Monday, April 21, 2014

UPBEAT, DOWN EAST CONCH CHOWDER





   On calm, sunny days, when the swells at Beaufort Inlet are smooth enough to negotiate in our little motor boat, we ride the waves  up the coast of Shackleford Banks, part of the National Seashore, toward Cape Lookout about eight miles away.

   Sometimes we see the wild ponies grazing on the top of the dune line, or frolicking in the shallow water near the hook of the cape.

Right or Left-handed Whelks, or Carolina Conch


   And if it's really calm, we can anchor the boat close enough to shore to wade or swim in to the beach.  It's such a thrill to walk this powdery, white strip and see hardly another living soul, filling my bucket with gorgeous specimens of olive shells, whelks, or if I'm really lucky, a Scotch bonnet, NC's state shell.  But the whelk shells we've gathered over the years are the prizes that line my bookshelves, the porch and garden back home.

   On the sound side of Shackleford, we've seen a few live whelks, or what locals call conch.  There are more in Bogue Sound, south of Morehead down to Swansboro, where shrimpers dredge them up while waiting for the shrimp to come in each spring.  We've never taken one home, knowing that it's a real pain to extract the meat from the shell and then a mess to clean. Then you've got to beat the meat to tenderize it.

   And so last week, around Tax Day in April, we were at Willis's Seafood market in Salter Path, down Bogue Banks, hunting for our dinner.  Wade Willis was washing up some thick, large strips I didn't recognize.   "What's that?" my husband, Steve,  asked.

   "Conchhhhh," he replied.  Steve didn't understand, so we both listened more closely when we asked again. 
   "Connnn."  He looked over his shoulder at us like we were deaf and dumb.  "Connnch, you know, from out there," he nodded toward the water.
   Hum.  Conch...."conk?"  Yep, he nodded.
A pound of cleaned conch from Willis Seafood, Salter Path
   Seems the locals down this way don't pronounce the "ch" as a "k" sound, but rather garble the "ch" as in "church."
  And they are scientifically of the Busycon genus, truly whelks - channeled, lightning or knobbed whelks - that are either right or left-handed, depending on what side their opening is.  But don't start talking whelks to anybody along Bogue Sound, because they are simply "conchhhh."

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH CONCH?
Now, we've helped beat a piece of conch to tenderize it for frying while in the Abacos, in the Bahamas.  We love the spicy, cool salad of conch served ceviche style on Grand Cayman, and in fritters in the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands.

   So what do they do with "conch" Down East in North Carolina?   Fritters and fried, yes, but mostly they make a stew that's very similar to the traditional Outer Banks clam chowder, with some kind of pork, usually fat back, with onions and potatoes.  Along this middle section of NC's oceanfront, also called the Crystal Coast, they'll add cornmeal for thickening, or add cornmeal dumplings at the end of cooking.  It's a special treat served in a few, old-fashioned restaurants each spring, such as the Crab Shack in Salter Path.
The cleaned, conch "muscle."

   Conchs are basically sea snails, wound up inside their shells.  Old cookbooks tell readers to place the conch in the freezer, which makes it easier to pull the muscle from the shell.  Otherwise, you have to drill or beat a hole in the top of the shell to get their foot suction loose.  They need to be cleaned, all the black surface that contains toxins to humans, totally removed.

One recipe in an older cookbook from Carteret County suggested if you had a large number of conch to clean, to put them in your washing machine.  You can clean the washer later with bleach, the lady advised.

  If you are frying up large sections, then you'll need to tenderize the meat.  It's a good way to get out any aggressions or tensions you may have built up, beating the conch with a hammer or board, till the meat is pressed thin. 

Minced cooked conch
Since I wanted to make a stew to ward off the cool, wet spring weather, I sliced each muscle into small chunks, as some of the old recipes suggested, then simmered them in water for a couple of hours until tender.   I worried a bit, as the smell while the conch simmered was not very appetizing, but tastes of the meat proved it was fine, a little like clam, a little bit more fishy.
 
   Then I minced the tender, cooked meat.  I softened chopped bacon and onions together over low heat, then to the pot added canned tomatoes, the minced conch, chopped red potatoes, and enough water to cover, then left it on a slow simmer until the potatoes were tender.  Then I spiced it up with a bit of Old Bay, and red pepper flakes.
                Oh my.  Yep.  Tasty, soul-warming.  Made me dream of beaching it at Shackleford on a warm summer day, filling my bucket with lots of shells. 

UPBEAT, DOWN EAST CONCH CHOWDER

about 1 pound cleaned conch 
several slices of thick bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
about 1 1/2 cup chopped potatoes
6 to 8 cups of water
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1tablespoon Old Bay, or to taste
about 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

Cut conch into small chunks, and place in a medium saucepan.  Cover with water.  Simmer over low heat for about two hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard cooking water.  Chop conch meat into tiny pieces. 

In the pot, add the bacon, and cook and stir until some grease is released.  And onion, and cook and stir over low heat until onion begins to soften, about three minutes.  Add the tomatoes, with the juice, the chopped clams, and the potatoes.  Add enough water to cover the mixture.   Bring to a soft boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.  Add Old Bay and red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot, with bread for dipping.  
(c) Please be nice and give credit when sharing.








