Sunday, March 22, 2009

Best Braised Chicken

Pot roasts, shanks, short ribs, and brisket taste best when they’re braised; that means slow cooked at a lower temperature…mmmm. The food cooks in liquid, like stock, wine or canned tomatoes and the result is deliciously tender – “falling off the bone”. It’s safe to say that when you use a slow cooker, you’re using the braising technique, especially if you brown the food before you put it into the pot.

Chicken pieces (on the bone) lend themselves to this type of cooking. Breasts with rib meat, thighs and legs produce a delicious, moist, tender meal when braised, and, unlike their red meat counterparts, braised chicken comes together in under an hour. My recipe for Braised Chicken in Marsala Wine with Herbes de Provence demonstrates this technique perfectly; better yet, we get to skip a step and use just a pan – no slow cooker needed!

First, you want to make sure that the pieces of chicken are cut to similar size so that they cook evenly. Slicing the breasts into two pieces satisfies this requirement. Begin by heating equal amounts of butter and olive oil in a skillet, over medium high heat. (The amount you use will depend on the size of your skillet. To braise six thighs, I use one tablespoon of each.)

Carefully place the chicken into the hot oil, skin side down. The oil is hot and the chicken will splatter. Use a splatter guard to prevent some of the mess. Once the chicken is in the pan, don’t touch it; no touching, no prodding, no pushing, no nothing! Allow the skin to contract and caramelize. At this point, I season the uncooked side of the chicken with salt and pepper. When the skin side of the chicken is golden, use tongs to carefully turn and brown it on the other side. Season the cooked side with salt and pepper and remember to leave the chicken alone. When both sides are golden, remove the chicken to a platter to rest.

Pour off most of the drippings, but save just enough to retain a thin coating in the pan. For this dish, I sliced onions and peppers and cooked them in the drippings. I seasoned the veggies with excellent dried herbs. Once they were caramelized, I poured in my liquids du jour: Marsala wine and marinara sauce. When the sauce simmered and reduced, I tucked the chicken into the liquid and veggies, covered the pan and simmered the dish until the chicken was cooked through. The whole process was over in 45 minutes.

The end result is a moist, fragrant chicken dish that you can serve during the week, or for company. Let me know what you think!

Braised Chicken in Marsala Wine with Herbes de Provence

Searing the chicken over high heat in butter and olive oil is the secret to this dish. Place the chicken in the pan and don’t touch it. The flesh will contract immediately and caramelize, producing a rich, golden brown coating. Later, when adding the wine, the brown bits created in this searing process will blend in with the sauce. This is what braising is all about – and it’s oh so good!!

3 large chicken breasts with ribs, about 2 ½ pounds
6 chicken thighs about 2 ½ pounds (you may substitute or add chicken legs and wings)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon organic unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large bell peppers (green, orange red or yellow), seeded, veins removed, thinly sliced, about 3 cups
1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced, about 1 ½ cups
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1 cup Marsala wine
1 cup marinara sauce (if you don’t have any home made sauce, choose good quality sauce in a jar)
Chopped fresh parsley
Cooked Rice or Pasta

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Use a sharp knife to slice the breasts in half so that they are the same size as the thighs.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken pieces into the skillet, skin side down. Do this in batches so that you do not crowd the pan. Sear until the chicken is browned on one side, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn, season again, and sear until the chicken is browned on both sides, about 5 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a platter.

Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the drippings from the pan. Cook the onion and peppers in the pan until well browned. Season with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. Pour in the Marsala and simmer until most of the liquid disappears, about 5 minutes. Pour in the marinara sauce and stir. Place the chicken pieces back into the pan. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Garnish the chicken with chopped fresh parsley and serve over rice or pasta (I like this dish served over orzo, cooked in chicken broth with a sprig or two of fresh thyme nestled in the pot.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
Herbes de Provence is a combination of dried herbs that capture the flavors of the sunny region of the South of France. The mixture typically contains savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender flowers. It is available on-line and in many specialty food markets.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Perky Portobello Mushrooms

Mystery surrounds the heritage of the Portobello mushroom. Was it named for Portobello Road (a cheeky lane of high end and antique stores) in London, or did it get its name from Italy, where it is called "cappellone", meaning “big hat”? In either case, what we do know is that the portobello is a much bigger version or the crimini mushrooms, which lately have been nicknamed “Babybellas”.

Because of its dense, weighty texture, the large portobello is often a substitute for meat in many vegetarian recipes.
Because they are widely cultivated, you can purchase these mushrooms from your local grocery store year round; they are packaged with the caps and stems, caps only or pre-sliced. I recommend that you buy them in their most natural state, stems, gills and all! Choose, plump, pliable mushrooms and avoid dried-out or slimy looking ones. You know that you have chosen well when your portobello mushrooms possess an earthy smell.

