Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Charleston Style Seafood Pot Pie, Newburg and She Crab Collide!

So it's winter and it's really cold up here in this piece of New York city! And when it is cold like this I think there are few things that make people smile more than hot yummy rib sticking comfort food. But of all the comfort foods that people seem to react to pot pies seem to scream comfort for most folks. Kids love them, adults love them total win in the family cooking plan. Now I actually did not grow up with the individual pot pies that brands like Marie Callender's restaurants offer in the freezer section of a grocery store near you. I did grow up with casserole style pot pies. And this communal kind of eating was sharing of the best kind.

I also have to admit that pot pies in the south are not as popular as they are in the midwest and the northeast. We love our creamed chicken over biscuits and chicken and dumplings but pot pie is sort of, mostly, as I stated earlier, a casserole occasion if it happens at all. Along with chicken pot pie, seafood pie is of course one of the dishes that I am familiar with from the low country. It's sort of a throwback to the colonial days when English colonists brought the English "fish pie" to the new world. Pot pies in general are all based in English cookery. Fish pie in English cooking is made with white fish plentiful in the waters off Great Britain. Sometimes it includes both fresh and smoked fish to amp up the flavor of the pie. As the pie took root in the kitchens of colonial America, the seafood evolved into mostly a shellfish based pie. Shrimp and crab were popular in the southern states and lobster and scallops in the northern states.

So when I started looking at pot pie and winter comfort food the other day I decided that I wanted to make a pot pie that merged two of my favorite things, she crab soup and seafood newburg. I have a recipe for seafood pie from my grandmother that I copied out of her hand written cookbook. It is pretty classic but what I love about it is it uses a take on the "holy trinity" which is the base of most southern stew like cooking. It includes celery, onions and normally green peppers. Unlike the french base which includes carrots the "holy trinity" came about in southern cooking because carrots did not grow easily in the coastal areas especially around New Orleans where so much of the culinary customs we follow today were started.

So the take on the trinity is that my grandmother substituted red pepper for the green pepper. Now this I found interesting because red pepper is such a natural with crab, like in crab cakes. The mild flavor and wonderful color are exactly what you want in a seafood stew where the flavors meld together. So she obviously had thought about that. Now her recipe is for a casserole style seafood pie. I wanted to make individual pies cause I have the baking dishes. But I used the base of the recipe and added my own ideas.

So in a nutshell, I used crab and shrimp as the seafood. I used seafood stock and flour with a little butter to make a voloute, which is a light french style sauce. And I added some parmesan cheese in homage to southern style seafood casseroles. Herbs, Old Bay and sherry add classic flavors and a thyme, salt and pepper pie crust add an extra layer of flavor. So here is a recipe for my Charleston Style Seafood Pie, Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's Seafood Pie Charleston Style

Ingredients ( makes 4 individual pot pies in baking dishes)

1/2 pound frozen or fresh raw Shrimp peeled and tails off
1/2 pound Crab Meat ( Canned chilled from the Seafood Case at the grocery store)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 cups seafood stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/2 cup cream
1 prepared pie crust
sea salt and pepper
dried thyme
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese or cheddar


Melt butter in sauce pot add oil
saute onions celery and red pepper till soft add mushrooms and lightly cook
add garlic let bloom
add 2 cups of seafood stock
add spices
in a separate bowl mix flour and the reserved one cup of stock till smooth
add into pot and stir till mixture thickens and is bubbly
add cream and reduce heat to low
add sherry
taste and season if necessary
add crab and shrimp

Spoon mixture into the baking dishes sprinkle with the cheese

On a floured board roll out pie crust and sprinkle with pepper and salt flakes and dried thyme, lightly press in with hands.
Cut out into rounds to cover your baking dishes

Cover baking dishes and cut a slit if you want to get fancy cut out extra dough into fish shapes and decorate the top. Poke the top with a fork to vent.

Place on baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 mins or until crust is browned and done, serve hot.

