Okra-and-Corn Maque Choux

IMG_1243A search of the word “maque choux” brings about no literal definition, although the flavors of this dish translate for me as, “Summer Divinity.”  This particular recipe originated in the July, 2010, edition of Southern Living, and since tearing it out three years ago I have worn out the page cooking from it. Summer in the South, albeit hot as.. hmmmm…. well, you know, is a delightful time, bursting with the flavors of the earth.  My grandfather was a truck farmer, and any time I can purchase from one of these precious souls of the South, I do it.  When the produce hails from Baldwin County, Alabama, all the better.  The corn is as sweet as sugar, the tomatoes full of flavor and just the right amount of acid to steam the palate with joy, and fresh okra, bursting with flavor is the base of Maque Choux.  It is a traditional dish from southern Louisiana, and maybe I love it so much because so many of my favorite people live there as well.  Besides involving a good bit of chopping, it’s super easy.  Close your eyes while eating Maque Choux and you will surely hope that summer never ends.  Don’t try this with hot-house tomatoes and frozen corn.  Just hold tight until the season rolls around again, and you will want to eat it every day to make up for lost time. 

Serves:  (supposedly) 8

Prep Time: 30 minutes

  • 1/2 pound link sausage (I use Conecuh) – Alternatively, ham, shrimp, etc.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup sliced fresh okra
  • 1 cup peeled and diced tomato (original recipe calls for seeded, but that’s a waste of flavor to me.  Whatever floats your boat here…)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until browned.  Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and saute 5 minutes or until tender.  Add corn, okra, and tomato; cook, stirring often 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Orange Chicken with Coconut Balsamic Vinegar

20130129-151511.jpgLast Christmas, I bought my younger son several different, funky-flavored, dark chocolate candy bars from The Fresh Market. All through the holidays, he would occasionally break open a new flavor, and we would so dearly enjoy the various twists and turns that come with combining flavors that have not traditionally paired. Every now and then, a flavor combination comes along that is absolutely, totally different from anything I would ever have thought to throw together. In such a case, I am either in food-lover’s heaven or hell. There really is no in between. Case in point – very hot, spicy-flavored peppers mixed with dark chocolate just feels sort of like catsup and ice cream. Even the adventurous foodie in me just wasn’t ready to go there. This Orange Chicken recipe, however, dances in heaven with a strange, but delightful, mixture of orange marmalade, dijon mustard, and ….. wait for it…… coconut balsamic vinegar. Doesn’t sound amazing, does it? WRONG!!

Two of my girlfriends and I have recently discovered several of these olive oil and vinegar stores that are sprouting up all over the place, and let me tell you, if you have not “experienced” one of these, then get thee to the closest and quickest one you can find, for it is truly a fun and delicious culinary tasting tour. Bring your credit card or lots of cash, and prepare to be “hooked” forever. Anyway, back to the story of this recipe. My friend, Sheryl West, gave me this jewel while sitting around the dinner table at a local restaurant one evening. As I am always looking for that gourmet taste and quick preparation, I figured I would try it. I now serve this at least once every week or two. Pair it with couscous, rice, whatever floats your boat. And if anybody out there has great recipes with flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegar, please share! I’m looking for ways to use my growing stash of bottles!

Serves: 3 or 4

Prep Time: 15 minutes

  • 1 pound raw chicken fingers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons coconut vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Salt and pepper chicken strips. In a 10- or 12-inch iron skillet, lay the strips on the preheated, pre-oiled iron skillet. Cook each side 2 or 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the mustard, marmalade, and vinegar. This is NOT an exact science. Mix it to your taste. When chicken is mostly done, turn off heat and place butter in skillet. Roll the strips around in the melted butter. Next, drizzle about a tablespoon or so of the mustard, marmalade, and vinegar mixture onto each strip and place in preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes. Serve straight from the skillet with a green vegetable and either rice, couscous, or potatoes.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan Chicken