When you get them home, simply wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth and store wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator; properly stored, the portobello will stay fresh for almost a week. It is best not to wrap them in plastic wrap, and instead allow the air to circulate around the mushrooms. You do not want to soak off any dirt or grime in water. Remember, mushrooms absorb every liquid they come in contact with, but they can’t discriminate—so submerge them in the yummiest of flavors when cooking – not washing!

Grilling the mushrooms in a grill pan or on an outdoor gill produces delicious results, but you can also roast, sauté and stir fry the Portobello; using them as a lower calorie substitute for meat in a recipe, offers the additional benefit of faster cooking and prep time. Portobello mushrooms are so versatile that you can incorporate them into recipes that span breakfast, lunch and dinner. Check out these new recipes and see what I mean:
Inside Out Mushroom Omelet
Veggie Enchiladas with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Corn and Black Beans
Portabella Mushroom Parmesan

When you try the recipe, come back and write a comment to let us know what you think!!

Inside Out Mushroom Omelet

Here, you have all of the ingredients found in the every-day omelet; but there’s a twist on the final composition. Portobello mushroom caps are the star. Melting cheese and veggie-filled scrambled eggs fill the caps with scrumptious flavors, brightened by the toppings of fresh chopped ripe tomatoes and a sprinkle of earthy thyme.

4 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed, sliced, about 4 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil (2 for grilling mushrooms and 1 more for sautéing the vegetables)
A pinch of course salt and a grind of fresh pepper
2 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, grated, about ½ cup
4 to 5 green onions, thinly sliced, about ½ cup
1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded, veins removed, diced, about ½ cup
8 extra large organic eggs
2 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cored and diced, about ½ pounds
Chopped fresh thyme

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle both sides of the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Grill, cap side down, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Turn and continue cooking for 3 minutes more. Remove the mushrooms to a platter. Sprinkle the insides of the mushrooms with salt and pepper and stuff with grated cheese. Keep warm.

Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and pepper and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour the eggs into the skillet. Cook until the eggs are just done, about 3 minutes more.

Spoon the eggs into the mushrooms, on top of the cheese. Garnish with salt, pepper, chopped tomatoes and fresh thyme.

Yield: 4 egg-filled mushrooms
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
You can add any veggies to your egg scramble. Diced zucchini and sautéed spinach make great additions, and grated cheddar or fresh mozzarella are good substitutes for Monterey Jack. Keep the mushroom - it’s filled with nutrients.

Portobello mushrooms are readily available in the produce department of your supermarket. You might experiment with an assortment of wild mushrooms in this dish. Simply sauté the wild mushrooms in a bit of butter or olive oil: then lay them on a platter as a bed for the veggie-filled eggs.

Portabella Mushroom Parmesan

Full of super tomato sauce, fresh sautéed spinach and gooey cheese, this stuffed mushroom dish can be a meal in itself.

4 large Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, sliced, about 4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil (2 for grilling mushrooms and 2 more for sautéing spinach)
A pinch of coarse salt and a grind of fresh pepper
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, about 4 cups
1 cup marinara sauce (if you don’t have any home made sauce, choose good quality sauce in a jar)
1 (4-ounce) piece fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/2 cup

Spray a grill pan with vegetable oil spray. Heat the grill to medium high. Drizzle the mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil and place into the pan, cap side down. Grill the mushrooms, turning once until just beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a baking dish.

Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a skillet and warm over medium high heat. Sautee the spinach in the pan until just wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes,

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour half of the marinara sauce into a shallow baking dish. Place the mushrooms into the baking dish, cap side down. Stuff the mushrooms with the wilted spinach. Pour the remaining sauce over top. Layer slices of mozzarella cheese over top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: 4 large mushrooms
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
You can add a sprinkle of freshly made bread crumbs to the top of this dish for an extra depth of flavor. You can also stuff the mushrooms with roasted veggies, such as diced zucchini, carrots and tomatoes before you layer with cheese.

If you do not have a home made marinara sauce in the fridge, choose a prepared sauce that has natural ingredients and just a small amount of added sugar and salt.

Veggie Enchiladas with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Corn and Black Beans

Grilled portobello mushrooms are the star of the dish. The rich sauce is yummy and can be used on everything from nachos to burritos. You can prepare the dish in advance and stick it into the oven minutes before your guests arrive!

