Thursday, January 31, 2013

Crab Imperial

One of my favorite indulgences is crab imperial - luscious cream sauce and lots of lump crab meat come together for one terrific main dish. I usually serve it with Parker House or yeast rolls and not much anything else.

The picture is the leftovers from a double batch I made for some friends (they brought me the pretty flowers) as I forgot to take one earlier.

Crab Imperial

2 T flour
2 T butter
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1lb crab meat
1/2 cup mayonaise
1 T onion juice (about a half onion, grated)
1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco
bread crumbs

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and sprinkle on the flour. Stir over medium heat for 5 minutes to remove the flour taste and bring out a bit of color. Slowly add the milk, whisking to remove any lumps. Cook until the sauce is just beginning to boil. Right before removing from heat, beat in the egg. Add mayo, mustard, onion, salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Stir well to combine.

Add one handful of bread crumbs and the crab meat to the cream sauce. Stire to combine. Pour in a greased casserole dish. Top with browned, buttered bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees (176 C) for 30 minutes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

I was reading a blog the other day about how to be poor in American. It wasn't complaining about being poor or looking at the causes of poverty but, rather, offering some useful coping mechanisms for living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet when you're not.

I was thinking about that when my horrible cold drove me to make my biggest comfort food - chicken and dumplings. See, I don't just grab some store bought stock or a can of pre-made soup. Naw, I make it from scratch but I go to my frugal bags.

See, when I get a whole chicken to roast or grill, I usually take off the wings, neck and backbone and freeze them. When I cut onions or celery or carrots, I take the peelings, leaves and ends and paper that are typically discarded and freeze them, too. When I have about two bags of chicken parts and a bag of veggies pieces, I can make stock. After tossing the contents of the bags into a big stockpot, I cover it with water, bring to a boil and then simmer for a while.

Or, if you want a real recipe:

Chicken Stock
1 3lb chicken, divided or three pounds of chicken parts
1 onion, quartered
3 carrots, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped.

Put everything in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about an hour and half. Skim off foam during cooking.

When the stock is done, strain out the solids and pick out the chicken meat. My frugal method, using the parts from 4 chickens, yielded almost 3 cups of chicken meat. Using a whole chicken, you should have enough meat from the thighs, wings, etc to reserve the breast meat for another meal. Place the stock in the fridge to cool. In a couple of hours (or overnight), remove the chicken fat that has risen to the top.

You now have chicken stock and are ready for the next step. You'll need six cups of chicken broth for my Chicken and Dumplings, so be sure and freeze any additional for future use.

Today, my future is now.

My Chicken and dumplings start with a delicious chicken soup.

Chicken Soup:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken stock
Reserved chicken (about 3 cups of shredded chicken)
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk

To prepare soup: In a Dutch oven, melt butter and heat oil over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, garlic, and bay leaves. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Continue to stir and cook for 5 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste. Do not let the roux burn or turn dark brown. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition to remove any lumps.

Bring the sauce to a boil and then let simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, around 15 to 30 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, it is time to make the dumplings.

To prepare the dumplings: sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and milk together; pour the liquid in the dry ingredients and gently fold. Mix just until the dough comes together, the batter should be thick and cake-like.

Back to the soup: Fold the reserved shredded chicken into the sauce and bring up to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Let the dumplings poach for 10 to 15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. 

Place into bowls and grind some freshly cracked black pepper on each serving.
Just the ticket for my cold and pocketbook!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Midway Pizza

I went to Midway Pizza on Freret last night with a couple of friends. This place bills itself as the only Deep Dish/Chicago Style in New Orleans.

We started with bread sticks – there was a nice, gooey layer of cheese but the sticks were made from the pizza crust and were just a little too dense for my taste. Also, the accompanying sauce was pretty darn bland.

The pizza itself was plenty good – lots of cheese, a good quantity of toppings and a peppery quality to the sauce. The dough was chewy and had a lot of mouth appeal.

Because the pizza is deep dish, most folks will be fine with two slices. The three of us split a 14” and only one piece was left over.

The waitstaff was very friendly, with a number of them stopping by the table to check on things. They were quick with refills and fixing our rocking table.

If you’re a deep dish fan, this is definitely a place to go.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mel's Diner in Lafayette

I was in Lafayette again and I stopped at Mel's Diner on Highway 90 as I headed back to New Orleans. I'm a fan of old time diners, those with garish colors and lots of chrome are my favs. This particular one used pink and turquoise.