Enjoy ya'll!!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Alfredo oh Alfredo Wherefore art Thou Alfredo

Pasta with Alfredo sauce is as American as apple pie and about as Italian as Corned Beef. Actually that's not quite true. Despite what the Italians might say the dish actually has it's origins in the kitchens of Rome. A restaurantuer named Alfredo Di Lelio is credited with popularizing the dish with American tourists. Traditionally it was called Fettucini Al Burro but as the dish spread across the Atlantic it was known as Pasta Alfredo. Supposedly it was popularized by the film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks who had it in his restaurant and took it back to hollywood where it quickly became a favorite dish in Italian restaurants everywhere.

Now when I was growing up we rarely ate pasta as a meal. Sure there was lasagna and spaghetti with meat sauce, but fancy pasta dishes were just not really our thing. In fact to this day when I will make a pasta dish for my mom she always says "you know I just never think of making pasta for a dinner. So it was a little bit of heaven when we would visit our family friends the Wilsons. Geoff and Louise were wonderful folks and boy could Louise cook! She was Italian from Rhode Island and introduced us to several wonderful dishes we had never had before. One such dish was Eggplant Parmagiana! The other was fettucini alfredo! Now I liked red sauce but the first time I ever tasted homemade fettucini alfredo I thought I had died had bought the farm. Indeed it was a revelation to me. This fabulous meal so simple so decadent and so rich!

Now since then, like most people, I have gotten on the band wagon that Fettucini Alfredo is a gloppy mostly bad pasta dish that I would never order in a restaurant and one that probably comes as a side dish for some kind of chicken at that place that shall not be named with the all you can eat salad and breadsticks. And indeed that is for the most part true. However, recently I was turned onto the idea of freshly prepared Fettucini Alfredo at home by my reading in the 1965 version of Sunset's Cookbook for Entertaining.  This book is a cookbook that I grew up with and I recently acquired a copy on Amazon. I love vintage cookbooks mostly because the more I read the more I see that there really is nothing new under the sun. Just excellent retellings of great old stories or in this case recipes.

In one of the side notations in the book it mentions Fettucini Alfredo as an elegant first course or main course of a meal. Of course it also notated in typical 1970's style the table side preparation that was so popular with the notions about entertaining at the time. Table side preparation meant that you were present with your guests as dinner was prepared in front of their eyes and added a sense of theatricality to dinner that many times these days is lacking in social gatherings. The recipe was simple and rich and added the inclusion of egg yolks to make the sauce that much more luscious and decadent!

I decided I had to try it. And it was really good. I mean homemade fresh anything is so much better that something that has been sitting in a steam table at a restaurant. Plus making it in front of people is really fun. Of course you will need a tabletop chef. But you can get one if you want or just do it stove top and move the pan to the table and serve it up fresh from the pan. Either way this is a delicious way to impress people at your next dinner party. Trust me it's good Ya'll! Enjoy!

Forrest's Special Homemade Fettucini Alfredo

Serves 4

1 lb Fettucini or pappardelle noodles fresh or packaged but make sure if dry buy a really good brand.
6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
4 egg yolks at room temperature
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons each finely chopped parsley and chives
Hot water

Cook noodles according to instructions but cook 1 to 2 minutes less than package.
Melt butter and add cream
Mix the eggs in a bowl and add a few tablespoons of the boiling pasta water
to temper them.
Add to the cream sauce
Add Parmesan cheese
Add pepper and salt to taste
Add nutmeg then add the drained noodles  then add the herbs and toss to combine about one to two minutes and serve immediately!
Divide at table to the plates
Watch the smiles happen as people dig in.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tradition is the Stuff that Makes Life Stable, Or why I want Clam Dip at a Christmas Party

Traditions are merely repetitive acts which come to represent something deeper and symbolize something important to us. They are a "remembering" and a "Hallmarking". Like rituals in religion, they help us in an outward manner, remember an inward feeling. A feeling we want, by marking it with a ritual, to always remember and never forget.

Unlike religious ritual, traditions can be for anything or any reason that means something personal or makes life easier and more livable for us. They can be simple like "where I always go to get my coffee", or complex like "how I remember a national tragedy. Traditional celebrations or gatherings usually are for this purpose and center around outwardly remembering and carrying on, what we remember about someone or celebrating something else.

