Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Something Super

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This week’s get-together needs very little in the way of introductions.  It was Super Bowl Sunday.  My mom and dad came over from Toledo, Matt and Sara came up from downstairs, and we all gathered around our poor excuse of a TV to watch the big game.  By the way, when you have the smallest TV of anyone you know, you had better be promising a damn good spread of food, if you want to host a Super Bowl party.  But no problem there.  This menu more than made up for our TV’s embarrassingly small surface area.

Spicy Artichoke  and Pepper Dip with Blue Corn Chips

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Glaze and Tomato-Bourbon Aioli

Shrimp-Andouille-Okra Gumbo with Brown Rice

Oven-Baked Muffuletta Subs: Crusty Italian Bread, Sopressata, Capicola, Spicy Marinated Olive Salad, Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula & Melted Provolone

Caramel Nut Bars & Chocolate Brownies

Can you tell by the menu which team we were rooting for?  The Saints, of course!  But really, I didn’t care too much who won, either way.  I based my loyalty solely on cuisine.   I mean, really - Indianapolis versus New Orleans – there’s no contest when it comes to food.  To me, Super Bowl XLIV was simply the perfect excuse for a Cajun feast. 

But having said that, the first menu item was pretty bipartisan.  Non-partisan, actually.  This spicy spin on artichoke dip had no tie to either team.  An old (well, old-ish) family recipe, it could, I suppose, officially be considered Ohio cuisine, but definitely not Louisiana fare. 

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Nonetheless, this tasty dip fit seamlessly within my Big Easy menu.  Hot from the oven, with a bubbly crust of golden parmesan, oozing insides of melted pepper jack cheese, and pretty red and green speckles of artichokes and peppers, this charismatic dish would feel at home in just about any menu.  A far cry from a typical artichoke dip, with a subtle heat that brings it to a whole new level, it’s a family favorite for good reason.  Along with my mom, grandma and aunts, I can find an easy excuse to serve it for just about any occasion, from fancy dinner parties to casual get-togethers.  In my cache of go-to recipes, it’s a deliciously definite keeper.

But I must admit, tasty as it was, the dip was blown away by the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

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Wrapped in a crispy spiral of smoked bacon, and glistening under a sweet shellac of bourbon-brown sugar glaze, these incredible shrimp disappeared in the blink of an eye.  A pound of shrimp was a severe underestimation, and hardly came close to satisfying the six of us.  Really, I should have known, considering my dad’s champion-worthy shrimp-eating skills.  But truly, a bit of a shortage can be a good thing too.  It’s always good to leave everyone aching for just a little more ;).

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On their own, these shrimp were near perfection.  But dunked in the lusciously smooth tomato-bourbon aioli, they were out of this world.  Colored a creamy pinkish-orange, with a   green confetti swirl of chopped fresh tarragon, this sauce was as pretty as it was tasty.  And boasting a boozy undercurrent of bourbon and a tangy kick of  sweet tomato, it was a spot-on complement to the bacon-wrapped shrimp.  Next time you think of serving boring old shrimp cocktail, think of this instead.  I promise, you’ll knock the socks off of anyone who takes a bite.

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Next up, the gumbo.  Standing in for game day chili, this traditional Louisiana stew was a touchdown all around.  Chock full of all sorts of goodness – smoky andouille sausage, pink curls of sweet shrimp, mini green wagon wheels of okra and the holy Cajun trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper – and topped with a scoop of brown rice and good pungent pinch of sliced green onions, it was in my book, exactly what you want, when you want gumbo.  As far as gumbos go, this one earns a solid A, and from this day forward, this will be my official gumbo recipe. 

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But like the artichoke dip, the gumbo was a bit over-shadowed by the other dishes.  I have to say, the MVP of the day was the muffuletta sandwich. 

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Layer upon layer of spectacular ingredients, this sandwich was a sight to behold.  And it was so completely delicious, maybe the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.  Close to it at any rate.