Let me begin this entry by saying, I generally do not like chicken thighs.  Dark meat often has a funky taste that is strong and “gamey” and I will go for the breast or the wing almost always.  But when a recipe comes along that includes things like dried plums, curry, and cinnamon, I am ready to step outside my comfort zone and try those thighs once again.  Those are some beautiful flavors, and the words Moroccan and slow-cooked iced the cake in my decision to try this one.   This is a very simple recipe that transported me to that Moroccan market and the stone tagines in ash pits that are seen in the photos of documentaries of the region.  Easy, delicious, and different, the sweet fruit, curry, and cinnamon, along with the perfectly textured thighs are a hit in this recipe!  If you can’t go to Africa, one of the most beautiful places on earth, you can experience the flavors of this country right in your own kitchen.  Serve with some couscous drizzled with some quality olive oil and let the comfort feast begin!

Serves:     8

Prep Time:     15 minutes

  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 8 ounces carrots, not peeled, chopped in big one inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried plums (prunes)
  • 1 – 14 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a 4- or 5-quart slow cooker, combine onion, carrots, plums, and broth.  Top with chicken.  In a small bowl combine curry powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over chicken.  Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours.  Serve with couscous.

 

Curried Sweet Potato Apple Soup

Curry, ginger, nutmeg, apples, sweet potatoes . . . . . This soup is so perfect for fall weather.  The hint of curry, one of my favorite spices, is a special treat.  Curry powder is actually not a single spice, but a combination of many.  They can vary widely in the spice world, depending on country of origin, but most curry powders in North America include coriander, cumin, red pepper, and turmeric in their blends. Depending on the recipe, additional ingredients such as ginger, garlic, caraway, fennel seed, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper may also be added.  The smell of these spices is such a rush to the senses.  This soup imparts an earthy, wholesome, and even slightly sweet flavor.  Enjoy!

Prep Time:     25 minutes

Serves:     6

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 – 2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated  (or 1 teaspoon ginger powder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if you wish)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 and 1/4 cups chunky applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the ginger, nutmeg, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until toasted, about 1 minute.  Add the diced sweet potatoes, chicken broth, and 2 cups water to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the applesauce.  Simmer, covered, until the sweet potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.  Puree the soup in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender (my choice), and blend until smooth.

If desired, thinly slice a sweet potato, toss with a little salt and olive oil, and bake at 375 degrees about 20 minutes.  Use for garnish.

Creamy Peanut Butter Sheet Cake

There are two perfect foods in this world – peanut butter and bacon.  Now I’m not talking about perfect nutrition here, although an argument for protein could be made to justify the consumption of either of these.  I’m talking about pure eye-rolling, food-eating pleasure.  Now I can’t help you with the bacon on this recipe, but if it is peanut butter you are craving, this cake will cure what ails you.  For those who like a creamy cake, this one is super creamy when made and even more so the next day, if it lasts that long.  I took this to my high school students and teacher friends, and it was a hit across the board!  When I returned home with three pieces, my husband and I decided to just go ahead and consume the rest for dessert that night.  We did not feel like we could get much sleep with this cake on the counter calling our names!

Prep Time:     30 minutes

Serves:      20-24

FOR THE SHEET CAKE:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup water

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoon milk
  • 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

FOR THE CAKE:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a medium bowl combine the sugar and flour.  In a separate medium bowl, mix eggs, baking soda, and sour cream well.  Set aside.  In a small saucepan combine peanut butter, butter, and water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir the boiled peanut butter mixture into the flour mixture, then add to the sour cream mixture.  Pour into an ungreased 15 x 10 inch sheet/jellyroll pan.  Bake 17-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

FOR THE FROSTING:  Combine the butter, peanut butter, and milk in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Add the powdered sugar and mix well.  This may require some whisking to remove lumps.  Let the frosting cool for a few minutes, then add vanilla.  Let frosting and cake cool about 10 minutes, then pour frosting over cake.  Cut and serve.  

