Sweet Potatoes, Shrimp, and Understanding Life

Retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel Robert Monk wasn’t sure he was comfortable with the conversation.

Monk, a lifelong bachelor, had learned enough about the kitchen to feed himself. He even had a few dishes for which he was well known. He was standing at his stove now stirring one of them. Sweet potato soup. A special request from his younger colleague Leland Fleming. Trudy Fleming stood beside Monk sautéing locally-caught spot shrimp heavily spiced with cumin.

Trudy’s husband sat at the kitchen table sipping on a peach martini. Another special request, it was a cocktail Monk had learned from his friend Trent Marshall.

Leland Fleming was also a retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel though he was barely fifty years old. He was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The diagnosis cut short what Monk had thought would be a brilliant career in law enforcement.

“Robert, we’re not going to let you get all teary on us,” Trudy said. “We’ve done our crying and we’ll do more. But we’re going to enjoy as much time together as we have left. And we’re going to laugh as much as we can.”

“Trudy’s right, Robert,” Leland agreed. “We’re going to live every minute we have left to the fullest. We’re going to do everything we want to do while we can still do anything. Who knows? I might even write a book.”

Sweet Potato Soup

“If you write a book, I claim the right to edit it,” Trudy laughed.

“Granted,” Leland responded. “Tonight I wanted to try one of these peach martinis and have some of your sweet potato soup. And spend some time telling lies and talking about old times with you.”

Leland took another sip of his martini. He turned slightly serious.

“You know, Robert, we always heard that your life flashes before your eyes as you’re dying,” he said. “That’s true in a way but they don’t have it quite right.”

Now he had Robert’s full attention.

“It doesn’t flash by,” Leland continued. “It moves by slowly. Day by day. And it’s more than just watching it move by. You also develop an understanding of why things happened the way they did. Why you made the mistakes you made.”

Leland was silent for a moment.

“When you’re moribund, Robert,” he continued, “it’s comforting, even if you’re not forgiven, to at least have an explanation for how you lived your life.”

Robert filled bowls with sweet potato soup.

Trudy laid a few sautéed shrimp on top of each bowl.

The three friends ate and told lies and talked about old times and laughed.

Robert Monk’s Chunky Sweet Potato Soup with Cumin Shrimp

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 onion, chopped

4 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons grated ginger

2 sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into bite size pieces

4 cups vegetable broth

Creole seasoning to taste

2 teaspoons Thai curry paste

juice of 1/2 lime

1 pound shrimp, peeled

1 tablespoon cumin

salt to taste

In a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat, saute the onion in one tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and ginger. Give the vegetables a quick stir to combine before adding the vegetable stock, lime juice, and sweet potatoes. Season to taste with the Creole seasoning and mix in the curry paste.

Lower the heat to medium and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are softened.

In a non stick skillet over medium heat, saute the shrimp in the remaining olive oil. Season with the cumin and salt to taste.

Ladle the finished soup into bowls. Lay a few shrimp on top of each bowl of soup.

After his friends had left, Monk poured himself another peach martini. He stood in the great room looking out the large window at the magnificent view of Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island.

He thought about old times.

Haute Cuisine or Country Cookin’?

Trent Marshall didn’t have a good feeling about Peter Sanford Herrin, as the man introduced himself on the telephone. Trent found Peter Sanford Herrin to be prone to malapropisms and pure balderdash. He was, as Ivy would say, “eaten up with himself.” Trent wasn’t impressed.

Peter Sanford Herrin had a matter he wanted Trent to investigate. He asked if they could meet for lunch. Trent named a restaurant, one that he and Darcey had found to be as pretentious as Peter Sanford Herrin appeared, though the food wasn’t bad.

After the trio introduced themselves, they ordered martinis and studied the menu while they waited for the cocktails to be served. When the waiter returned, Trent and Darcey ordered Salisbury Steaks with Béchamel Sauce. Peter Sanford Herrin said he would have the same.

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Darcey asked.

“Well, yes,” Peter Sanford Herrin replied. “It’s hard to go wrong with a steak and the sauce sounds good.”

“Oh yes,” Darcey said. “Béchamel Sauce is the first of Escoffier’s five French mother sauces. And the most versatile.”

When the waiter returned with their dinners, Peter Sanford Herrin looked surprised.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s what you ordered,” Trent said, not looking up. “Salisbury Steak with Béchamel Sauce.”

“But…but it’s hamburger with rice and gravy,” Peter Sanford Herrin sputtered.

“That’s what we call it on the farm,” Darcey said.

Peter Sanford Herrin took a bite.

“It’s good!”

“Yep,” Trent said, still not looking up.