Monday, March 24, 2014

TORO, or TUNA BELLY in my Belly!



The raw toro we brought home from Locals Seafood
TORO.....Just what is it?

We were curious, too.  It's cut from the tuna's belly, and in many instances, it's what's left over after the loins have been quickly sliced from the sides of the fish.  A tad expensive, at $24 a pound, what was this chunk of tuna meat cupped in leathery skin?

If it's a bluefin tuna, or even a bigeye, toro is considered a real delicacy, the "king" of sushi ingredients.  Very oily, it's high in fat.

And toro almost tastes like butter.. . . . delicate and soft, yet exploding with flavor.  "It's like foie gras of the sea," said my husband, tasting what he had "singed" on the grill.

LOCALS SEAFOOD

Tuna Udon with Veggies and a Garlic, Ginger Soy Sauce
We were at LOCALS SEAFOOD in the upper building at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh to pick up my order of seafood for a cooking demo I was doing at Whisk Carolina.

The dry-packed scallops were just gorgeous, just the right size at 10 to 12 per pound.  The yellowfin tuna was firm, brilliant red, and smelled so fresh.  Winners, both, and great to show off recipes from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
Fresh yellowfin tuna steaks from the Outer Banks








As he packed up my order, Steve, their front man, talked about this dynamite toro he had blackened on the grill.   I knew of toro, but had never had the pleasure of tasting it.  "Look at this," he said, picking up a package of the firm, red fish with its stiff skin from the bed of ice.  He explained how he and a buddy had a beer while waiting for his piece of toro to cook on a very hot grill, and how although the skin had blackened, the flesh was tender and so succulent.  We were swayed, and brought a piece home.


Tuna are like torpedoes in the ocean.  They're also like the body builders you see showing off on the beach or lifeguard stands.  Exceptionally fast swimmers, they're efficient, and develop quite the muscles, which are the loins that are harvested from the whole fish.  It's fascinating to watch them first skinned, then cut into by the quick work of the pros at fish cleaning stations.  
Tuna being cleaned at Oden's Dock on Hatteras Island


I love yellowfin tuna, caught out in the Gulf Stream just off Cape Hatteras, barely seared on both sides, dressed with a ginger soy sauce and sesame seeds.  For my cooking demo, I was preparing seared tuna with udon noodles and brightly colored veggies, with a garlic and ginger soy sauce.

GRILLING THE TORO

My Steve also got the grill going at a fairly high heat, then placed the tuna skin side down, as the other Steve had suggested, and seasoned the flesh with salt and pepper and just a touch of freshly squeezed lemon.  He took it up to about 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer, when the flesh became flaky and the skin a golden color, not blackened. We decided to take it off and dive in.

Our toro after cooking
Steve took his filet knife and sorta scraped it off the skin, avoiding the strong tendon-like bloodline running down the middle, where the two sides must have joined.

We took tentative bites, then more, then sorta drew lines on the plate separating our shares, because oh my, it is truly is like butter, with such a delicate flavor and texture.  We ate it by the forkfuls, although  I could see placing a flake on a delicate wafer cracker, or perhaps naan bread, with champagne or bubbly prosecco.


And sushi?  Yes, indeed, especially when you can get toro so fresh, as Locals Seafood does.

Friday, February 7, 2014

OYSTER ROASTS & PEA CRABS


LUCKY ME!   THERE'S A PEA CRAB IN MY OYSTER!

     A pea crab, a bit bigger than a green pea and coral in color, sat right on top of the steamed oyster on its half shell.  It was a  little lagniappe, and I was thrilled.  The chef at Old Salt Oyster Bar in Columbia, NC. knew what he was doing when he returned this tasty morsel to its cooked
partner.
     Pea crabs are considered a real coastal delicacy,  bringing good luck and fortunes when eaten raw.  Only the females infiltrate oysters, as its host oyster filtrates up to 50 gallons of water a day, and they eat what the oysters eat.  After their babies hatch and become too numerous, the oyster will sorta spit them out.
     I've only eaten pea crabs when their oyster has been steamed, but my friend Della Basnight, a native Outer Banker, loves them raw, when they are still wiggling, tickling your mouth as much as the raw oyster soothes.
The Swans & Geese at Mattamuskeet
     On a dreary, cold, and sunless day, we made our annual pilgrimage to Lake Mattamuskeet to see the beautiful snowy white tundra swans that migrate in the hundreds of thousands to feed in the shallow waters of this bay lake.
    Our spirits were a bit down, for we had only seen a dozen or so in and around the lake.  "Head up to Engelhard, where they were picking the fields clean this morning," the ranger advised.
     Which is where we found them in the hundreds, far from the road, not up close and personal.
     And on top of that, Martelle's Feed House in Engelhard was not open until 5:30.  On past trips, we've bellied up to their bar for fresh steamed oysters straight out of the Pamlico Sound, a hoot and a holler from the road.