It was also a lot cleaner than many of the diners I've been in and a heckuva lot colder. They must keep the thermostat at 50 degrees because I swear it was warmer outside!

There weren't many folks in when I got there, so I got the waitress to give me a 50/50 sweet/unsweet tea while I read over the menu. Lots of typical diner food and even a few healthful options.

Anyway, I wasn't in the mood for a burger or for catfish so I went for the Chicken Fried Steak Dinner. It comes with a starch (french fries, mashed potatoes or baked potato) and a vegetable. I didn't want any of the veggies I could select from, so the waitress just  gave me both fries and mashed potatoes instead.

The meal was pretty good - the white gravy wasn't overly salty and very generously covered the good sized piece of meat. The beef was tender and the coating was tasty. The fries were a little crispier than I prefer but, soaked in gravy, they were pretty darn good.

Not a bad meal but remember to bring a sweater!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cajun Cafe

I was making another loop around South Louisiana and had decided to get off US Highway 90 and try the Scenic Byway. Louisiana Highway 182 took me through several small towns and I stopped for lunch in Houma.

The Cajun Cafe struck my eye with the colorful mural on the outside wall.

And it is more than just a cafe! Once I went inside, I found that there is a bar and a dancehall, with live music regularly.

I ordered the shrimp poboy with fried onion twists.

There were a lot of shrimp although it was a little obvious by their slight sogginess that they had been sitting there for a while. They still tasted fine, though. The fried onion twists were fried fresh and very good.

I was the only customer at a little after 2:30 and, instead of rushing me out the door so they could close, the waitstaff was friendly and chatty.

Who knows if I shall ever be on that road again but, if I do, the atmosphere alone might be worth a revisit.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Margarita and Sweet Potato, Black Bean Enchiladas

I'm trying to eat a little healthier this year and, towards that goal, I bought a number of sweet potatoes during my first grocery store visit of 2013. Tonight's dinner was all about using some of the ones that I had baked the other night.

This is my favorite margarita recipe and what I began drinking as I started cooking. And, shut up! I said a 'little healthier' not abstemious!

Agave Margarita

Kosher salt
Lime wedges
1/4 cup tequila 
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Pour some kosher salt into a small dish. Rub a lime wedge over the rim of your preferred margarita glass. Dip rim of glass into salt. 

Combine tequila, agave nectar, and juice in a cocktail shaker; add ice and shake well. Pour into prepared glass and drop in a few ice cubes. Garnish with lime slice.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

3 sweet potatoes or 1 to 1 1/2 cups mashed
1 lb ground meat (I used venison)
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chipolte powder
15 oz can black beans, partially drained
3 cups cheddar cheese, divided
6 or so flour tortillas
Salsa, sour cream, guacamole

Bake the sweet potatoes in a 365 degree F oven for about an hour. Once they are done, remove from oven and slice in half. Scoop out inside and mash roughly.

Brown the meat in a large skillet. Once browned and the grease is drained, remove the meat and set aside. Wipe out skillet and add a little olive oil to the pan and saute the onion and garlic until translucent but not browned, about five minutes. 

Return meat to the pan. Add the spices and stir until their aroma is released. Add the beans and most of the liquid from the can. Stir well before adding the mashed sweet potato. Add half the cheese and stir. Taste for seasoning - you may need to add some salt.

Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish. Fill the tortillas with the filling, roll tightly and place in casserole dish. Repeat until you run out of filling or room. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes. Switch to broil and broil for 5 minutes or until the cheese is nicely golden and bubbly.

Serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cheese Grits

I love grits. I love them made with water or with milk, with cheese or without, for breakfast, for dinner and even the next day fried in a pan with a drizzle of syrup or honey. Here is my recipe for cheese grits and a recipe for Shrimp and Grits. My version uses water and a lot of butter to make them creamy and delicious.

Cheese Grits

1 cup quick grits, not instant grits
4 cups water
1/2 cup butter, 1 stick cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

In a large pot bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the grits, stirring quickly to remove all the lumps. Add the butter and salt and stir until the butter is melted. Allow the grits to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Serve.

Shrimp and Grits

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, left whole if small and cut in half if medium or large

6 slices bacon, chopped into tiny pieces

1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh parsley

Cheesy grits (recipe above)

Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned and crisp, then drain on a paper towel. Saute the onion and garlic in the bacon grease over medium heat until onions are fragrant and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp to the skillet and sauté just until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook! Immediately add the lemon juice and stir. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Pour a serving of grits into a bowl or rimmed plate. Place a serving of the shrimp mixture over the grits. Garnish with the bacon bits and parsley.