Susan Spicer and a perfect side dish

With the holiday seasons, and all the cooking they involve, upon us, I thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes. Some of them will be original, some will be family favorites, and some will be from cookbooks. The first recipe I want to share is from famed New Orleans chef Susan Spicer. It's her Extra-Cheesey Spoon Bread, one of my go to side dishes. New Orleans is a city known for wonderful food, and some of the best comes from the kitchen of chef Susan Spicer. Her flagship restaurant is the beautiful Bayona (here), located on Dauphine Street in the heart of Vieux Carre' (aka, the French Quarter. Vieux Carre' is french for "old square."). The building is a lovely converted creole cottage. If you visit New Orleans, I strongly advise dining there. It is pricey, but the food is wonderful, a blend of classic creole, classic southern cooking, with influences from many other cultures, including asian and pacific regions. Her signature dishes include a goat cheese crouton (actually a slice of brioche) with mushrooms in madeira creme, pepper jelly glazed duck, and garlic soup.

photo from flikr

The interior is lovely, featuring dark terracotta walls and monumental fresh flower arrangements.
photo from flkr

Bayonna also featuring dining in its lovely courtyard.

photo dkimages.com
In 2007, Spicer released a cookbook, Crescent City Cooking, which I highly recommend. It features a brief autobiography, recipes adapted from her restaurants (in addition to Bayona, she is also a partner in Herbsaint, located in the warehouse district), as well as dishes she likes to make at home. Extra-Cheesy Spoon Bread is one of the latter. Spoon bread you ask? It's a Southern dish of cooked cornmeal. Served in the casserole dish in which it's baked, it's somewhere between a souffle and a savory pudding.
I like this recipe for a variety of reasons. First, it offers a nice change from the usual potatoes or rice as a side dish. It goes expecially well with ham, but also pairs nicely with beef. It appeals to a wide variety of diners, and works well for brunch, buffets and dinners. Finally, most of the ingredients are pantry staples.
**A note about preparing ahead and leftovers. This dish is delicious the next day--maybe even more so, so if you have a large group you may want to make a double batch. However, because of it's souffle-like nature, it won't be as pretty the next day--it will fall and have a more dense texture.**
photo from cookstr.com
Bayona Extra-cheesy Spoon Bread: "Ingredients
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, cut in small pieces, plus more for greasing Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (if you're a garlic fan like me, I usually put in 4-5 cloves)
(if I have left over corn, I sometimes add it)
4 cups milk
1 cup cornmeal (I use yellow)
Salt and pepper (I add a couple of dashes of Tony Cachere Cajun Seasoning and a couple of dashes of Crystal-not Tobasco-hot sauce.)
4 eggs, separated
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping (yellow cheddar works find. Either Sharp or mild depending on your family's preference.)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole or 8 individual ramekins and coat with bread crumbs. Shake out excess crumbs.
Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add milk and bring almost to the boil. Whisk in cornmeal and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and cook, whisking constantly (and she does mean constantly--this is not a fix it and forget dish--ignore the cooking cornmeal, and you'll have a big ol' mess), until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Remove from heat and let cool. (the cooling is crucial--if you fold the eggs into the hot mixture, you'll scramble them. I usually put the cornmeal mixture in a bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If you let it set on the counter, it can take up to 45 minutes or so to cool.--be sure to include this cooling time in your calculations for when you plan on serving the dish. I find it takes about an hour and half from start to finish including cooling and baking.)
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they’re stiff but still creamy. (Don't get too freaked out about the eggs whites. If you manage to beat them until soft peaks form, your dish will be more like a souffle. If the egg whites just won't stiffen, the dish will still be good, just more dense.)Beat the egg yolks into the cornmeal mixture, then fold in the egg whites, a third at a time. Fold in the cheese and pour into casserole or spoon into ramekins.
Top the spoon bread with a little extra cheese. Bake until the surface is lightly golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean—about 25 minutes if you’re using a casserole, 20 minutes if you’re using the individual ramekins."


Maria Killam said...

Mmmmm I better write this one in my cookbook!

Design Junkie said...

Maria, you won't be sorry. It's one of those rare dishes I've never had a single guest refuse.