Holidays are often times when we develop or adopt traditions. They can help us to celebrate the larger message of a holiday in a more personal way. Christmas being probably the chief holiday in that category. Celebrated and fussed over by people more than other holiday as they try imbue a personal value on the greater meaning of the God of love being born into the world on a night long ago.

Hence for many including myself, Christmas is about touching those around me whom I love in a special way. Gifts at this time of year as well as gatherings take a special place in the pantheon of celebrations our society fosters. Elevated and special, beyond Halloween, Thanksgiving, an Anniversary, a Birthday or even Easter, Christmas is the Queen of holidays. And as such should be celebrated as only a Queen can be!

I find I work a lot during the holiday season. But my one tradition is attending one and only one party for sure every year. Hosted by my some of my dearest friends,  Christmas for me would not be complete without it.    

Many, many, many years ago now ( somewhere between 20 and Death! ) I met my good friend John.  He and I met at the first music rehearsal for a production of "Little Me" in the Berkshire Mountains at a small summer repertory theater. In the play both of us played a variety of roles and had an absolute blast on and off the stage. His wit was ever sharp and his sense of humor always spot on. In other words, he was a lot of fun to hang out with.

We parted ways at the end of the production's run but like most actors in NYC we continued to see one another at auditions and get togethers for friends we had in common from the business of show. It was not until several years later, after both of us had somewhat lost touch, that I was coming out of the door of my apartment and I noticed that someone had moved into the vacant apartment next door. Well the door swung open and a fellow carrying a large moving box that completely blocked him from my view emerged. He started down the hall towards the elevators where I was standing and not seeing me almost ran me over. I exclaimed "hey watch out there!". The voice from behind the box said "oh I am so sorry I can't see a thing". There was a pause. I recognized the voice I thought. "John?" I queried? "Forrest?" came the response. He lowered the box and sure enough it was the John I knew! We both yelled and laughed and we went on laughing for about 4 years till he got married and moved back to Jersey and into a fabulous house.

So what has that got to do with Clam dip you might ask. Well John's family had a summer house up in Maine on a barrier island and every year his family would go up to the house and spend a month or so enjoying the summertime on the shore up there. Both his Mother and Father were teachers so they were lucky enough to have the time to do that. Well, when John moved into the building at some point we had a fete together. And as we were discussing the menu ( which would be mostly snacks) he suggested making a clam dip recipe, which had been in his family forever. I said that was great and really wanted to try it since I had actually never had clam dip. Being that in South Carolina, we make our traditional trashy cocktail party dips out of crabs and shrimp, but not clams. So he made it and let me tell you, that stuff is good! Cheesy and full of sea and dairy goodness it had the taste of the clams and the sea and the cow. Yum!

Well when John moved he continued to host parties out in New Jersey of course. One  party in particular, right before the holidays he called "Ho Mo For the Holidays". It became a Christmas tradition and is that awesome evening alluded to above that I spend with friends each year. No one does Christmas like John and Mike. I think it's a special gift. The house is decorated. The tree is lit. Wine is drunk. Bread is broken. Carols are sung. And everyone is caught up in the spirit of love, family and friends that is the hallmark of the Christmas season,. It's a homecoming of sorts and I see people there I only see there once a year. It's a lovely tradition.

Well along with the tradition of the event, there are also traditions with what is served.  There will always be the family recipe Lasagna or Mike's Meatballs and always Amy's Stromboli, and John's Clam dip served during cocktail hour. In fact the clam dip is so beloved that one year John did not make it and there was an uprising! So he threw it together and served it up. And that year just like the old Shake n Bake commercial, I helped! And so it was I learned how to make the famous Clam Dip!

Long live traditions I say. Whatever yours may be. They remind us of what is right and good with our world and let us share it with others.

So I recognized that we are no longer in the holiday season and winter is upon us. However, the super bowl is coming up and this dip is universal. So make it anytime. For any reason. But just make it cause it's good. So here is the recipe for clam dip without which my Christmas would seem a little dimmer. Thanks John, and enjoy Ya'll!