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
3 cups water
1 (15.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

For the enchiladas:
4 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed, sliced, about 4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil (2 for grilling mushrooms and 2 more for sautéing vegetables
A pinch of coarse salt and a grind of fresh pepper
1 medium red onion, finely diced, about 1 cup
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, veins removed, diced, about 1 cup
1 (10-ounce) package frozen white corn, thawed
1 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans, drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 (8-inch diameter) flour tortillas
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated, about 2 cups (reserve some for garnish)
4 to 5 green onions, thinly sliced, about ½ cup

Make the enchilada sauce by whisking together chili powder, flour, cocoa powder garlic salt and oregano. Whisk in about ½ cup of water to create a smooth paste. Put this mixture into a saucepot over medium heat. Whisk in the remaining water. Bring this mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the sauce begins to thicken. Whisk in crushed tomatoes. Set the sauce aside while you continue the recipe.

Spray a grill pan with vegetable oil spray. Heat the grill to medium high. Drizzle the mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil and place into the pan, cap side down. Grill the mushrooms turning once until just beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a platter and cool slightly. Cut the mushrooms into ½-inch slices.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion, pepper, corn and black beans in the skillet until the vegetables are soft. Season with chili powder, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay one flour tortilla onto your work surface. Spread the tortilla with cheese. Top with a layer of veggies. Lay slices of grilled mushroom over the top. Fold the tortilla around the veggies (burrito-style). Place the enchilada into a baking dish and continue with remaining ingredients. Cover the enchiladas with the sauce and sprinkle extra cheese on the top.

Bake the enchiladas in the oven until the cheese is melted, and the sauce bubbles, about 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with green onions.

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
Feel free to use your favorite type of tortilla. Choose tortillas made from corn, if you prefer. Gourmet tortillas made with ingredients like whole wheat flour, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach will work just fine.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Slide into SLIDERS

Way back in time, when princes and princesses ruled the earth, there arose a manor dubbed White Castle. In order to feed the courtiers, feudal lords and other minion, the manor’s cooks created a burger that was designed to please lord and lady, young and old, rich and poor.

Actually it was 1921 when a cook and an entrepreneur teamed up to build a sparkling facility in the likeness of a castle. It had stainless steel interiors and cooks in white paper hats. If you build it they will come, or so goes the story of The White Castle burger chain, where millions of delectable little burgers are still served today. Nostalgia is part of the taste: “Sack of six with both, anyone?”

In case you don’t already know, the White Castle specialty was a mini hamburger called the SLYDER. Served in plain white wrappers, from plain white grease absorbing paper bags, these burgers were square shaped, ground from mystery meat, and dribbled with chopped white onion, ketchup and a slice of dill pickle. They were served on a soft roll that mushed together when you grabbed for it. You could order your SLYDER your way – with or without cheese, single or double patty; but no matter how hard you tried, one whole, two-inch mini burger disappeared in just two bites - three if you were a girl on a first date. The White Castle Slyder was late night sustenance to millions upon millions of teens, who would one day become the “Baby Boomer Generation.” Those retro days were simpler days, and oh how we miss them…we find ourselves craving comfort food, and that’s why we’re seeing reinventions of the SLYDER just about everywhere we look.

You need not look further; my Really Good Turkey Burger Sliders feature some lip-smackin’ updates. First the rolls are soft, potato dinner rolls. You can find them in a package of twelve on the bread aisle in your grocery store. I know that encouraging you to purchase these rolls breaks every one of my non-processed, non-packaged food rules, but this is a Slider we’re talking about! I’m happy to give instructions for making potato rolls from scratch, but that’d make you want to quit and these burgers are just too good to quit on!
To take this slider out of “the white paper bag”, I make it with ground turkey, both the white and dark parts. Next, instead of diced raw onion, this Slider is topped with crispy fried shallots. These are created by thinly slicing the shallot and then “boiling” it in hot oil. Once the shallot turns golden, you remove the slices with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. The onions crisp up as they cool to room temperature.
You can buy a White Castle Slyder with cheese, but you can’t buy one with home made pimento cheese. My yummy cheese topping is made with aged English cheddar and a spoonful of fresh horseradish, along with pimentos and a bit of mayo.

And finally, we will keep the dill pickle chip (it’s just not a Slider without a pickle) but, we’ll add thin slices of fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes. It’s ketchup in its most natural state!!
You can pre-make all of the components for this dish and assemble the Sliders when your family gets to the table. They are best served with seasoned, home made steak fries and a garden slaw. The result is a nostalgic meal that just might soothe your hungry, stressed-out, lads and lassies, until “Happy Days” are here again!

Really Good Turkey Burger Sliders

With Crispy Shallots and Spicy Pimento Cheese

Baby, if you want a burger, you’ve come to the right recipe. Use aged cheddar cheese and do NOT forget the pickles. There’s no secret sauce going on here – this burger is just for you …. and your pals!!