     So we plotted out a side trip on country roads, north to Williamston, where another favorite, Sunnyside Oyster Bar, should open just as we rolled into town.
     Side trips lead to side trips. . . . so when we hit Columbia on our way, we decided to get off the main drag, US HWY 64, and explore the cute little downtown area.  Which led us to discover the Old Salt Oyster Bar, a re-furbished old five & dime that serves local oysters from just down the road from whence we came, at Swan Quarter (where a ferry runs to Ocracoke Island).
    We devoured a plate of Oysters Rockerfeller and two other prepped oysters for our first go-round.  Then we shared a half peck of steamed bivalves, a few with pea crabs.  Then ordered another half peck, counting out shells to even our scores.  Our spirits were remarkably improved!
 
OYSTER FUN

 This is the season, during the colder "R" months, to enjoy eating this bivalve.  Make sure you scroll down to find several NC Oyster Festivals where you can fill your belly, dance and drink beer.

PROMOTE CLEAN WATERS, EAT AN OYSTER
   
     NC has the second largest estuary system in the US, with a mix of salt water that flows through the inlets from the ocean and fresh water from our rivers, a perfect environment for the oyster.
     Unlike other shellfish, oysters never move.  And they have a very unexciting sex life.  During the spring, when the water temp reaches 68 degrees, male oysters release sperm, and the females their eggs, and by chance, those two meet up while floating in the water.  Once the little ones, the spats, get large enough after floating around in the water, they sink to the bottom, and attach themselves to something, preferably another oyster shell.
     Oysters filter a huge amount of water, extracting the nutrients they need, and leaving the water in a  much better state - cleaner, more pure.  And when oysters clump together like that, they also provide a "sill" that stabilizes the banks of our waterways.   Those oyster reefs also provide habitat for our fish.  So, you want a lot of oyster reefs in the sounds.  Never again will I complain about having to avoid their razor sharp edges!
     Wild caught Eastern oysters have made a bit of a comeback in NC these last few years.  Used to be, way back in the early 1900s, that tons of oysters were dredged from NC's sounds.  But they were pulled at a rate that was not sustainable to the oyster population, even if the Dermo parasite had not also hit at the same time.  The oyster business was devastated.  In 1900, about 800,000 bushels were harvested; in 1994, only 34,000.  Gradually, with run-off pollution more in check, and with oyster reef restoration efforts, especially, oysters became a bit more plentiful in our coastal waters.   About half of the original bounty, 440,00, were brought in during 2012. So, chuck those shells back into the water, or get them to a recycling center.
     Finding fresh, local NC oysters in eateries or markets has become easier, thanks to aquaculture.  Several oyster farmers can be found scattered along our coast, from Wanchese to Bayboro to Stump Sound.

WHERE TO FIND FRESH, LOCAL OYSTERS

     The acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston has opened The Boiler Room, an oyster bar that's gaining as many fans as Chef Vivian Howard herself.
     Knightdale Seafood, a favorite spot for my sister, unfortunately just announced they were closing.
     My friend Carroll  Leggett likes King's Crab Shack King's Crab Shack in Winston-Salem.
     And on the Outer Banks, folks flock to Awful Arthur's, home of the "happy oyster."
     Other foodie friends, like Sharon Peele Kennedy or Morgan Jethro,  prefer slurping oysters at their own kitchen table, or at a fold-up table ladened with oysters steamed out in their garage.
     Me, I love it when my friend Tommy Manning either steams or grills oysters at the OYC, the old, quaint Oriental Yacht Club right there on the Neuse.  Or when friends down in Cedar Point near Swansboro grill us a few they've picked off the reef they've created at the end of their dock.
     Where are your favorite places to eat fresh, local oysters?

OYSTER FESTIVALS COMING UP

     Go and eat.  Talk to the locals, the oystermen, those who live and make their living from the sea.  You'll be entertained and leave happy and full.


     On March 1st, there's a statewide SHELLEBRATION, sponsored by the NC Coastal Federation.  www.nccoast.org.  You'll find food, craft, storytelling and music at Swansboro, Hatteras, Wilmington, and Raleigh.
     - Wrightsville Beach, from 4 to 7 at the Tidal Creek Cooperative Food Market, with steamed oysters, chili, cornbread and dessert for $35 for members, $45 others.  Live bluegrass music, beer and door prizes.
     - Swansboro, 11am to5 pm, enjoy "progressive seafood tastings" at several restaurants  $40 for members, $50 for non, includes a 45-minute marsh cruise on Lady Swan.
     - Hatteras, at Oden's Dock from 2 to 5 pm, $15 per person gets you all you can eat fresh, local oysters at an old-fashioned roast.  Local band Dragonfly will be playing. (I understand there's significant roadwork being done on HWY 12 which may cause vehicles to be parked and shuttles provided, but these Hatteras folks are determined to SHELLEBRATE!)
     - Raleigh, at Natty Greene's Pub & Brewing Co, all you can eat oysters clam chowder, and fried fish, all sourced from local waters, with bluegrass by Big Fat Gap, for $40 members, $45 non.

     Saturday March 22nd, Junior League of Wilmington's ROAST ON THE COAST from 7 to 11 pm.  Live music, raffles and prizes.  www.jlwnc.org.

      Sat April 19th, FROM 11AM TO 5PM, SMOKY MOUNTAINS OYSTER & SEAFOOD FESTIVAL.  At this "Pearl of the Smokies," you'll find oysters steamed, raw and fried as well as  peel 'n eat shrimp. All oyster shells will be recycled, and oysters come from Mobjack Bay in Virginia.  The Caribbean Cowboys will play reggae while The Mile High Band will do high energy country.





