Shrimp & Cheesy Grits – My Way & On the Highway at Brenda’s French Soul Food in San Francisco

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Last weekend, I went to San Francisco with my parents for a wedding.  Our first breakfast in SF was at a place I found (by Googling terms like “best breakfast in SF”) called Brenda’s French Soul Food.  It was a Friday morning, probably around 9:30am & there was a wait for a table.  Again, I loathe waiting but trying to find another spot in an unfamiliar city & then drive there & park – etc etc – would take longer -so we waited.  The interior of the room was really cool.  High ceilings, a collection of mirrors on one wall & a huge mural of a crawfish (or a lobster?) on the other.

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The wait wasn’t long and, as it happened, we were seated just beneath the mural.  We were quickly served delicious coffees and we perused the menu.  Beignets seemed to be a house specialty & they had a savory one (made of crawfish) that intrigued me.  Still – I am not much of a pastry person & I very seldom eat sweets – so – I opted for the shrimp & grits.  My stepdad got the beignets, however, and they were gloriously huge & very tempting.

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That front one is the crawfish beignet & it was, in fact, quite tasty.  Still – it could not hold a candle to the insanely delicious shrimp & grits – which I ordered sans bacon.

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These were piping hot – too hot to eat, in the beginning.  The grits were very thin, too thin to eat with a fork (which I liked) but there was more cheese involved than I thought was ideal.  The shrimp were amazing – and I am not a crazy shrimp person.  In fact – sometimes I get a bit weirded out by the texture – as it really must be very much the same as giant grubs or some other sick thing that most of us would not dare sample.  Shrimp are really just giant ocean insects, no?  Why are we cool with eating them but not, say, THESE?   Anyway – this shrimp & grits definitely ranks as one of the finest combo of breakfast flavors I have ever experienced.

Yesterday, my newest son, a rescued pug now named Memphis, had to have a little dental surgery & got two VERY stinky teeth removed.

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He is guesstimated to be three – which is quite young to have teeth in the condition his were – but a life in the sex trade as a backyard breeding dog (poor Memphis’ sad past) can take its toll.  You will be happy to know that his teeth are restored to a sparkling white & he no longer has that “what died in your mouth?” breath.  I picked him up after his surgery & brought him home.  I was supposed to head right back out & see one of my favorite musicians, Mr. William Elliott Whitmore (check out his awesomeness HERE), at the Roxy with some friends – but, as I feared, Memphis was pretty groggy & disoriented when I got him.  So – I stayed home to observe his recovery.  Look – he looks drunk even just sitting there:

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So – last night I stayed in with my kids, watched a lot of bad news for Romney on MSNBC & chatted with my Arkansas-bound boyfriend on the phone like a teenager.  And – I made my first attempt at Shrimp & Grits!  And – I am happy to report – it was a 5 star success.  Do not be intimidated by the steps required.  Each step is very easy & this comes together very quickly & elegantly – once you’ve roasted the stuff that needs roasting.  This recipe should feed 4 people fairly generously.

Also – as an aside –  if you are an inexperienced cook & want to develop confidence – not only should you cook more often (duh) but do things like – put a measured teaspoon of salt or a measured tablespoon of sugar in your palm & try to get used to eyeballing what those quantities look like.  Pour a measured cup into a pan & see what that looks like in there.  I very seldom use measuring devices & it is the hardest part of this blog for me.  I am continually forgetting to measure accurately as I add things & taste & adjust – so reporting to you how I did it gets tricky.  Furthermore – we all have different tastes.  Some hate garlic others love extra spice – etc etc.  Most of my recipes have a lot of wiggle room for you to adjust things to your own palette.  In fact, MOST recipes out there in the world can, and often should, be adjusted.  The only time measuring becomes critical is in baking.  Baking is a precision thing.  So – anyway – practice eyeballing quantities & start weaning yourself off the two cooking crutches – the measuring spoons & the measuring cups.  You will learn to trust yourself far more quickly this way.

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Shrimp & Cheesy Grits

Preheat the oven to 400

INGREDIENTS

1 large tomato cut into big chunks.  I used half an enormous heirloom tomato

1 red tomato – diced (for garnish)

10 tomatillos, papery skin removed & halved

2 small red onions – one sliced thickly, the other sliced thin

6 garlic cloves (I used more like 15 – but this is your call)

6 oz (or more) of grated smoked cheese – cheddar or gouda work well

1 LB (or more) of the jumbo shrimp – peeled & deveined.  Any shrimp will work – but the bigger the better.

Olive oil

Smoked Paprika

S&P

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Sliced scallions for garnish (optional)

2 cups Grits

3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock (I had leftover vegetable broth in my freezer from when I made the tortilla soup.  It was very handy in this recipe.)

