Food From The Heart

Take A Vacation With Snacks From Cozumel (06/24/2018)

The food of the awesome island of Cozumel—at least the snacks—is as refreshing as the island.  Beautiful, light, care-free, and full of Island sabor. We all know how to make salsas, we all know how to make heavier dishes, but here are two snacks we’ve had in Cozumel that they (the cooks there!) have been good enough to share with me.

Cozumel Shrimp Cocktail

This recipe is so insanely easy it’s hard to believe how wonderful it is.  It’s also hard to believe what’s in it—my beach-loving Mom and Dad and their equally Gulf-addicted family would turn their nose up at this as quick as if I’d served them Crab with a “K.” But it is absolutely delicious, easy to make as an Island day is long, and the use of a seldom-used part of celery just points out how inherently frugal these people are!  I’ve tried to Americanize these to keep them isla fácil yet very easy.

2 5-lb. bags of extra small (“salad size”) frozen cooked, peeled.  tail- and shell-off shrimp

1/2  lb. de-seeded and chopped tomato (heirloom are best—no need to peel)

Tops of 1 bunch of celery, chopped, including leaves (see note!)

1 c. ketchup

1 T. tomato paste

1 c. spicy Bloody Mary mix (I like Mr. T and Tina)

1 c. shrimp juice *or* clam juice

1 sm. Red onion, finely diced

2 t. Garlic puree (the kind in the plastic tube)

1/2c. bottled Key Lime juice

2 T. hot sauce, like Cholula, Tapatio, or Valentina (if available).  (Cajun style is NOT the same!)

½ bunch finely chopped cilantro

Salt, chile, and lime powder to taste

Mix everything together.  Chill for 2 to 4 hours.  Serve with avocado and tortilla chips with beer, wine, or…see note #2 below!!

Note #1—for the celery use all the top from the stalks up—including leaves AND the little connector things between the stalks and the leaves.

Note #2—wanna get un poco loco?  Serve this in a nice Margarita or cocktail glass and add a shot of good tequila to each glass.  Let the fiesta begin!

Jicama Cozumeleño

I saw Javier, the bartender at El Cozumeleño make this super simple and easy snack last year and, between my poor Spanish and his attemped English, I got it down.  Raw Jicama is unusual, like a cross between an apple, a water chestnut, and a potato.  This is refreshing and GREAT for you—serve it on a hot day or better yet poolside!

2 medium-sized Jicama. Peeled and sliced into French-fry sized sticks

½ cup Key Lime juice

1 t. Chile-lime salt

Dash of Mexican hot sauce (like Cholula) to taste

Mix.  Serve with chips and either an ice-cold beer or a Margarita!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nanny’s Banana Pudding (5/10/2018)

For those of you who have never had it, banana pudding is very definitely indigenous to Texas and the South. Down here, this is a special treat, one drenched in family history, and revered as an heirloom recipe handed down from our parents’ and grandparents’ era. It’s fattening, unctuous, incredible, and in every way delicious.  However–before I tell you how to send your guests into dessert heaven with my Grandmother’s Banana Pudding, you get to read a few things about her life and times.

Her name was Dollie Sue Nichols, but we called her Nanny. She was born way out in the country near the town of Glen Rose, Texas near the turn of the century–the 20th century. She was one of a whole passel of children, raised by a stern but loving set of parents in the days before supermarkets, automobiles, television–even before radio. Quite literally, Nannie and her brothers and sisters were their own (and only!) entertainment. This forced reliance on each other for support and amusement forged a bond that would last quite literally for over a century. The cool thing about Nanny, and about the whole Nichols clan, is how intensely they shared that singleness of mind. They hung together through everything–those Nichols kids were literally a band of best friends that just happened to have the same mother and father.

Nanny and her sister, Mamie wound up spending a lot of time in the Nichols’ kitchen cooking for their siblings and parents. Thinking of what life was like that far out in the country in the very early 20th Century, I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for them to make a banana pudding like this recipe creates. Most certainly there were no last-second dashes to Whole Foods for organic bananas back in their day, no Kitchen-Aid stand mixers, no exact-temp ranges, not much of anything!