Monday, January 6, 2014

An Epiphany: Olde Christmas on the Outer Banks




     January 6th, the Twelfth Night, is known as Old Christmas, or the night of the Epiphany.
And it's why Christmas comes not just once, but twice on the Outer Banks.

     On Hatteras Island, in the village of Rodanthe, folks still gather on the Saturday closest to this date to roast oysters, shoot guns, share a feast, and chase the ghost of Old Buck.

     Old Buck?  He was a wild one, that bull that ran through Trent Woods, now known as Frisco.  He terrorized the villagers until a courageous hunter brought him down.  But his ghost returns every Old Christmas to once again wreak havoc and elicit giggles from children young and old.  In the above photograph, you can maybe make out a sun-bleached skull and big horns on the "ox," and men bent doubled and covered in bedclothes with barrel hoops helping to round out the oxen's sides.  Others are beating a drum, some playing with fifes.  Old Buck was a tradition in merry old medieval England that was carried by English settlers to our NC shores.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
     Outer Bankers are known, even to this day, for their hearty survival skills, as well as their resistance to change.

Bodie Island Lighthouse, on the way to Rodanthe
     When the English adopted the "new" Gregorian calendar in 1752, that news did not arrive in the rather isolated Outer Banks for quite a while.  And when it did, Bankers did not care much for the shorter calendar which lobbed 11 days and 15 seconds off the former Julian calendar, changing the official date of Christmas from January 6th to December 25th.  Never mind that Pope Gregory XIII had made the official change in 1582 (and England took two centuries to implement it).  Never mind that the rest of the world was noting its days and weeks with the Gregorian system.

    Outer Bankers ignored it, and continued to celebrate the Epiphany as their Christmas date.

A FEAST and SHOOTING APPLES....HOLD STILL!
     During the 1800s, men in Rodanthe held shooting contests during the afternoon, offering prizes.  They still do.  It's known as an "Oyster" Shoot (vs a Turkey Shoot), with a basket of fresh Pamlico Sound oysters going to the winner.

Trick is to talk someone into shucking oysters for you!
     Children helped with a "Candy billin'", boiling down molasses or sugar, then delighted in "pulling" the taffy-like candy.  The rewards were sweet.

The women spent the day, then and now, cooking up a chicken stew topped with "pie bread," pastry strips that old-timers still covet on their crab boils or oyster stews.  Oysters continue to be roasted over an open fire, then shoveled onto tables for shucking.  Greens and sweet potato pie rounded out the old menu, and I bet they're still  among the dishes folks bring to share.
     In the old days, there was a parade with fife and drums, the church choir providing the marching music.  Folks dressed in costume, in old clothes with stockings on their faces, and told jokes and made merry, with square dancing added in later years.  Today, a live band sets up with speakers and folks hit the dance floor after the tables are cleared.
      And in days past, it sometimes got to be, as described by an onlooker, "a drunken brawl down there." There are stories of men dancing until the buttons on their drawers popped off, or drinking eggnog, with or without the egg, until daybreak.  One of the keepers of the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station reportedly shot apples off the heads of his crewmen.  Needless to say, imbibing is no longer encouraged.

   
DUCK, as in Village and TREAT

     Further north, the villagers of Duck had their lively parties on December 25th, and on Old Christmas, a solemn, religious observance with no drinking, dancing, or carousing.  You have to wonder if there were not partygoers who traveled from one village to the other to keep the holiday parties rolling.

     Outer Bankers celebrated the holidays with what they could scavenge from nature, but what treats nature provided -  ducks, geese, oysters, drum, bluefish, and mullet.  Helen Daniels of Manteo recalled "her daddy hunting down to Pea Island" so that each member of the family had their very own duck to eat at their Christmas dinner. Or sometimes it was a big goose, baked with apples, she said.  Up at Duck, folks referred to the swans that graced their holiday tables as "white turkey."



     Even in 1585, Christmas was a significant occasion for a couple of native Bankers.  The two chiefs of the Algonquians, Manteo and Wanchese, made the return voyage back to England with the explorers who were attempting the first British colonization in the New World.

During that winter, they witnessed the holiday merry-making and, on the Twelfth day of Christmas, Queen Elizabeth proclaimed Sir Walter Raleigh a knight and Governor of Virginia.  Wanchese reportedly was disgusted with all the excesses he saw, and could not understand why the settlers would not share more with his people back home.


Fritters, Outer Banks style, with either oysters or clams


OYSTER or CLAM  FRITTERS 
      recipe from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, 2nd ed. 2013, Globe Pequot Press. 
            Mrs. Ivadean Priest, who grew up in Manteo, shared the secret to these fritters, and it’s this:  Rather than mixing the oysters in with the batter, dip the oysters in the batter then cluster them together to make a fritter, or sprinkle cooking batter with clams.  A cast-iron skillet works best, Mrs. Priest recommended.