3 cups half-and-half (I used fat free)

Extra grated smoked cheese as a garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS

IMPORTANT NOTE – I used the fancy polenta corn grits that I bought at Figueroa Produce yesterday!  These grits required a ratio of 1 cup grits to 3 cups liquid.  The ones you use may differ & have different cooking instructions.  THOSE instructions should replace mine here on how to cook the grits.  Also – these grits (as I outline) came out fairly thick & I added a cup of more of water at the end to thin them.  You might like yours thick – or thinner than I did.  This is a personal call so use your own judgement.  Lastly – the grits – like most starches – will get thicker as they sit hot on the stove & you don’t want to remove them from the heat or they will cool too much before you use them.  So make the grits dead last after everything else is done & ready to go.  They cook pretty fast so this doesn’t add a lot of time to the process.

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LOOK at the awesome heirloom brainy tomatoes I got a Figueroa Produce! 

Heat the oven to 400.  Line a roasting pan with parchment paper.  Or don’t.  All the parchment does is keep your pan clean & the roasted veggies won’t stick.  It is pretty useful –  but not totally necessary.  Anyway – once you have your roasting pan lined (or not) – put the large chunks of tomato (not the diced red tomato), the halved tomatillos, the THICK sliced red onion (reserving the thinly sliced one) & all but two cloves of garlic in the pan.  Drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Toss to coat & put in the oven for 50-75 minutes – or until the vegetables are softened & begin to char a bit on the edges.

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Blend these roasted delights in a food processor or blender and add the lemon juice and some S&P.  Set aside.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan & saute the thinly sliced onion & the two remaining garlic gloves (smash the cloves with the flat side of a large knife) until the onions are caramelized.  This takes between 5-10 minutes.  Remove them from the pan & set aside.

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Toss your cleaned shrimp with some olive oil, a pinch of the smoked paprika (very different stuff than regular paprika – so try to use the smoked variety) and some S&P.  Cook these shrimp in the onion pan a few minutes on each side until they are pink.  Try not to OVER cook the shrimp.  You can stop cooking & set them aside – even before they are cooked through thoroughly – as they will continue to cook from their own heat for several minutes.  Once you think they are nearly done – remove them from the heat & set aside.

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Heat the vegetable stock and half & half until nearly boiling.  Add the grits & bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-low, cover the grits & set them aside for as long as your package directs.  In fact – cook the damned grits the way your package directs – just substitute a half veggie stock & half half-n-half mix for however much liquid they suggest you add to two cups of grits.  Once the grits are done, stir in the cheese and a solid teaspoon of smoked paprika.  Here is where you decide on the thickness.  If they are still too thin – cook them over medium-low heat until they thicken to where you want them.  Conversely – if they are too thick, add water & stir in over low heat until they thin to the point you desire.

Assembly:

Spoon a good amount of grits into each bowl.  Place some of the caramelized onion-garlic mix on top of that.  Arrange the shrimp atop that, spoon some of the tomatillo puree into the center & garnish with chopped red tomato, scallions & extra grated cheese – if you are using them.  Individuals can add more S&P to taste.  Serve immediately!!!

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CLOSED – Figueroa Produce – a Great Resource for Vegans-Raw Dairy Fans-Hormone Free Meat Eaters and Vegetarians

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http://figueroaproduce.com/

I’m writing today about something my pal Dave Wayne has long sung the praises of  (pardon that awkward grammar) – a great resource for vegetarians & vegans & even meat eaters who prefer hormone-free meats – Figueroa Produce.  It is located at

6312 N Figueroa St • Los Angeles, CA • 90042

just north of York – in a corner mall with one toe in Highland Park & the other in Eagle Rock – across the parking lot from a ubiquitous & DEPRESSING .99 cent store.  This is a counter-intuitive location for a supermarket of this kind.  The community is largely Hispanic & almost entirely low income.  Maybe the Eagle Rock – Highland Park corner is key?  Both Eagle Rock & Highland Park are trying to be the next Silverlake (think hipster) – with Eagle Rock having a substantial edge – but what’s up with hipsters?  Are they rich?  They actually CAN afford to buy the next size up (or three) in a skinny jean (which they desperately need) – but rather – opt to keep wearing the ones I can only assume they grew out of 150,000 calories ago because they like male muffin tops & that awful extra crotch area that is created when they are too fat to pull their pants up to the appropriate position?  At least hip hop kids who CHOOSE not to pull their pants up have UNDERWEAR ON beneath their defying-the-laws-of-physics-low-slung jeans – so we are spared any unwelcome information about their nether regions.  Hipsters actually cannot physically get their jeans up anywhere near the hip zone, strain their top button in a spot just below the pubic line creating a good four inches of crotch air in the upper-thigh area & another good four inches of ass-crackage revealed if they – God forbid – decide to squat.

