Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Celebrate the Fourth with Wild, American Shrimp!

I love the fourth of July! I say this even though I live at the beach where the crowds overwhelm our small island. I say this even though I own a restaurant and will be working on the fourth. I say this because it seems to be another occasion when Americans really celebrate with food. Granted it might lack the weeks of preparation that come with Thanksgiving, but still most folks seem determined to feast together on the fourth. And these feasts usually focus on what we consider decidedly "American" fare. Of course, that fare could vary drastically according to what region of the country you call home.

Here, in Charleston I think that a shrimp boil would be the perfect patriotic party fare. It just so happens that the shrimp season finally opened this week after much delay due to extremely cold water temperatures this past winter. And word around the docks is that it is going to be a pretty sad shrimp season even after giving the shrimp time to grow and spawn. Local shrimpers already make a meager living due largely to a national market flooded by farm raised shrimp from Asia. So, news of a bleak shrimp season in the Lowcountry hits especially hard.

And that's why I propose showing your patriotism this fourth by cooking up wild, American shrimp. Enjoy your time with friends and family gathered around some definite American fare!

Peel-n-Eat Boiled Shrimp

There is nothing easier or more tasty than fresh shrimp boiled with some seasonings, and we've figured out the perfect medley so that you can impress all your friends!

12 cups water
2/3 cup white wine
2/3 cup salt
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
About 20 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup roughly chopped celery (about 1 1/2 medium stalks)
1 onion, quartered
1 lemon, crushed
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 pounds shrimp, unpeeled

Combine all ingredients excluding shrimp in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add shrimp and cook until just finished, about 3 to 5 minutes. Shrimp should be pink and firm. Drain – do not rinse! Serve as “peel-n-eat” with our cocktail sauce or red remoulade (see recipes below).

YIELD: 8 appetizer portions

Cocktail Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup prepared horseradish
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; whisk until incorporated.

YIELD: About 1 1/2 cups

Red Remoulade

1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Creole mustard, or other whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Splash of hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; whisk until well combined.

YIELD: About 1 1/2 cups (enough to dress 1 pound of peeled, boiled shrimp)

P.S. You can leave out the ketchup, making it "white remoulade" -- a similarly tasty sauce!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chilled Corn Soup for Summer Days

I am a southern girl down to core. As most of you know, I love pimento cheese, summertime tomatoes, and buttermilk fried chicken. And I admit that I even love the dog days of summer. Sure, I'll banter about the heat index of 115 with the best of them, but that should not be confused with complaining.

The reality is that just like those of you who endure harsh winters, we Southerners simply adjust. We drink a lot of iced tea (sweet, of course) and tone down our cooking a bit. I think days like today (when the mercury just keeps rising) present themselves as opportunities to step outside your culinary box and cook with refreshment in mind. The Glass Onion's Chilled Corn Soup would be such a pleasant dinner with a nice green salad on the side. And there will be plenty leftover to enjoy for lunch when it's just too hot to leave the office!

There is definitely some prep involved with this soup -- so give yourself an afternoon and remember to allow time for chilling the soup as well.

Chilled Corn Soup

We serve this soup at the height of summer, using beautiful white corn. The simple list of ingredients ensures that the essence of the corn shines through.

7 ears white corn
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
2 cups peeled and chopped russet potato (about 1 medium russet potato)
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Honey, to taste (optional)

Cut corn off the cob; set aside. In a large pot cover ears with water. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and strain through a colander into a large bowl. (Should reduce to about 7 cups of "corn water.")

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions; cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add corn and corn water; bring to a boil. Add cream and potato; simmer until potato is tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Working in batches, puree corn mixture in a blender. Have a chinois placed in a bowl nearby. Once the soup is pureed, ladle it from the blender into the chinois. Some will go through quite easily. For the rest, you will need to force it through using the ladle. Holding the chinois in one hand, over the bowl, and the ladle in the other, gently push through the mixture to the bottom of the chinois repeatedly. You will eventually be left with nothing but corn pulp, which you can discard. Repeat this process until you have pureed all of the corn mixture.

Season with salt, white pepper, and cayenne. If it is not the peak of corn season, you can add some honey to make up for the missing sweetness -- starting with 1 teaspoon, but up to 1 tablespoon should do the trick.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings; about 2 quarts

P.S. You can easily halve this recipe!

P.P.S. Don't let the term "chinois" scare you away from the recipe. This is simply a conical, fine-meshed strainer that should be available at your local cookware store or definitely online. It is not that expensive and is essential any time you are looking for a pristine, velvety texture, such as here with a pureed soup or for puddings. Other fine-meshed strainers can also work, but when dealing with larger quantities, the chinois is ideal.

