Archive for the ‘Alabama’Category

Montgomery’s Central reinterprets a Southern classic

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Montgomery, Alabama, likes to call itself the place where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement started. But this historic city also looks forward as well as back. The handsome warehouses and other buildings along the riverfront have been spruced up as the Downtown Entertainment District. Central restaurant (129 Coosa St., 334-517-1121, www.central129coosa.com) epitomizes the style: It occupies an 1890s warehouse with high ceilings and warm, exposed-brick walls. An open kitchen brings the space to life as cooks execute the refined comfort food of tattooed and bearded executive chef Leonardo Maurelli III. Originally from Panama, Maurelli is a big proponent of Southern cuisine—as long as he can add his own innovations.

He has created a sophisticated twist on chicken and dumplings, substituting toothy potato gnocchi for the usually doughy dumplings and tossing the gnocchi with wood-roasted chicken, peas, carrots, and celery in an herbed veloute.

Chef Maurelli shared the recipe sized by single portions, and I’ve adapted it to make two servings.  The chicken, which is roasted with indirect heat from a wood fire, is brined for 24 hours in a standard brine (3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 6 cups of water). Maurelli removes the bird from the brine and lets it rest an hour before roasting.

CENTRAL’S CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

Maurelli makes his own potato gnocchi from scratch, but I generally substitute a very good commercial version. Maurelli’s mirepoix is a standard ratio of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery. See the veloute recipe below for my take on Central’s rich veloute.
chicken and dumplings

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces of potato gnocchi (blanched)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mirepoix
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced paper thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin
6 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast, medium dice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen hold best)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 1/4 cups fine herb chicken veloute

Directions

Flash fry the gnocchi until crisp, about 3 minutes, and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Place water in small frying pan and add mirepoix. Turn heat on high and cook for about 45 seconds after water boils. Drain mirepoix and set aside.

In a separate skillet, over medium heat, place olive oil with finely sliced shallot and garlic. Sauté until caramelized (about 2 minutes). Add mirepoix, chicken, and peas and sauté. Deglaze skillet with white wine and cook off alcohol (about 1 minute).

Add veloute and bring to a simmer. Once sauce is simmering add the gnocchi, quickly toss and serve immediately to make sure the gnocchi are still crisp.

Garnish with local herbs, or micro greens.

CHICKEN VELOUTE

Maurelli usually uses a mix of thyme, rosemary, and parsley to season the veloute.

32 ounces chicken stock
6 tablespoons clarified butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces of chopped fresh herbs

Bring stock to a simmer.

In a separate skillet, heat butter and use a wooden spoon to blend in flour start to create a roux. Be careful not to brown the roux, but cook slowly until the raw flour taste is gone.

Once roux is done, slowly whisk in the stock one-quarter cup at a time. Whisk constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 20 minutes, add fresh herbs, and let cool. I use leftover veloute as a cream sauce for dishes like chicken tetrazzini or simple sliced meat and gravy on toast or rice.

13

05 2014

Mobile DAR House Museum has sweet bite of history

Apricot Almond Delight
I had a real taste of Southern hospitality when I visited the Richards DAR House Museum in Mobile, Alabama (256 North Joachim St., www.richardsdarhouse.com). Richards DAR House MuseumThe 1860 Italianate-style townhouse was built for a steamboat captain and his wife. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it features an intricate iron lacework facade and a beautiful cantilevered staircase. The home is furnished to reflect the comfortable, upper-class lifestyle of the late 19th century. Visitors are welcome to sit in the chairs and encouraged to play the piano. They are also served tea and a few small sweets in the dining room. This simple Apricot-Almond Delight Candy is always a hit. The recipe is published in the museum’s cookbook Tastefully Yours.

APRICOT-ALMOND DELIGHT CANDY

Barbara Bodie,who supplied this recipe for the cookbook, recommends a mix of whole, sliced, and slivered almonds for a nice blend of textures.

Ingredients
1/2 cup apricots, diced quite small
1 cup toasted almonds
6-8 ounces white chocolate, melted

Directions
Stir the ingredients together and drop by teaspoons onto waxed paper. Set aside at least two hours before serving.