Note: Ask your butcher for a mixture of dark and white turkey meat from a source that produces humanely raised birds without unnecessary hormones or steroids. When grilling, make sure that the burgers reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Watch carefully, so that you do not over cook or you may dry out the burger.

For the crispy shallots:
6 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 cups (or 2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the pimento cheese:
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated, about ½ cup
1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimentos, drained
3 green onions, thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons
3 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon paprika

For the burger:
2 ½ pounds ground turkey (use white and dark parts)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

12 soft potato rolls (about 2-inches in diameter) sliced open horizontally and warmed
2 to 3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
Sliced dill pickles

Heat the canola oil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add the shallots and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the shallots until golden (this will take about 20 to 30 minutes). Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon to a dish layered with paper towels. The onions will become crispy. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm in a warming drawer or in the oven on low heat.

Place the cheese, pimento, green onions, mayonnaise, horseradish and paprika into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until the mixture is just combined. Set aside.

Place the ground turkey into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and Worcestershire sauce. Generously season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine and form into 8 patties.

Coat a grill pan with vegetable oil spray and heat on medium high. Place the burgers onto the grill pan and sear on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully flip the burgers and cook until seared on the second side, about 3 minutes more. Top each burger with a slathering of pimento cheese. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more so that the cheese begins to melt over the burgers. If the burgers are cooked through and the cheese has not quite melted, melted, remove the pan from the heat and tent with aluminum foil for 5 minutes.

To assemble the Sliders, place the warmed rolls onto a platter. Open the rolls and place a burger patty with the melted cheese onto the bottom half of the roll. Cover the burger with crispy onions. Layer the top half of the roll with slices of tomato and dill pickle. Put the two halves together and dig in!
Makes 6 servings, 2 Sliders per pal
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes for the shallots, 8 minutes for the burgers

Monday, March 2, 2009

Grab and Go Breakfast Treats

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet we tend to spend very little time and attention on it. Oh yes, there are tons of excuses, the rationale for ignoring breakfast. You are running late, so you simply skip it – WRONG! Perhaps your teen started a diet and thinks that skipping breakfast will make her thin – WRONG! Do you give into sleepy kids and offer a sugary snack bar to eat on the drive to school or do you justify a stop for Fast Food along the way – WRONG AGAIN!

Breakfast gets your metabolism started each morning. If your body is one big fuel burning engine, then food is the fuel we need to run that engine. Passing on breakfast not only makes you and yours cranky, but in most cases leads to really bad decisions for lunch. It’s easy to justify a drive-thru super burger meal at noon if you’ve skipped breakfast at 7:00 am.

A recipe for your family’s wellness includes a smart breakfast, and by that I don’t mean a single convenience item, but a meal – something with complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein. Eating an egg or two in the morning will satisfy you until lunch time; not so for sugary breakfast cereal or pre-packaged muffins (doused with a good amount of preservatives). These items may find your child looking at the clock on the class room wall at ten, counting the minutes until lunch hour. Why does this happen? Because foods like processed cereal and muffins contain hidden sugars, producing a spike of energy that plummets as quickly as it appears. The protein and fat found in foods like eggs and milk provide a longer, slower energy stream, thereby sustaining you and satisfying your hunger until lunch-time, which allows you to make a good (not starving) choice for your next meal.

For a super breakfast pairing, include veggies and fruit in your morning meal; think of it as part of your goal to increase the amount of antioxidant-rich foods that your family eats daily. Add low-fat cheese as a special, protein dense ingredient to ramp up your ordinary breakfast. When time permits, on leisurely weekends and holidays, gather the gang and create brunch meals that are designed to share with others. These relaxed meals will help to instill the need for a fun breakfast on even those most hectic weekdays.

Here are a couple of really fast breakfast ideas:
Try a schmear of natural peanut butter on whole grain toasted bread, topped with fresh fruit, honey or a bit of jam.
Place a chilled hard boiled egg alongside strawberries, dipped in coarsely ground pepper. (I’m not kidding. Dipping the strawberries in the pepper is really good….!)
Snack on a hunk of hard cheese (cheddar, Parmesan) and a bunch of red or green grapes.
Cut a crisp apple into wedges and spread with macadamia nut butter or cashew butter. (You can make any nut butter by placing the nuts into your food processor. Pulse until the nuts become emulsified. You don’t need to add oil - nuts are full of good oils).
Dish out cottage cheese or yogurt and top with blueberries, peaches and/or chopped strawberries. You can add a bit of granola for a crunchy topping.
Whip up a fruit smoothie prepared from fresh (or frozen) fruit, organic yogurt and crushed ice.
Tuna salad (for breakfast?) Yep. Rather than skip breakfast completely, raid your fridge for last night’s leftovers and …. Viola! It’s a grab and go starter that won’t find you stuffing a fast food alternative into your mouth as you dash to work.