Things probably got easier when Nanny moved to Fort Worth’s North Side after World War I as a blushing bride who soon had three small babies of her own. To hear my mom, aunt, and uncle tell it, Nanny was a frequent visitor at the neighborhood grocery store where, during the Great Depression, she’d often barter the beautifully hand-stitched clothes she had made for groceries for her family. Still, evidently Nanny preferred the country life, because by the time I was born in 1958, Nanny had moved out of the city to a farm northwest of Fort Worth, where she was again able to harvest eggs from the chickens in the henhouse, get milk from the (surprisingly mean) cow, and in her spare time grow the most delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, and peaches this side of heaven. And the chicken Nanny fried was always…ahem….very “fresh.”

My brother, cousins, and I clearly remember three things about spending time at Nanny’s…..one, how different the weekends we spent working on the farm were than our normal, boring suburban lives…two, how much fun we used to have just out of Nanny’s watchful sight (dirt-clod fights and playing in the hayloft are memories that half a century have yet to blur!)…and the most important of the three, Nanny’s cooking. She had a number of signature recipes for which she was famous in our family, in her church, and in a surprisingly large swath of Wise County–like her fried chicken, her black-eyed peas, her fresh peach cobbler, and of course, her banana pudding.

So here it is…although, I have to admit I’ve had to make a few changes to Nanny’s original recipe. Nothing drastic (no instant pudding here, thank you!!), just a little update to reflect the differences of today’s ingredients. For example, I think the fresh cow’s milk–unpasteurized and just full of cream–must have made the pudding thicken better, so I’ve switched to half-and-half and added just a little unflavored gelatin. And store-bought eggs today have little dinky tiny yolks, not at all like the jumbo double-yolks that Nanny got fresh from the “girls” in her coop. So I’ve upped the number of eggs in this recipe. But the resulting product still tastes remarkably like Nanny’s.  And as for her other three stand-out culinary achievements–her fried chicken, peach cobbler and black-eyed peas? Who knows, maybe one day I’ll share those recipes with you as well. Or–maybe not. After all, some family secrets are worth keeping!

NANNY’S BANANA PUDDING

Ingredients

6 eggs yolks (save the whites)

1 ¼ c. granulated sugar

4 ½ c. half-and-half

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 package unsweetened, unflavored gelatin

1 box Vanilla Wafers (don’t even think of using reduced fat!)

4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

1 stick of unsalted butter (room temp)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

For the meringue:

6 egg whites from the eggs above

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Ground nutmeg for garnish

Separate ice-cold eggs, keeping both the yolks and the whites–just keep them separate! Beat yolks just a bit and set aside. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and half-and-half in a double boiler, and bring them to just below the boiling point (a candy thermometer is a great help here). Stir VERY frequently. If you scorch it–game over, start again.

When the liquid mixture begins to thicken slightly, slowly put spoonfuls of the hot sweetened cream into the beaten egg yolks to temper them, whisking the yolks constantly. When they are warm, *slowly* add them into the hot cream mixture, stirring like crazy (see, you get a great dessert AND a workout with this recipe!). Stir for another 5 minutes, still over the heat in the double boiler. Then add the vanilla extract, butter and the unflavored gelatin, mix thoroughly until the butter is incorporated, and cool the mixture for at least three hours.  It helps to cover this with plastic wrap with the wrap actually touching the top of the pudding to prevent formation of a “skin.”

Just before you assemble the pudding, peel and slice the bananas and set aside. In a very clean and dry bowl, pour in the 6 reserved egg whites to begin the meringue. Two words of caution. First, if there is even a speck of egg yolk in the whites, the meringue will never stiffen. The oils in the yolk will just kill it. Second, meringue does not set up well on rainy or humid days (which makes me wonder if cooks in Seattle or New Orleans ever successfully make meringue). So plan to do this on a dry, sunny day. If it’s too humid for a meringue, then make some home-made sweetened whipped cream instead and top the pudding with that. However, assuming you’ve passed these hurdles, it’s time to make the meringue. In a mixer, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar on “high” until you get to the soft-peak stage. Then add the sugar slowly. Continue to beat and as you approach the stiff peak stage add the vanilla.

