Rob’s mother Alice regularly has her girlfriends over and I’m always happy to get an invite. They are my very first South Jersey girlfriends and I really enjoy their company. We talk, laugh, share stories, drink wine and eat. We all sat around her deck this evening since it’s a bit cooler than it’s been and she has lots of nice, big shady trees. I love this dish and it was perfect tonight: a one-pot meal that she put on the table with a big bowl of rice and everyone helped themselves. It was seamless and easy. I know this is a bastardized version of a more authentic shrimp creole, but the point here is not to slave over homemade shrimp stock. And there are times, especially when girlfriends, wine and lots of chit-chat are involved, that it is of the utmost importance to stay put. If there’s a lot of running to-and-fro to get this-and-that or to make sure something is served at its perfect temp, you’re just plain old going to miss out. Miss the end of someone’s story when they’ve already more than moved on to another topic. “But what happened after she got locked in the school and had to call her husband? Or did the police get there first?…”
Pretty darn good bastardized version
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1, 1 pound can whole tomatoes
- 1, 8 ounce can seasoned tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- Dash of tabasco (or more to taste)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 4 teaspoons cold water
- 1 pound raw, cleaned shrimp
- 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Heat oil in a large pot and cook onion, celery and garlic until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and seasonings. Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Mix cornstarch and water and stir into sauce. Cook and stir until mixture thickens. Add shrimp, green pepper and parsley. Simmer for 5 minutes or until shrimp are just done. Serve with rice.
Credit: Recipe courtesy of Alice’s friend Betty.
I am a huge fan of rituals. I don’t normally eat breakfast, but my weekday breakfast-type ritual centers around coffee. My most favorite thing in the world is that timer on the coffee maker. I adore waking up to the smell of coffee. Aaaaaaaahhhhh. But after I drink my coffee and head to work, I usually start to feel hungry and wish my very own personal breakfast buffet was waiting for me. I don’t want breakfast as soon as I get up, but at some point between coffee and lunch I’m ready for eggspancakesbacontoastpotatoesetc. Sigh. I can dream, can’t I? The reality is if I ate all that, I would fall into a languid stupor, go back to bed and roll up in the covers. Who knows when I would emerge? Reality check: I’d like to keep my day job AND fit into my clothes. But, there are such things as weekends and I try to linger if only for just a little while. We (in the general sense) are sometimes just a bit too busy, aren’t we? Breakfast can be a way to sloooow down and put off some of the inevitable.
There is a happy middle ground: Frittata Cups. A frittata is an Italian, egg-based dish sort of like an omelette, but everything is mixed together instead of folding the eggs over their fillings as in an omelette. Just about anything can go into a frittata (my grandmother’s version had pepperoni and ricotta cheese-YUM!) and traditionally they’re made in a pan and then broiled a bit on top, but I’ve made it much easier. These wonderful creations are baked in cupcake tins and are so quick and easy. They can be eaten hot or at room temperature, are immensely satisfying and can also be made low-fat and low-carb by using egg substitute and low-fat cheese. I make a bunch, store in the fridge in a ziploc bag and take them to work with me. When it’s time for lunch, I pop one or two in the microwave (just enough to get the cheese a little melty), grab the hot sauce and dream of lingering…
Great for breakfast, snack or light lunch.
Makes 12 servings
- 8 eggs or 1 1/2 cups egg substitute
- 1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach
- 1 cup shredded cheese (your favorite or low fat cheddar)
- 1/4 cup diced red peppers
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with foil baking cups and spray the cups with cooking spray. Unwrap the spinach and microwave on high for 2 1/2 minutes. Squeeze the excess liquid from the spinach (the best way to do this is with your hands until it’s a tight ball). Place in a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients and combine well. Divide evenly among the baking cups. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes.
These can be frozen and reheated in the microwave. Any combination of vegetables, cheeses, herbs or meat can be used – the sky’s the limit!
Credit: inspired by the South Beach Diet’s Vegetable Quiche Cups to Go.
I bought a flat (6 pints) of blueberries this past weekend and all I could think was BLUEBERRY PIE! There is nothing, absolutely nothing, for me like homemade pie. I can’t cheat my way through it and wouldn’t want to anyway. It has been ridiculously hot and humid here in South Jersey (up into the 100’s) so that should tell you something if I’m that motivated to even turn on the oven. But the blueberries beckoned and am I insane?! Yes, mad for homemade pie, she said. Confession: the big gaping hole in the pie in the photo is what I had for breakfast. Listen, if I’m going to go through this much trouble, I want it for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Yes, I do and yes, I did.