Anyway – are these fuckers wealthy enough to regularly purchase vegan cheeses and pastured eggs & hormone & antibiotic-free meats?    Because somebody is keeping this place in business and I don’t think is is the Mexican & Guatemalan communities in there buying heirloom tomatoes, vegan egg yolk substitute, gluten-free flour & vegan chipotle sausage.

But I digress.  Figueroa Produce is a very friendly, community market selling high end products at FAR better prices than Whole Foods or my arch nemesis – Gelson’s.  They sell no alcohol or cigarettes but they have a whopping selection of specialty flours & grains (gluten-free and otherwise)

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Sorry these are blurry.  I always feel so suspicious-looking when I’m photographing inside grocery stores.  Not sure why.  And look at the refrigerated cheese section – with its nearly overwhelming selection of vegan dairy & meat items:

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Yeah!  You can’t see it well here but that is, in fact, NACHO TEESE!!!   And they carry both raw milk & cheese AND actual pastured eggs!

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Pastured eggs are eggs from chickens who live like they did on Green Acres – out on PASTURE – foot loose & fancy free.  There is no Federal definition of free range and if you think cage-free or free range means ANYTHING REMOTELY HUMANE is going on with the chickens – watch this VIDEO on Youtube.  It shows you a hundred free range chickens who – after doing their time as egg layers – got rescued by a sanctuary to live a happy life til their natural deaths.  Please look.  It isn’t gruesome – like slaughterhouse footage.  It just shows you how DEEEEEEPLY emotionally & physically scarred these poor birds are – and these are the “lucky” ones.  Factory farmed ones with no nod toward humane conditions create far worse results.  I can’t get these chickens out of my head – so – I was gratified to find there WERE humane alternatives.  They cost more – but so do jeans not made by children in sweatshops.  Where you spend your money creates the world we live in.  Who you give your money to is a large part of your own morality.  Six pastured eggs cost $5 – but the chickens are treated in a genuinely humane way – so there is no blood on your hands.  A more than fair trade – if you ask me.  And the more other egg (dairy, meat etc) producers see that there are people who will pay more for a kinder product – the more kind product gets produced.

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Stepping off the soap box – I continue.  There is a large MEAT section here –

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but I did not inquire as to the sources or kindness factors related to the contents.  I don’t eat meat – so I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.  There was a separate case with organic meats that said they were antibiotic-free – and there was seafood in there as well as – like – bison etc.

I saw a sign advertising HOMEMADE vegan sausage, however, and that intrigued me.  I inquired & was told that they were not currently available as the maker was tweaking the recipe.  A super friendly deli hipster offered me several samples of Daiya vegan cheese and some vegan sliced chicken & vegan sliced bacon.  They came in big square blocks, like cheese, and got sliced on the deli slicer like any other deli meat.  The faux chicken was good, the faux bacon was sorta chemically.  Then I was offered some jalapeno grilling cheese which had been pan fried & was served with a fresh basil leaf on top.  OMG!!!  I nearly bought every package they had in stock.  This shit is ridiculous!

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I bought a half pound of sliced Daiya cheddar for $4 and some shredded vegan mozzarella – to attempt a vegan pizza.  It looks grey & less than promising but – I’ll try anything once.  Kinda.

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Figueroa Produce also has – believe it or not – fresh PRODUCE!

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It seems pretty standard but the HUGE heirloom tomatoes were only $4 a pound.  I think Gelson’s charges you $4 just to look at their heirloom tomatoes – but maybe I’m exaggerating.  I’m not sure if everything they have there is organic or not but if I had to guess – I’d say probably.  They also had an interesting selection of bulk spices which I neglected to photograph.

They sell a brand or two of high end dog food & other staples.  I found these curious items there:

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Ew!  Sweet potato jello.  In a can.  Gross.  And zero-calorie jam!

They have $13 Salted Caramel ice cream – which I have had and it is awesome.  Basically – they have a tiny selection of the staples and a huge selection of the exotic (meaning vegan or gluten-free blah blah blah).  If you have special diet needs – Figueroa Produce just might be the place for you.   So break out your high school jeans & squeeze your fat thighs half way into them, don an ironic & hideous Christmas sweater & head on over to Figueroa Produce.  And BE SURE to ask someone to let you sample the Goddamn grilling cheese.  You are gonna shit yourself.  And not to worry – as you will have lots of room for it in your gapping crotched pants.

