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A Southern Feast

September 5, 2010

This is my last post…kind of.  It’s is more like the last post I will write specifically for To Boston and Bake Again until I am able to again in December.  You see, in 4 days I leave for a 14 week stay in London and with 5 classes and plenty of other things to keep me busy, this blog will have to be put on the back burner.  However, one of my classes is an independent study where I will be blogging about British food culture and, if I happen to make technology work in my favor, all posts in that blog will be transferred to this one as well.  So never fear, the blogging will still be occurring.

But a while ago, I told my mom that before my immersion into the realm of English food, I wanted one last very typical American dinner to cherish and remember.  And boy did I get it.  This past Friday we prepared a southern feast for our friends and it was definitely a dinner we will talk about for a while.  We stuffed ourselves with a tasty South Carolina Shrimp Boil and polished it all off with the best-ever peach crisp. Beware: this meal is not only time consuming, it is also the source of a big, giant kitchen mess, but it’s quite worth it I think.

It’s not that the shrimp boil takes a long time to cook, but there is tons of prep work, and if everything is not all set up and ready to roll, kitchen stress is a guaranteed side effect.  Luckily, I was home all day to take care of most of the work, like scrubbing potatoes, poaching peaches, and, to my dismay, shucking corn.  As much as I absolutely adore fresh corn on the cob, I really hate shucking it.  It’s kind of like being on a game show; it’s all luck and risk.  As my hand hovers over the pile of corn to be shucked, a little Bob Barker on my shoulder says, “Now would you like to see what’s behind corn husk number 1, or do you prefer number 2. “  If I’m a winner, an ear of succulent, juicy, yellow jewels, all lined up in neat rows greets me.  The silk comes right off, leaving a perfectly clean and plump beauty.  But I always pick the wrong one. I always lose.  Instead I peel open the husk to reveal, not the tip of a corn cob, but the squirming body of a fat worm who wriggles around the rotten, eaten, excremental, end of the ear.  Then, once I properly panic and bash the end of the ear against the ground until the worm is no longer, I finish unpeeling the cob and receive the most snaggletooth of all corn, complete with jagged, zigzagged kernels, half of which are stunted and undeveloped.  All that work for about two mouthfuls of food.  Great.  But if that’s the price I must pay for one of the best of summer’s delights, well, I suppose I can deal with it.  Talk to you again from across the pond.  Cheers!

South Carolina Shrimp Boil
(recipe from Cooks Illusrated)

1 ½ lbs. andouille sausage (use kielbasa if you would like to tone down the spiciness) cut into 2-inch pieces
olive oil
4 cups water
1 cup clam juice
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
5 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
a few sprigs of thyme
1 ½ lbs small red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
4 ears shucked corn, cut into thirds
2 lbs. extra large shrimp, shell on

In a Dutch oven or a large stock pot, heat a lug of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the sausages and stir them around until they are browned and crispy on the outside, about 4 minutes.  Transfer the sausages to a plate and set aside.  In the same pot, add the water, clam juice, tomatoes, thyme, and 3 tsp. of the Old Bay, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the potatoes, reduce the heat to medium or medium-high, and cook, covered, for 7 minutes.  Then, add the corn, cover the pot, and cook for another 3 minutes.  Finally, return the sausage to the pot.  Toss the remaining old bay with the shrimp, and put the shrimp in a collapsible steamer basket.  Nestle the steamer basket into the pot, over the other ingredients, and continue cooking, covered, for another 10 minutes, or until the shrimp is done.

When, done, remove the steamer basket and strain the other ingredients in a colander.  To serve, lay our some newspaper over a big table and place a few paper towels on top of this.  Then, simply throw the lot onto the paper towels and let everybody help themselves.  Don’t forget plenty of napkins, big bowls to toss the shrimp shells and corn husks in, and extra Old Bay for sprinkling.

Peach Crisp
(serves 8-12)

adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Food Network Kitchens

For the crisp topping

1 cup pecan pieces (or small pieces of any nut you like)
¾  cup quick oats
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
pinch of salt
10 Tbs. softened butter

Combine all of the ingredients, except the butter, in a large bowl and mix until everything is well combined.  Cut up the butter into cubes and throw it into the nut mixture.  Using your hands, incorporate all of the butter into the mixture so there is no loose, dry flour remaining and you are left with a moist, crumbly dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour before using or up to a day if you are not using it right away.

For the filling

4 ½ lbs. ripe peaches
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 ½ Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¾ stick butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs. whiskey

Begin by poaching the peaches to easily remove the skin.  Note: If you are more of an expert at knife skills than I, and can peel a peach without wasting half the flesh, forgo the poaching.   To poach the peaches, bring a pot of water to a boil and place 3 peaches at a time into the water for about 30-45 seconds.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on some towels.  After cooling a minute, the skin should peel right off.  If not, return to the water for some more time until you can remove the skin.  Do this with all of your peaches.

Once cooled, cut up the peaches into 1-1 ½ inch cubes and place all of the pieces into a bowl.  Set aside.  Next, combine the sugars, flour, spices, and cornstarch in a small bowl and mix up.  Pour the mixture over the peaches and stir until the sugar starts to melt and creates a sauce.  Set aside again.  Now, it’s time to brown your butter.  Place the butter into a saucepan and set over a medium heat.  Continue to swirl the butter around the pan until it turns a beautiful amber color and smells like rice krispy treats and caramel.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla.  Be careful because it will splash some.  Let cool for a few minutes, then add the butter mixture and the whiskey to the peaches and stir everything up

Cooking the crisp

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spoon the peaches into a large, rectangular casserole dish.  Use a slotted spoon to do this so that once all of the peaches are in the dish, much of the sauce still remains in the bowl.  Pour about half of this evenly over the peaches and discard the other half (unless the peaches look too dry in which case pour more sauce over).  If you use it all, the crisp will be far too runny.  Evenly crumble the crisp topping over the peaches.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until the peach juices are bubbly and the topping is crunchy.  Let cool for about a half hour before indulging with a big scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.

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