Tuesday, August 27, 2013

low country boil

Once a year, in August when it's hot, we dig out our biggest stock pots and throw together a low country boil with crab legs, shrimp, corn, sausage, and potatoes.  Plenty of Old Bay.  It's a mess and it's fun.

If you love seafood, this is a perfect weekend party.  Invite your friends.  It's practically foolproof.  And with 5 or 6 of these under our belts, we can also say with certainty that the best part is what you can do with the leftovers the next day. 

I'm talking about a perfect breakfast frittata with crab, sweet corn, and spicy sausage.  Chives and swiss cheese on top.   Hash browns on the side.  Shrimp and leftover sausage with bell peppers and onions in a cream sauce over cheesy grits.

It's time for a low country boil, y'all.  Here are the recipes for the main event and the delicious leftovers that follow.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

rusty's oatmeal cookies

One of the original recipes in my box is a family favorite with a secret ingredient.  It's written in my high school handwriting on an index card.  In loopy letters, "Rusty's Oatmeal Cookies."  A recipe my mom gave me for a very special purpose:  a first dinner at my boyfriend's house.  With his parents.  (Now, 12 years later, my beloved in-laws.)

It had to be easy.  It had to be good.  A thoughtful and unassuming hostess gift.  I had no idea how to cook, but these were so easy and thank goodness I pulled it off.

My father-in-law is a kind soul and let me believe they were the best cookies he had ever had.  He must have eaten 5 or 6 in front of me.  His indulgence gave me confidence and put me right at ease.

I made Rusty's Oatmeal Cookies again today and realized maybe his gesture wasn't such a stretch -- they're pretty fantastic cookies!  Thanks, Mr. C.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Rusty, whoever you are.

But let's not forget that secret ingredient:  corn flakes.  I know, it sounds weird, but the cereal makes these cookies deliciously chewy and not so granola.   Just be sure the corn flakes are really fresh right out of the box and haven't been sitting around for a while (like corn flakes tend to do).  You can use the stale leftover ones for a fried chicken coating or something.

In the meantime, if you love oatmeal cookies, give these a try.  They are great with raisins or with cherries and chocolate chips if you prefer.

Hope you can share them with someone you love.  Rusty's recipe follows.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

orange vanilla cupcakes

Do you know someone who is gluten intolerant?  Or do you prefer to avoid dairy in your diet?  More and more of my dear friends are making these lifestyle changes for varied reasons, and I embrace the challenge to cook delicious food within those guidelines.

In my experience the key is finding reliable substitutes and embracing their characteristics.  And supporting them with fresh flavors.  Here I added orange zest and coconut milk to add flavor to these cupcakes made gluten-free and dairy-free.  I relied on vegan margarine, almond milk, and a store-bought gluten free flour mixture to help bring it together.  (By all means, if you have a favorite gluten free baking mix, use that here.) On the first try, the frosting was a home run, too:  it's as satisfying as a can of Betty Crocker but with no artificial taste.

And on the good advice of a friend who avoids dairy, I kept these cupcakes chilled overnight to keep the frosting at a friendly consistency.  They will be just fine left out for an hour or two before serving.

I dare you to make this recipe and see if anyone can tell it's modified.  I made these to honor a dear friend with dietary restrictions at her baby shower, and she insisted that everyone understand how special it is find to a good gluten-free dessert.

It's a nice thing to do for someone you love.  The recipe follows.

Orange Vanilla Cupcakes
(Dairy-free and Gluten-free)

1 and 1/3 cup gluten free flour blend (such as Cup for Cup)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance buttery sticks)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 cup unsweetened (full fat) coconut milk

Line muffin tin with 1 dozen cupcake liners.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Cream margarine, sugar, and orange zest together in a separate large bowl with an electric mixer.  Add egg, vanilla, and beat smooth.  Add half of the flour mixture, stir to combine.  Add the milks.  Add the rest of the flour, and mix just until incorporated.  Do not overbeat.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes until tops spring back when gently pressed.  Cool completely-- and preferably refrigerate-- before frosting.

Orange-Vanilla Frosting

1/2 cup vegan stick shortening (such as Earth Balance)
1/2 cup vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance buttery sticks)
4-5 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat shortening and margarine together until light and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar a little at a time and beat vigorously to create fluffy frosting.  Add coconut milk, orange zest, and vanilla, then the rest of the powdered sugar until you reach desired consistency.

Consistency of the frosting is best when the cupcakes are cool.  Frost cupcakes and store overnight in the fridge in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

corn soup with lobster and shrimp salad

Have you ever been to Maine?  I haven't.  But I imagine when you are vacationing on the coast of Maine, this is the sort of meal you might have.  Fresh and refreshing.  A sweet corn soup that's a little like a chowder but not so heavy.  And a vibrant seafood salad that mingles in the bowl with it.  It's a delicious combination and a perfect seasonal dinner.  And you really can make it yourself.

Call me crazy, but we did it on a week night.

A couple of weeks ago we got six (6!!!) ears of corn in our weekly CSA produce box.  There are only two of us, so, the cob-eating to deal with six ears could get a little out of hand.  Bon Appetit magazine suggested a chilled corn soup with lobster salad.  I don't really have the patience for a cold soup, nor to try to cook and crack 2 giant lobsters on a Thursday.  So I made my twist, which packs a little more flavor with a little less time and expense by way of a few substitutions.

I think you'll love how good and how easy this soup is, especially if you love seafood.  And it's a surprising way to use up extra corn if you've had your fill of cookouts and corn-on-the-cob.  The recipe follows.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

green bean and potato salad

North Carolina has been drenched with rain this summer, but my kitchen is overflowing with produce.  What luck to still enjoy the bounty of local farms (through a CSA produce box we receive weekly) and my mother in law's garden!  We are the beneficiaries of her productive green bean and tomato plants almost weekly.

And since we just built a deck onto our house, we are looking for every reason to enjoy meals outside and keep the kitchen cool.  A summery green bean and new potato salad is deck-friendly, picnic-friendly, and easy to prepare in advance.  Best of all, you can substitute almost any produce you find and mix it right in.  This quick and simple vinaigrette is good on just about everything. 

Let's be clear:  this isn't rich, mayo-based, Southern potato salad.  That is another recipe for another day (and loads of bacon).  This is a much lighter side dish that doesn't require attentive refrigeration or extra time on the treadmill.  

Please enjoy this summer salad, and I hope you'll share with everyone what variations you find successful. The basic recipe follows.