When he did look up, he declined to look into the matter of concern to Peter Sanford Herrin. Something to do with cabotage, which once applied only to ships but now seemed to include any method of transporting cargo. Trent wasn’t interested. It sounded boring, and boredom was the only thing that frightened him.

Trent and Darcey often make a Béchamel sauce at home. It’s easy and, as they say on the farm, rice and gravy is good with most anything.

Four of the five mother sauces start with a roux, a mixture of oil and flour. Hollandaise is the only one that is not.

Trent and Darcey’s Béchamel often takes on a pink hue because they add a little paprika. It’s one of their favorite spices. The paprika is entirely optional.

They also often opt for white pepper. Freshly ground black pepper is more commonly used.

Here’s their recipe for Béchamel sauce. It’s pretty much the same the world over.

Haute cuisine. Country cookin’. Take your pick. Either way it’s good eatin’.

Béchamel Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

salt & white pepper to taste (or freshly ground black pepper)

1 tablespoon paprika (optional)

Melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the butter and flour are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the milk a little at a time, continuing to stir to combine the liquid with the roux.

When the milk and roux are fully combined, let the mixture simmer until enough liquid has evaporated to bring the sauce to the desired thickness.

Salisbury Steak with Béchamel Sauce or hamburger with rice & gravy. Which is it?

As they say on Governor Nicholls Street in New Orleans, Bon Temps!

The Mystery of the Scrambled Eggs

Trent Marshall volunteered to make lunch. He and Darcey were visiting Darcey’s mother, Betty Anderson, at the Pines, her ancestral home in Northwest Louisiana’s Sabine Parish.

He made scrambled egg sandwiches for everyone, which, of course, included five year old Kelli and Ivy Ford, the woman who became Trent’s surrogate mother when his own parent died unexpectedly young.

Betty took a bite of her sandwich.

“This is interesting,” she said. “What spice did you use, Trent?”

Trent laughed.

“You’ve been hanging out with detectives long enough, Betty,” he replied. “You figure it out.”

Listening to the conversation, Ivy left her sandwich lying on the plate.

Betty took another bite.

“This is delicious, Ivy,” she said.

“I don’t care,” Ivy said. “I don’t eat nothing if I don’t know what it is.”

Betty thought for a moment, letting the flavors linger on her tongue.

“Cinnamon,” she said, victoriously. “You put cinnamon in the eggs.”

Trent laughed.

“Now you’re a real food detective,” he declared.

“Well, all right then,” Ivy said, taking a bite of her sandwich.

The Cop and The King

Homicide detective Nancy Patrick’s hand went involuntarily to the nickel plated Smith & Wesson .357 magnum on her hip as she stared in wonder at the creature in the kitchen.

Since Nancy and her husband, homicide detective Christopher Booth, had become friends with Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson, they had been involved in one adventure after another. Most involved fast cars, criminals, guns, and fighting for their lives. So it was when they arrived in Alaska after A Shooting at Auke Bay.

More pleasant were the adventures that began “when the sun went over the yardarm” at five o’clock daily. It was a time when refreshing cocktails or fine wines were poured. Cocktail hour was always followed by amazing meals. Some as complicated as the kolety, sort of a Russian version of a burger made with pork. It was a welcome departure from the scrambled eggs, ham sandwiches, buckets of chicken, and pizza that had been the staples of the Booth-Patrick household.

Now Nancy was staring at the three king crabs who were staring back at her with their twin eye stalks, which seemed to search the room, moving independently of each other. It was little wonder Nancy was startled by the giant crustaceans. Even for a species known for its large size, these specimens were giants. Each had a carapace of nearly eleven inches in diameter. Their leg spans looked to be six feet. Monsters.

King crab & drawn butter

Later, when the confrontation in the kitchen had passed, Nancy joined the small group in the large sitting room for French 75s, Trent’s signature cocktail. The crabs were cooked quickly in boiling water and served simply with drawn butter. The “Sourdough” Alaskans showed their new “Cheechako” friend, Nancy, how to cut through the shells of the leg segments to extract the long lengths of sweet meat. Dipping it into drawn butter is all that’s necessary for king crab.

What are your thoughts on king crab? What’s your favorite way to eat it?

Don’t forget that I’ll be hosting a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd at Mexico in Alaska. Let me know if you’d like to be invited. Who knows? You might even meet Trent and Darcey!

Trent’s Riddle: Go to Mexico but Don’t Leave Anchorage

Darcey Anderson was puzzled by the riddle her husband, Trent Marshall, posed as they cruised north on their chartered yacht in A Shooting at Auke Bay.

“I want Mexican food when we get to Anchorage,” she announced.

