and lime juice and zest, Maggi seasoning and Tabasco.  Cover and chill completely. About half an hour before serving, pour over the shrimp, tossing to coat.
                Divide the arugula among six salad plates. Top with the shrimp, then the guacamole.  Drizzle with the sauce remaining in the container, sprinkle with cilantro and serve. Serves six.
Note: This calls for the mild chili sauce that’s right beside the catsup on market shelves.
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Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Mafia is Not a Myth!

Many people, especially down in the South, believe that the Mafia is an invention of the movie industry.  Films such as The Godfather, or Goodfellas, are not far from the truth here in the United States.

This is even more true in Italy.  Although most of the Mafia families are in the south, their hold spreads all over Italy.  According to the United Nations, Italy’s major Mafia organizations are tied to 116 billion euros, or about $150 billion, in revenue each year,

In the New York Times Travel Section this week, there's an article about a bakery owner,Vincenzo Conticello, who refused to pay his "protection" money.  He went through trials and tribulations but ultimately triumphed.

The owner has now expanded to several locations where tourists can be sure they aren't supporting organized crime in Italy.  You can read all about it here.

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Chilled Soup: Just the Thing for Summer

Last weekend, I hosted a dinner party that we had donated to our church school auction. It was an “Evening in Paris” menu, for the 12 who signed up for it. We started the evening with assorted canapés. To accompany them, we served Lillet Blanc, a French apéritif, with a slice of orange and a splash of soda. This gave folks a chance to mingle and chat before being seated.
The first seated course was a chilled soup. Many years ago, when I first started going to France, chilled soups weren´t all that common in France except perhaps along the Mediterranean, or near Spain, where gazpacho might have made it onto the menu.  But now, with all the young ambitious new chefs making the Parisian scene, it´s not at all unusual to see one on a summer menu.
The obvious advantage to a chilled soup is that it can be made ahead.  In fact it must be made ahead to allow it to chill and for the flavors to develop.  Another advantage to this one is that there’s very little preparation involved, since we’re using canned pears. If you prefer to use fresh pears, make sure they’re ripe, and poach five or six in water with a little sugar. A little splash of white wine wouldn’t hurt in the poaching liquid, either.
I like to garnish this with snipped chives and a few crumbles of blue cheese. While Roquefort would be a nice match to the flavors in the soup, it’s become enormously expensive. You can quite nicely substitute another crumbly blue cheese, such as gorgonzola or Maytag blue.
For the wine pairing, we served an Alsatian white blend, Hugel Gentil. It was the perfect match.
 Chilled Pear Cardamom Soup
 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 small shallots, peeled and minced (3 to 4 tbsp.)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 can (29 oz.) pears, drained
Juice and finely grated zest of one large lemon
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups half-and-half cream
Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
3 oz. blue cheese crumbles, for garnish
Chives, for garnish      
                In a skillet, cook the shallots in the oil until soft.  Add the cardamom and cook, stirring, about two more minutes.  Put the pears in a food processor and add the shallot mixture. Pulse a couple of times, then add the lemon juice and zest and the chicken stock.  Process until very smooth. Pour into a bowl and whisk in the half-and-half.  Add salt and ground white pepper to taste. Chill for at least three hours, or until very cold. Taste again before serving. You might need a little more salt. Serve in soup cups or flat soup bowls, topped with the blue cheese and chives. Serves 6.
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Super Summer Seafood Soup Provençal!

