Monday, September 13, 2010

When autumn leaves start to fall: A late summer menu

Okra by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The telltale signs of summer ending in Georgia: the trees are dropping leaves on the driveway, the afternoon highs are in the low 90s, and the harvest is in at the markets. Tomatoes; some late peaches, still eye-poppingly sweet; zucchini; bell peppers; corn; cantaloupes, astoundingly stinky ripe and full of flavor; and even a few watermelons, still crisp though low on the sugar scale. And okra - between the technicolor glory of August and the sturdy greens and squashes of October, is okra. People either love or hate the prickly pods with pearly seed-filled interiors - most citing the slime factor, but I love them all ways, always.

Okra was brought to the United States on the slave ships from Africa, and can be used as a stew-thickener in familiar dishes such as gumbo. Many a Southern cook I know swears by a meatless, streamlined version of this known as "okra and tomatoes" and it's usually just those few ingredients, united in holy matrimony by Father bacon and served over rice. Okra is delicious when chopped into short lengths, dipped in a cornmeal batter and fried - some folks will call that Cajun popcorn, although I'm not sure it's particularly authentic to Louisiana. Okra can be pickled, in fact, an okra pickle is a splendid garnish for a Bloody Mary.

I recently picked up a new okra recipe, thanks to two-time James Beard award winning author Nathalie Dupree. Nathalie is near and dear to Atlantan's hearts - she was a cooking instructor here and on PBS stations for years. I have many of her books and use them for inspiration frequently. And now I can say with a barely concealed squeal of delight - she’s my Facebook friend! Nathalie lives in Charleston, S.C. now, where she writes for the Charleston Post and Courier. Being her Facebook friend is like reading her books and asking questions and getting an answer back within minutes. In a recent post, she detailed a Southern vegetable feast with her favorite method for cooking okra - thinly sliced, tossed with olive and oil and salt and roasted in a hot oven.

Roasted okra chips by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I experimented with the idea and created beautiful, crispy okra chips that were devoured by my family. My husband and I dusted the chips with chipotle powder. I think with some tweaking, I could go all Famous Amos and market Lucy Mae's Smokin' Hot Okra Chips.

Dear reader, I can't leave you with just one recipe for okra, and not even a real recipe at that, so I featured the okra chips in my End of Summer Menu:

 Roast Chicken with Honey, Grapes, Rosemary and Thyme
Mashed Potatoes
Crisp-Roasted Okra
Plum Crumble with Cinnamon Yogurt Cream

Grapes by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Late summer grapes are coming into markets and they are sweet and juicy. We mostly eat them as a snack, but they are fun to cook with, adding a tasty element to a marinated chicken.

Roast Chicken with Honey, Grapes, Rosemary and Thyme
 Marinate the chicken for up to a day before roasting. This is a small quantity of marinade for the chicken - the key is to use a large plastic bag and squeeze the air out, allowing the bird to make contact with the marinade. 
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
5 pound roaster chicken
2 cups red seedless grapes, divided
Additional thyme and rosemary sprigs for garnish

1. Assemble the marinade: combine all ingredients except for chicken and grapes in large zippered bag. Make sure the salt dissolves. Add chicken to bag, carefully squeezing out all of the air, so that the marinade thoroughly covers the bird. Place in a plastic container, then the fridge overnight or for up to a day.

2. When you're ready to roast, turn the oven to 450°. I use a cast iron skillet, but a roasting pan will do just fine. Place 1 cup grapes in bottom of skillet or pan, then the marinated bird, one breast side up. Roast at 450° for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn bird to other breast side and roast for 15 minutes. Turn bird breast side down for 15 additional minutes. Finally, roast the bird breast side up for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer placed into the thickest part of the breast reads 165°.

3. When chicken is ready, place on platter and let rest for a few minutes. Pour liquid in bottom of pan into a degreasing cup. Stir remaining 1 cup grapes into the degreased liquid and spoon onto platter around the bird. Garnish with sprigs of rosemary and thyme.

Roast chicken with grapes and thyme by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And for dessert, a plum crumble, made with juicy tart-sweet plums, the last of summer's stone fruit from California.

Plums by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Plum Crumble by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Plum Crumble with Cinnamon Yogurt

This is an adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe from back in the day, 1995's "Martha Stewart Cookbook." It would work with many kinds of stone fruit, but plums are inexpensive this time of year and lovely with the creamy custard and spicy crust. This is one of those "divided" recipes that require you to pay attention to the directions. Follow closely! 

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 dark plums, pitted and cut into wedges
Vanilla yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and salt and cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in flour. Set aside half the mixture - this will become the streusel topping.

2. With one-half of the mixture, add cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and remaining egg. Mix until blended and press into the bottom of a baking dish - I use a round stoneware dish approximately 9 inches in diameter. Bake for 10 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, the milk and vanilla.

4. Remove the baked pastry from the oven and cover with the sliced plums. Pour the milk mixture over and sprinkle with streusel. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until brown on top and bubbly around the edges. Serve warm with vanilla yogurt spiced with cinnamon.

Plum Crumble with Cinnamon Yogurt by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

  Text and images © 2010, Lucy Mercer.


Anonymous said...

Your menu is wonderfully yummy. I will be trying your chicken roasting method and recipe soon. I was just visited yesterday with a rectangular clothes basket full of okra from a friend's parent's garden. I have given some away but am left with a huge amount of the lovely green pods. I will fry two skillet fulls battered in cornmeal and add a jellyroll pan full of okra chips to the menu. Alas, we have no chipolte powder. The men who eat at my table think they are in heaven if there is leftover fried okra in the fridge for a midnight snack. Now, I can add the okra chips to their snacking enjoyment.

My husband loves your photography and I love your varied selection of presentation bowls, dishes, etc.

We are Natalie Dupree fans as well. We watched her for years on PBS and also have one of her cookbooks.

Carolyn W. in D'ville

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy,

I'm Lucy too and new to blogging. I read your post about Nathalie Dupree's okra recipe with interest -- it's the second recipe I've seen lately for a different way to cook okra.

I bought a cookbook in Blue Ridge a few months ago titled "Eat Like There's No Tomorrow" by Hans Rueffert. He's a chef and owner of (or family owner of) the Woodbridge Inn in Jasper. His recipe is basically to saute the okra with garlic in olive oil on high heat just until it's heated through, which prevents the slime, and then toss it with cumin, salt, pepper and a little honey. Very tasty and sounds very similar to Nathalie Dupree's recipe.

Lucy B.

Anonymous said...

We tried your okra chips and they were a hit with everyone of the four men (some younger, one older) I feed. The men added Texas Pete when the chips were served for added kick. We also tried some of the gallons of sliced okra I had to do something with quickly (remember the laundry basket full of okra mentioned in a previous post?) the same way and it was very good also but not as crispy as the chips and it did take a bit longer. Thank you for enlarging our okra choices. The chips will rival my love for fried okra from now on.

Keep those wonderful recipe ideas coming.

Can you help us find canned pumpkin? There appears to be a shortage since last fall and I haven't been able to find one can at any of the groceries I frequent.
Carolyn in D'ville