2 cans of clams (size of tuna cans)
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
1 med. onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. basil
1/2 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsps. lemon juice
dash of tobasco sauce
In one sauce pan combine clams (with juice) and lemon juice. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
In other sauce pan: melt butter and sautee onions and garlic for 8 minutes. Add parsley flakes, oregano, pepper, basil, tabasco and simmer on low for another 7 minutes.
Combine ingredients of both sauce pans into a deep baking dish. Stir in bread crumbs, parmesan and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese until blended.
Sprinkle top with the remining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Serve with crackers. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Daytona Beach, Seaside Music Theatre and the Chart House Blackened Tuna Steak

Daytona beach is known or has been known in the past as the capital of Spring Break in Florida. It is actually a really cool little town once you peel away the tragic veneer of Speedway racing weekends like the Daytona 500 and spring break rowdy's cramming the beachside with ridiculous antics and drunken partying.

Cool indeed, in that beneath the surface is actually a complex community teaming with life. Like so many cities in Florida, Daytona is a crossroads for retired folks, business people, students, local color, and drifters. It also affords a cheap living environment relative to other places in the state and has attracted the spectrum of folks looking to make a life somewhere smaller than the big city. It also attracted for over 25 years actors and artists every summer coming together to make art at Seaside Music Theatre.

Seaside was an amazing place and the roster of people who went on to do great things either on Broadway or elsewhere in the theater community is huge. I myself was one of those folks until about 5 years ago when I elected to change course for another shore. But it is with the deepest fondness that I return to my memories of Seaside Music Theatre. And with pride that I count myself an alumni of said place.

The theatre was founded by Tippen Davidson himself an artist and musical director. It did not hurt that he was also the owner of the 2nd largest paper in Florida, the News Journal, and able to give seed money to the fledgling theater. His presence helped keep Seaside alive and when he passed so did Seaside a few years later. Unable to deal with transitioning funding from the paper and saddled with the cuts to all the arts in the state and nation, like so many other theaters I knew and worked at, it succumbed and shuttered it's doors in 2008. Sadly so, as far as I and many others are concerned given the breath of opportunity to try our wings and grow in our profession it had afforded us. Say what you might, Tippen founded and stood by a belief that art in his community was important and essential. And he walked his talk. A gentle and lovely man from my recollections I am proud to have been one of the many that he and Lester Malizia, the resident artist director took underwing and help to grow as an actor. Providing a artistic home for me and many other 7 seasons over 10 years. It was lovely to have been a part of it.

The other excellent thing about Daytona was the plethora of restaurants that were in the town. Surprisingly varied, local and national chain, fast and slow food were all represented.  Among the local eats were a variety of fish houses which provided excellent old school florida food at a great price for poor actors. Seaside Music Theatre was sponsored by several of these places and opening night parties were always at some great venue with fabulous food and drink. Well, fabulous by a starving artists scale! What's not fabulous about a pool party at the Hilton Hotel pool bar and lounge, well you know what I mean.

One sponsor which never disappointed however was the Chart House Restaurant. Located on the water at the ritzy marina on the inter-coastal waterway, with large water views and outdoor decks, it was a deluxe location for an opening night party. Now I know the Chart House is an old school, overpriced sometimes hit and miss, kind of place to most folks. But I have to say the one in Daytona was actually really good at the time. One opening night during a raffle I won a dinner for two coupon and went and ate with a friend on our day off together. Our meal was really good. The three stand outs from the evening were the blue cheese dressing on the salad of all things? The creamed spinach was great and the cajun spiced tuna steak was actually to die for. Perfectly cooked and perfectly spiced, it rocked. I have made this style tuna steak ever since and I want to share it with you because it is easy and so good.