Roasted Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

This is another recipe born out of what I had in the fridge that I needed to use before it spoiled.  Actually, the tomatoes were NOT in the fridge because tomatoes should NEVER go in the fridge.  Chilling below 50 degrees (and your fridge is likely under 40) will squash the aroma of the tomato, abort further ripening & even change its texture.  NEVER refrigerate your tomatoes!  There are other items that should not be refrigerated.  Here is a handy list I found:

Store at Room Temperature

Fruits

  • apples (fewer than 7 days)
  • bananas
  • grapefruit
  • lemons
  • limes
  • mandarins
  • mangoes
  • oranges
  • papayas
  • pineapples
  • plantain
  • pomegranates
  • watermelons
Vegetables

  • basil (in water)
  • cucumbers
  • dry onions
  • eggplant
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • jicama
  • peppers
  • potatoes
  • pumpkins
  • winter squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes

Of course, you can choose to ignore this advice.

Anyway – this is a really delicious & easy sauce you can literally whip up – once the roasting is complete.  It is a thick, vibrant sauce that could handle meat (if you eat meat) or a cup of heavy cream to make it a decadent pink sauce.  Peas would be nice – to add some color.  The quantities of each ingredient here was decided by the quantity I had on hand.  Do not feel like you cannot substitute, eliminate or add more/less of most (if not all) the ingredients.  Here is the basic sauce:

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Roasted Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce

INGREDIENTS

6 Roma tomatoes – cut in half

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes – left whole

(OR 2 lbs of whatever tomatoes you have)

12 cloves of garlic – gently smashed (oxymoron, anyone?) – with the flat side of a big knife – or the handle of one

1 large onion – quartered

1 GIANT shallot (optional) – quartered

4 carrots – cut into thirds (don’t bother peeling them)

1 TBS fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dry thyme)

1 TBS fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dry oregano)

Handful or more of fresh basil

2 tsp dry thyme (yes – more)

3 TBS butter

olive oil

S&P to taste

1 TBS crushed red pepper (optional)

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DIRECTIONS

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

I lined my pans with parchment paper.  I don’t think that is critical, though.  Line the tomatoes, carrots, onion & garlic in a deep roasting pan.  I needed two to fit everything in one single layer.

Drizzle a decent amount of olive oil over them all & sprinkle with the S&P and the 2 tsp dry thyme.

Roast for 60-90 minutes until the edges of the tomatoes & onions & carrots begin to char.  I put the cherry tomatoes in a different pan than the Romas as I feared they would be done earlier – and they were.  So you might want to do this if using two very differently sized tomatoes.

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Put these roasted ingredients INCLUDING ANY OLIVE OIL ON THE BOTTOM OF THE PANS, along with ALL the other ingredients & blend them into a puree using either a blender, a food processor or an immersion blender.  Taste – add additional S&P to taste – and any other spices you think it might need more of & voila!  Put it on your favorite pasta!

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Easy!

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Fried Catfish, Collard Greens and Macaroni & Cheese at The Serving Spoon in Inglewood

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I selected  The Serving Spoon because it is literally ten minutes from LAX.  I needed a spot near the airport to have breakfast with my parents before I dropped them off for their return to Boston.  I did a bunch of different searches on Google & Yelp & The Serving Spoon kept making the “best of” lists – so be it.  Nestled in a corner strip mall in a neighborhood rife with abandoned businesses & auto accessory shops – the sign for The Serving Spoon was disappointing.   Owning a cafe is a fantasy of mine but my fantasy involves the design of the place as much as the menu.  I am always frustrated when any business falls short on the style-factor or any opportunity for cool graphics etc.  Here are the two signs:

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Actually – that one isn’t too bad.  Sorta retro…OK.  Seems to be original.  I actually like that one, in retrospect.  But – here is the storefront:

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Sorta underwhelming – no?  It looks like a yarn store called the Sewing Spoon.  But those two sets of wheels outside suggest there are not octogenarian knitters inside.  An urban eatery?  I’ll be the judge of that.

The interior.  Basic as basic gets.

We stepped inside & found there was a 10-15 minute wait.  On a Wednesday.  At 9:30am.  While I detest waiting for seating anywhere – this seemed a very promising indication.   I looked at the daily special board & saw OXTAILS were on the menu along with many traditional sides & peach cobbler.  For some reason – the crowd & that special board won me over completely.   I asked my parents to guess how we’d rate the food – once we had it – on a scale of 1-5.  Everyone expected to give The Serving Spoon a 5.  That can be hard to live up to.

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After about 15 minutes, I began to suspect that folks arriving after us were being seated before us.  It was the first time I ever had a fear that I was being discriminated against because of race.  As a woman?  Sure.  As a punk rock kid or person not wealthy enough to be in the Gucci store in Milan or some other fancy place?  Sure.  I’ve been judged & assessed & underestimated in various way.  We all have.  But, as I watched the hostess seat another group I swore had entered after us, I actually blushed with shame.  The shame of humiliation.  And I whispered to my mother, “What if they won’t seat us?  Oh my God.  Can you imagine?”  And for the first time, I viscerally felt a tiny hint of what so many have felt historically & to this day – when they are truly discriminated against in a really basic, human rights kinda way.  Breakfast.  Don’t we all have a right to eat in a cafe – if we can afford to pay for it?   And as I reflected on the (obvious) horrors of institutionalized racism and my first, pinky-toe sensation of how it feels to be a victim of it, the hostess approached us.  “You’re Gail, right?”  Gail is my mother – the name we put on the wait list.  With that fact confirmed, she smiled & said, “Your table is ready.”