For the batter:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup self-rising flour
1 pint oysters (or clams)
½ cup oyster or clam juice, water and/or milk
vegetable oil for frying
As condiment:  ketchup, mustard or sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with paper towels. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix eggs and flour together for a thick paste.  Add as much of the liquid as is required to make a thin batter that is thick enough to hold together when put into the hot fat. 
  3. Pour enough vegetable oil into frying pan to reach a depth of ½ to 1 inch.  Heat over medium high heat. 
  4. When oil is hot, hold the bowl over the pan, and dip oysters into batter one-by-one, then drop 2 to 3 oysters together in a cluster to make one fritter.  Or, pour a spoonful of batter into the oil, then quickly add a couple of oysters.  If you are doing clam fritters, spoon a dollop of batter into the oil, then quickly add a spoonful of drained clams to the batter.  Do not crowd the pan. 
  5. Cook each fritter until golden, then flip and cook the other side.  Remove and drain on paper towels, on the baking sheet kept in the warm oven.
  6. Serve stacks of the fritters on a serving platter, along with ketchup, mustard, or sour cream. 


YIELD:  dozen or more fritters








Friday, December 13, 2013

HOLIDAY APPS for EATING, NOT CLICKING



Beets and Goats Bruschetta

I've always fallen for that old holiday song about "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." and it conjures up in my head some silly, romantic notion of sitting by the fire and all chores are done, food prepared, gifts wrapped, and there's nothing to do but smell the chestnuts roasting, which I have never, ever done - smelled chestnuts, nor gotten everything done just so. 

Bah Humbug!

Most know that I emit Scrooge-like squawks this time of year.  The holidays just come loaded with such grand expectations, mainly from my Inner Administrator.  And so I stress.

The "holidays" stand the chance of really, truly being that special time of year for making wonderful, magical, fun and humorous memories.  And so, with that in mind, I'm going to push Scrooge aside and plan on gathering with some special friends and my loved ones on several occasions.

And I'll bring one of the following apps, or appetizers, to contribute to the celebrations.  Finger food, each is relatively easy, not very time consuming, and delightfully delicious.  

My wish for all you foodies is to have a relaxing time during this season of sharing gifts, time with loved ones, and sumptuous feasts!

Recipes follow~

 *****     BEETS and GOATS BRUSCHETTA

            Recipe by Elizabeth Wiegand, author of THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, and FOOD LOVERS’ GUIDE TO NC’S OUTER BANKS, all from Globe Pequot Press.
This version of bruschetta, a spin on the classic combo of roasted beets and goat cheese, makes a beautiful holiday appetizer.
Chop roasted beets; add chives and thyme; smear goat cheese on toast.  Voila!

3 medium beets, about 2 cups
Aluminum foil
4 to 6 ounces goat cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 baguette
Chopped parsley for garnish

1.     Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and trim roots and stems from beets.  Place whole beets in a large square of aluminum foil and seal tightly.  Place the foil package on a baking sheet, and roast in oven for about an hour, maybe a little more, until the tip of a knife goes into the beets easily. 
2.     Allow the beets to cool.  Peel (you may want to use gloves or a paper towel to rub the skin off the beets).  Dice the beets into tiny cubes, about ¼ inch or less.
3.     Meanwhile, set the goat cheese out to soften at room temperature.
4.     Place diced beets into a medium bowl.  Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs.  Carefully mix together.
5.     Preheat broiler.  Cut baguette into thin, diagonal slices.  Brush both sides with olive oil.  Lightly toast both sides under the broiler.
6.     Spread goat cheese onto toasts.  Top with beet mixture.  Garnish with parsley.


Shrimp stuffed "Dare" Devil Eggs

*****    DARE DEVILED EGGS  from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2nd ed. 2013

Watch me prepare this on WSLS Daytime Blue Ridge:  http://www.wsls.com/story/24193954/food-lion-kitchen-dare-deviled-eggs
            
What’s old is new again. . . . Deviled Eggs, a staple of Southern picnics and Sunday gatherings, are making their rounds at wedding receptions and chic cocktail parties.  Here’s a “Dare Deviled” version that includes either shrimp or crabmeat, two of the bounties from the Outer Banks’ Dare County.
            You would think it a simple matter to boil an egg, but there are many ways to accomplish that.  I’ve found this manner works best if you need to shell the eggs without marring the white.  If you unintentionally dismember too many whites of the eggs, just go ahead and make an egg salad. And as I heard Julia Child exclaim once, during a cooking class I was attending, “Never, ever admit a mistake.  That’s what parsley’s for!”

12 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely cut chives
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup steamed shrimp, chopped fine OR ¼ cup backfin crabmeat
1 teaspoon Old Bay, if desired or sweet paprika

  1. Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Gently bring to a boil over medium heat.  Watch pot carefully, and immediately remove the pot from the heat when the bubbles begin.  Cook for five minutes, then immediately remove from heat.
  2. Drain water from pot, and run cold water over the eggs until water remains cold, about 2 minutes.
  3. Peel the eggs.  The best method is to tap them all over on the countertop.  Start at the big end where there is usually an air pocket, and carefully slide the shell away from the whites.  Rinse each egg quickly in cold water if needed to remove any pieces of shell. 
  4. Slice each egg in two lengthwise, and carefully pop or scoop out the yolk into a mixing bowl. 
  5. Mash the yolks with a fork, then add mayonnaise, mustard, chives, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Then gently fold in either shrimp or crabmeat.
  6. Stuff the middle of each egg white with the yolk mixture, and arrange on a serving plate or platter.  Sprinkle the tops with either Old Bay or paprika.
YIELD:  24 stuffed eggs (if you’re lucky!)