As frequent readers may remember, I spent many summers in France in my younger days.  Much of this time was in Montpellier, in the south of France. When the weather starts to warm up, as it has recently in Memphis, I tend to think about the food I had there. 
 Last weekend I had a group of friends over for a dinner party. We did it in a sort of class format, with recipes and cooking demos. I chose Southern French as the cuisine. For the first seated course, we had a fish soup very representative of Provence, on the Mediterranean coast.
Unlike heavier seafood soups, such as gumbos or chowders, this is a light and brothy soup.  It makes a great introduction to a summer dinner, or with a salad, it makes a great luncheon on its own. 
For the fish, you want a very full flavored whitefish.  I used fresh amberjack from the Paradise Seafood truck. It has the perfect flavor and texture, but turbot, pollack or cod would also work. A more delicate fish, such as sole or flounder, would be lost in the lusty seasonings of this soup.
I used canned tomatoes, but when the good summer tomatoes are available from the farmers’ markets, peel, seed and dice them instead.
 A traditional addition at the table is a tiny splash of the regional apéritif known as pastis.  It is typically served on ice, with a generous splash of water. It has an anise flavor, which some don´t care for as a beverage, but it makes a big difference in the flavor. A couple of the guests were a little doubtful about a “fish soup,” but with this added touch, raved over it.
There are several brands of pastis available here; I use Pernod. As a drink, I’m not crazy about it, but I find lots of other uses for it. The soup will be delicious without it, but if you pick up a bottle to use with this soup, I promise a few other recipes using it over the next several months.
 One more note: this soup freezes well. If you want to double it, freeze it in quart containers and you’ll have an easy dinner or lunch when the Memphis heat makes it just too hot to cook.
 Provençal Fish Soup
 ¼ cup olive oil                                                                   
4 plump cloves garlic, minced                                                                    
1 medium onion, chopped                                                          
¾ cup celery, minced                                                                     
1 generous pinch each dried thyme, oregano and basil  
1 can (15-16 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 quarts fish stock (see note)
1 lb. boneless firm white fish
Baguette toasts
Pernod or other pastis (optional)
In a large heavy pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir a few times, then add the onion and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally two minutes, then add the herbs. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are translucent, about 5 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to as low as it will go, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the fish stock, bring to a boil and add the fish cut into small chunks. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes uncovered. Add salt to taste, cover and simmer 20 minutes.
 With a wire whisk, whisk well to break up the chunks of fish and blend the flavors.  You may need to use a potato masher to flake the fish into small pieces. It depends on the variety of fish you use.  Serve in flat soup bowls with a baguette toast floating on top.  Pass the Pernod bottle at the table for each person to add to taste. It just takes a teaspoon or two for each serving. Serves 6 as a main course, or 8 as a first course soup.
NOTES:  Fish stock can be made from concentrated fish stock base (available from Penzeys), fish bouillon cubes (available in most Hispanic markets and some supermarkets), or use 2 bottles clam juice and six cups water.
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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Strawberry Salsa Seafood!

               It’s strawberry season! And what could be better than locally grown strawberries from the farmers’ markets around town?
                I must say this about strawberries this year: ask to taste one of the type you want to buy. I don’t know if it was the weather, the cool spring, or the variety of strawberries, but the first basket I bought wasn’t nearly as sweet as I expected. I intended to eat the strawberries with brown sugar, or a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar, or a little honey with lemon, or just rinsed and plain, if they had been sweet enough.
                But although the first ones I bought were not sweet, I wasn’t about to just throw them away. I was having guests that evening and had planned on serving scallops. I dusted them with a little flour mixed with Penzeys Salsa Seasoning and sautéed them. I made a salsa out of the strawberries and the dish was a big hit.

              Subsequently, I’ve gotten only good strawberries—by tasting them first. There have still been some less than sweet ones around.
Last weekend was the monthly meeting of our wine dinner group. My assignment was a seated appetizer. This time I rubbed fresh cod filets with olive oil and sprinkled them with the same seasoning, and cooked them on the outside grill. Oh yum.  As good as the salsa was with the slightly under-sweet berries and sautéed scallops, this second effort was much better. The sweetness of the berries really went well with the smoky grilled flavor of the fish.
                Brush some asparagus with olive oil and some of the same seasoning you use on the fish and grill for a few minutes alongside the fish. With a nice rice pilaf you have the best early summer dinner I can imagine!

Grilled Fish with Strawberry-mint Salsa

6 – 6-oz servings of firm mild white fish (see note)
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Penzeys Salsa Seasoning (or packaged taco seasoning)
1 quart strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
½ cup diced red onion
1 small yellow bell pepper, diced
½ jalapeño pepper, seeds and inner veins removed (or more to taste)
Juice and finely grated zest of two limes
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (loosely packed) julienned fresh mint leaves
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

               Pat the fish dry and rub with the olive oil. Sprinkle the seasonings evenly on both sides of the fish. You can do this earlier in the day and refrigerate, covered. Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before cooking.
                In a bowl, mix the berries, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, lime juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to four hours.
                About an hour before serving, mix the julienned mint leaves into the salsa. When ready to serve, grill the fish filets over a medium-hot fire or broil about 4” below a preheated oven broiler. Fish should be just barely opaque in the center and flake easily.  Place the fish on heated dinner plates, divide the salsa among them and garnish with the mint sprigs.
NOTE: There are other fish that would work: amberjack, grouper, haddock or halibut. But I like fresh cod for this dish. It is readily available in specialty markets and in many supermarkets. It has a mild flavor, and is very affordable.

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