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04

05 2014

Gourmet chicken salad at Mobile’s Spot of Tea

Calvert's Gourmet Chicken Salad
For truly ambitious eaters, the state of Alabama has come up with a handy list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It’s a big undertaking, but I got a start when I partied in Mobile during Mardi Gras. Located across the street from Cathedral Square, Spot of Tea (310 Dauphin St., 251-433-9009, www.spotoftea.com) is right in the middle of the festivities and is also one of the few restaurants in the state to be recognized for two standout dishes. In this case, it’s two breakfast dishes: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral (a variation on Eggs Benedict featuring local seafood). Locals are just as likely to stop in for lunch and it’s a good bet that they will order the “gourmet chicken salad,” either as a sandwich or atop a salad. The recipe, which uses only white meat chicken, was passed down from the grandmother of owner Ruby Moore (That’s Ruby below.)


CALVERT’S GOURMETRuby at Spot of Tea
CHICKEN SALAD

This is the version as served at Spot of Tea in Mobile. I prefer using 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed in place of the celery salt, as it lets me adjust the seasoning more carefully. I also prefer using roast chicken breasts to poached breasts, though that’s truly a matter of taste. Finally, I sometimes substitute fresh goat cheese (chèvre) for part or all of the cream cheese. It makes a slightly drier, more tangy chicken salad.

Serves 10

Ingredients
3 lb. boneless chicken breast
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. mayonnaise
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
celery salt
salt
black pepper
4 oz. pecans, chopped fine

Directions
1. Poach chicken until fully tender. Cool under cold water, pat dry, and dice.
2. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pecans.
3. Adjust to taste with celery salt, pepper, and salt. Blend well. If not creamy enough, add more mayonnaise.

25

04 2014

King Cake for Easter

king cake top
If Mardi Gras has a signature food, it has to be the king cake, which is actually more like a big, braided cinnamon roll than a cake. It’s topped with white icing and dusted with colored sugar, usually in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. The cake was originally served at Epiphany, but was so tasty that cooks kept making it through Mardi Gras.

I found a knockout version this year at Sweet Olive Bakery (251-990-8883; sweetolive.org), a European-style artisanal bakery in Fairhope, Alabama. It’s located in the Windmill Market (85 N. Bancroft St.), an old car dealership and service garage that has found new life as a foodie destination (other occupants include a great barbecue joint and a locavore market). The Windmill is only 18 miles from Mobile, where the first Mardi Gras in America was celebrated in 1703. Mobile still puts on a great party with 65 balls and 35 parades in a three-week period.

I have no idea how many king cakes are consumed during that time, but many of them are made by Jennifer Haffner, the owner and head baker at Sweet Olive. She was kind enough to share her recipe and since I don’t want to wait a year to try it, I thought that a king cake would add a perfect festive note for Easter brunch.

By the way, tradition calls for inserting a small plastic baby (representing the Baby Jesus) into the cooked cake. Whoever gets that slice has to host next year’s party—or at least bring the king cake!

KING CAKE

Jennifer’s recipe makes three cakes. She stresses that all the ingredients must be cold since the mix time for brioche is quite long. Be sure to start this recipe far ahead to allow for the dough to rise.

king cake jenniferCake
1 1/2 cups butter
5 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cold water
6 cold eggs
1 tablespoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Filling
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
5 tablespoons milk

1. Flatten the butter with a rolling pin until it is pliable and place it in the refrigerator until needed.

2. Place all ingredients for the cake except the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Begin mixing on lowest speed until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Turn the mixer up slightly and mix for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is well developed.

3. Add the butter in pieces, while the machine is mixing, until all the butter is incorporated. Mix for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Place dough in a bowl lightly sprayed with oil or pan spray. Cover dough with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic around the dough. Let it stand at room temperature for an hour. Fold the dough over on itself, cover bowl with plastic wrap, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

5. Divide the dough into 3 pieces.

6. Using 1 piece of dough, roll into a rectangle about a quarter inch thick. Brush the dough with egg wash. Combine cinnamon and sugar for filling in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough.

7. Cut the rectangle into 3 long strips. Braid the 3 strips and attach the ends to form an oval. Spray with oil or pan spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Let sit until completely cool.

9. Put confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl and add milk a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Glaze should be thick but should drizzle easily off a spoon. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake and decorate with colored sprinkles of your choice.

15

04 2014