I think the incredibleness of this sub all starts with the olive salad, a rainbow of vegetables – slices of deep purple kalamatas and drab olive-green olives, neon-green ribbons of spicy peppers, glistening pickled bright orange carrots and pale green celery, slivers of pure white garlic and jade green flecks of fresh herbs.  Like a bowl-full of jewels.  I hate to dwell on aesthetics, when it’s the taste that ultimately counts, but in my mind, the sheer beauty of this salad will always win out over its admittedly equal deliciousness.  Just look.

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So it all starts with the olive salad.  But every last component of this sandwich was equally important to its ultimate success.  The crusty Italian bread. The melty provolone cheese.  The deep pink ribbons of salty cured meats.  The peppery leaves of baby arugula.  And oh, the blistered and caramelized slow-roasted tomato slices.  Each delicious layer piled high atop the next, all of it hot and toasty from the oven.

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To add a bit of sweetness to our savory spread, I made my old favorite, chocolate brownies, and a new favorite too, caramel nut bars.  A recipe of Martha Stewart’s, these are absolutely one-hundred percent incredible.   With a flaky cookie base and a thick, gooey topping of salty golden caramel, all studded with toasted pecans, peanuts and cashews, these are the richest, most ridiculously decadent things around.  And when it comes to my favorite desserts, they take top honors in the bar category.  Maybe even above brownies.  Or maybe tied, I don’t know.  Maybe there’s no need to qualify their magnificence.

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Needless to say, the brownies and caramel nut bars were a perfect capstone in our Super Bowl smorgasbord.  And a great touch of sweetness in an altogether super night.

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Spicy Artichoke & Pepper Dip
Serves 4-6

Any sort of chip would work well here, or even crostini.  But I think blue corn chips are just so pretty.  And as far as chips go, they’re pretty sophisticated too. 

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1 can (14 - 15 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped   
1 can (4 oz) pimentos, drained and chopped
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies, drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup + 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 bag blue corn chips

Add chopped artichoke hearts, pimentos, chilies, mayonnaise, pepper jack and  1/2 cup Parmesan to a mixing bowl, and stir to combine.  Pour into a shallow baking dish, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over the top.  Bake in a 350°F oven until the top is golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.  Serve with blue corn chips for dipping. 


Bourbon-Brown Sugar-Glazed, Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
serves 4

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1 # large (31-40 per pound) shrimp, peeled & deveined, tails left on
12 oz bacon

For the Bourbon-Brown Sugar Glaze:
2 Tbl dark brown sugar
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl bourbon
2 Tbl water

To prep the bacon-wrapped shrimp:  Slice each bacon strip into thirds (Each slice will be about three inches long).  Gently pull a slice of bacon at its ends, to lengthen it a bit, then carefully wrap it around a peeled shrimp, trying to cover as much of the shrimp as possible with the bacon, but leaving the tail exposed.  Place the bacon-wrapped shrimp on a metal rack placed over a tin foil-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining shrimp and bacon, placing each on the rack and leaving a bit of room in between.  Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until needed.

To make the glaze: Combine the brown sugar and butter in a small sauce pot over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally , until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Add bourbon and stir.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat.

To cook: Preheat the oven broiler.  Brush the glaze over each shrimp, trying not to get too much on the shrimp tails.  Place the tray directly under the broiler.  Broil two minutes, remove from oven and brush again.  Broil until crispy on top, about two to four minutes more.  Remove from oven, flip over shrimp and brush other side with glaze.  Broil two minutes, remove from oven and brush again.  Broil until second side is crispy too. Serve immediately with Tomato-Bourbon Aioli.


Tomato-Bourbon Aioli 
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Crescent City Cooking is a great cookbook, chock full of incredible New Orleans style recipes.  I can’t recommend it enough.  It definitely came in handy tonight, as inspiration for this sauce, and for the olive salad too.

