Where there’s smoke, there’s challenge.

 

Think of the challenges in life you’ve faced. Some circumstantial–a restructuring, say, of your job to incorporate skills you’ve never acquired, and never had the desire of acquiring because it’s not your modus operandi. In my case (a typical situation), a superior at work once set me up for failure inserting complex spreadsheet analysis into an otherwise demanding schedule. A challenge, no doubt. Walking out that last day, tail tucked between  legs, the door bashed my spirit on the way out.

And then there are the invited challenges. Resolutions that might, if accomplished, improve your health: avoiding excess sugars, or training and then finishing your first triathlon–challenging yourself to beef your financial situation by acquiring a particular degree or skill set. Or taking on a challenge that might improve your character, your community, hell, maybe you’re that breed of person that takes on a challenge to better the planet.

There are the daily challenges and the life-long. One, for me, has been affording the time to write a novel, indeed, many novels. But that degree in English morphed into a degree in communications.  Ain’t no money tree in my back yard. My first job was as a copywriter in Manhattan for a Public Relations firm. But the itch still itched and I kept scratching.

My first attempt was a book with the working title, “On Heretics and Snails”. But after opening my store, The Back Alley Gourmet, the book never made its way out of the card file. After selling the business, and working odd jobs here and there, I landed contract work writing a weekly food by-line for the Ann Arbor News that morphed into MLive. Loved that job; great fodder for the feeder. Getting close.

I conceived the story, Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice, five years ago after a visit to my family in Alabama. Upon my return to Ann Arbor, I wrote that first, all-important sentence, which is, perhaps, the only sentence that hasn’t altered through years of re-writes. Yesterday I finished my final proof; I’ll be birthin’ a real book soon, Miss Scarlet.

IMG_6000In the meantime, there’s a more immediate challenge: to clear counters of tax-related BS so I can cook. Eating a lot of Tricked-out Ramen these days.

Here a recipe for Caldo Verde, a delicious Portuguese kale and potato soup that I appreciate making during tax season. It doesn’t require much counter space and uses inexpensive ingredients. Alas, it’s time to shore up your money as the tax man’s a comin’, palms outstretched, breathing down your neck.

Caldo Verde (Portuguese Potato and Kale Soup)

Caldo Verde (Portuguese Potato and Kale Soup)

 

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Turks & Caicos Ceviche! (using fresh conch, scallops or shrimp)

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Harvesting conch from the sea.

Lake Michigan, my heart belongs to you. But a trial separation is essential to my well being. You’ve been naughty of late, frozen over in fact, so I’m seeing the Caribbean. When your temperature rises, and not in keeping with that of the North Pole, we can mend our ways.

Yes. It’s cold outside. Yes. I’m fortunate to have escaped; luckier still to have enjoyed a boating trip that explored the islands of Turks and Caicos while we savored the fruits from her seas. Here’s the resulting sea-to-table recipe for conch salad, simply prepared on the boat within minutes of them harvesting the grass beds in shallow waters of the turquoise sea.

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Conch shells freshly pulled from the grasses.

You may not have ever tasted conch, but I’m sure you’ve seen the shell; the size of a grapefruit with horned spikes and a pearlescent pink interior. The animal that resides within the confines of this palace is actually a snail, with a meat that is eaten raw in salads, also enjoyed cooked in fritters, chowders and burgers. All parts of the conch meat are edible, but most prefer the white meat that resembles a chicken breast fillet. The dark meat is edible, but often reserved to use as bait or fillers.

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Extracting the conch from the shell.

Unless you’re living in southern Florida, South America or the Caribbean, fresh conch is hard to find. But if you’re living in Ann Arbor, you may sometimes purchase fresh conch meat from Monahans Seafood in Kerrytown. I also located a source in Chaleston where you may have it shipped to your home.

Bay scallops, sliced sea scallops or shrimp are excellent substitutes for the conch in the following recipe.

There are as many variations on ceviche as the countries who enjoy it. Fresh ginger is often added to the marinade,  varieties of corn are added in Peruvian recipes–sweet potatoes in Equadorian.

IMG_5684Inject some warmth into a chilly wintry evening. A mojito or margarita would double the fun. Crank up some calypso and  inject a bit of sunshine into your life.

Better yet; table some vacation time for late next November; the 13th annual conch festival will again be held in Turks and Caicos.

       Recipe: Ceviche (using fresh conch, scallops or shrimp)

Ingredients:

  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • Juice from 2 oranges
  • 1 pound fresh, uncooked cracked conch, scallops or shrimp*
  • 3 scallions, light green and white parts only, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, diced
  • 1 large ripe red tomato, diced
  • 1 habernero or Scotch bonner pepper (optional)**
  • 1/3 cup washed, shopped cilantro or parsley
  • Your favorite hot sauce
  • Plaintain or corn chips, as needed

*Dice conch; use bay scallops whole or cut in half; slice sea scallops; cut shrimp into 1/3 -inch pieces. Purchase seafood from a trusted sea monger; it must be absolutely fresh or use frozen and thawed.

