Beach Vacation: Shrimp boil and skillet cornbread

One of my favorite vacation destinations is North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I’ve only been there twice, but every time it’s a week of heaven–swimming, reading, shopping at my favorite Independent bookstore, and eating amazing food.

Sadly, I live in Ohio, and I can’t get to the Outer Banks whenever I want.  So I love to cook this meal, taken from Elizabeth Wiegand’s Outer Banks Cookbook, when I need an OBX taste in my kitchen.

These are two recipes: first, for the shrimp boil, and then the cornbread, because who doesn’t love a good cornbread, right?

Shrimp And Beer Shrimp Boil

adapted from Elizabeth Wiegand’s Outer Banks Cookbook

2 lbs. shrimp, preferrably unpeeled (but sometimes you can only find it in the “peeled” state. That’s OK.)

1 12 oz beer, any kind, as long as it’s not lite beer

1 c. water

1 medium onion, sliced

1 lemon, sliced

4 garlic cloves, slivered

1 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning (my favorite is Williams-Sonoma Old Bay. At the grocery you will find this in the seafood department, not with the spices.)

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. whole black or mixed color peppercorns

1 c. prepared cocktail sauce


Rinse the shrimp and set aside to drain.

In a large pot or Dutch Oven, add beer and all other ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and allow to bubble for two minutes, reducing heat as necessary to keep from boiling over.

Make sure the beer mixture is at a raucous boil, then add the shrimp. Stir often, and cook just until the mixture returns to a boil and the shrimp turns pink. Drain.

Serve in a large bowl with an extra bowl for discarded shrimp shells and a small bowl of cocktail sauce (And LOTS of paper towels!)


Traditional Skillet Cornbread

from Elizabeth Wiegand’s Outer Banks Cookbook 

You will need a 9 inch ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, for this recipe!

1 tbsp. corn oil (or other oil)

2 c. cornmeal

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt (regular iodized, not kosher or sea salt)

2 eggs

1 1/4 c. milks

1 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Add oil to coat a 9 inch ovenproof skillet, and place skillet in the oven while mixing the cornbread.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Break eggs into a small mixing bowl and beat until yolks and whites are mixed. Add milk and stir, then add melted butter and stir to combine.

Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring after each addition. Mix until well blended.

Pour the batter into the skillet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cut into wedges to serve.



Spicy Chicken Thighs for Matthew Francis

The cousin closest to me in age is my cousin Diane, who lives in Houston now with her Italian husband and three kids. Today she gave birth to the third, a son (their first), whom they named Matthew Francis.

This recipe is hereby named after him; I was going to make this tonight anyway, but when I came back from my swim, I had a text message saying Diane “had been delivered” (love that phrase) of a baby boy.

When I cook, I add the dates I cooked recipes on the recipe page, so I can see how frequently or infrequently I make things. The last time I made this was on Diane and Matthew’s anniversary (Matthew is her husband’s name as well). So this dish has their family written all over.

Baby Matthew won’t be eating this for awhile, but I can image the rest of his family eating this. And since they’re Italian and from Texas, the cayenne pepper in the dish is just right for them.


Spicy Chicken Thighs For Matthew Francis

adapted from a Mario Batali recipe in The Chew cookbook.

6-8 chicken thighs (one package)

kosher salt, to taste

cayenne pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 yellow onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1/2 c. chicken stock/ broth

1 tsp. saffron

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons cilantro, for garnish

1 scallion, chopped, for garnish


Season the chicken with salt and cayenne, to taste (if you’re making this for the first time, season only ONE side, to see how spicy it gets. Remember–you can add spice, but you can’t take it away!).

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and brown, cooking 4-6 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions and cook for another 8-10 minutes on medium heat, until brown and soft. Let them caramelize a bit, so lean toward the 10 minute time. Once to desired brownness, add the flour and stir in. Add more salt and cayenne, if you’d like.

Stir in the chicken stock and add the chicken pieces back in. Add saffron and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender.

Serve on a large platter; add garnishes.


Drunken Tuscan Pasta

This is one of my favorite things to make, especially when I have company, because it’s such a filling, healthy meal: add a salad and you’ve got the entire menu! I’ve served it at dinner parties with either this or this. The only thing about it to really note is that it takes an entire bottle of wine, so if you, like me, are not an oenephile, you’ll need a bottle of Chianti to make this. (You can use any red wine, but since it’s Tuscan pasta, go for the Chianti.)

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals

Serves four-six

1 bottle Chianti

1 lb. spaghetti

kosher salt

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 lb. pancetta, cubed (You can buy it this way at the grocery–Trader Joe’s and Giant Eagle sell packages of it, and I just buy a bunch and keep them in my freezer, since pancetta figures into many of my favorite dishes)

3 portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

a few pinches red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you like)

Chard or kale (I love to use rainbow chard): 10 oz bag or 4-5 cups (a lot of stalks).


Freshly ground black pepper

Grated parmesan cheese

Pour the wine into a large pot, and add water until you have enough liquid to cook the pasta. Place it over high heat. When it boils, add salt and pasta. Remove some of the pasta water to use in sauce.

While the water’s going, add two tbsp. EVOO to a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until it starts to become golden around the edges. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate. Add the portobello caps to the pan and season with rosemary. Cook for 6-8 minutes until deeply golden. Move the mushrooms over to the side of the pan, add another tbsp. EVOO and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute, then combine with the mushrooms. Add the kale or chard and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Let the kale/chard cook down. Add some of the pasta water and let it reduce.