****   SHRIMP SALAD from NORTH BANKS, from FOOD LOVERS GUIDE TO NC'S OUTER BANKS, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2013

            Driving up to Corolla may feel like you’re driving to the end of the earth.  But there’s a heavenly stop before you get to the end of the road.  North Banks Restaurant and Raw Bar, in the TimBuck II shopping center, has a fantastic menu featuring local, coastal cuisine, as well as great dishes from around the globe.  I’ve enjoyed many lovely meals at this casual eatery.
            Here’s a great recipe for Shrimp Salad that can be used to fill lettuce leaves, or sandwich wraps, or in a bun, or enjoyed just by itself.  It makes a vast quantity, perhaps good to have on hand for the start of a vacation.  Otherwise, size it down according to your needs.  If you have time, roast your own red peppers over a hot grill or under the broiler, then peel and chop.
6 pounds shrimp, cooked and chopped
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup whole water chestnuts, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1 cup chopped red onion
2 to 3 cups mayonnaise, according to preference
1 teaspoon and a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

Place the celery, water chestnuts, red pepper and onion in the food processor.  Process until all is finely minced.  (Or finely chop all.)
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, and add other ingredients.  Mix well.  Chill and serve.
YIELD:  About 12 servings





Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sweet Potato



Gingered Sweet Potato Soup with Pork Barbecue

”Song, song of the South, Sweet Potato Pie and I shut my mouth….” Got that song by Alabama going in my head and it just won’t stop… Then there’s the James Taylor song, or the old Sweet Potato Blues by Lonnie Johnson or the soulful instrumental by Booker T and the MG’s.

     Sweet potatoes bring music to my ears, and solace to very being.  I LOVE sweet potatoes and I’m so excited because ‘tis the season.  They’ve been dug up, “cured” to allow the starch to sweeten, and are hitting our markets right about NOW!

Roasted, then smashed, ready for many recipes!

     Beauregard.  Jewel.  Carolina Ruby.  Old White. . . I love these names that describe their colors. There’s even Stokes Purple, a beautiful tater than retains its color even when cooked, developed in Stokes County, NC, in pursuit of more antioxidants.  Those colors of the rainbow help sweet potatoes to deliver a whopping 300 percent of Vitamin A needed each day, as well as another good dose of vitamins C.  Plus, they’re fiber rich.  



In the Kitchen House of the Roanoke Island Farm, Manteo

Sweet potatoes run deep in the South.  NC is the number one producer of this tuber, over 40 % of those grown in the nation.  A few years back, the state’s commission tried to run the spelling of both words together…..”sweetpotato”, which we all know is just wrong, besides driving my Spellcheck crazy.  And we’ve heard or read about the old days when a hot, cooked sweet potato stuck in pockets warmed the way to school or provided lunch when working out in the field.  Most of us have learned not to call them “yams,” which are a completely different root vegetable grown in more tropical climes.


Sweet Potato Biscuits
One of my favorite restaurants in Winston-Salem is Sweet Potatoes, Well Shut My Mouth, run by partners Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson.  You can only guess what’s frequently on their menu, in many shapes and forms, like bread puddings or Charlottes made with leftover Sweet Potato Biscuits.  I also am impressed that many of their employees are those that have been down in their luck but given a chance to turn things around by this couple.  Look for Stephanie’s cookbook, Well Shut My Mouth, published by John Blair.



Whaddya do with Sweet Potatoes?

My fav?  Cook ‘em whole, in the microwave or oven, then slather on some good butter and sprinkle on the salt.

Baskets of grated sweets
Or slice them into “fries,” grease them up with some oil, and bake or grill.

Then you can also cut them up and substitute them in a hash, or, roast chunks with onions and red peppers, all coated with olive oil and seasoned with thyme and/or rosemary.


Sweet potato pancakes, or cakes, or pies, or biscuits, rolls, or fritters, or mashed into the traditional Southern casserole with a pecan topping . . .See how versatile this tuber is?

Coating a Salmon Fillet . . . heavenly!
 I’ve even coated a salmon fillet with thin slices coated with olive oil, which baked was just out of this world good.  (You’ll find several of these recipes in my books.)

I’m including a recipe below for Sweet Potato Soup with Gingered Shrimp (or you can add crabmeat or even eastern-style pork barbecue!).  And then there’s one for sweet potato baskets, to hold crabmeat, perhaps.  And also a recipe for Sweet Potato Guacamole, a riff on a recipe by my friend Fred Thompson, in his latest, Southern Sides.

If you decide to share, please be nice and give credit.



Sweet Potato Soup with Gingered Shrimp
SWEET POTATO SOUP with GINGERED  SHRIMP
                     
I try to use local products as much as possible, as in local brown or green-tail shrimp from NC’s coast, Mattamuskeet Sweet onions, and eastern NC sweet potatoes.  Covington or Beauregard varieties of sweet potatoes make a soup with a brilliant color.

