Lowcountry Longing

There is something about the Lowcountry that calls to me.  I can’t explain what exactly, but I know that whatever it is stirs something deep within my soul.  It is a siren song that beckons to me with its spindly live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the ebb and flow of the tidal waters through the marshes, and the iconic lighthouses that dot the shore.  The pace of life is slower there – something Ben was quick to remind me of as I became frustrated with a driver who was waiting for Christmas before he’d make his left turn.  Once I reset my mind and my expectations, I fell into the pace of the South and felt its warm, comforting arms wrap around me as the sun shined and the palmetto branches waved in the coastal breeze.  Ah, vacation.

Our annual trip to Hilton Head Island was certainly anticipated, but I didn’t realize just how desperately Ben and I needed to unplug, unwind, and relax – that is, time off without the inclusion of a medical professional.  My sisters, brothers-in-law and parents packed up and prepared to join us on the beach for a little R&R and it was just what the doctor ordered.  Can I get a prescription for a few more of those, please?  Maybe a year’s supply?  With auto refill?  I digress.  On the beach, I felt a little less like a conspicuous cancer patient.  With my floppy beach hat, it was almost hard to tell I was covering my bald head.  That is, until a nice gust of wind launched the hat from my head and sent it tumbling across the sand as I shrieked and scrambled to catch it.  Sigh.

On every trip, Ben and I always wax on about how we could move there and set up a little home off island.  He’d run a wine shop, I’d run a restaurant.  We’d fill our days with our pipe dreams and when vacation ended, talk of those escapades disappeared with the retreating tide.  This trip was no different and we talked about how there wasn’t really a place on the island that did everything just right – at least, not right according to our standards.  This time though, the conversation felt a little more real.  There was a little more urgency to “pulling the trigger” knowing what we’ve just been through.  This time, we talked about timelines, about building up a nest egg before taking the plunge.  Will it ever happen?  I don’t know.  But, why not?  One lesson I’ve learned is life is too short to wonder “what if?”

But a vacation it was and those days, unfortunately, are always numbered.  So we boarded a plane and flew home to the Plains to our little pup and our beloved Kansas City.  The Lowcountry longing continues for me.  It is always strongest in the days when I first return home, when “Carolina On My Mind” plays on an endless loop in my head, when I search the horizon for the wave of a palmetto and look up into the branches of our oak tree, desperate for a glimpse of tangled moss.  Alas, I never find what I’m looking for and the feeling starts to slowly recede.  This time, however, those Lowcountry longing days might be numbered.

blackened shrimp with roasted red pepper and goat cheese grits

recipe:  jb’s pour house

1 red pepper

6 c. water

1 1/2 c. stone ground white grits

1/2 c. heavy cream

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

5 oz. goat cheese

1 lb. wild American shrimp

2 Tbsp. blackening spice (our favorite is from Magnolias in Charleston, SC)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. canola oil

Preheat broiler.  Cut red pepper in half and remove core and seeds.  Press each half flat onto a baking sheet.  Place directly under broiler and roast until skin is black.  Remove from the broiler and place pepper halves in a sealable container or plastic bag.  Let the pepper steam for 10 minutes.  Peel skin and discard.  Dice pepper and set aside.

Bring 6 c. water to a boil.  Once boiling, slowly add grits, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low and stir constantly for about five minutes to prevent grits from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Let the grits simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Once grits have absorbed most of the water, add cream and butter.  Stir to incorporate.  Add reserved red pepper and goat cheese and stir until goat cheese is thoroughly incorporated.  Season to taste and keep on low heat until ready to serve.

Combine 2 Tbsp. butter and canola oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat.  As pan is heating, toss shrimp with blackening spice.  Add shrimp to pan and saute, about 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through.  To serve, place about 1/2 – 3/4 c. grits in a bowl and top with shrimp.

Until next time HHI,

– j

All content and photographs © 2010-2012 jb’s pour house

hibernation

 

We all know the saying – when life hands you lemonade, make lemonade.  What do you make when life hands you cancer?  The answer, apparently, is everything you can.

