Sweet Potato Shrimp Stew

One of my favorite things about living in New England is the wonderful bounty of seafood. No matter what the season there’s always a place to enjoy the freshest catch. Most people know New England-style seafood as being fairly simple; we prefer to enjoy our lobster with a simple drizzle of drawn butter and fresh lemon, with the occasional fried shrimp and calamari..and who could forget the classic, creamy clam chowder? Like most people, I love the comforting richness of a good ol’ cup of “chowda”, but am frequently reluctant to enjoy it due to the fat and calories…Which brings me to the humble sweet potato.

This decadent tuber has all the sweetness and buttery texture that any cream-craving seafood lover could desire. This recipe combines delicious shellfish with buttery sweet potatoes and fresh herbs that allows you to satisfy your chowder cravings without the added guilt.

 

Recipe

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Teaspoon paprika

1 4.0 ounce can tomato paste

2 Cups vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

1 whole clove

1 Cup mashed sweet potato (about 1 large potato’s worth)

Shrimp, peeled and deveined

Fresh basil

Crushed red pepper

Baguettes

 

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Step #1: To start, boil 1 large (or 2 small) sweet potatoes until completely soft (Note: you could also bake it, but it will take longer).

Step #2: While the sweet potato cooks, chop the onions, and saute in olive oil over medium heat until slightly brown. Add the bay leaf, garlic, and clove.

Step #3: Once onions are translucent, add 1 small can (about 4 ounces) of tomato paste and bring to a simmer.

Step #4: Stir in 2 cups vegetable broth (chicken broth would also be okay, but DO NOT use beef broth). Bring to a simmer.

Step #5: Defrost your seafood. I used shrimp, but feel free crawfish, prawns, scallops, lobster…basically any shellfish.

Step #6: While you wait for the broth to boil and shrimp to that, remove the peel from the boiled, cooled sweet potato. Place the sweet potato in a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Gradually add it to the broth and blend with a hand blender until smooth. Make sure not to add all the sweet potato at once. If the soup seems too thin, add more potato. If it’s too thick, add more broth. Note, there is no cream or dairy in this soup, but the texture will be creamy, rich, just like a bisque.

Step #7: Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove the bay leaf and clove, and add your seafood (about 1 cup total). It’s okay to add either raw seafood or cooked seafood, but keep in mind that shellfish gets really chewy when it’s overcooked so you want to avoid boiling it for too long. Once the soup comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat.

Step #8: Ladle the soup into ramekins. Chop up your favorite herbs (I prefer basil, chives, scallions, and crushed red pepper flakes) and stir into the soup.

Step #9: For a classic New England twist, swirl in a spoon of cream cheese. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s amazing.  I didn’t have cream cheese when I made this last night, but I served it with toasted baguettes smeared with a little herb goat cheese.

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Step #10: Enjoy with a glass of chardonnay!

BBQ Onion Grilled Cheese

It’s almost warm enough for grilling, but today I honestly couldn’t wait any longer.  The sun was shining, and the temperature had soared to a breezy 70 degrees. The birds were chirping and little buds are starting to peak out from under the trees. A perfect day for grilling! Except for one thing…laziness.

First, I have a grill, but it’s really old and takes a long time to heat up. Second, I didn’t have any meat to grill, so I would have to go to the store. And finally, I can never decide what to grill. I usually don’t like to mix my meats, so whenever my family grills I have to decide between the BBQ chicken or a cheeseburger (eating both would also be far too filling). If only there were a way to combine the flavors of them both…Luckily I thought of the perfect stove-top vehicle to carry all the classic flavors of a BBQ: grilled cheese.

Combining sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, smoky onions, and creamy Muenster cheese, this sandwich is a great way for carnivores and vegetarians alike to inaugurate summer.

Recipe: BBQ Onion Grill Cheese

First prepare the BBQ sauce. You can use ready-made, but for some reason I never have it in the house. I recently learned how to make it from scratch, and it’s fantastic. I like it a bit sweeter and spicier, with less tomato. Feel free to modify this recipe according to your taste.

Step #1: BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce or Asian-style marinade

1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce (or whatever hot sauce you have)

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

pinch cayenne pepper

a squirt of lemon juice

Step #2: Onions

Heat about 1 or 2 tablespoons canola in a skillet over high heat. Cut a small onion into rounds (like onion rings) of medium thickness. Any kind of onion will do, but I think red works best. Place the onion so that the stems are on the sides, not on the top and bottom.  Add the onions to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until lightly charred. Keep the heat on high so that the onions get nice and grilled without getting soft. Once they’re done, put them aside.

Step #3: Cheese

Muenster is a little appreciated cheese, but it’s got all the qualities most Americans (and grilled cheese loves) enjoy. It’s got a mild flavor, but it’s bland. It’s extremely creamy. And most importantly, it melts perfectly. In all seriousness, it adds a taste much like the usual American cheese slices that go into the average grilled cheese, but without the gritty artificial taste of more processed cheeses, like Kraft singles. (Sorry! I still love you!) Muenster is in fact an American cheese. “Munster” (no “e”) is an unpasteurized cheese from France that is pretty hard to find here in the States, while Muenster (with an “e”) is usually made in Wisconsin. If you’ve never had this, I highly recommend adding it to your next grilled cheese.

To assemble, place one slice of Meunster on your first bread slice. On top of the cheese, place the grilled onions and add the BBQ sauce. Add the second slice on Muenster on top and then the final bread slice.

The rest is easy. Cook that grilled cheese in a pan with a bit of butter until the cheese is melted and fantastic. Be sure to flip it occasionally to prevent uneven cooking or burning.