Trent smiled.

“Then go to Mexico,” he said, “but don’t leave Anchorage.”

“What did he mean?” Darcey asked Robert Monk, the retired Alaska State Trooper commander who had been a friend of Trent’s dad. “Do you know?”

Robert laughed.

“He meant you should meet Maria-Elena,” Robert said.

“Maria-Elena?” Darcey repeated. “Does she have a last name?”

“She does,” Robert replied, “but you don’t need it. Maria-Elena is a legend in Alaska.”

Maria-Elena opened Mexico in Alaska in 1972. From the beginning her restaurant was a favorite of Anchorage diners.

She is known not only for the excellent Mexican food she brought to table but for her kindness and gentle disposition. One couple tells of the time their baby was acting up a bit, complicating their attempt at lunch. Maria-Elena took the baby in her arms and walked around the restaurant, comforting the child, letting the stressed parents enjoy a relaxing meal.

“Let’s go,” Darcey said, after hearing Robert’s answer to Trent’s riddle.

Maria-Elena met them with her usual warm smile. She showed them to an excellent table and personally took their order.

Carne deshebrada taco & tamal

Robert ordered a carne deshebrada, or shredded beef taco, and beef tamal. Darcey ordered lighter fare while staying within the realm of the Mexican kitchen. A chicken salad. Mexican style.

When the large bowl was placed in front of her, Darcey said, “Now that’s a salad!”

Chicken salad, Mexican style.

Robert was very pleased with the taco and spicy tamal placed in front of him. The excellent quality for which Maria-Elena was known.

They left somewhat later, pleased with their meal, taking with them a container of hot salsa and a package of flour tortillas, both made in house.

Even better, Maria-Elena agreed to host a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd. Let us know if you’d like to be invited! You might even meet Trent and Darcey!

An Assassin in Alaska; a Cop Left Behind; and Breakfast for Dinner

New Orleans Homicide Detective Jordan Baron tossed the new book, A Shooting at Auke Bay, aside. The book was a good read. A great read! But he wasn’t happy. He called Darcey Anderson.

“You need help, Darcey,” he pointed out. “You have two California cops joining you in Alaska and some old retired state trooper up there who none of us even know. I don’t get why you don’t want me with you.”

“Because I need you at the Pines, Jordan,” Darcey Anderson replied. “I need you backing up the sheriff to protect my mother, Ivy, and Kelli.”

Darcey’s mother, Betty, Trent’s surrogate mother, Ivy, and Kelli, Trent and Darcey’s three year old daughter, had been sent back to Louisiana after the shooting. Darcey thought they would be safe there.

Jordan still wasn’t happy. He plopped himself down on the large, comfortable couch in the sitting room of the old house and found a movie about the Allies saving a companile during World War II. He didn’t know why the Nazis wanted to destroy a centuries old bell in an Italian church. Pure meanness, he thought. The why didn’t matter. The plot fit his mood.

Betty and Ivy thought serving Jordan a good dinner would make him less disagreeable.

“What’s your favorite meal for dinner, Jordan?” Betty asked.

“Breakfast,” was Jordan’s sarcastic reply.

Betty and Ivy gave each other a knowing look. They had this.

Spinach from Betty’s garden with ham, cheese, and eggs made a sort of faux quiche that was satisfying. Comfort food.

An hour later, Jordan’s belly was full.

He had two motherly women fussing over him.

He was feeling better.

Jordan Baron’s Ham & Spinach Faux Quiche

1/2 onion, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

10 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/2 pound ham, minced

4 cloves roasted garlic, minced

4 – 6 slices bread, or enough to cover the bottom of a casserole dish

Spinach & Ham Faux Quiche. Breakfast for dinner!

6 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon dry mustard

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 pound grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a heavy skillet, saute the onions and green onions in the combined butter and olive oil.

When the onions have softened and begun to take on a little color, toss in some of the spinach. A couple of handfuls will probably fill the skillet. Fold the spinach into the onions as it cooks. It will reduce dramatically in size. When the first batch has reduced, add more spinach. It’ll probably take about three batches before all the spinach is cooked down.

Add the ham and roasted garlic. Stir to combine.

Lay slices of bread on the bottom of a casserole dish. Tear one piece of bead into pieces if necessary to cover the entire bottom of the dish.

Spread the spinach and ham mixture evenly over the bread slices.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and dry mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beat vigorously. Pour the liquid over the spinach and ham mixture.

Cover generously with the grated cheese.

Bake for about half an hour, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Jordan wants to know what your favorite breakfast for dinner meal is.

As he would say, “Bon temps”

What’s Different about a 21st Century Burger, Fries, and Hot Dog?