We weren’t being ignored, after all.  Hahaha!  What an asshole I am.  The folks she seated before us had been waiting on a bench I hadn’t seen.  What a total schmuck I am.  But I can tell you – it was eye opening to feel that rejection first hand – even mistakenly.  I’ve always sympathized with victims of racism but sympathy & experience are very different.  Hot flashes & the urge to run away & hide in shame.  That’s what I felt.  How unbelievably awful.  Had you asked me an hour before how I would react to being rejected because of my race, I think I would have said, “With righteous indignation” or some other thing that had a hint of resilience in it.

It wasn’t.  I felt shame.  A really unfamiliar kind of shame.  And the urge to skulk away as invisibly as possible.

Well, thank God it was all in my bleary head because it sucked.  I can’t explain why I jumped to the most negative explanation first except to say – I have had a REALLY, no – REEEEALLY, bad month or two where everything in my life seems to be dying or breaking or needing a root canal.  I think I have some sort of minor PTSD where I now just assume & expect the worst out of every encounter – whether it is with my dentist or the vet or the refrigerator repair man or my computer or my phone or ANY technology or my agent or my friends.  Step in dog shit?  In the dining room?  OF COURSE.  Why expect better?

Right now – I seem to explain everyone’s motivations with the darkest adjectives.  Every minor problem is just the first loose thread of an unraveling sweater.  Every cloud – a category five hurricane headed straight for my face.  My TEETH – actually.  My GOD – I have been having the most nightmarish monthly run of dental horror – I can’t even get into it.  Anyway – this isn’t ALWAYS the way (that I assume the grimmest outcomes & brace for disaster everywhere) but, lately, I really do seem to expect just the worst possible news from every possible source.  Coming home to a perfectly healthy, 4 year old dog – suddenly & inexplicably dead in his bed can really put the fear of God into you.  Nothing seems safe or stable after that.  So – I am writing off my bizarre conclusion at the Serving Spoon that way – the culmination of a seemingly endless run of bad luck.

And since I mentioned him – here is my gorgeous Grisbi.  RIP – August 16, 2012.

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But I digress –

Seated in a comfy booth, we were greeted by our waitress & a waiter brought us coffees.  My mother declared the coffee to be a mere 1 on a scale of 1-5.  I thought that was harsh & might have upped that to a 2 or 2.5 — but maybe that was just the gratitude talking – gratitude that we hadn’t been chased away by an angry mob calling us “crackers.”

🙂  If you can’t laugh at yourself….

My parents ordered eggs & some of the expected AM sides like grits and biscuits.  I had spied a plate go by that looked like THIS.

street-plate

(photo stolen from HERE)

A whole fish on a plate with its battered tail curled up into the air like fried flag.  I knew what I was gonna get.

I ordered the fried catfish – the fillet, not the whole fish – with a side of collard greens and mac & cheese.  It took a while for the food to come but wowsa!  Was it worth it!  Everything was piping hot & fresh.  The mac & cheese was not mushy or bland, the greens weren’t mushy either nor the salt lick that they are at Roscoe’s.  And the catfish?  THICK, like a chicken breast, and the crust was so crispy & perfect – I was in heaven.   A little lemon on the fish & it was even better.  Really – truly outstanding.  Look at it!

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Nothing had the slightest greasy element to it.  The cleanest, freshest soul food I have ever had.   NEVER go to Roscoe’s again – until you have tried this place.

Upon leaving, I asked my parents if The Serving Spoon had lived up to our hopes for a full blown 5-star rating and we agreed, unanimously, that it had.  I cannot recommend this place more highly!  Run, don’t walk.

ESPECIALLY if you are having a long run of bad luck (LIKE ME) and expecting nothing good (or worse) from everything in life (like I am).  Break the streak & treat yourself to the joy that is The Serving Spoon!

Oh!  And lastly – the music on The Serving Spoon’s website is YOU by Lucy Pearl (featuring Q-Tip & Snoop Dogg).  Video HERE.  Serving Spoon mentioned at 1:38.  Cool!

