Thursday, March 27, 2014

Who is Jay McCarthy?

Following my post for Jerk Pork Tenderloin, I wanted to share "Mrs. P's Cornbread" recipe from Traveling Jamaica with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, by Robb Walsh and Jay McCarthy. I am quite familiar with Robb Walsh's illustrious food writing career and own a few of his books. However, I wasn't sure about Jay McCarthy, and because this is his grandmother's recipe, I decided to do a little research.

Robb (left), Jay (right) and their map
from Traveling Jamaica with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, 1994.

Jay McCarthy was born in New York, raised in Jamaica, and educated in Texas. He is a former aerospace engineer turned chef, named Alamo City's Best Chef in 1994, received accolades at San Antonio's Cascabel Restaurant, received Critic's Choice Award at the Texas Hill Country Food and Wine Festival, a Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, oversaw the kitchens of HEB Central Markets, supervised the train kitchen for the American Orient Express, appeared on Food Network's Ready...Set...Cook! (not familiar with that one?), consultant for the Texas Beef Council, the Nebraska Beef Council, the U.S. Meat Export Federation, and was featured on PBS Phoenix series "Savor the Southwest," just to name a few. How have I not heard of this guy? 

Texan chef Jay McCarthy
Photo from an article in TheNational
entitled "Cowboy chef rides into Dubai"
promoting his week (May 1-5, 2013)
at the Hyatt Dubai's high-end steakhouse.

Today, Jay has given up the dusty Texas landscape, and that hilarious kinky mullet, for the ultra posh setting of Colorado's Vail Valley. According to, he is Corporate Chef for all Group970 restaurants, which include the Vail and Beaver Creek Chophouses, and the Vail and Beaver Creek Blue Moose Pizza. I'll have to stop by next time I'm in Colorado! The company also has plans to expand in New Braunfels, Texas this summer, with a modern Italian/Texas influence restaurant - 188 South!

Congratulations, Jay! and thanks for this beautiful and personal Caribbean-style cornbread recipe!

Mrs. P's Cornbread

Serves 6-8

2 cups cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
1 red bell pepper, 1/4 inch diced
3 scallions, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, and coconut milk. Slowly add this mixture to the cornmeal mixture; stir just until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.

Melt the shortening in a 9" cast-iron skillet or "dutchy" (dutch oven) (I don't have a 9" cast iron skillet, so I used my 12" and it worked very well.) in the oven for 3 minutes, or until the shortening is very hot. Add the red bell pepper, scallions and coconut, and immediately pour in the batter. Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the cornbread for 30-35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.

The cast iron skillet makes the best crisp crust!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Shrimp and Grits go West!

I know many of my friends, and some of my family, choose to give up meat on Fridays for Lent. So, I thought I would share a beautiful recipe for "Sauteed Shrimp with Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce" from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors From The Southwestern Kitchen. While grits started with humble origins, all the way back to when the Native Americans first shared their grits with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, they have become a southern classic and a staple of true American cuisine. However, it was in the lowcountry of South Carolina, and particularly Charleston, that shrimp and grits became a match made in heaven. This was due to the availability and affordability of grits and access to free shrimp in the surrounding channels, waiting to be caught by anyone with a net. (Although, in Charleston, they are probably referred to as "shrimp and hominy" or simply "breakfast shrimp.") South Carolina loves their grits so much that in 1976 it was declared their state food!

If you are unfamiliar with grits versus cornmeal versus polenta, etc., I'll try to help you out. Grits are made by grinding hominy. Hominy is dried maize that has been treated with alkali (lime or wood ash) in order to loosen the hulls from the kernels. When mashed, it is known as masa in Latin cuisine and used for tortillas, tamales, etc. While cornmeal and polenta are made from untreated corn of different grind sizes. Got it?

If you've never eaten or tried to make grits before, this is the recipe for you! The addition of roasted sweet potato, chipotle chile, and honey make them unique and exceedingly delicious. In fact, even if you don't make the whole recipe, the grits alone are worth the effort. However, why not saute some shrimp (it only takes a few minutes) and the green onion sauce (which can be whizzed up in a blender in a matter of minutes and can be made up to 8 hours ahead) is the perfect compliment. The red chile oil is written as "optional," but not in my opinion. It is vibrant and a beautiful touch to a perfect plate. The oil is simply a matter of pureeing toasted guajillo chiles, oil, and salt and then strained. It can also be made a day in advance. Bonus! (Although, in a pinch, I have used store bought chile oil, such as "Mongolian Fire Oil," available at most grocers.) This recipe may not be the traditional shrimp and grits of the south, but it is the southwest that makes it stunningly beautiful and downright exciting!