It has continued to be quiet here as we’ve had some big changes in the past month and a half.  We finally moved into our house, officially settling into our new hometown.  Along the way throughout the weekends of hauling boxes and furniture, a pesky cough kept bugging me.  Once the moving was done, the unpacking commenced.  After many exhausting evenings and long weekend days, our house finally looked like a home.  Our home.  But still, that pesky cough continued.  Labor Day weekend came and with it, a five year anniversary.  B and I celebrated our marriage with the best of them, treating ourselves to a luxurious couples massage and a wonderful five course tasting for our celebratory dinner.  Then, I crashed. 

Completely void of energy, struggling to breathe and generally feeling awful, I went to the doctor again and again until I finally got a chest x-ray.  Turns out, something was wrong.  A CT scan revealed a mass in my lung around which my lung had collapsed.  A hospital stay and a few biopsy procedures revealed the worst – I have lung cancer.  Not what you’d expect to hear as an otherwise healthy 30 year old non smoker.  But, life hands you a few curveballs every now and then, and this one was a whopper.  The prognosis is good, the support we have is amazing, and I’m eternally grateful to and in love with my wonderful groom who has been a rock throughout the emotional rollercoaster ride we’ve been on the past few weeks.

Needless to say, it is going to continue to be quiet around here for a while.  I hope to have the strength and the inspiration to cook some amazing things over the winter months and if I do, I’ll share with you here.  In the interim, we’re stockpiling with every good freezeable item we can think of to carry us through the dark days when I struggle for energy.  But spring will come – it always does.  And when the world begins to spring forth with new life, I’ll be right there with the trees and the flowers.  I’ll hopefully be sprouting a few new hairs by then and will be able to step away from the dark, cold winter and into a new year with a new purpose and a renewed appreciation of how wonderful life truly is.

Wishing you good health and hoping you are surrounded by those you love,

– j

All content and photographs © 2010-2011 jb’s pour house

hominy stew with tomatoes & okra

That song is still playing in my head.  (Note:  It probably doesn’t help that I’ve downloaded it to iTunes and can play it at will.)  My South Carolina longing continues and with it, my desire for Southern food. 

What is it about summer that makes us (ok, maybe just me) think of all of those wonderful Southern treats?  Maybe it is the warm weather, the sunshine, the annual mourning for the months-long summer breaks I no longer enjoy…  To satisfy my cravings, I’ve been researching various fried chicken recipes, whipped up a big pan of cornbread for the hubs to take to work, made the aforementioned key lime pound cake, and now, I think I’ve stumbled upon a recipe that closely mirrors the amazing hominy stew with tomatoes and okra I enjoyed at my sister’s Hilton Head wedding.

Can I tell you how giddy I was for this reception?  Sure, I was quite excited for my sister and my new brother-in-law.  But then I saw the menu.  It read like my own personal lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music:  Fried Green Tomatoes, Shrimp Fritters, Country Ham on Sweet Potato Biscuits, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp.  Oh, these are a few of my favorite things!  On to the second verse:  She-Crab Soup, Pulled Pork, Southern Fried Chicken, Baby Back Ribs, Shrimp Jambalaya, Hominy Stew with Tomatoes and Okra, Roasted Potato Salad, Cornbread…  drooling yet?  This was like Thanksgiving, only warmer.  Thank God my bridesmaid dress was A-Line because I had every intention of filling my plate to the brim.   And I did.  And then I didn’t feel so bad.

We were able to wrangle the recipe for the She-Crab soup from the caterer, but weren’t so successful with the stew.  I went on the hunt.  While I had a general idea of what I was after, many recipes I stumbled across had too much going on.  There were gumbos galore with seafood or sausage additions, all of which were a far cry from the vegetarian dish I had enjoyed.  Eventually, I settled on a recipe that seemed to fit the bill, albeit with a few modifications (really though, what recipe is not modified in my house?!).  One of the major changes I made was to shift this from a vegetarian recipe to one that has a wee bit o’ bacon.  If you are bacon averse, you could certainly start with a few tablespoons of canola oil instead.

Stew is a relative term here.  This ain’t your Midwestern, hearty, stick to your bones, chase away the winter chill stew.  The original dish was served as a side, no bowl required.  While mine was thick enough to stand on its own on a plate, I opted to serve this as a main dish over a bowl of rice.  Either way, it is delicious.  There are a lot of textures with the dumpling-like hominy, the soft tomatoes and the okra.  How to describe okra…?  If you’ve never had okra, this is a good introduction as the “silken” textures (often described as slime – I’m here to tell you the truth) combine with the liquid from the tomatoes and aren’t as pronounced as in other recipes.  When looking for recipes, I stumbled across the following saying:

When I was a kid, I ate so much okra I couldn’t keep my socks up.”