Restaurant Homage: 
Chart House Cajun Tuna Steak with Green Peppercorn and Cognac Bearnaise Sauce

4 inch thick ahi or yellowtail tuna steaks
1/4 cup cajun spices no salt added  ( you can make your own or buy some in a jar)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon butter

To prepare tuna:

Place the spices in a large plate
Dip the surfaces of the tuna steaks in the spices and place on a sheet of wax paper
Heat oil and butter to medium high in a stainless pan or non stick pan
Cook the steaks on one side for thirty seconds then flip and cook for another 30 seconds
Place on a plate and serve with some of the sauce


3 Egg yolks
1 1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoons cognac
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 shallot minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried tarragon
2 tablespoons green peppercorns drained
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the eggs in a blender that has ben warmed with hot water
Place the vinegar and the shallots in a pan and cook till reduced by half
Add to blender with salt, mustard, tarragon and cognac
Slowly with blender running add melted butter till thick sauce forms
Place in a bowl and stir in peppercorns
Serve with the tuna


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Roasted Tomato Pie, the Winter Version of a Southern Summer Favorite

You may have read my previous post about the Tomato Pie recipe which I prepared for Paula Dean. In that post I gave an anecdotal account of how my recipe was used by the Chef for Great Performances Catering, in New york City, as the recipe for the Paula Dean Brunch during the New York Wine and Food Festival. It was to this day a favorite of the chef who has referenced a number of times how much he enjoyed the pie recipe.

Now tomato pie is really a summer dish. It's a pie to be made when sun kissed ripe tomatoes give off a luscious smell when sliced open and prepped for cooking or for eating. It's in that time of year that you should really enjoy tomatoes. Not when the winter hothouse tomatoes are in the market!

However I have discovered a way to make tomato pie in the winter and have it taste almost as good as it does in the summer, well almost. Different but good let's leave it at that.

My discovery for this dish came about in an unusual way. I was purusing my cookbooks one day for ideas for dinner and I came across a recipe by Ina Garten for a winter version of tomato and mozzarella caprese salad which was made with roasted tomatoes instead of fresh. She slow oven roasted winter hothouse Roma plum tomatoes until they were soft and delicious and then made the salad with them instead of using fresh hothouse tomatoes. Her point in all of this is that hothouse tomaotes have such little flavor that making a caprese salad was just silly and tasteless. It seemed a good idea because roasting the tomaotes brought out so much flavor.

So I seized upon this concept and immediately thought I could try the same thing with a classic southern recipe "tomato pie" and check out the results. Well, it worked out beautifully. While in the summer this pie has a fresh red tomato look and a fresh tomato taste the winter version was deeper in both color and flavor and the texture was somewhat more dense and creamy. I also added some egg and cheddar custard to it to try and make up for the loosey goosey nature of the already cooked tomatoes. So it had a bit of a quiche/tart consistency. I also made it in a high walled spring form pan and made the side a little higher on purpose to support the filling. The basil and the green peppers gave it that tomato pie flavor profile but it really had more of a tart consistency which was not bad at all. All in all a success. Give this a try this winter as the days are short and you are dreaming of long evenings on the roof or the backyard patio. Enjoy ya'll!!

Winter Tomato Pie with Roasted Tomatoes and Savory Cheddar Custard

6 Roma Plum tomatoes from the grocery store (winter/hothouse) cut in half.
1 bell pepper diced
1 medium white or yellow onion diced
2 cups sharp white grated cheddar cheese divided
10 fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons ( chiffonade)
6 eggs beaten
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour
5 oz cream cheese
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

place in food processor and pulse till meally
remove and roll together
press into a small springmold pan with the crust going up the sides evenly around
Place in the freezer for 15 mins
Bake in 350 degree oven till lightly browned about 20 mins remove and cool

For the tomatoes:

Place cut tomatoes on a baking sheet and salt, bake in a low oven 250 degrees till soft and browned and roasted, this will take a bit, then cool.

For custard:

Mix all above ingredients except for the tomatoes and 1 cup of the cheese
Beat the eggs and cream then add the other ingredients
Layer the tomatoes in two overlapping layers in the crust
Pour custard mixture over the tomatoes filling the shell
Sprinkle the extra cheese on the top
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 35 to 40 mins or until the custard is set
Let cool 15 mins before slicing and serving Enjoy!