Sauteed Shrimp with Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce

Serves 4

For the Grits
1 large sweet potato
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons chipotle chile puree (I just mince 2 teaspoons chipotle chiles - I like canned San Marcos brand.)
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-3 teaspoons honey

For the Shrimp
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For serving
Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce - recipe below
Red Chile Oil - recipe below
Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

For the Grits
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the sweet potato on a rack in the oven until tender when pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes. When done, peel the sweet potato and puree the flesh in a food processor or pass it through a ricer; set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the stock, milk, chipotle puree, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato puree and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and honey to taste. Cover and keep warm.

For the Shrimp
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Cook half the shrimp until lightly golden brown and just cooked through, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and shrimp.

To Serve
Spoon the grits into 4 shallow bowls and arrange the shrimp around the grits. Drizzle with the green onion-cilantro sauce and red chile oil and sprinkle with green onions. 

Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts 
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (don't substitute white vinegar as it is more acidic!)
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Combine the green onions, cilantro, vinegar, 1/4 cup cold water, the mustard, and honey in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and blend until emulsified. Can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated.

Red Chile Oil

Makes about 1 cup - (You may want to halve this recipe!)

5 guajillo chiles, toasted and seeded (remove the seeds first and with a spatula, press on a hot pan until color changes slightly, flip and toast other side - it only takes a minute)
1 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Combine the guajillos, oil, and salt in a blender and blend for 5 minutes. Strain into a bowl. This can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Pancake Day!

Tomorrow is Mardis Gras, aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake Day. Mardis Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent and the beginning of fasting by many Christian denominations, who now days in the US give up meat on Fridays or some other "luxury" for 40 days leading up to Easter. However, in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, they celebrate Pancake Day. Eating pancakes is an old tradition preceding Lent as a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar. In Britain, they even participate in "pancake races," which began when a housewife from Buckinghamshire was busy making pancakes, heard the church bells ring, and raced out of the house with her frying pan and pancake in hand! Funny Brits!

So, I thought I would share my recipe for "Classic American Pancakes." First, growing up in Texas, I prefer my pancakes to be made with buttermilk, which is very popular in Texas, showing up in soups, dressing, biscuits, cakes, pies, and makes an excellent marinade for chicken and game. However, it has come to my attention that cultured buttermilk in the US is not the same thing in the UK. It is not thick like yogurt or sour cream, nor is adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk a satisfactory replacement. It is only slightly thicker than milk with an appearance of skim milk, sort of watery looking with a distinct tangy smell. So, if you can't find cultured buttermilk where you live, that's okay, use whole milk instead, or try to find Saco Powdered Buttermilk. Whole milk will still give you the delicious goodness of American style pancakes, however, lacking the slight tang and loft. 

After inspection of other recipes for American pancakes by non-Americans, I was astonished to find how laborious and wonky they have become! Separating eggs, beating the whites into soft peaks, folding in gently, no sugar, no vanilla extract, lemon juice?, what are ya'll doing? American pancakes are simple! Mix the ingredients and cook. There's a reason they are popular weekend breakfast faire because they are fast and easily made with standard pantry staples. While many Americans today just buy standard pancake mix at the store (e.g., Aunt Jemima), this recipe is better! In fact, I have made many a young fan following slumber parties at my house! In addition, you can enhance this recipe with berries, sliced bananas or strawberries, and even chocolate chips! Instead of mixing your choice of fruit, etc. into the batter, drop a few pieces into each pancake after ladling the batter onto your griddle or frying pan. And finally, good quality Vermont or Canadian maple syrup make the ultimate accompaniment (no creme fraiche or sour cream on top!), as well as a few crisp slices of bacon (served on the side, not on top!) and maybe some scrambled eggs (also on the side!). What to drink? Orange juice or a glass of milk is traditional!

(These buttermilk pancakes are light and fluffy thanks to the reaction between the lactic acid and sodium bicarbonate that creates carbon dioxide bubbles!)

Classic American Pancakes (with or without buttermilk)

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (not self-rising, just plain flour)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter, for frying or non-stick cooking spray
Maple syrup, for drizzling on top


In a medium mixing bowl (I use a 1 quart Pyrex bowl), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix with a whisk until well blended. Add the buttermilk (or milk), eggs, and vanilla extract and whisk until well blended and smooth with just a few lumps.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium heat until hot. (To test if the griddle is hot enough, add a drop of water to the pan. If the drop sizzles quickly and evaporates, the pan is ready!) Add a pat of butter to the griddle (or non-stick cooking spray), once melted, ladle approximately 1/4 cup batter to the griddle, approximately 3" apart. (If you are adding berries, etc. drop them in now.)

Continue to cook until bubbles begin to form on top of the batter, approximately 2-3 minutes. Flip each pancake over and cook until the bottom is golden and the top is puffed, 1-2 minutes longer.

Transfer to a platter and continue with the remaining batter. Serve with maple syrup to be drizzled by each diner.