To assemble, put the oven on “broil.” Spoon a bit of the cooled pudding mixture on the bottom of a glass dish. Then, put a layer of vanilla wafers, a layer of bananas, and smother them with the pudding-then repeat. You should get either 2 very generous layers or 3 skimpy ones. You’ll use the whole box of vanilla wafers–and I HOPE you use all the pudding!  (Note:  if you do not use all the pudding—and WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU??—add some blueberries or sliced strawberries to the remaining pudding and save for the next morning for a fantastic breakfast!)  When that’s assembled, mound the top with the meringue mixture, making pretty little peaks on top. Put the entire dish under the broiler, watching extremely carefully, until the meringue starts to brown (usually no more than 2 to 3 minutes). Be CAREFUL-once it starts to brown it progresses QUICKLY! When it’s just a little less brown than you want it, pull it out-it will continue to brown a bit after you remove it from the oven. Finally, sprinkle ground nutmeg sparingly on top and serve.

 

 

TheBillOwen Decadent Lobster Mac-And-Cheese Recipe (4/28/2018)

Full disclosure.  This is NOT a family recipe.  Good Lord, I shudder to think what my parents, ancestors, or anyone else upstream in my gene pool (with the possible exception of my beautiful and elegant Aunt Pat!) would think about this amazing, decadent, and delicious recipe.  But after having this at a restaurant in NYC once, I came home and after a bit of tinkering came up with this version.  I’ve made it for both work and family and received loud and exuberant rave reviews!

So, a few facts about Mac and Cheese here in Texas and the South.  One:  mac and cheese was a country, po’ folk dish.  This one is not.  Two:  our Mac and Cheese below the Mason/Dixon has a pinch of mustard powder in it.  It adds a nice little zing that plays nicely with the cheese(es).  You seldom see that in Northern versions.  Three:  Mac and Cheese is never every-night fare.  It is a special occasion treat, with the obvious nod that around here Sunday dinner IS a special occasion.  And if you eat mac-n-cheese daily it’s probably the boxed kind, which I refuse to put in the same category as home-made (although honestly I do like it, just like I like McDonald’s burgers—I just don’t call those “real” burgers just as I don’t call boxed Mac-N-Cheese made with the yellow cheesey powder real!)

With that said….this version is ridiculously off-the-tracks good, and just enough different to be awesome.  In addition to the mustard, I add a little Old Bay seasoning, a nod to the star of the show, the lobster!  I break the normal Cheddar (or God forbid that stuff in the yellow box) used into 3 different cheeses, all complimentary yet distinctive in their own right.  This makes a meaty, filling entree—there is a LOT of lobster in this dish—all you need is some good bread (sourdough with garlic butter would work) and a great salad with a nice vinaigrette is a complete meal.  A meal fit for royalty.  Or a Vanderbilt, or a Gates, or a Bezos, or a….well, you get the idea.

 

BILL’S LOBSTER MAC-AND-CHEESE                        (Serves 8 to 10)

 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

1 lb pasta (I normally use Penne Rigate—love the ridges)

3 lbs. cooked Lobster meat (frozen cooked meat is fine—save the juice!)

12 oz. each extra-sharp cheddar, gruyere*, and chevre goat cheese

1 stick butter plus 2 tablespoons (divided use)

1 c. flour

1 quart milk

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup dry Sherry

½ cup seafood stock, shrimp stock, *or* the reserved juices from frozen lobster meat packages

2 tsp. Old Bay

1 tsp. salt

1 T. black pepper

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 c. Panko breadcrumbs for topping

*–you can substitute aged Swiss for the Gruyere.  If you do, add 2 T of Parmesan.

 

TO MAKE THIS DECADENT DISH:

1.       If frozen, defrost lobster meat.  Allow to come to room temp.  Chop into the size you want in the finished dish.  (Save the juices from the packet!)