James McNair taught me to bake pies. For some reason, pies were not in my family’s baking repertoire. In fact, I have a childhood memory of one actually being thrown out the window by my mother. Even at a young age, I knew that was very, very wrong. How could she do that to a blueberry pie?! Frustration, she said. Sacrilege, I said. Back in the days of yore when I started baking, before YouTube, etc., there was James McNair’s Pie Cookbook:
Glossy pages with beautiful photographs and step-by-step photo instructions. I love you James McNair. Since I was 23 in 1989, the year this book was published, I’ll admit that some of the “80’s New Wave” stylings going on were very attractive and appealing. Let’s just say I made my first pie and none of it went out the window. It was a gorgeous peach pie and pure bliss.
There was something kind of weird and cosmic going on recently. I turned on the tv and there was James McNair! He was judging a “Build a Better Burger” contest on Food Network. He could have been judging “Building the Seven Wonders of the World with Legos” for all I cared. It was him. I stood there like a lunatic screaming at the tv, at my god of pies, “thank you James, I love you James”!
Well worth the work!
Makes one 9″ double-crust pie
Basic Pie Crust:
I should note that I have tried 3 different versions of pie crust: all butter, all shortening and a combination of both. I am a fan of the butter and shortening version for flavor and all-around flakiness. Also, of all the thickeners I’ve tested for the filling: cornstarch, flour and ground tapioca, tapioca is by far the best. It preserves the appearance and flavor of the fruit the best while thickening the juice without being gummy.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 4 tablespoons cold, all-vegetable shortening, cut into cubes
- 6-8 tablespoons ice water
Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, 2 butter knives or your fingertips as quickly as possible until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture and combine with the flat side of a spatula or your fingertips just until the dough holds together. If the dough seems too crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a disk. Dust disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling.
- 3 pints (6 cups), rinsed and picked over, blueberries
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons ground tapioca
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Combine the sugar, nutmeg and ground tapioca in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and lemon juice to the sugar mixture and stir until the berries are coated and none of the sugar is dry. Adjust the oven rack to center position, place a sheet pan on the rack (to catch drips) and heat to 400 degrees.
Remove one piece of dough from the fridge. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable. Roll one disk between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper (much easier rolling method!) into a circle larger than pie pan. Peel away top sheet and flip into 9″ pie pan. Remove the second sheet and gently press dough into sides of pan, leaving a portion hanging over the lip of the pan all the way around.
Turn the fruit mixture, including juices, into the pie shell. Scatter the butter pieces over the fruit. Refrigerate until ready to top with remaining dough.
Roll out second dough disk, between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper, peel away the top sheet, flip and place over filling. Trim top and bottom edges to 1/2″ beyond pan lip.Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut 4 slits on dough top with a sharp knife to release steam during baking. If the pie dough is very soft, place in freezer for 10 minutes before baking. Beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons water for an egg wash. Lightly brush this all over the top of the pie. It really does make a difference.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake until the top crust is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool to almost room temperature so juices have time to thicken. If you can wait that long, probably 1 to 2 hours.
Credits: James McNair’s Pie Cookbook, The Best Recipe and Joy of Cooking.
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and mediterranean vegetable relish! Huh?! We went to visit our friends for a July 4th barbecue and I would have loved to have baked a pie or made some deviled eggs, but just could not. My roots were calling again (see About) and instead I brought the flavors of the mediterranean to celebrate being an American. And of course, the crusty bread – my favorite scoop for all things scoopable. I love this photo and picture myself nestled on top of a pile of sliced, crusty bread instead of the relish. I only have to turn my head slightly and nibble.
This relish is similar to the Sicilian condiment caponata (eggplant relish), but requires no cooking. It has great flavor with lingering notes of olives and roasted peppers. It’s perfect for an appetizer and makes enough that I was able to leave half at home (yay). I sliced 2 baguettes, used all 4 ends to “taste-test” and still had plenty left over. The ratios of all the ingredients are about the same so you can use cup measurements if you’re using olive bar/deli ingredients or can/jar measurements if using cans/jars. I’ve used both and there’s really no difference in flavor. I say use whatever is cheapest and easiest. The beauty of this is there’s really no way to wreck it, there’s no cooking involved whatsoever and it’s delicious. Our friend John said it reminded him of the spread used on a mufuletta sandwich. He’s right! If you’re wondering here’s the quick version: spread the relish on a long sandwich roll and layer on ham, salami, provolone cheese and… dig in.
Mediterranean Vegetable Relish
Makes about 6 cups or 1 1/2 quarts
- 1/4 cup red onion
- 1 14 oz can artichoke hearts
- 1 12 oz jar roasted red peppers
- 1 cup (or small jar) spanish olives
- 1 cup (or small jar) kalamata olives
- 1 1/2 cups diced tomato (drained if using canned)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough chopped consistency. The longer this sits, the better! But, it still tasted great right out of the food processor scooped, of course, onto crusty bread.