A relative new entry in the upscale fast food market, BurgerFi opened its first restaurant in Florida in 2011, ironically housed in what was once a Burger King.

The company focuses on traditional fast food with all natural ingredients. It also offers a vegetarian burger.

Making burger magic at BurgerFi

BurgerFi’s commitment to the sustainable nature of the 21st century extends to furniture and wall paneling. All are made from recycled products.

The fictional Bay area homicide detective couple Christopher Booth and Nancy Patrick, who we met in Neighbors and Other  Strangers, make their way to Alaska in the upcoming third in the Trent Marshall/Darcey Anderson series, A Shooting at Auke Bay.

In Anchorage, they meet Steve Hamlen, a real person. One of a group of late 20th century pioneers instrumental in bringing advanced telecommunications services to Bush Alaska.

When they decided to have lunch together, Steve suggested they meet at BurgerFi.

A good choice.

Christopher and Nancy both ordered the CEO, a burger made from a combination of wagyu beef and brisket. It comes adorned with only a modest sauce of candied bacon and tomato, made in-house.

It needs nothing more.

The couple agreed it was one of the best burgers either had ever eaten.

They also each ordered a side of fries, hand cut and brought to table perfectly browned. The way hand cut fries should be.

Steve opted for the VegiFi, a vegetarian burger with a patty made of quinoa and hand cut vegetables accompanied by lettuce and Cheddar cheese.

He also ordered hand cut onion rings. Huge. Perfectly breaded. Perfectly browned. Onion rings.

After lunch, Steve continued on in real life, pleased with the meal and his new, fictional friends.

Christopher and Nancy returned to their world of fiction, determined to convince the author to set a scene at a BurgerFi.

They thought it would spice up any story.

If you’d like to meet somewhere for lunch with Christopher and Nancy, just leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the arrangements.

And check out my books! Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/author/parkergordon

Trent Marshall’s Empanadas

When Trent Marshall became interested in cooking, he turned to Ivy Ford, the woman who became his surrogate parent when his mother died young and unexpectedly. (The Empty Mint Mystery) As he became more adept in the kitchen, the natural curiosity that won him a Pulitzer Prize as an investigative reporter led him to want to know about the history of food.

Ivy was an accomplished cook and taught Trent well. From her he learned to prepare traditional Louisiana and other southern dishes. He wanted to know more.

Trent was fascinated to discover how many cultures have a version of the same dish. He also learned that many dishes were created for specific reasons. For instance, the humble meat pie.

Meat pies were traditionally working men’s food. Meat, chicken, vegetables, even fruit could be wrapped in a dough and either fried or baked. The worker would have a filling, nourishing lunch easily transported to the job.

As a Louisiana boy, Trent’s favorite was the Natchitoches meat pie. He had his mother’s recipe, which she had been given by Ivy. He loved those meat pies and made them from time to time. But he never shared the recipe.

He made them for Darcey. She didn’t ask for the recipe. If she ever got around to asking, Trent didn’t know how he would respond.

There are many other versions of the meat pie. In the UK’s Cornwall they are called pasties. They are pierogis in Poland.

Trent decided to try the empanada, the Latin American version of the meat pie.

He used ground pork in his empanadas. Beef or chicken work just as well.

Trent included cornichons in his recipe. The small, sour French pickles add a pleasant acidic quality. Feel free to use any other type of sour pickle or none at all, if you choose.

He also tossed in a little sugar. Ivy puts a pinch of sugar in everything she cooks. She told him sugar makes everything taste brighter.

Trent’s empanadas

You can make your own pie dough or use a good quality, ready made one.

Here, then, is Trent Marshall’s version of the empanada.

Trent Marshall’s Empanadas

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

1 pound ground pork

1 tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

salt to taste

1/4 cup chopped cornichons

Saute the onion, roasted red pepper, and ground pork in the olive oil.

When the vegetables have softened and the pork is cooked through, add the tomatoes, parsley, sugar, and salt. Mix well. Remove from the heat and stir in the cornichons.

While the pork mixture cools, roll out the dough. Cut circles about four inches in diameter. Place some of the pork mixture in each circle. Fold one side over to create a half moon shaped pie. With the tines of a fork, crimp the edge of each pie so they hold together.

The empanadas can be baked in a 425 degree oven or deep fried. As the pork is already cooked, it’s only necessary to cook the assembled pies until the dough is browned.

As Trent would say, “Bon temps!”

Sopa de Fideo

May 23, 2019 – I took a break this week from the fictional world of Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson to spend a little time in the real world. While I was here I discovered a new soup that will hereinafter be a permanent part of my culinary repertoire.