Check out wikipedia's definition of a chinios

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Glass Onion Sides for Grilling Out

As the languid days of summer slip up on us, I like to imagine that everyone is spending their free time participating in classic summertime activities. I just love that Rockwellian image of families gathered around the grill or enjoying a picnic on the beach.

Now, I don't imagine fancy fare in my daydream (this is not a photo shoot for a glossy food magazine!) Rather, I see real folks enjoying real food. Maybe they are grilling burgers on their deck or unwrapping pre-made sandwiches on the boat...

My only stipulation would be some homemade sides to go along with that perfectly charred hot dog! And that's where I can help. At the Glass Onion we believe in a straightforward take on classic sides like potato salad and cole slaw. Consequently, you won't find yourself needing to run out for any esoteric ingredients -- making these perfect for that impromptu summertime gathering.

Potato Salad

Some might call us crazy, but we only make our potato salad when beautiful, local potatoes happen to be in season. Consequently, we don't gussy our recipe up too much. The deliciousness comes from the flavor of the potatoes.

1 quart diced red or white potatoes (not Russets) (about 16 small potatoes)
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a large pot. Cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

Combine with remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss to combine. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cover and refrigerate.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings; about 1 quart

Cole Slaw

A Southern cookbook would not be complete without a recipe for cole slaw. It is a necessary accoutrement to so many good things -- fried catfish, fried chicken...

Our version is straightforward and meant to complement rather than compete with the centerpiece of your meal!

1 head of green cabbage
1 serving slaw sauce (see recipe below)
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Remove outer leaves from cabbage. Cut into quarters and cut out core. Cut each quarter in half crosswise and then thinly slice each of these chunks lengthwise.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings; about 2 quarts

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; whisk to combine.

P.S. The slicing directions might seem a bit complicated, but we are trying to ensure you end up with easy-to-eat pieces of cabbage. At the restaurant, we use an electric slicer, which makes things simpler! But this method should yield a relatively fine slaw.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summertime = Key Lime Pie

As I head south for a couple of days to enjoy a bit of time on Florida's coast, I think it only appropriate that I repost the recipe for Ruth's Key Lime Pie along with Ruth's story. I can hardly wait to see her and her key lime pie!

Ruth Penn -- The Queen of Key Lime Pie

If one dessert defined my childhood, it was Ruth's Key Lime Pie. With a tangy, creamy center and billowing, ethereal meringue, it was quite simply heaven.

Every summer I awaited our family trips to Jacksonville, Florida with the anticipation most children reserve for Christmas. I craved the ocean and the sand, but mostly I yearned for Ruth. To me, she embodied every familial female figure. She would hug and commiserate and champion me throughout my life, and most of this happened inside the sturdy, old walls of our beach house kitchen.

Ruth Penn began cooking for my grandmother and her sister in the summer of 1973 (or thereabouts). During the rest of the year, she worked for the Duval County Public School System cooking in schools around the city.

"I loved it. It was my passion," she says. "Feeding other people; watching them eat."

At home, Ruth had her own nine children to feed, and really, that was her initial impetus for cooking. Ironically, as a child herself, growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, Ruth Lililan Johnson had little interest in the kitchen.

"I was an outside person," she says. "I liked to be gone!"

However, good cooking surrounded Ruth -- this she could not escape. Her father loved food and cooked everything from local vegetables to leg of lamb. And her grandmother ran a small baking business from her home kitchen. Ruth and her siblings spent a few days every week at her house -- watching and helping with pound cakes, cobblers, and her famous dinner rolls.

When Ruth married James Penn Jr. (known affectionately as "Penn"), she moved to a naval base in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was there that she remembers cooking her first big meal. Penn's family made the trip up from North Carolina, bringing a ham and such; but she had to prepare the greens, which she knew nothing about. Penn guided her through the cleaning of the greens, and then Ruth just threw them in a pot with water and a piece of meat. Ruth laughs now, remembering the family arriving to greens floating in a pot of water.

"Girl, you don't know how to cook greens!" they said. Then they took the greens out of the water and started over.

But over the years, Ruth taught herself the ways of the kitchen through trial and error -- cooking everything from spaghetti to fried chicken, and finally Key lime pie.

She remembers that in the early 80s my grandmother came to the beach after a trip to Key West raving about this pie. She even brought Ruth a postcard with the recipe on it. Ruth had never heard of it, but just followed the instructions on that card, and that's what she has been doing every summer since.

Ruth believes that the trick to the pie is in the meringue. "You have to make sure it's whipped to a certain level and browned to perfection," she says. And I agree.

But I also believe the true secret lies in Ruth and the love she imparts with every bite.

Ruth’s Key Lime Pie

Full credit for this pie goes to Ruth Penn of Jacksonville, Florida -- an amazing cook and friend. I changed only her meringue to a very stable version that I prefer in a restaurant setting. Otherwise, this is the same pie I have eaten every summer of my life, made exclusively by Ruth!