Me and nephew snoop was eating
At the serving spoon
And my partner skin it back
Was sitting with us too
And all of a sudden
Your body was inside
I couldn’t finish breakfast
Now something just aint right
Now snoop was looking like
What the hell is wrong with you
I said I know you understand
Youve been through a few
But this one is special
Special to me
Is it my imagination killing me

Sweet Potato (Yam) & Jalapeno Macaroni and Cheese

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

OK – this recipe made enough for 30+ people probably.  It filled a Martha Stewart 7 quart casserole pan to the brim.  Those suckers are made of cast iron & weigh a shit-ton empty.  With this dense recipe inside – I could barely lift the pot & bend over to get it in the stove.

A quick aside about these awesome Martha Stewart pots – that I once suggested folks buy cheap on Ebay – there has, it seems, been a recall.  Look at these guys, though:

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I got each of mine for probably close to $50 because they had minor chips in the enamel.  Not INSIDE the pots – but on the cosmetic exteriors.  I don’t care about the exteriors – and I love these pots.  But today, while researching the size mine are for this blog – I found a year old recall notice.  It read:

Hazard: The enamel coating on the cast iron casseroles can crack or break during use. This can cause the enamel to crack and fly off as a projectile, posing a risk of laceration or burn hazard to the user or bystanders.

Incidents/Injuries: Macy’s has received two reports of the enamel cracking and flying off of the casseroles during use. No injuries have been reported.

A Macy’s number was provided for more info.  I called it.  They said Macy’s will give you all your money with a receipt  or the “average price paid” for the item if you do not have a receipt.  I researched what folks had been given for their receipt-less returns & they seemed to average between $42-$99, depending on which pot, which Macy’s & which department manager you dealt with.  These guys originally retailed for $170 – so people are pissed.  And – FTW – I am just gonna risk shrapnel & burns because I cannot replace these two guys – even if I get $200 in credit.  They are already pretty scuffed on the outside.  Maybe that has released the pressure and I will be safe.  I don’t know.  I mainly cook with these INSIDE the oven rather than stove top – so – I’m not lugging 40 pounds of iron into the mall only to be handed an $82 store credit.  Harumph!

Moving on.

This recipe is not a science.  There is MUCH wiggle room & you can adjust the quantity of ingredients to suit your tastes.  Some people like dry mac & cheese – some like it wetter.  I belong to the latter category but will pretty much eat any mac & cheese I find myself in front of – assuming it is meatless.  Do not be freaked out by the quantity of garlic & of jalapenos.  I couldn’t really taste the impact of either – despite my mother’s bugged eyes as she witness me chop 14 jalapeno peppers and 20 cloves of garlic.  They seemed to blend in quite nicely.  Also – I used random cheeses I already had – like extra burrata & fresh mozzarella.  Any similar quantity of other mild cheeses would suffice.

Remember – this recipe is for 7 quarts of mac & cheese – enough for a very large group of people.  Also – while I am calling it a SWEET POTATO recipe – I used YAMS because of their brighter color.

However – you might want to read this bit I found explaining that these guys I am calling yams – are REALLY sweet potatoes.   Who knew?

In the United States, most tubers sold as yams are actually members of the sweet potato family. Your Garnets, your Jewels, the “yams” with the rich orange flesh and reddish-brown exterior, are, botanically, sweet potatoes. In fact, it’s quite likely that the vast majority of my readers – even the active ones including more carbohydrate in their diets – have never tasted a true yam. The reason for this discrepancy is simple marketing: back in the mid-20th century, when orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced into the United States, they were labeled “yams” to avoid confusion with the common white-fleshed sweet potato Americans were already enjoying. “Yam” was derived either from the Spanish “name” or Portuguese “inhame,” both of which come from the Wolof word “nyam,” which means “to sample” or “to taste.” Another African language uses “yamyam” for “to chew,” which should give you some idea of the starchy tuber’s importance in local diets – as well as the level of mastication required for its consumption.

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Sweet Potato & Jalapeno Macaroni and Cheese

PRE-HEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES

INGREDIENTS

26 cloves garlic

3 large Yams (or sweet potatoes) peeled & cut into 1/4 inch disks

6 TBS olive oil

1.5 lbs pasta (I used half corkscrew & half some kinda tubey pasta)

10 TBS butter

12 TBS flour

8 cups whole milk

6 cups shredded cheese (use a blend of mozzarella and/or cheddar and/or Italian or Mexican blend cheeses)

6 TBS chopped fresh rosemary

14 jalapenos – seeded & diced (food processor is handy here) – chop even more than 14 if you want to garnish the finished mac & cheese with fresh, uncooked peppers.

S&P to taste

BREAD CRUMB MIXTURE – optional

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese

4 TBS olive oil

DIRECTIONS

PRE-HEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES

In a large pot – boil the sliced yams & 20 (reserving 6) garlic cloves until the yams have softened.  Maybe 5 minutes.  Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon & re-use the hot water to boil your pasta (according to package directions).  Cook the pasta maybe one minute less than the package says to assure it is al dente.  Drain & set aside.