Fideo translates literally from Spanish as “noodle.” It’s similar to vermicelli or thin spaghetti. While fideo can sometimes be found in stores offering ingredients for Mexican dishes, either of the better known pastas is an acceptable substitute.

Sopa de fideo appears in Mexican and TexMex cuisine. It also is served in certain provinces of the Philippines. The Filipino connection lends credence to the theory that the dish originated in Spain. It first showed up in the Philippines in the 17th century when the more than 7,600 islands making up the archipelagic nation was a Spanish colony. It might be one of the earliest examples of fusion in the kitchen.

All of the recipes I looked at included the pasta, broken into small pieces, and browned slightly in olive oil. They all included tomatoes. Meat was not included in most of them. Neither were most of them heavily spiced.

Sopa de Fideo

Well, I’m a carnivore. I wanted meat. I included some chorizo. And I like heat in my food. So to “hot it up a little bit,” as my dad would say, I added some crushed red pepper.

The result was terrific! Absolutely terrific!

Here, then, is my take on sopa de fideo.

Sopa de Fideo

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound fideo, vermicelli, or thin spaghetti, broken into small pieces

1 pound chorizo

2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cups chicken stock, or more as needed

1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper

salt to taste

In a stock pot or large, heavy sauce pan, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Saute the fideo in the hot oil. Watch it carefully. When it begins to take on a little color, add the chorizo.

When the chorizo begins to brown a bit, add all the other ingredients.

Let the soup simmer for about twenty minutes. Add more chicken stock if needed.

Bon temps!

Betty Anderson’s Jalapeno-Horseradish Butter

Darcey Anderson’s mother, Betty, still lives on her family’s ancestral home, the Pines, in North Louisiana’s Sabine Parish. Bordering on Texas, it’s a part of the country with a fascinating history, a region controlled by Spain longer than by France.

Later it was the northern section of the Neutral Strip, a lawless land governed by neither Spain nor the United States. You had to be tough to survive and prosper in the Neutral Strip. Betty’s family, the Belmonts, were tough. Darcey’s father, William Anderson, was equally strong. Darcey comes from good stock.

William was fond of spicy food. The hotter the better was his philosophy. Betty came to share her husband’s taste and was happy to prepare meals to suit. It was the food Darcey ate as she was growing up.

Like many country women, Betty keeps a garden. She raises the usual produce. Collards. Onions. Carrots. Jalapenos. Horseradish root. Yes. Horseradish root. A few gardeners in the parish raise jalapenos or other peppers. Betty is probably the only one growing horseradish root. And it is one of her favorite ingredients.

After she lost her husband, Betty assuaged her grief and occupied her time by joining several clubs in the small town near the Pines.

“You’ll join any club that will let you be president, Mom,” Darcey teased.

Betty laughed and said her daughter was right.

Betty especially liked the Red Hat organization when it came along. Under their rules, if you form a chapter you get to be queen for life. Betty immediately formed a club.

Like many who live alone and lead busy lives, Betty likes to prepare dishes that will give her multiple meals. She often uses a slow cooker when she will be gone for several hours. With the slow cooker, dinner will be ready when she gets home.

Knowing she would be in town most of the day, Betty put a beef chuck roast in the slow cooker. When she got home, it would be fork tender and delicious.

She wanted a sauce to accompany it. Something spicy. She had some horseradish root harvested the previous fall and, thanks to a warm winter, a few jalapenos recently picked. She decided on a jalapeno-horseradish butter.

Roast beef with Betty Anerson’s Jalapeno-Horseradish Butter

With the roast in the slow cooker beginning its day long adventure, she put a head of garlic and a jalapeno in the oven to roast while she got dressed. She would make up the sauce when she got home.

Betty Anderson’s Jalapeno-Horseradish Butter

1 head garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 jalapeno

1 tablespoon grated horseradish

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

salt to taste

To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 400. Cut the tip of the head just enough to expose the ends of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place it on a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Lay a jalapeno alongside the garlic. Roast for about forty minutes.

To prepare the spicy butter, squeeze five garlic cloves out of their skins. Save the remainder of the garlic for use another day. Add the roasted cloves to the softened butter.

Mince the roasted jalapeno and add it, along with the grated horseradish root, to the butter. Toss in the lemon zest and salt to taste.

e garlic, minced jalapeno, grated horseradish, lemon zest, and butter well. You can put the mixture in a food processor or blender, if you wish, for a smoother sauce.

To serve, place a dollop of the seasoned butter on a slice of hot roast beef. Allow the butter to melt, letting the seasonings seep into the meat.

Y’all come see us!