Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yellow Squash Cornbread Dressing w/ Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs



As the song goes, "I'm just a Mississippi boy.  Still got Mississippi mud on my boots.  I'm just a Mississippi boy.  Well, I wanna go back to my roots.  Tired of the fast food.  Raised on cornbread and collard greens.  Chitlins and hog maws!  A big old pots of beans... "  Uhh, now what y'all know 'bout that?



It's that time, again!  The winter holidays are here.  While the holidays are largely a time of year to celebrate cultural traditions and enjoy our families, it's also important to maintain the utmost regard for cultural competence during the holiday season.  We can all do so simply by respecting the different faith traditions and cultures in our communities and country at large.  For a case in point, consider an acquaintance whom I witnessed wishing someone Merry Christmas and the person turned out to be Jewish.  Awkward.  As another example, I was recently at a legislative breakfast for work and one of the attendees decided to pray in the middle of his introduction.  It was not ecumenical.  Then, on two separate occasions, the absolute worst thing imaginable happened: I had to eat stuffing.

I am obviously joking about the stuffing, but cultural competence does, in fact, extend to the traditional foods that we eat.  About once a year, I tell one of my friends (from the Northeast) that I'm making cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving or Christmas and without fail, I'm met with a puzzled look.  Then, I explain to them exactly what I mean, and we get a good laugh out of the ordeal because they usually think I'm talking about salad dressing.  Bizarre!  So, I figured it's as good a time as any to revisit the stuffing vs dressing debate.  While the terms have technical meaning: stuffing the bird as opposed to dressing the bird, they are also regionalized descriptive terms: dressing (in the South) is traditionally made with cornbread and stuffing (in the North) is traditionally made with dry bread or croutons. According to Clinton Kelly from ABC's The Chew about "83% of northerners say stuffing and about half the people in the South say dressing". Over on the Food Network Blog, they state that "many southerners are die-hard dressing fans" and I fall squarely in that category.

Cornbread dressing has more of a cohesive, casserole-like consistency and there are a variety of techniques for making it.  Some cooks use only cornbread, while others use leftover biscuits, sandwich bread, crackers, or other breads that are leftover and/or frozen for later use.  I, personally, like the casserole-like consistency of dressing and the added textured of toasted bread in my dressing so that's what I use.  Then, for some protein, I usually add oysters; however, I was out of luck this year.  I went to two different grocery stores and they were both out of oysters.  So, I improvised.  Considering I've made yellow squash dressing in the past with great results, I decided to use yellow squash and a gourmet mushroom blend of baby bella, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms.  After tasting the dressing, I must say that I'm officially sold.  The dressing was absolutely scrumptious and considering that yellow squash and the gourmet mushroom blend cost about half as much as the oysters would have, I might call it a bargain.

Yellow Squash Cornbread Dressing w/ Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs 


Ingredients:


  • 1/2 lb cornbread
  • 1 loaf Italian bread (1/2 lb total), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 lb gourmet mushrooms (baby bella, shiitake, and oyster)
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme, crumbled)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried sage, crumbled)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 yellow squash, washed and sliced into 1/4" rounds
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 1/4 cups vegetable stock 

Directions:


Prepare cornbread batter and bake until fully cooked and golden brown.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread bread cubes in two shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool bread in pans on racks, then transfer to a large bowl. 

Heat olive oil in a 12-in heavy skillet over moderate heat.  Cook mushrooms, celery, onions, thyme, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, steam or blanch the yellow squash rounds until just soft, about 4 to 6 minutes.  Set aside.

Transfer cornbread and bread cubes to a large bowl and crumble to the desired texture.  I prefer to crumble the cornbread and some of the bread cubes (about 1/3) into small pieces and leave the remaining bread cubes intact.  Add the vegetable mixture and yellow squash to the bowl, then stir in parsley and butter.  Drizzle with stock, then season with salt and pepper and toss well. 

Transfer stuffing to a buttered casserole baking dish.  Bake, covered, in middle of oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.  


Friday, December 21, 2012

Garlic Lo Mein Noodles w/ Black Beans & Sweet Potato Ribbons


This is a recipe of convenience.  I got home late one night with few groceries in the house and no leftovers.  I didn't feel like making a grocery store run.  So, I went in the kitchen seeking inspiration and suddenly the black void was filled with light.  I decided to pull together a dish with lo mein noodles, garlic, and black beans.  I just happened to have some leftover sweet potato rounds (thinly sliced with a mandoline) on hand that I used for a trial run of making homemade potato chips, and the sweet potato lover in me decided to add those to the mix.  I used this recipe for Homemade Noodles with Black Beans and Tamari as a guide.

Garlic Lo Mein Noodles w/Black Beans & Sweet Potato Ribbons


Ingredients:

  • 1 package Lo Mein Noodles
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • 1/3 cup scallions, chopped into 1/4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup Low Sodium Tamari
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup sweet potato rounds, thinly sliced with a mandoline

Directions:


Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the next four ingredients and cook until the garlic begins to brown.  Add the scallions, tamari, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, and tamarind paste and cook until the sauce has reduced and is syrupy.  Add the black beans and sweet potato rounds.  Stir to combine.  Cook for a few additional minutes.  Add about 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer the sauce until it reaches the desired consistency.  