Check out these recipes for quick breakfast meals; they will take you only minutes to prepare and help start your day with a healthy, delicious and totally tempting treat designed with you family’s optimal health in mind.
Deviled Eggs for Breakfast
Open Face Smoked Salmon Breakfast Sammie
Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Breakfast Sandwich
Blueberry Pie Muffins (Make these on the weekend and pass them out all week.)

Letting the Good Times Roll

This crazy, hectic life we live often finds us spending more time with our technological gadgets than we do having a conversation with friends. You want to gather the group, but you are a tad nervous about throwing a party – you just don’t have the time. Good news; it’s the little impromptu bashes that turn out to be the most fun!

Case in point, my dear pal, Diana, and I recently found some time to grab lunch and catch up on things. While chatting about mutual friends, we realized that neither of us had been in touch with our buddies in weeks. We decided, right there and then, to gather the gals for a glass of wine, a munchie or two, and some good old fashioned girl talk.

Well, the idea grew and grew, as did our guest list (written on the back of a check deposit slip) and before we knew it, we were hosting a Fat Tuesday Party!! Invitations were ordered from my cell phone, the menu was initiated and the plan was sealed.

Live crawfish arrived by overnight delivery. Old taste traditions were updated preserving the “Looweezeeunna” flavors. The gals turned out in full regalia and we let the good times roll!

The secrets of success, when hosting a party, lie in making all of your efforts look effortless!

When planning a party, I focus on what I’m really, really good at, and I defer to the talents of others in those areas that I find more challenging. For example, I relied on my friend Maureen of PaperMpressions to create an invite that would set the tone for our Fat Tuesday Party. I suggested one that was a little fussy, very festive and girlie-girl whimsical. The invitations that Maureen creates are as informative as they are gorgeous, leaving nothing to the guest’s imagination in terms of theme, what to wear, whether to drop by or arrive promptly and how, if at all to RSVP; her invites lay out the fun in a nutshell. The secret here, is that you want your guests to be relaxed when they step through the door, and the instrument that makes this happen is the tell-all invitation.

Another secret is to say, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. During our morning walk, I mentioned the party to another dear pal, Cindy. She stopped in mid stride, turned toward me and enthusiastically stated, “I’ll make the gumbo.” I said, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. One dish crossed off my list. Two days later, she received her Bon Appétit Magazine and offered to make their recipe for Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with yummy – (and I mean YUMMY) Caramel Sauce – from scratch!! I replied, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. Another dish crossed off my list.

Diana order 30 pounds of fresh crawfish and sent me an email asking if I knew how to cook them. I wrote back, “Nope – but we can figure it out.” And we did – in front of the whole gang, which, as it turned out, ended up being the entertainment at the party. Between boiling, draining, shelling, picking out the meat, and hysterical laughing, we kept our guests busy for quite some time.

I made Clams Casino, and figured out how to shuck clams, by saying good bye to three fingernails and hello to a box of Band-Aids – not bad for a first effort. I found pasteurized lump crabmeat for the crab cakes. They were presented on a platter, each topped with a handful of mixed spring greens tossed with only a bit of lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I called it Upside Down Crab Cake Salad.

My friend, Ann Marie, whose daughter attended school in New Orleans (during Hurricane Katrina), asked me if I would like to borrow her Cajun cookbooks. I said, “YES” and “THANK YOU” and found a N’Orleans Style Red Beans recipe in her Junior League of New Orleans cookbook titled, Crescent City Collection. Another dish crossed off the list.

My challenge was to duplicate one of my favorite eat-out-at-the-restaurant dishes: etouffee. My favorite is served at a little restaurant called “Louisiana Purchase” in Banner Elk, North Carolina. They offer Seafood Etouffee, Shrimp Etouffee and Crawfish Etouffee. I have eaten them all – several times. The day of the party, I experimented with several different recipes, kept the jar of hot pepper sauce nearby, and produced a delicious dish that featured seared diver scallops dunked in a sherry-laced sauce and (oh baby, baby, baby…) was it good.

Diana topped off the evening with her made-to-order beignets, lavishly smothered with confectioners’ sugar and served warm from fryer to basket.
The gals all caught up with one another and vowed to stay in touch more frequently. Oh, by the way, the date was set for our next get-together; Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. I’d better call Maureen to get the invitations started - Ole!
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