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2 egg yolks
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
juice from half a lemon
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
6 drops hot sauce
1 Tbl cream
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbl bourbon
2 Tbl chopped fresh tarragon
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk until they are slightly foamy.  Slowly add the oil, just a few drops at at time, constantly beating with the whisk, until all the oil is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth, the consistency of mayonnaise.  Add the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, cider vinegar, hot sauce, cream, ketchup, bourbon and chopped tarragon.  Stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 


Shrimp-Andouille-Okra Gumbo with Brown Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, May-June 1999
Serves 6-8

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1 1/2 pounds small (51-60 per pound) shrimp, peeled & deveined (shells & tails reserved) 
1 cup (8 oz bottle) clam juice
1/2 cup + 1 Tbl vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
12 oz frozen sliced okra (sliced about 1/2 inch thick)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbl fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup chopped parsley
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups steamed brown rice, hot
4 scallions, thinly sliced

In a medium sauce pot, combine reserved shrimp shells and tails with 1 quart water, and place over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and strain.  Discard the shells and tails.  Combine the shrimp stock with the clam juice and 1 quart cold water.  Set aside.

Add 1/2 cup vegetable oil to a large Dutch oven or sauce pan, and heat on medium-high for about 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, stirring constantly to work out any lumps.  Continue stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a deep shade of brown (a mix between the colors of milk and dark chocolate) and gives off a toasty aroma, about 20 minutes.  Add the onion, pepper, celery, okra, garlic, thyme, cayenne, a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. 

Slowly add half of the stock mixture and stir vigorously to combine.  Add the rest of the shrimp stock mixture.  Bring to a simmer.  Decrease heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.  (You may need to skim the surface from time to time, to remove any scum that collects on top.)

As the soup simmers, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for two minutes.  Add 1 Tbl oil to the pan and heat one minute more.  Add sliced andouille sausage to the pan in an even single layer and sauté until crisp and golden brown on the bottoms, about three minutes.  Flip over the slices and sauté the other sides, about two more minutes.   Remove from the pan and set aside.  (If you have too much sausage to fit in a single layer in the sauté pan, do this in two steps.)  Once all the sausage is sautéed, add a quarter cup water to the empty sauté pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits and pieces sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Simmer about two minutes, then pour these juices into the simmering soup. 

After the soup has simmered thirty minutes, stir in the sautéed sausage.  Simmer thirty more minutes.  Stir in the shrimp, then simmer until cooked through, about five more minutes.  Turn off the heat, and stir in the parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill serving bowls with a generous ladleful of  gumbo.  Top with about a third a cup of hot steamed brown rice.  Garnish with sliced scallions. 


Oven-Baked Muffuletta Sub Sandwiches
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, September 1996
Serves 4-6

There are a few key steps here.  Following them will ensure a truly transcendent sandwich.  First, make sure you use every last drop of the olive salad juice to really soak the insides of the bread.  Second, don’t skip out on dressing the arugula.  And third, seasoning with salt and pepper is absolutely necessary!  They’re all simple steps, but they go such a long way. 

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For oven-roasted tomatoes:
2 # plum tomatoes
kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 200°F.  Slice tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Remove the core and seeds.  With the tip of a sharp knife, prick the tomato skin about 8-10 times for each half.  Lightly season the cut sides with a sprinkling of salt.  Place the tomato halves, cut sides down, on a wire rack placed over a foil-lined sheet tray.  Roast until tomato halves are cooked through and slightly dried, but still quite moist, and the skins are golden brown and curling off, about three hours.  Remove from the oven and bring to room temperature.  Store refrigerated, in an air-tight container, until needed.  (Can be stored refrigerated for about a week.)

To assemble sandwiches:
1 sub-like loaf Italian bread (the soft inside / crusty outside kind), about two feet long
half a recipe of spicy olive salad (see right below)
1/2 # provolone cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 # sopressata (or any hard salami), thinly sliced
1/4 # capicola, thinly sliced
oven roasted tomatoes
3-4 oz baby arugula
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbl extra-virgin-olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Slice the loaf of bread in half, lengthwise.  Place both halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet.