That’s all I have to say about that.

 

hominy stew with tomatoes & okra

recipe:  adapted from Threadgill’s Home Cooking 

 1/4 lb. bacon, diced

1 c. diced yellow onion

2 24-oz. cans whole tomatoes, undrained

1/2 lb. frozen cut okra

2 14 oz. cans white hominy

1/2 c. water

2 Tbsp. hot sauce

3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Salt & Pepper to taste

Saute bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Once bacon is nearly crisp, add onions and saute until onions have softened, about 4 minutes.  Using hands, crush tomatoes into large pieces.  Reserve juice.  Add tomatoes, tomato juice, okra, hominy and water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and stew, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes or until okra is tender.  Add hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper.  Serve as a side or over hot cooked rice.

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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roasted strawberries with zabaglione

 

While spring has sprung here in the Midwest and we’ve been gifted a few beautiful 80 degree days, we’re still a ways off from summer.  It feels like it should be June but it is only April, which I’m reminded of when picking up some strawberries at the local grocery store.  Although they look and smell like summer, the trucked-in berries (because it certainly isn’t warm enough to have local yet) give away their early spring secret when you bite into them.  They just aren’t that sweet yet.  Don’t fear friends, I have a way to have your summer temperatures and your summer berries too.

The idea is a little unconventional, I’ll be the first to admit that.  Roasted strawberries, huh?  Well, if you roast an onion or garlic, the sugars caramelize and you end up with something entirely different.  I thought the same could certainly apply to strawberries that just weren’t quite there yet.  I’m an impatient person and I wanted my summer dessert with my 80 degree days and patio lounging!  So I set off on a way to make to do with the berries I had, but I wanted an interesting and unique way to dress them up.

Zabaglione (say zab-ah-yōn) is like the angel food cake of custards.  It isn’t solid like a crème brûleé *yum* but instead, it is loose and airy and more like a thick sauce than a custard.  Traditionally made with Marsala, I chose to liven it up a bit with some bubbly instead.  No need to spend the big bucks on this kids, we’re cooking with it, so opt for a prosecco or cava.  Of course, you are going to want something that is palatable because let’s face it, you are going to drink the rest of the bottle with dessert, aren’t you?!  The real secret to zabaglione is a hand mixer.  You whip all sorts of air into it as the eggs, sugar and bubbly are cooking and the result is a light, foamy sauce.  It’s a little bit of heaven, I promise.  The best part is that this is a perfect dessert for entertaining.  While the strawberries roast (8 minutes – that’s it!) the sauce can be completely prepared and will be ready and waiting to blanket the berries in its boozy goodness.

roasted strawberries with zabaglione

recipe:  jb’s pour house

 

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced in half

3 tsp. plus 1/2 c. sugar

4 egg yolks, room temperature

1/2 c. sparkling wine, such as prosecco or cava

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place strawberries cut side down on a large baking sheet covered in foil (trust me – makes clean up a breeze!).  Sprinkle 3 tsp. sugar across the berries and place in the oven.  Roast for 8-10 minutes or until strawberries have softened and sugars have begun to caramelize on tops of berries.

Using a double boiler, bring a small amount of water to boil in the lower pan (note – make sure the level of the water in the bottom pan is low enough that when the top pan is added, the water does not touch the bottom of the top pan).  Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top saucepan of the double boiler.  Using a hand mixer, thoroughly blend the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow, about 1 minute.  Add the sparkling wine, mix to incorporate, and place the pan over the boiling water.  Continue mixing with the hand mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture has thickened and doubled in size, about 6-7 minutes.  For those concerned about egg safety, an instant read thermometer should register 140 degrees.  Remove from heat.

Remove the strawberries from the oven and place in individual serving dishes.  Spoon about 1/3 cup zabaglione over the top of the berries.  If desired, garnish with a slice of fresh strawberry and mint.  Serve immediately.

 

Enjoy a taste of the summer goodness to come!

– j

All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house

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