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Toss with the garlic sauce and enjoy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, or roasted sesame seeds.  



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sweet Sesame Seaweed Salad w/ Mandarin Oranges


For the past few days, I've been hosting a friend from Brown (my alma mater).  We spent our time together catching up on life, sharing meals, lounging around, and reminiscing about the good old college days.  Yeah, she was, by far, the most low maintenance guest ever!   She left on yesterday, with a newfound appreciation for Charm City I might add.  That means I'll have about two seconds to catch my breath before welcoming another friend--from Mississippi--to the city later tonight.

On days like this, when time is of the essence, I like to pull together a quick entree salad, instead of cooking, to save time and calories (budgeting for those cocktails, you know).  In this case, I used the ingredients I had on hand and built the salad around the sweet sesame seaweed that I bought at Trader Joe's over the weekend.  I added ingredients that I thought would complement the seaweed and provide a nice flavor contrast. The resulting salad was juicy, sweet, crunchy, and slightly pungent--a win all around for me.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!


Sweet Sesame Seaweed Salad w/ Mandarin Oranges



Ingredients:


  • 1 serving of Escarole Lettuce Blend (escarole, endive & radicchio), roughly 2 cups
  • 2 tbsp green onions
  • 1 handful matchstick carrots
  • 2 tbsp whole water chestnuts, thinly sliced with a mandoline
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup julienned smoked sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup mandarin oranges
  • 2 tbsp Blue Stilton Cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Blend
  • 2 tbsp Sweet Sesame Seaweed

Direction:


In a large bowl, combine first 10 ingredients and mix well.  Plate the salad on a large dinner plate and garnish with sweet sesame seasweed.  Enjoy!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pasta con Le Cozze


Shortly after moving to Hampden, I stumbled upon Daniela Pasta & Pastries.  It's a relatively small family-owned Sardinian storefront on "The Avenue" with the appeal of Italy sandwiched between its four walls. There are two small tables inside the restaurant with additional outdoor seating available as the weather permits.  Everything from the pasta and raviolis to the pastries are all handmade and the selection seems to change quite regularly.  Every time I drop by, I'm completely blown away.

On my first visit, right after moving to the neighborhood, I had the most pleasant conversation with the counter attendant and a group of restaurant patrons (who seemed to be closely connected to the restaurant) about my move down from Philly and my domestic travels.  I had my first Arancini Di Riso (crispy fried risotto balls) here, an Italian street food.  I've also had divine pastries and a memorable lasagna here, and I recently had a crab ravioli (with butternut squash if I remember correctly) that was out of this world.  I've even had a low tea with a friend here.  So, I've made quite a few memories at Daniela.

On my last visit, I was intrigued by one of their pasta dishes, Pasta Fagioli.  Unfortunately, I couldn't have any because it had ham in it, and that was all the reason I needed to buy my very first box of ditalini pasta at my local grocer.   Pasta Fagioli is a cross between pasta and soup and so is this pasta.  I started out by making a huge stockpot of vegetable broth with leftover vegetables that I froze to reuse/recycle (e.g., broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, sweet peppers, and mushroom stems) along with cilantro, garlic, quartered onions, two lemongrass stalks, carrots, celery, and salt and pepper.  I covered the vegetables in water and let them simmer for about three hours over low heat.  The stock had a great depth of flavor and I highly recommend a homemade vegetable broth if you have the time.  Try putting it on, first thing in the morning, when you wake up and it's ready by lunchtime.


Pasta con Le Cozze


Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley (about a handful)
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2 lb bag of mussels, washed and cleaned
  • 1 cup Ditalini pasta
  • 7 quarts vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 28 oz can Kitchen Cut Roma Tomatoes with Basil
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 4 fingerling potatoes, diced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Pecorino Romano, shredded

Directions:


Bundle the fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves together in a cheesecloth.  Set aside.

In a large stockpot, cook garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until beginning to soften.  Add vegetable broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  

Add mussels and bundle of herbs and cook until they have all opened, stirring constantly.  Using tongs, remove the mussels from the pot as they open (so they don't overcook) and set aside.

Add pasta, carrots, celery, and potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is al dente and vegetables are soft to the bite.  

Remove from heat.  Recombine the mussels with the soup, and let the soup rest for about 20 minutes.  Remove cheesecloth containing the fresh herbs and discard. 