When the pasta is finished, drain, then add to the skillet with a handful of parmesan cheese. Toss and serve.

Dinner party salad: Jackson Salad

This salad is a big hit at my fall/winter dinner parties, when I don’t want to make my balsamic strawberry salad because strawberries just aren’t as good out of season. The best part is it’s all made of things I keep around in the house, except for the lettuce, which I usually need to buy before a party. I make this right before dinner is served.

Jackson Salad (adapted from Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals)


one bag spring mix salad leaves

3 tbsp. capers, rinsed (I put them in a small strainer and rinse off the brine)

1/4 of a red onion (If you have a tiny one you could use of all of it), sliced thinly

The Dressing:

1 tsp. dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. (a few shakes) Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick, or other steak seasoning you have around (Rachael uses this seasoning blend a lot in her recipes, so I just keep it around. And it’s delicious, to boot)

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c. white wine vinegar

2 shakes Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk.

Place the salad components in the serving bowl, add dressing right before serving, and lightly toss.

Panko Crusted Salmon

I have never reacted to a dish like I did to this one. I basically danced in my chair and praised Jesus for making salmon and panko bread crumbs and all these things.

This is from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? I made one slight addition to her recipe, which I shall tell you about, and used a tablespoon of dried parsley, instead of fresh. I list the amount for fresh below.

Also, my salmon is skinless. If that’s the situation for you, place the filets very briefly–like 30 seconds briefly–in the hot oil, then into the oven.

This made me dance, people. You must eat this or life will not be complete for you.


Panko Crusted Salmon


Serves Four

2/3 c. panko (Japanese dried bread flakes; they’re usually with the bread crumbs)

2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

1 tsp. grated lemon zest (save the lemon after you zest it!)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. EVOO

4 6-8 oz. salmon fillets, skin on

2 tbsp. dijon mustard

2 tbsp. vegetable oil


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko, parsley, lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir until the crumbs are evenly coated. Set aside. (NOTE: You can use your hands, too, for the mixing. I liked the results better.)

Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on a cutting board. Generously brush the top of the fillets with mustard and then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each fillet.   (The mustard helps the panko adhere)

Heat the vegetable il over medium-high heat in a 12-inch cast iron skillet or a large, heavy, ovenproof pan. When the oil is VERY hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes, without turning, to brown the skin.

Transfer the pan into the hot oven for 5-7 minutes until the salmon is almost cooked and the panko is browned. Remove from over, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes (this will depend on the thickness of your fillets. If they’re really thick, it’ll be closer to 7 minutes in the oven, and 10 minutes for resting)

Take the zested lemon and cut it in half. Squeeze the juice over the salmon fillet. Transfer to a plate or platter, and serve.

Summer Scafata

Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance

Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance

Oh, my goodness people. Please make this soon.

This seems very simple. Boring, even. And Zucchini? Please. But everything comes together and cooks and becomes….divine. I was doing a happy dance in the kitchen after my first bowl of this.  This is a simple vegetable stew that will make you believe in veggies.  After about 30 minutes, start to finish, you have an amazing lunch, meatfree dinner (then I’d serve some bread and maybe salad along side)–you have a party in the mouth.

(This is the Italian version of ratatouille, btw. This is much easier.)

Note: PLEASE make sure your chile flakes are fresh. Do not use some from a jar that’s been sitting around for 5 years in your cupboard. Toss it, get a new one. Trust me on this.

Now. Make this.

Recipe from The Chew cookbook.

Summer Scafata

Serves 6

1/4 c. EVOO

1 tbsp. red chile flakes

1 yellow onion thinly sliced

1 fennel bulb (just the bulb, not the fronds), diced

2 lbs. zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces

2 lbs. tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

kosher salt

basil leaves (1/4 to 1/2 c., depending on how much you like basil.)

Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling,  and crusty bread  (optional)

In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat the EVOO, then add the chile flakes, onion and fennel. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the fennel is tender. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and pepper, and cook for 10-15 minutes over medium-low heat, until the zucchini starts to break up a bit. Salt to taste.

Can be served hot or at room temperature, with bread and balsamic vinegar at table.

Lemon Fusili Pasta

So I thought I had posted this before, but no! And you need this recipe, guys, because it’s truly great.  We can thank Ina Garten for this one. It’s a true staple in my kitchen, especially in the summer when the cherry/grape tomatoes are great. I’ve made this with heirloom cherry tomatoes and then it’s so pretty and colorful!

This recipe feeds a lot of people, so it’s great for having people over for dinner.



Lemon Fusili Pasta

Serves 6

1 lb. fusili or rotini , or any corkscrew shaped pasta

1 tbsp. EVOO

2 garlic gloves, minced

2 c. (I pint) heavy cream

2 lemons–you’ll need their zest and juice, so zest first, then juice.

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes, halved

1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese


In a large skillet, heat the EVOO over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the cream, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to thicken.

Heat a large pot of water. When boiling, add salt, stir, and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain and return to pot. Add cream sauce and cook for three minutes on medium low heat, until the pasta has absorbed most of the sauce. Turn out into a large bowl, and add tomatoes and cheese. Toss, check seasonings, and serve.