FOR THE SOUP:
1tablespoon olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
About 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes (5 to 6 cups)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1teaspoon salt or more, to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste

1.     In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium low heat.  Add onions, and stir occasionally until translucent or softened, about 5 minutes.
2.     Add garlic and gingerroot, and stir to coat.  Add sweet potatoes, stir, then pour in just enough stock to cover the veggies.  Add either water or more stock, if necessary, to cover veggies.
3.     Bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat until sweet potatoes are fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
4.     If you have an immersion blender, use that to puree the soup until no chunks or onion pieces remain.  Or, use a blender or food processor.  With a slotted spoon, remove chunks to be processed with a small amount of liquid from the pot.  Be aware that the heat could cause the top of the blender to explode, so place a dish cloth or pot holder on top, and hold it in place.  Process all of the soup until smooth, then return it to the pot.  Keep warm. 
FOR THE SHRIMP:
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (or more, if you like!)
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped chives or 2 to 3 green onions, chopped fine
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1.     In a small sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add shrimp, and stir for about 2 to 3 minutes, until shrimp are pink and cooked through.
2.     Add ginger root, garlic and chives, stirring to combine.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice.
TO SERVE:  Place soup in bowls, then divide and place shrimp in the center of each serving.  Serve immediately.
YIELD:  Serves 6 as appetizer or 4 for lunch

~~~~~

CRABBY SWEET POTATO BASKETS  from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2013      
            These little cups made from grated sweet potatoes are perfect backdrops for buttered crabmeat, as both are sweet in flavor plus there’s a refreshing contrast in color and texture.  Surprisingly easy, what elegant finger food, perfect for cocktails, special events, or a buffet.  
For the Sweet Potato Baskets
2 cups grated sweet potato (about one very large)
3 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray or grease a one-dozen mini-muffin pan.
2.     Place grated sweet potato in a mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with flour and salt, then add beaten egg.  Mix well.
3.     Press about one tablespoon of sweet potato mixture into each muffin cup, firming the mixture up the sides, also.
4.     Bake in oven for about 25 minutes, covering with foil, if needed, for the last five minutes to prevent burning.  Let pan cool for a few minutes, then remove baskets to a cooking rack.
For the Crab Mixture
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 pound (about 1 cup) lump or backfin crabmeat
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
1.     Melt butter in a small skillet.  Add crabmeat, sprinkle with old Bay and chives.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2.     When potato baskets are cool enough to handle, fill each with about one tablespoon of the crab mixture.  Serve warm.
YIELD:  one dozen appetizers
~~~~~


SWEET POTATO GUACAMOLE
Adapted from my friend Fred Thompson’s new cookbook, SOUTHERN SIDES, this tasty appetizer is healthy and so easy to prepare.  And what a great way to use a fall vegetable – sweet potato – as a substitute for avocado found in traditional guacamole recipes.  Fred likes to spice his up with roasted poblanos, and you can also substitute Serrano or canned chipotle chilies.  Blue corn tortilla chips provide a nice color contrast.

1 large sweet potato, cooked
½ cup chopped cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped green onions (or red onions, if preferred)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh jalapeno (or 1 roasted poblano chili or 1 teaspoon chopped canned chipotle), or more if you like it spicy
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
juice from 1 to 2 limes
1.     Scrape the sweet potato from its skin into a medium mixing bowl.  Mash with a fork. 
2.     Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the lime, and stir to mix.
3.     Add just enough lime juice to loosen the consistency for dipping chips, and also to taste.  Adjust salt, and perhaps add more jalapeno or chili if desired.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TUNA RED SKY


Red sky at night, sailor's delight.  On the Chesapeake somewhere.


Aboard Fidelio a weekend ago, the tuna I was marinating matched the color of the sunset.  The old adage, red sky at night, sailor's delight, proved true, both for the forecast and our dinner.

Fidelio is a cranky, small, old sailboat that belongs to our dear friend Rob Fawcett, Pennsylvania's family doc of the year, and, a published poet, whose good humor and writings have entertained us on each of our 15 annual trips exploring the Chesapeake.

Capt Rob, with me supervising
Turns out Fidelio the boat is appropriately named.  Beethoven revised and cut short his only opera, Fidelio, but it still didn't make it among 18-th century audiences.   "Fidelio will win me a martyr's crown," he reportedly said.  It seems the singing was too difficult to perform well, and the plot, well, is kinda complicated.

The story goes that Fidelio was the new errand boy in a Spanish political prison, who arrived carrying food and supplies for Rocco, the jailer.  Rocco's daughter thought he was cute, and had her heart set on winning him over .....but ..... Fidelio was really a nobleWOMAN from Seville who had snuck into the prison in disguise to rescue her husband, who had been sentenced to death for his political actions.  A complicated plot ensues, but it all works out in the end, with Leonore, aka Fidelio, freeing her husband from his chains.

Fidelio the sailboat is a noblewoman in disguise, too.  She's a sweet sailing vessel, but she's over 40 years old and a bit rundown.  One year her engine blew on us; another the head stopped working.  We've been over-powered, and under-winded.  Some sailors polish and scrub foredecks and railings, but, well, dusty Fidelio is still well-loved by Rob.  Being onboard is a lot like camping on the water, but it's an annual delight that I wouldn't miss.