Beefy Pesto Lasagna

I have several lasagna recipes that I have used through the years.  I really enjoy the flavors of the dish, but for my family, lasagna is just okay; they can take it or leave it.  Recently I decided to make a recipe that contains pesto.  Now pesto is the current food love of my life.  I eat it on bread, potatoes, pasta – haven’t tried it on chocolate.  I’ll make homemade, buy pre-made – doesn’t matter.  I LOVE PESTO!  So when I read this recipe, it was definitely calling my name, so I thought I would step out of my lasagna comfort zone and try something different.  And this creamy, cheesy, tomatoe-y main course did not disappoint.  My husband LOVED IT and called it his very favorite lasagna ever!  Add some crusty Italian bread and a green salad and rake in the smiles.

Prep Time:     30 minutes

Serves:     12 – 16

  • 12 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 – 24 ounce container 4% small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 – 16 ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup pesto
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 48 ounce jar tomato-basil pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare noodles according to package directions. Stir together cottage cheese and next four ingredients.  Stir in 1 cup mozzarella cheese.  Cook ground beef and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, until cooked thoroughly.  Stir in pasta sauce.  Layer in a lasagna dish in this order – 1 cup beef mixture, 3 noodles, 2 and 1/2 cups cottage cheese mixture, 3 noodles, 2 cups beef mixture, and 3 more noodles. Top with remaining cottage cheese mixture, 3 noodles, and beef mixture.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 and 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese.  Bake, covered, at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Uncover and bake 20 minutes or until cheese is browned.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Creme Brulee

ImageI am about to tell you a secret.  Creme Brulee, or “burnt cream” is a very easy dessert to make.  The Moxie way cuts a few corners, and I promise you cannot tell a difference.  All of that “scraping the vanilla beans, pouring the liquid through a sieve,” business is totally unnecessary.  I have had this dessert at some of the finest restaurants around the country, and I would put this one up to any of the others. Tell me someone who doesn’t love creme brulee and I will call you a liar.  The only problem with this dish is that it must be made ahead and chilled, thereby making it impossible to be thought about at the last minute.  But with a little pre-planning and about 10 minutes of prep., these beautiful ramekins full of creamy lusciousness can be on your table.  Torching the creme brulee is the most fun, and if serving it to guests, I usually let each person work the torch on his or her own ramekin, making it a really fun ending to a meal.  After all, who doesn’t love to work a blow torch?  I use one of those smaller kitchen torches, but real chefs use an actual blow torch, just like you keep out in your shed.  Be cautious with this method, as one of my best friends’ husband nearly burned the house down trying it.  At least for now, I would suggest starting out with the kitchen torch.  You can purchase these at any kitchen store and most big box stores.  Have fun being the girl (or guy) who plays with fire!

Prep Time:     10 minutes

Serves:     6

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar (to caramelize the tops)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until your arm is about to fall off, (maybe 3-5 minutes).  At this point the mixture should be thick and pale yellow in color.  Add cream and vanilla, and whisk until blended.  Try not to think about how many calories you are about to eat.  Divide mixture among 6 ramekins.  Place ramekins in a water bath.  I use the flat ramekins with a cookie sheet.  If you are using the larger, deeper ones, then you will need to go with a deeper pan for the bath.  The water should come up at least to half the height of the dish.  Carefully place in oven. Bake until center is set.  This should be about 45 minutes for the shallow ramekins, and 50-60 for the deeper ones.  Carefully remove from oven.  Take out the ramekins and drain water.  Put the ramekins back in the dry pan and cool for 30 minutes or so, then place in the refrigerator until cold, usually a couple of hours.  When ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar on top of each ramekin.  Torch the sugar until it is brownish and hard on the top, usually about 30 seconds.   Enjoy every luscious, creamy bite as you break the crackly top and indulge.  The elliptical machine will take care of all of that later.  Much later.