Pour the olive salad into a strainer set over a small bowl and collect all the oily juice that runs off.  Brush this all over the cut sides of the top and bottom halves of the bread.  Be generous and really soak it in.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Layer half of the sliced provolone over the bottom half of the bread and the other half over the top.  Now, working just with the bottom half, spread the olive salad over the cheese.  Then top with an even layer of the sopressata and then the capicola.  Next, layer with the oven roasted tomato slices.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.  Bake in the oven until the sandwich is warmed through, and the cheese is melted, about fifteen minutes, rotating the pan half-way through. 

In a large mixing bowl, toss the arugula with the red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Top the bottom half of the sandwich with the dressed arugula, and then cover with the top of the sandwich.  Carefully slice into four or six servings.  Serve immediately.  

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Spicy Olive Salad
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Makes about 3 cups

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1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced in quarters, lengthwise
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced in quarters, lengthwise
3/4 cup chopped pickled Italian vegetables (giardiniera)
8 pepperoncini, stemmed and chopped
2 Tbl capers
2 small garlic cloves, sliced paper thin
2 Tbl chopped parsley
1 Tbl chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup finely sliced celery hearts (the insides of the celery)
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine everything in a mixing bowl.  Refrigerate in an air-tight container, at least overnight (to allow flavors to meld together).  Can be store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.  


Caramel Nut Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart
Makes 18 3 x 2” bars

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2 sticks, plus 1/4 stick unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for greasing the pan)
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup salted cashews
1 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed
2 1/4 cup flour
1 Tbl, plus a pinch of salt
4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9 x 12” brownie pan, then line with a sheet of parchment paper, leaving a 1 inch overhang on the long sides. 

Spread the pecans, cashews and peanuts on another parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Place in the oven and cook until fragrant and slightly golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the pan about half-way through. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. 

Combine 2 sticks of butter with the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed, using the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the flour and a pinch of salt and mix on low until just combined. 

Transfer the dough into the prepared baking pan.  Press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan with the back of a wooden spoon, then cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and using a wine bottle or small rolling pin, roll along the length of the pan to smooth the dough.   Bake until lightly golden, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, a tablespoon of salt and a cup of water in a medium saucepan.  Without stirring, cook over high until the sugar is melted and begins to turn golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Cook until the sugar mixture is deep golden brown and registers 300°F on a candy thermometer. 

Carefully pour cream down the sides of the pan, stirring constantly until combined.  Remove from the heat, add 1/4 stick butter and stir to combine.  Transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Add the nuts to the caramel sauce and stir to combine.  Pour the caramel nut mixture over the cooled cookie crust.  Bake until the caramel is set, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature  on a wire rack.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator.  Cut into 3 x 2” bars.  Store refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 1 week. 


  1. Kate, the blog looks awesome! I'm definitely subscribing--keep the recipes coming. I think I am going to do your bourbon-glazed bacon wrapped shrimp this weekend. Yummy. Congrats on what looks like a super cooking blog!

  2. Kate, this looks fabulous! I will be making that gumbo this week!

  3. Ben - Thanks a bunch! It feels so cool to have subscribers! So definitely, thanks for that :). And, can't wait to hear how the shrimp turn out. Have fun!

    Katie - Great! And Thanks! Enjoy the gumbo. It makes such a cozy winter dinner, with just some nice crusty bread. Yum. I'm so glad you're making it :).

  4. Kate - Well coming from a college girl who can make a MAD mac& put me to shame with these recipes!! VERY cool and totally interesting! (One day I can PROMISE I will have enough patience to tryyy and do what you do) HaHa But seriously awesome stuff! Congrats on such a cool thing you have going here!

  5. Thank you, Joan! And don't knock your mac & cheese :). I bet it's incredible! Thanks so much for reading, and for such nice compliments! Made me smile!