**These peppers are delicious, traditionally used in ceviche, but may be too hot for a Western palate. Use at your discretion. To handle, wear plastic gloves, cut in half lengthwise, then remove seeds and membranes. The seeds and membranes could burn your skin if you’re not careful.

Directions

  • Combine juices and divide in half.
  • Add conch, shrimp or scallops to juices and let sit at room temperature 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in scallions, peppers, remaining juices, cilantro or parsley. Refrigerate and marinate 4 hours or up to 24 hours, refrigerated.
  • Stir in tomato just before serving. Season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and hot sauce, if desired. Serve with plantain chips, or best-quality tortilla chips.

Yield: 4 servings

Active Time: 20 minutes

Marinate Time: 4-24 hours

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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New Orleans: Hey Y’all, it’s Carnival–Laissez Le Bons Temps Roulé!

IMG_5402Whether you’re buried in 10 feet of snow, or basking in more winter favorable climes, February is a great time to inject a bit of heat–New Orleans style– into your kitchen. Here for my niece’s wedding, we’re  spending a week in the Garden District, VRBOing a home built in the 1850’s with a front porch large enough to accommodate a family reunion.

New Orleans is a country unto itself; a city of jubilant excess where less is never more; a city that suffers fools gladly, especially when they’re three sheets to the wind with a wad of ready green. And Mardi Gras is in the air.

It’s in the purples and greens decorating the Creole cottages, shotgun houses and palatial mansions in the Garden District; in the waft of spilled rum on Bourbon Street; in the outstretched arms, begging for beads flung down from floats parading down Charles, and strewn from iron lattice balconies. Certainly it’s in the salty chew of mortadella in a muffaletta sandwich as big as the Mississippi. Mardi Gras, 2015, is in the slideshow below…

I’ve visited this city many times through the years. Every time the plane glides down the Louis Armstrong airport runway, I check my common sense—indeed, my brain—at the gate, allowing myself to be swept into the Bacchanalian vibe with abandon. A culture unto itself, New Orleans has its own brand of music, speech, worship, and certainly its own  brand  of cooking.

Shrimp and Oyster Po' Boy

Shrimp and Oyster Po' Boy

Gumbo Ya Ya

Gumbo Ya Ya

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya

Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya

Red Beans and Rice with Andouille

Red Beans and Rice with Andouille

Grilled (or baked) Creole Oysters

Grilled (or baked) Creole Oysters

Cajun Bronzed Scallops

Cajun Bronzed Scallops

Cajun-Spiced Pork with Greens

Cajun-Spiced Pork with Greens

Muffaletta (New Orleans Olive and Meat Sandwich)

Muffaletta (New Orleans Olive and Meat Sandwich)

Chicken Tchoupitoulas

Chicken Tchoupitoulas

Poor Girl's Seafood Etoufée

Poor Girl's Seafood Etoufée

Shrimp and Oyster Po' Boy thumbnailGumbo Ya Ya thumbnailShrimp and Grits thumbnailChicken and Tasso Jambalaya thumbnailRed Beans and Rice with Andouille thumbnailGrilled (or baked) Creole Oysters thumbnail
Cajun Bronzed Scallops thumbnailCajun-Spiced Pork with Greens thumbnailMuffaletta (New Orleans Olive and Meat Sandwich) thumbnailChicken Tchoupitoulas thumbnailPoor Girl's Seafood Etoufée thumbnail

It’s said that New Orleans is a city with thousands of restaurants and only one menu. That’s far from the reality, but if the statement holds a kernel of truth, oh what a menu the landscape has created.

I made the following  recipe before I left Ann Arbor, the ingredients a gift from Stephanie and Tom Teague, former Ann Arborites who now call Nola their home (lucky ducks).

Recipe: Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red beans or kidney beans
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 1/2- 2 pounds smoked ham hock(s) or shank(s)
  • 1 pound andouille sausage links
  • 6 cups water
  • 6-8 cups cooked extra long grain white rice
  • Your favorite hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Crystal

Instructions

  1. Rinse beans, sorting out small rocks if necessary. Soak 12-24 hour in a large pot of water, or use the quick soak method.*
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion two minutes then add garlic. Stir until just fragrant, about 45 seconds; don’t let garlic brown.
  3. Stir green pepper and celery and continue cooking until beginning to wilt, about 3-5 minutes, then stir in bay leaves, cayenne, thyme, basil and Cajun seasoning.
  4. Add ham hocks and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and shimmer for 2 1/2 hours. (As beans soften, use a spoon to crush some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the broth.)
  5. Remove ham hock(s). When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bone, chop and return to pot.
  6. Slice andouille into 1/4-inch thick pieces and stir into the pot. Simmer until cooked through, 20-30 minutes. (Now is a good time to make the rice.) Serve over white rice. Pass the hot sauce.

*To quick cook beans, place in a pot and pour water over beans to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil for 1 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 1 hours. Rinse beans then use in recipe as directed.

Preparation time: 40 minute(s)

Cooking time: 3 hours

Number of servings (yield): 6-8 servings

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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