AND THE TUNA?

Tuna Udon, a recipe from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK by Elizabeth Wiegand
So, in spite of having only a tiny charcoal grill that attaches to a stanchion, and a tiny gas burner, with some advance planning and kitchen work before leaving home, we managed to pull off an awesome dinner.  I had chopped and softened onions, peppers and asparagus, mixed up the marinades in jars, and cooked a package of udon noodles before leaving home.


Both red snapper and tuna are seasonal favorites in our markets this fall.
We found the tuna in Raleigh at Saltwater Seafood off Capitol Blvd, another Earp family venture that features local bounties from NC waters, fresh and cleaned on the spot.  The tuna had just arrived from Wanchese, the intake of fresh, local seafood in the Outer Banks.

Tuna being skinned at the cleaning station at Hatteras Village Marina.
After we dropped sails and motored into an isolated gunk hole for the night, I placed the Ziplock bags of noodles and veggies on top of the covered engine to warm them on the residual heat.  Shook and poured the marinade over the bright, red tuna.  We lit the charcoal and candles.

The red of the setting sun was mirrored in the water.  So, as good sailors do, we paid our respects to one fine day.  We poured a sip (or two!) of rum over ice and squeezed in a lime.  Made a toast to a spectacular day on the water, in the wind, and under the bridge.  We then listened to a new batch of poems from our Captain, mulling over his images and metaphors and the stories they told.

With flashlights, we started putting our dinner together.  Usually I sear the tun in a hot pan, but this time, it kissed the hot grill for just a couple of minutes per side.  The marinated noodles were swirled on our plates, then topped with the red-centered tuna.  We poured a fine temperanillo and cut the bread.

And all was well aboard Fidelio, that fine noble mistress.

*****RECIPE*****

TUNA UDON,  from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2nd Edition, 2013. (c)  Please credit if reproduced.  
            Beautiful loins of dark, red tuna are available fresh from the day boats at O’Neal’s Sea Harvest in Wanchese or at any of the seafood markets along the Outer Banks.  For a fascinating diversion, catch the charter boats when they return to Oregon Inlet Fishing Center or at the docks in Hatteras Village late in the afternoon, to see them unload or rather heave onto the boardwalk the big, torpedo-like yellowfin tunas caught just offshore.  At Hatteras Village, the local watermen at the fish cleaning stations make quick work of peeling the skin, then quartering the tuna to extract the loin.   Loins are then cut crosswise into steaks. 
            This dish makes a beautiful presentation, with the bright colors of the veggies in the udon noodles.  The tuna is very tender, almost like butter, when marinated in oil.  

For the tuna:
4 tuna steaks, at least 1-inch thick
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chili oil
3 strips lemon peel ½ inch wide
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large garlic cloves, slivered
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Udon:
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
¼ soy sauce
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon
½ teaspoon Tobasco or other hot sauce
½ cup chopped red pepper
3 green onions, chopped
½ pound fresh asparagus or 2 cups sugar snap peas
1 package (8 ounces) dried udon pasta

  1. At least an hour before cooking, marinate tuna steaks.  In a plastic, resealable bag, place the olive oil, chili oil, lemon peel, thyme, and garlic.  Squish it around to blend, then add the tuna steaks.  Place bag in refrigerator until time to cook.
  2. Start to prepare the udon noodles.  In a small skillet, over medium heat, place the sesame seeds, and shake the pan to stir them around as they toast.  When lightly browned, after about 3 to 5 minutes, remove from heat.
  3. In a small mixing bowl or jar with a tight lid, combine the garlic, ginger root, soy sauce, oil, hot sauce, red pepper, and onions.  Whisk, or shake the jar, to combine. Let sit so that the flavors will meld.
  4. If you are using asparagus, snap the tough ends off, rinse, then cut into 2 inch pieces on the diagonal to make it attractive. Place in a skillet, barely cover with water, and set on stove.  Turn heat to medium high, and as soon as the water begins to boil, drain the asparagus, then immediately run cold water over the pieces to stop the cooking process and give it a bolder green color.
  5. When you are ready to serve within 30 minutes or less, put a large pot of water on high.  When it begins to boil, add the udon noodles, and time for about 9 to 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.  Drain, and place in a large serving bowl. 
  6. In a small skillet, place 1 tablespoon oil, red pepper and green onions, and if using, the sugar snap peas over medium high heat.  Cook and stir for just about 2 minutes, just enough to warm the vegetables but still keep them crisp.  Remove from heat and add to the udon noodles.  Add asparagus, if using.
  7. Whisk or shake the soy sauce combination, then pour over the noodles and vegetables.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 
  8. Remove tuna from the bag and make sure none of the garlic or herbs have stuck to its sides.  Strain the oil into a large saute pan, and place over medium high heat.  When oil is hot, add tuna and season with salt and pepper.  Sear quickly, 2 to 3 minutes for the first side, turn and sear for an additional minute but no more than 3, depending on how rare you desire. We prefer tuna that is still red in the center, about 4 minutes total.  Remove from pan immediately.
  9. Place dressed noodles and vegetables in the center of each plate, and make a well in the center.  Place tuna in center.  Serve immediately. 

YIELD:  4 servings