Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrating the 4th and Coming to Terms with My Own Independence

July 4th has always meant spending time with family. Growing up in New England, in historic Massachusetts, Independence Day was a big deal. My parents would load up the car before dawn and we would camp out on the dewey grass of a friends yard in Bristol, RI, waiting for the longest running 4th of July parade in the country to begin. The festivities would wind down, and we'd hop on our bikes, my little brother strapped into a trailer pulled along behind, and head to Colt State Park for a picnic. After a nap on a blanket in the shade, we would take the sailboat out and anchor it in the harbor to watch the fireworks. I was rocked to sleep by the waves and the sounds of bell buoys clanging in the distance.

I'm feeling a little homesick lately. Maybe it was the boating and kayaking and being on the water all last week. Maybe it was the brief trip back up there. Maybe it's just the hard knocks lately that have made me realize that, like it or not, I'm a grown up now and no one's going to carry me through life. We were supposed to have family visiting this weekend, but they canceled, and I've been in a funk. The best way I know to pull myself out of that is to spend the day in the kitchen. So I've made some treats that remind me of home, and make me thankful for the diversity and freedom of this great country.

Yes, I'm using apples and cranberries in the middle of the summer. But what else is so quintessentially New England? When I lived in the northeast, I went to a quilting event where we had an appetizer of brie smothered in caramel, pecans and dried cranberries and baked until gooey. We used apples to scoop up the creamy goodness. I came across this beautiful buttery brie at Wegmans today. It made a fabulous nostalgic lunch when melted in a slightly spicy quesadilla with tart apples, salty pecans and sweet cranberries.

New England Inspired Quesadilla

1 tsp butter

2 large jalapeno and herb flour tortillas
1 medium tart cooking apple, such as granny smith or macoun, sliced thin
4 oz medium-ripe buttery brie, sliced thin
2 Tbsp dried cranberries
2 Tbsp toasted salted pecans

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place tortilla in pan, top with apple slices, then brie, sprinkle cranberries and pecans on top. Sandwich with another tortilla. After cheese has slightly melted and bottom tortilla is crisp and golden brown, invert a plate over the skillet and flip. Slide quesadilla into pan, uncooked side down. Cook until cheese has melted, apples are slightly soft and other tortilla is crisp and brown. Use a pizza cutter to cut into slices.

Serves two.

I grew up not to far from New Bedford, Emeril's hometown. I felt like I was the only one in town who wasn't Portuguese, and I was envious of their big, loud families, massive church feasts and mouthwatering food. Living in the bay state, and a quarter mile away from the ocean state, seafood ruled. One of my favorite dishes was clams with chorizo (cerise up there) in a lovely spicy broth that you mop up with crusty garlic scented bread. Dinner is served...

Spicy Portuguese Clams with Chorizo

1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 large sweet onion, chopped
6 oz. chorizo, diced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sherry
1 bottle clam juice
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I like garlic, basil & oregano seasoned ones or fire roasted)
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
50 littleneck clams, rinsed and kept alive on ice with room to breathe
1/4 cup lightly packed chopped flat leaf parsley

In a stockpot, melt butter with olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and saute until soft, then add chorizo and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic slices, cook one minute. Deglaze with sherry and allow some of the alcohol to cook off. Add clam juice, tomatoes and seasonings and bring to a boil. Add clams, reduce heat and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until shells open. Toss with parsley. Serve in bowls or deep plates with slices of buttered garlic tuscan bread to sop up the broth.


P said...

Sounds delicious! What a way to remember home. I am too in a funk, but we do deserve it from the fun travels and lectures etc. I think I forgot how to cook, but also glad to be back home away from home.

Beth said...

Quesadilla sounds lovely - I love brie!

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