(The photo is of Ruth and her biggest fan -- myself! Circa 1980.)

1 unbaked frozen pie shell
6 cups uncooked rice or dried beans, for use as pie weights
4 large eggs
1 14-ounce can condensed milk
½ cup Joe and Nell’s Key lime juice (Ruth prefers this brand!)
Meringue (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line pie shell with a sheet of tinfoil. Spread rice or beans across the pie shell, mounding them up a bit on the sides and going more lightly in the center.

Place pie shell on baking sheet. Bake until edges are dark golden brown and center has just begun to golden. Check crust's progress at 30 minutes, but total baking time should be about 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool with tinfoil and weights still in place. Once cool, remove weights and reserve the weights for another day. Discard tinfoil. Reserve crust until filling and meringue are both made. The crust can be baked off one day in advance, wrapped, and held at room temperature.

To make filling, separate the eggs -- put yolks into a medium bowl, one white into a small bowl, and the remaining 3 whites into another small bowl to reserve for meringue (see recipe below). Add condensed milk and key lime juice to bowl of yolks; whisk to combine. Beat one egg white until frothy and fold into the bowl of yolks. Reserve filling until meringue is made (see recipe below).

Once meringue is made, pour filling into prebaked crust. Dollop the meringue on top of the filling using a rubber spatula, making sure meringue reaches edges of pie to form a seal; this will help with meringue's shrinkage during baking. Bake until the meringue turns golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Allow pie to cool to room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator for complete cooling, about 6 hours. Pie is best served the day it is made. It can be held overnight, but doing so will compromise the quality of the meringue.

To serve, dip a knife in hot water, wipe dry, and slice in half. Repeat process, then slice into quarters. Repeat process, then slice into eighths.

YIELD: 8 servings

P.S. The meringue will "weep" some during/after baking. This is due to moisture in the egg whites and really should not pose a problem nor be too excessive, thanks to this very stable meringue recipe.

6 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup of sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine egg whites in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until body begins to build. Gradually add sugar; beat until moderately stiff peaks form; reserve.

Combine water, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt in a small pot or skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until gel forms, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

Spoon cornstarch mixture into egg white mixture; beat to combine. At this point, your meringue should be stable and shiny.

YIIELD: Meringue for 1 pie (Double this recipe for a tart!)

P.S. Meringue can be a bear in a restaurant setting, as it does not want to hold up well. Here, the use of cornstarch creates a more stable meringue, a trick I learned from the wonderful cookbooks of Shirley Corriher.

P.P.S. Do not be surprised at the amount of meringue produced by this recipe; it is indeed substantial. But I find that folks who love meringue pies really want a little pie and a lot of meringue!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pimento Cheese -- Simply Southern

For those of you outside the South, pimento cheese might be a foreign concept. I've heard tales of sightings above the Mason-Dixon Line, but I think these must be random at best. I believe only Southerners consider this mayonnaise-bound cheese and pepper spread to be a staple -- the type of thing you find everywhere from a remote gas station to a high brow wedding! Granted, it will be in a plastic tub at the gas station and closely resembling all of its neighboring processed foods. While in nuptial hors d'oeuvre form, it will most certainly be a delicate layer of a finger sandwich (which will be piled high on a silver tray!)

I love pimento cheese of all types. Growing up in Georgia, an impromptu dinner might consist of the gas station variety heartily spread on two pieces of that overly soft white bread. But I also remember the more refined, homemade versions that consisted of hand-grated, sharp cheddar mixed with mayonnaise, pimento peppers, and the cook's choice of seasonings.

Just as I felt compelled to come up with my own fried chicken recipe to complete my Southern cook's rite of passage, I also knew that I must have my take on pimento cheese. I began working on this long before the Glass Onion, and I don't think I quit tinkering until opening day when it became staple on our menu.

Sarah's Pimento Cheese

I am crazy about pimento cheese, and so I naturally put some heart into creating our version. Obviously, this is a simple treat, but sometimes simple is best. My only stipulation is that Duke's mayonnaise makes a delicious difference!

At the GO, we serve this on brioche from Normandy Farms Bakery as a grilled sandwich, and at brunch, as an omelette, but all you really need are some nice buttery crackers for a perfect snack.

2 cups grated sharp cheddar
½ cup canned or jarred pimento peppers, drained and chopped
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Dash of hot sauce

Combine cheddar, pimentos, and green onions in a medium bowl; set aside. Combine mayonnaise, pepper, salt, cayenne, and hot sauce in a medium bowl; whisk together. Add mayonnaise to cheese mixture; gently stirring together using a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. (The only real mistake you can make here is overworking the pimento cheese; hence, we suggest that you "gently stir.")

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer; about 3 cups