Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Tales from the beach kitchen

I tried to pack my picnic basket a little lighter this year for our beach vacation. I took my House Autry seafood breading mix, the standards (coffee, little jars of flour, sugar, and creamer for coffee), small bottles of olive oil and specialty vinegars. I included half a bag of potatoes, a green pepper, a couple limes. I had a partial packet of baking mix, which I thought would be enough for one batch of biscuits for breakfast one morning.

Every beach house we have rented always has had an assortment of cooking utensils. You have to learn to cook with what you have in the cupboard. This year, I was missing the rolling pin for the biscuits.

I found a small flat-sided juice glass that I used as a rolling pin. Then I turned the glass on its rim and used that as my biscuit cutter.

Despite the numerous trips to the grocery in town, I never managed to buy an onion or fresh garlic, but I did have that bag of potatoes with me. We made mashed potatoes without a potato masher: my son-in-law nicely mashed the cooked potatoes with a pasta fork.

The only time we really needed the fresh onion and garlic was when my daughter and son-in-law made the family s classic orzo salad. It was supposed to be made with turkey, onion, garlic, asparagus, tomato, green pepper, gorgonzola, dried cranberries, and olive oil. The recipe was back in Ohio, but the couple improvised, using salami for the turkey and crumbled blue cheese for the gorgonzola. The asparagus is quickly sauteed in the olive oil before being added to the cooked orzo and other ingredients. They added a few tablespoons of pomegranate-infused blush balsamic vinegar. There was plenty of flavor with the ingredients we had; the onion and garlic weren t missed.

My Ohio daughter and son-in-law stopped at one of the North Carolina farmers markets again this year so we were well-stocked with strawberries, blueberries, a watermelon, fresh corn, and the ingredients for ratatouille, her specialty. I used the berries in a flan again (the picnic basket had room for one of the flat pre-baked flan cakes).

Our Texas daughter and son-in-law were responsible for the crab feast and the shrimp boil. They bought three dozen Atlantic blue crabs and we steamed one pot (using 1 cup water, cup white vinegar, and plenty of Old Bay seasoning per 18 crabs, which was all the pot would hold). We had to do two batches. As for the shrimp boil we had no crawfish they used smoked sausage, redskin potatoes, fresh button mushrooms, and fresh large shrimp liberally spiced with Zatarain s crawfish seasoning. We had a feast!

Our son caught flounder twice; each was big enough to give everyone a taste. He expertly filleted each and then pan-sauteed them using the seafood bread mixing and Crisco.

One night, he bought 2 pounds fresh grouper off the dock from a local fisherman. The clerk asked if we wanted it filleted, which we did. But when we got back to the beach house, the skin side had not been scaled, so he had to remove that. He cut the fish in serving pieces, dipped each in the seafood breading, and sauteed it. There was silence at the table when we ate it it has to be the best grouper we have ever had. Our grandsons, ages 5 and 7, loved it.

We aren t allowed to grill at the beach houses, so my son cooked brats in beer on the stovetop. For the first time at the beach, I baked a ham. Served with those mashed potatoes, it made dinner one night and leftovers were used for sandwiches later in the week.

When we went out for dinner, we craved the local flounder, shrimp, and oysters and discovered new dishes. One restaurant featured Southern desserts such as Key Lime pie, a nine-layer caramel stack cake, a nine-layer chocolate stack cake, and a gourmet banana-caramel spring roll with sliced bananas and ice cream. The layers on the stack cake are very thin and each has a thin layer of filling between. Each cake was impressive.

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