Once cool enough to handle (put the yams & garlic under cold running water to cool) – put the 20 cloves of garlic through a garlic press (or chop or mash another way) & set aside.

Dice the boiled yams.  Heat the olive oil in a large pan & saute the diced yams until they begin to caramelize.  This could take up to ten minutes.

Melt the butter – over low heat – in a large sauce pan & then add the flour.  Whisk until it is incorporated.  Up the flame to medium & gradually whisk in 6 cups of the milk (reserving 2 cups for later).   Stir constantly until all the milk is incorporated & it begins to thicken a bit.  It should be like unset pudding.  Thicker than that & mixing in the cheese will get difficult.

Mince the remaining 6 cloves of garlic.  Add both forms of garlic, most of the jalapeno (reserving a good handful for a topping later), the yams, rosemary, cheeses (reserving a fat handful for topping later) and pasta.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.

Grease either a very large 7 quart casserole – or several smaller ones – and carefully transfer HALF the mixture into the cooking pans.   Pour one cup of the reserved milk over the mac & cheese in the pan(s) & then top with the remainder of the mac & cheese.  Pour the rest of the milk on top of this.  Top with the remaining cheese & jalapenos (reserving some – if you chose to – to add raw at the end as a garnish).

This can be topped with a bread crumb mixture – though I opted not to.  To make the bread crumb mixture – just whisk the crumbs, olive oil & cheese together & sprinkle on top of the macaroni.

Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes – or until bubbly (golden – if using bread crumbs).  Let this sit a good ten minutes before serving.

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Traditional Deviled Eggs or with Shrimp or Truffle Oil or Pesto or Jalapenos or Sriracha or Harissa

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I love deviled eggs and I am always surprised at how popular they are – because the concept is kinda gross.  And they smell so farty.  Yet – these bad boys evaporate at parties.

I recently attended a little shindig & decided to bring a sampler assortment of deviled eggs.  I found a few cool tricks to make them better, too.  One – how to get the yolks centered in the egg so you can better stuff them with the deviled mixture:

To accomplish this in each egg you boil you need to do a little advance planning. The night before boiling, take the eggs out of the egg carton and place them in the carton so the eggs are horizontal, or on their sides. They won’t fit right in the egg carton, nor will you be able to close the carton lid. This will, however, set the yoke in the center for boiling.

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Secondly – the art of peeling:

ADD A TEASPOON OF BAKING SODA TO THE WATER YOU BOIL YOUR EGGS IN!!!  After hard boiling your eggs for 15 minutes, put them in cold water to bring the temperature down rapidly. You can even use ice cubes in your water, and you can change it several times—if you have the time—as the eggs will quickly warm the water up again.

Make sure they are cold as can be before you move on to the next step. This means the papery membrane is more likely to stick to the shell rather than your egg, so peeling is made super easy.

Tap the big end (bottom) of an egg onto the countertop so it cracks, then flip it and do the same for its more slender opposite end. This releases the pressure for the majority of the shell around the middle of the egg, and peeling the whole lot off should now be a breeze.

If the shell is still a little resistant to your charms, you can try peeling it underneath running cold water. It helps to persuade the shell away from the egg, as well as making for a perfect and clean finish to the outside to your egg.

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These tricks helped a lot.  There were a few eggs that got butchered in the peeling but far fewer than usual.  And look what I found inside one of them!

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This reminded me of my new fixation – Abby & Brittany – the two-headed girl.

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If you haven’t seen these gals on their new reality show – you need to.  They are amazing!

Anyway – I started with twenty eggs.  That’s a lot.  Reduce this recipe if you are not making these for a large group.

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Traditional Deviled Eggs

INGREDIENTS

20 hard boiled eggs – preferably chilled overnight (though this isn’t necessary)

1 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp hot sauce

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 TBS Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS: Harissa paste, pesto, jalapenos, shrimp, sriracha, truffle oil, chives, scallions, horseradish, parsley

DIRECTIONS

Carefully halve all your eggs & delicately remove the hard yolks.  Mix the yolks with the other ingredients.  Use a sandwich baggy with one corner cut out & use it as a pastry bag to fill your eggs without making a huge mess – like you see HERE.

And there you have it!

As to the variations – I took a portion of the traditional recipe & added things like cooked shrimp with chopped parsley:

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Jalapenos (four 4 deviled eggs I added 1/2 tsp horseradish sauce & 1 diced jalapeno)

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Harissa Eggs (for four – I added 2 tsp harissa paste & drizzled more on top) with paprika:

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White Truffle Eggs – for four eggs, I added 1-2 tsp white truffle oil & cracked pepper:

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Pesto Eggs – I added a dollop of pesto on top of the traditional eggs & some sliced scallions:

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Sriracha Eggs – I just drizzled sriracha on them:

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The potential for these guys is limitless.  Get creative!