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The honey of the BBQ sauce is darkened by the burnt crunch of the onions, and ooooh that creamy Muenster! It adds all the smooth comfort of a grilled cheese without that overpowering CHEESE flavor. And about that burger vs. chicken dilemma? This combines the smoky spice of barbecue chicken with the satisfying feeling of a burger…and it’s great for your vegetarian guests too!

And if you’re not lazy like me…feel free to that this to your next cookout at an actual grill. This is a great base for adding any meat you like. chicken and bacon would probably be best, but why not also use this as a burger topping?

This sandwich is best enjoyed outside with your favorite summer brew for the ultimate summer comfort food. But consider yourself warned…you won’t be able to eat just one!

Pinot Noir and Port Salut

I’m no expert in the world of cheese.  Attempting to acquire the pallet of a cheese gourmand is a daunting and expensive task, which is why many of us usually opt for our usual Cracker Barrel’s and tiny logs of $3 goat cheese instead of venturing into the unknown, unpasteurized world out there. These varieties are certainly delicious, but they hardly represent the true nature of most cheeses: stinky, strong, and exquisite.

I started my journey as most people do: at the supermarket. Ideally I would have driven 40 miles to the nearest dairy farm, but as a matter of curiosity I wanted to see what the most exotic variety stocked at the grocery behemoth down the road was.  What I found was Port Salut.

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Nestled between the Stilton and Muenster, this semi-soft cheese presented an orange rind and a French flag on the label, boasting its imported status among the relatively local Wisconsin varieties.  I quickly paid for it, took it home, removed its airtight plastic binding, and just stared at it. It resembled Gouda based on its size and color, but the inside glistened and smeared my cheese knife almost like soft brie. Normally I would research my new wedge extensively, trying to pair it with whatever wine or fruit I had on hand, obsessing over its nuances before I even tried it. This time, however, I was blind. I tasted it plain, not wanting to spoil it with expectations.

I was instantly hooked.

It’s moments like this when you really question the word “cheesy”. This cheese was creamy and decadent to be sure, but exhibits none of the nutty sweetness and gooeyness of our usual varieties that wear the name. It’s smooth like a brie or Neufchatel-type cheese, but carries and acidic, tart aftertaste that reminded me a lot of Gorgonzola. It was such a unique pairing of the innocent soft texture, and the addictive briny taste it left on the tongue.

Smitten with my selection, but also realizing I probably shouldn’t eat the entirety of this cheese on its own (or in one sitting), it was time for a little research before I started cooking.  Thank you to the lovely Wikipedia and www.cheese.com for this information.

  1. This cheese is named after the Notre Dame du Port du Salut in Entrammes, France. It was originally made by Trappist monks who fled there from Paris during the French Revolution to avoid persecution.
  2. Today this cheese comes from Brittany, in the Loire Valley in France.
  3. It is one of the few cheeses that it is recommended to be served with red wine (ideally Burgundy or Pinot Noir).
  4. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk.
  5. It packs a hefty 72.7% fat content (yikes!)

Now it’s time to eat! It seemed sacrilegious to spread Port Salut, with all its political history, over a Ritz cracker. The lovely people at http://www.Cheese.com recommended this as a companion to broccoli and asparagus, so I decided to make crostini.

RECIPE: Balsamic Asparagus Crostini

First, I thinly sliced some fresh whole grain bread and spread a good amount of cheese over it. I then popped it into the toaster oven for about 5 minutes, while I toasted a few asparagus spears (if you have a gas range, just wrap them in foil and throw them on the fire for a few minutes). I chopped the lightly charred asparagus and lay the pieces on top of the melted cheese, drizzled them with balsamic vinegar, and added a pinch of freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

Balsamic Asparagus Crostini with Port Salut

Balsamic Asparagus Crostini with Port Salut

The crunch of the bread was a perfect contrast to the creaminess of the Port Salut. Asparagus was a perfect choice, snappy and just a little burnt, enhancing the French-ness of the cheese adding some darkness to the sweet balsamic vinegar.  One thing changed though, and that was the acid of the cheese. Just like many blue cheese, Port Salut loses a bit of its tang when it is melted. It was certainly there, and added a distinct flavor to the crostini, but it wasn’t the same cheese I puzzled over before.  This got me thinking. This cheese would actually be a great addition to a Panini or sandwiches, because it would offer an unusual bite without overpowering the other ingredients.

This morning, remembering the intriguing character of this cheese, I decided to try it in a sweeter, breakfast preparation. I used the same bread as yesterday’s crostini but I wanted the briny aftertaste, so I didn’t melt the cheese onto the toasts. After toasting the bread, I spread a generous layer onto the two slices and topped them in two different ways.

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On one I added fresh strawberry slices, and drizzled honey on the other. I was a little apprehensive about adding sweetness to a cheese that thrived as a salty, savory masterpiece. In general, it felt so wrong to experiment with something that tasted so good on its own, unadorned by other bold flavors that masked the subtlety of this creamy delight…But this will definitely be my breakfast until all my delicious Port Salut is gone. The savory undertone of this cheese is actually enhanced by the freshness of the strawberries, and the warm, woody flavor of honey. Since I didn’t melt the cheese, the pungent aftertaste was still there, but didn’t ruin the other flavors at all.

These were simple recipes that by no means pushed the boundaries on the cheese world. But honestly, this cheese doesn’t need it. I have a lot of Port Salut left, and I’m sure I’ll experiment a little more (maybe even combine the strawberry and balsamic, as many culinary pundits are encouraging), but this stuff is just too good on its own to slather other flavors on top of it. Most likely this week I will just sit on my back porch with a glass of Pinot Noir, Port Salut crostini, and ponder all the cheese adventures to come!