2.       Cook pasta to package directions and drain.

3.       Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4.       Over medium-high heat, melt 1 stick (8 T) of the butter.  Add the flour and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes just to cook the flour taste out—you don’t want to brown this.  Blonde is the color to aim for!

5.       Add the milk and cream and stir continuously until the sauce begins to thicken.

6.       Add the sherry, thyme leaves, mustard, Worcestershire, and seafood juice/stock/whatever.  Stir for 1 more minute then remove from heat.

7.       Add cheeses and whisk until sauce is smooth.

8.       Combine pasta and sauce and place into a deep 9 X 13 casserole and place in oven for 15 minutes.  (DO NOT PUT LOBSTER IN AT THIS POINT!)

9.       Melt the remaining 2 T of butter, and toss the Panko in the buttery goodness.

10.   After 15 minutes, remove casserole and THEN add the lobster, stirring it thoroughly through the dish.  Turn oven to Broil.

11.   Top with the buttered Panko and place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes (watching carefully) and remove when it’s golden brown.

12.   Serve hot, and just enjoy it!

That’s the secret recipe, folks.  If you make it—leave a comment and let me know.  DAYUM it’s good!

Bill

 

 

Wyatt’s Eggplant Casserole (4/23/2018)

OH. SO. GOOD.

Many years ago in Texas there was a cafeteria chain called Wyatt’s. It was wonderful—great food, excellent quality, low prices (which probably explains why they went out of business). When I was young and Dad travelled a lot, Mom would take us there once or twice a week. And I got the same thing, every single time—two devilled eggs, a blueberry muffin, chicken-fried steak, and Wyatt’s signature Eggplant Casserole. That casserole was AMAZEBALLS. You never even really knew eggplant was in it (so if you’re not an eggplant fan, try this anyway!). It was rich, bready, slightly sweet, cheesy, and just so good you wanted to wriggle naked in it! (But it was served hot and that’d burn your “gingerbread,” so…..)

I thought the recipe was lost, but recently, I came across their original recipe in my grandmother’s recipe box, and I’ve updated it just a bit. The original recipe used Wyatt’s day-old rolls, which were a little sweet, so I’ve updated it using King’s Hawaiian Rolls and simplified the rest of the ingredients. And it’s still awesome.  No, that’s a soft-sell.  To be honest it’s just freakin’ wonderful.  Your family will love it as much as mine does!

Fixin’s:

  • 1 ½ lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (yes, please, PEEL it!)
  • 1⁄2 lb King’s Hawaiian Bread, dried or toasted and chopped fine
  • 1 cup canned evaporated milk
  • 1⁄4 cup butter, melted
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ½ cup chopped pimiento (finely chopped jarred roasted red bell pepper works just as well)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:

  • Soak eggplant pieces in salted water for 4 hours if you can. If you don’t have time, add a teaspoon of sugar to the recipe.
  • Chop the King’s Hawaiian Bread and leave it out overnight to dry or put it on a pan in a 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes. You want to dry it—not toast it!
  • Simmer the cubed eggplant in water until tender. If you didn’t salt the eggplant beforehand, salt the water you’re simmering in. If you did salt and soak the eggplant, no salt in the water is necessary.
  • Soak the dried King’s Bread in the milk.
  • Preheat oven to 350 (just turn up the oven you used for the bread. Saving energy = saving money!)
  • Melt the butter in a pan, and slowly sauté the onions, celery, and pepper (the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking!) until they’re tender, about 12 minutes.
  • Lightly beat the eggs.
  • Mix the eggplant *with* any un-absorbed milk, sautéed vegetables, eggs, and spices in a buttered or greased 9 X 13 casserole (or any 2 quart or larger) dish.
  • Cover with foil, and put into pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and cover with the wonderful cheeeeeese. Return, uncovered, to oven for 10 minutes.
  • When done, remove and either serve to your family or take down to the church social and see who remembers the cafeteria where this dish got its start!

(note: freezes well BEFORE cooking.)