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DECADENT Vegan NO CARB Summer Pasta with Zucchini Noodles, Avocado, Asparagus & Peas

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Hey!  Have you heard?  I wrote a really funny & dirty novel!  www.BathingBook.com.   Check out the reviews on Amazon!  Why not buy a copy?

vromans front vromans back

 

Do not be fooled by how closely this pasta resembles my recent spinach & pea pesto linguini.  It is a completely different animal.  This is a vegan dish but only by chance – rather than design.  It can be made carb-free or carb-heavy.  That is your call.  I went carb-heavy – because, quite frankly, I am a carb whore.  Thick & doughy midsections take dedication to preserve & I am committed to mine.  You might be devoted to your hard won abs – in which case – go carb-free.

But how can I make a carb-free pasta – you might ask.  Well – it is easier than you think.  Just use fresh zucchini instead of spaghetti!  I discovered this concept recently & I can foresee it becoming a regular thing in this house.  I thought I’d need a kitchen tool called a spiralizer and so I did a lot of research on which to buy before I headed out to get one.  Spiralizers can turn potatoes into curly fries or zucchini into pasta – among other things.  I was too impatient to buy one online so I headed to Bed Bath & Beyond yesterday just to get it.  Alas – they had none.  The guy there said a mandolin might do the trick and I have one of those – so I returned home to experiment.  I saw online that some folks said a food processor could create fettuccini-like noodles & others said a vegetable peeler could work, too.   I decided to experiment.

The mandolin was sort of effective but mine is so sharp & unstable – I was kinda freaked out.  Then I remembered!  Didn’t I have some odd sorta toothy, clawlike vegetable peeler deep in the chaotic disasters that are my kitchen tool drawers??  I dug around a bit & voila!!!  There it was!  With a sturdy, rubber Tonka handle & a plastic blade guard.

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I tried this on a sample zuke & it worked like a charm!  I held the peeled zucchini on one end with a fork & shaved away at the zucchini & got a wonderful spaghetti-like result.

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Look at this link & see how cool spiralized zucchini is – HERE.

This dish can be made pretty close to entirely raw – if that’s your thing.  Simply blanching the zucchini noodles for 2 minutes or sauteing the zucchini noodles in olive oil for 2-3 minutes will make them deliciously edible & the sauce is raw, too.  I’m not concerned with raw so much.   If you hate peas or asparagus – just leave them out.  This recipe can be made with or without actual pasta.  This version has pasta.  I am going to give you a recipe here that uses an entire box of spaghetti – and the zucchini noodles – so it would likely feed 4-6 as a main course.  You can adjust this easy recipe to use pasta or not – and change the quantities if you only want to make a serving or two.  If you make a lot – as I did – but do not want to eat it all up immediately – just keep the ingredients (zucchini noodles, pasta with peas & asparagus and the sauce) separate from each other & only blend them in the serving size you need when you are ready to eat it.  I would boil water & just reheat the actual pasta & veggies (a minute or two) before draining & then mixing with the zucchini & sauce.  Don’t heat the zucchini.  It will get soggy.

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DECADENT Vegan NO CARB Summer Pasta with Zucchini Noodles, Avocado, Asparagus & Peas

INGREDIENTS

1 lb spaghetti (if using)

6 large (peeled or not – your call) zucchini – spiralized or shaved into noodles (do not use the seeded center of the zukes)

1 cup frozen peas (optional)

10 spears asparagus – sliced into bite size pieces (optional)

SAUCE

2 large avocados

1/3 cup water

6 TBS fresh oregano

juice of 1/2 lemon

zest of entire lemon

chopped basil as garnish

s&p to taste

DIRECTIONS

Peel (or not) then shave, spiralize or grate your zucchini into noodles.  Do not use the seeded center part.  I saved my centers & peels & made a zucchini hummus out of them afterward.  You can use them any way you want or toss them.  Whatever.

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Once you have your noodles – put them in a colander in the sink & sprinkle a tsp salt over them.  Toss them to distribute the salt & let them drain while you make your sauce.

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In a food processor, blend your avocados, lemon juice & zest, oregano, water (use more or less – to get the right consistency) and S&P to taste.  This is – essentially – a guacamole.  Make it very creamy.

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Boil the water & cook your pasta according to directions.  In the last two minutes of the pasta cooking – add the peas & asparagus.  If not using pasta – just boil water & blanch the peas & asparagus for two minutes.  Drain.

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Now simply assemble the ingredients.  I made a single serving by using equal parts pasta & zucchini noodles & then tossed them with the sauce.  A little chopped basil and S&P and I was ready to eat.  The remaining part – I am bringing to a party tonight & will assemble THAT there!

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Cheers!

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