This post and all the links contained in it are dedicated to Sherry Cermak, author of the What Did You Eat blog who died of a sudden heart attack a week ago today. Sher was my friend, my confidante, and my personal cheerleader for the last decade. I loved her, I miss her, and I cherish every memory of the friendship we shared. I am a better person for having had the good fortune of having her in my life and I will always be grateful to Heavenly Father for allowing our paths to cross. The fact that we met on a Robert Redford fan site is the ultimate proof that God does, indeed, have a sense of humor as twisted and perverse as our own.
All over the food blogging community today, you will find Sher's friends cooking her recipes in her honor as our way to say "Good bye and We love you, Sherry."
Personally, I couldn't decide which one dish to make from Sher's blog to honor her by so I picked the two dishes we probably talked about the most over the years. The first is Sher's family's File' Gumbo. I love this dish not only for it's deeply comforting taste but for the stories Sher would tell about it and how hilariously offended she would get when her family's file gumbo was confused with regular gumbo. She told me many times, proudly, that her family's gumbo was a thing of purity and should be touched by no Andouille, no chicken, and certainly no okra, not that they had anything against okra per se, it just didn't belong in their gumbo pot. According to Sher who was passionate on this subject, to say the least, it was actually close to heresy to even mention the words "okra", "sausage", and/or "chicken" in the same breath with Gumbo. Shrimp and crab only, please.
As for the second dish, if you asked Sherry her favorite food she would say "Cheese", or at least that's what she always told me. Her all time favorite was Cowgirl Creamery's Triple Cream. She said it was heavenly. I keep intending to mail order some but haven't gotten around to it yet. When I do, you'll be the first to hear about it.
Sher's mac & cheese dish from Martha Stewart has no Triple Cream Cowgirl Creamery cheese in it but it was damn good anyway. Sher and I used to laugh about how we both loved mac & cheese so much even the Kraft blue box was a treat now and then. Yeah, except the blue box has no actual cheese in it, ahem. But it's the taste of childhood so it's still worth a splurge now and then.
The tomatoes in this recipe are a wonderful addition, roasted with thyme for summery herbiness. When I first saw this on her blog, I thought "Tomatoes????" But they really are necessary for the full effect. No wonder Sherry was drawn to this recipe. I have a feeling her love for fresh tomato, home-made bread, and real mayo sandwiches from the first sun-warmed tomatoes from her back yard were legendary to more folks than just me.
Sherry made this recipe in the winter of 2007, a recipe from Martha Stewart's Living magazine. It's technically a "lighter" dish but I was feeling depressed and lonely without Sherry so I decided "screw it" and used half and half instead of low fat milk. Wow. It is truly wonderful, although while eating a portion I certainly had to face the fact that I am obviously an emotional eater. In spite of that fact, I'll be making it again, that's for sure. Sherry said it was THE mac & cheese recipe to suit for her childhood memories of perfect mac & cheese, and she was right. This one is not to be missed. The tomatoes cut through the richness and leave a tangy taste behind that makes you never want to eat mac & cheese without roasted tomatoes again.
This photo is Sher's from her blog--isn't it gorgeous?
Lighter Mac-N-Cheese (Martha Stewart Living)
6 small (3-inch) vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into twenty-four 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for sprinkling
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
5 slices white sandwich bread, with crust
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cups low-fat (1 percent) milk
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Spread tomatoes in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle each sheet with 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle each baking sheet with 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until tomatoes have softened, about 20 minutes. (Leave oven on to bake the mac-n-cheese.)
2. Process bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with remaining tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook pasta until almost al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, and run under cold water to stop cooking. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.
4. Whisk 1/2 cup stock into the flour in a medium bowl; set aside. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in nutmeg, cayenne, remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add milk and remaining 1 1/2 cups stock. Whisk in flour mixture. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce to a simmer. Cook 8 minutes, whisking frequently. Add cheeses; cook, stirring, until melted. Pour over macaroni, stirring to combine.
5. Put some tomato slices in bottom of a baking pan and spoon the macaroni mixture into it. Top with tomato slices. (Don't use too many or the flavor will be overwhelmed.) Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and thyme sprigs. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
The other recipe, Sher's family's Gumbo is a thing of beauty. I'm not kidding. It was everything she said it would be. The "gravy" is rich, comforting, and earthy, a perfect foil for the lightness of the seafood. FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC! You must make this immediately.
I do have one small confession. Upon tasting this dish I accidentally thought "This is GREAT, but you know, I think it would be different but also good to make it with the chicken, Andouille, and okra." Holy Shit! The cardinal gumbo sin. Of course, I immediately washed my own mouth out with soap and castigated myself for hours for having thought such a nasty think. I'm wondering, and somewhat hoping, that she'll have to come haunt me for my sacrilege.
Makes 6-12 Servings (I tripled this amount--Sher)
Note: Shrimp stock is best, but if you don't have it--use water. If your peel your own shrimp, save the shells (even better if you have shrimp heads) and cover them with cold water in a large pot. Cook for about 30 minutes, then strain the shells out. I freeze batches of it every time I peel shrimp.
2 cups chopped onions
1½ cups chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped celery
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon oregano
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup flour
1 cup tomato sauce
5-1/2 cups water or shrimp stock
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-1/2 pounds crabs, bodies and claws
2-3 pounds shrimp; deveined and shelled
(use shells to make stock )
dash of Tabasco
Put the flour and oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Stir constantly until it turns dark brown. Be very careful not to splash any of the roux on yourself as you cook it. Do not let the roux burn. Adjust the heat lower if it looks like it may burn.
When the roux is done, immediately begin adding the chopped vegetables to the roux in the skillet. Saute For about 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly.
Have the stock or water ready and hot in a large pot. Bring to a boil and begin adding the roux vegetable mixture to the boiling stock, stirring after each addition. Add the salt and the tomato sauce. Note: If I don't have any shrimp stock and have to use water, I add about 1pound of the shrimp and a can of crab meat and cook it for flavoring the stock. Cook about 1 hour. Taste to see if it needs more salt. This base can be refrigerated until you're ready to eat the gumbo. In fact, it tastes better if it sits for a day or so.
When you're ready to eat the gumbo, bring stock to a boil and add the peeled shrimp and crab. Cook for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it sit for a few minutes more. Serve over hot rice. Sprinkle file over the top, being careful to add and sample. If you're heavy handed it will make your gumbo too thick.
The following links are to other tributes to our dear friend, Sher. I will continue to update the list as links come in. Please be patient with me. I've worked the last three nights overnight. I'll post what I've gotten up until now but I need to sleep until about 3pm my time because I work again tonight 6pm-7am. Tomorrow morning, I'll again update the list with anything that comes in after I leave for work.
Eve, the Chocolate Lady -- http://inmolaraan.blogspot.com/2008/07/eggplant-with-herbed-walnut-sauce-in.html
Christine -- http://christinecooks.blogspot.com/2008/07/sher.html