Before serving, drizzle pasta with olive oil and cheese.   For a really indulgent meal, enjoy with crusty bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, and cheese.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lace Edge Corn Cakes


What's the best breakfast or brunch you've ever had?   As I lie in bed pondering that very question this morning, I had an epiphany: I absolutely love a Creole/Cajun breakfast.  I effortlessly recalled the amazing brunch I enjoyed with friends, in our Sunday best, at Pappadeaux Seafood in Houston, TX.  I thought about the beignets from Cafe Du Monde that I ate on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I remembered the frequent trips to Dixie Kitchen (a favorite of the POTUS, btw) for their eggs sardou.  I smiled thinking of all the incredible food I've had from my friends' homes in South Mississippi and mom-and-pop restaurants, roadside stands, and corner stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Given my love for breakfast, I realized the dearth of breakfast recipes on my blog didn't accurately capture my relationship with breakfast food.  So, I decided to comb through several of my favorite cookbooks for some inspiration.  Interestingly enough, I encountered the very same problem.  There were the obligatory biscuit and shrimp and grits recipes, but breakfast was mostly an afterthought. The cookbook B. Smith Cooks Southern Style was a godsend.  The cookbook is divided into twelve chapters and each chapter is dedicated to a food category.  I beelined for the brunch chapter and discovered an intriguing recipe for Lacy-Edged Batty Cakes.  Smith notes that a headline from John Thorne's book Simple Recipes reads:
"There are various recipes for this corn cake, made famous by the once-annual 'Batty Cake Brekfus' on the morning of the Kentucky Derby, where they were served along with 'sawsidges, 'lasses, sputterin' coffee and fried apples.'"
These corn cakes seemed like an interesting choice for breakfast, but as a cornbread/tamale/corn cake lover, I had to try them.  The corn cakes turned out incredibly light, crispy, buttery, and were best eaten right out of the skillet (trust me on this).  Forget Lay's, I betcha can't eat just one Lace Edge Corn Cake.  These corn cakes are in the same family as hot water cornbread and are great with apple butter, eggs, salmon, cheese, and tomatoes.  They also make a great base for an eggs benedict.


Lace Edge Corn Cakes*


Ingredients:


  • 3/4 cup white cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powdeer
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Vegetable oil, for cooking as needed

Directions:


In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and egg.  Fold in the cornmeal mixture, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed.  Add the melted butter.  

Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and lightly oil the surface.  Using 1 tablespoon of batter for each cake, fry about 4 at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until cakes begin to bubble and bottoms are golden.  Flip with a spatula and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.  Serve immediately.


* recipe adapted from B. Smith Cooks Southern Style

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fig, Hoch Ybrig Cheese, and Balsamic Caramelized Onion Sandwich



Some people look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.  -Zora Neale Hurston


I've been conditioned to think of Tallahassee, Florida every time I see or eat figs, and today was no different.  It all began in the summer of 1990.  My two aunts had convinced my grandmother to allow my two brothers and me to come back to Tallahassee, Florida with them after we had begged and pleaded to no end.  We loaded up my aunt's infamous Chevrolet Spectrum, that she had driven anywhere the wind blew her, and made the long drive to Monday Court, Tallahassee.  It was a peculiar place reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston's Florida.  One of our neighbors was an elderly black lady with snow white hair who would disappear into the woods collecting spanish moss for her home-brewed tea.  The neighborhood kids were a rowdy bunch who cursed their elders, threw fireworks at cars driving by, and once, they literally stirred up a hornet's nest.  There was also a fig tree behind our house, and I wish I had known the joys of this sandwich back then, but we neglected them, leaving them to ripen and fall off the tree.  The overly ripe figs then became play objects for the neighborhood kids as they ran around the neighborhood smashing figs on people's backs.  Before returning to Mississippi that fall, we would experience the joys of city life, the glory of the beach, and the magic of Walt Disney World.

It's funny how things change.  I was at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland two weeks ago and the vegetarian option for lunch one day was a fig, caramelized onion, and goat cheese sandwich on ciabatta bread.  To be quite honest, I didn't exactly jump for joy and I was disappointed that there wasn't a more substantial option.  I sulked for all of three seconds and got over it.  And, I'm so glad I did.  Who would have thunk it, but this combination is fiyahhhhh!!!  I couldn't wait to come home and recreate the sandwich.

I went to the Wine Source for a bottle of wine and ended up buying everything I needed for the sandwich right there.  The cheesemonger recommended Hoch Ybrig as a great cheese for sandwiches and grilled cheeses, and I grabbed a container of Dalmatia Fig Spread and a mini baguette from their specialty foods section.  I then came home and used the leftover pearl onions I bought for the Three-Mushroom Bourguignon to make balsamic caramalized onions, and--voila!--dinner is served.



Fig, Hoch Ybrig Cheese, and Balsamic Caramelized Onion Sandwich


Ingredients:


  • 1 mini-baguette or ciabatta bread
  • 1 pat of softened butter
  • 1 piece of Hoch Ybrig cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Dalmatic fig spread
  • 1/4 cup balsamic caramelized onions

Directions:


Adjust oven to low broiler setting.  Slice the baguette in half, and if preferred, pinch out a portion of the inside bread.  Butter the bread and place the cheese on one half of the baguette.  Place on a baking sheet and insert in the oven, about 5" below the broiler.  Broil until the cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add fig spread and balsamic caramelized onions.  Carefully fold over to seal.  Enjoy!


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