Low Country Boil

I love a good southern party, specifically a Low Country Boil on a nearby front porch. My uber talented friend, nearby neighbor and colleague, Monica Martino drew this lovely illustration and hosted this shindig last month- along with her husband, Chris. It was a no brainer to add this to the calendar. Yes, please!

Monica and Chris make a great team. They used to throw large get togethers when they lived in Los Angeles and have the perfect party formula dialed in. Having just moved here from LA, (Chris is originally from Atlanta) the couple decided to invite the neighborhood so they could get to know everyone. That's the southern spirit...

Now any good Low Country Boil includes crawfish. The trick is you gotta keep 'em alive until right before you boil them. It's a process for sure. As Monica shared, "I'd eaten my share of crays while working on a tv show about shrimpers in Louisiana, but this was my first time buying and cooking them. We bought our crawfish in the morning from the Crawfish Shack and kept them cool until it was time to cook." 

Monica, "While the water was boiling, we 'purged' the crawfish in the cooler with running cool water and rock salt. This makes them release all their impurities. We rinsed them until the water ran clean, then they were ready to cook." 

They bought a 40 quart pot with a steamer basket and a big wooden paddle to mix. Besides the crawfish, the boil included spicy andouille sausage, sweet corn, red potatoes and shrimp- plus a lot of seasoning, lemons, garlic and a bay leaf or two. 

And seasoning is paramount in any Low Country Boil. Zatarain's concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil has been a New Orleans staple since 1889. It adds a lot of spice. As Monica wisely shared, "Don't be afraid to go a little spicy- that's why there is cold beer available." 

It was fun watching these two work their magic so seamlessly. Monica, "Everything must be fresh and the order you add to the pot is important. Start with the seasonings, onions, garlic, lemons, pepper and sausage. Then add corn and potatoes. Then comes the shellfish. Other than that, you really can't screw it up!" 

Chris and Monica essentially followed this recipe, just adding a few tweaks like using shrimp and eliminating mushrooms. Picture perfect...

So if you're going to do this right, get a big long table and cover it in paper, adding hot sauce, fresh bread, paper towels, cold beer and small garbage pails for the shellfish remnants. Then, let the fun begin...

This has to be the very best part. I'm getting hungry just looking at this whole scene again as everything was so ridiculously tasty. Monica, "It's such a dramatic way to serve up the food and it's so fun to eat straight off the table. It's also a great way to get to know people because there's nothing like sharing a meal with strangers to turn them into friends." 

Chris and Monica hope this becomes a tradition every year. Um, yeah...it better be. 

You may remember Monica from our Christmas post where she made Mercy Gumbo with fresh Louisiana Gulf Shrimp- another dish to remember for a lifetime. Good Lord, I miss that gumbo...

 

Photos and Content: Sweet Peach

 

Sweet Peach Layer Cake

With peach season upon us, I wanted to make something sweet, scrumptious and pretty. After a bit of research, my friend Monica and I created the Sweet Peach Layer Cake with peach ombre icing. 

This is a three layer cake. You can pick your favorite sponge or white cake recipe. We liked this one and this one but ultimately gave it a go with this version. It's a butter cake recipe, tripled. 

I let the cakes cool overnight, then Monica came over to make our vanilla buttercream frosting, via Martha Stewart. Monica trimmed the top of each cake to even out each layer. (I'm a fan of this amazing video by Libbie Summers, How to frost a layer cake, both informative and adorable) 

Between the layers, Monica applied a coat of icing, then topped it with a mix of one chopped sweet peach and a couple tablespoons of peach jam (we used Emily G's Peach Marmalade). Experiment with your favorite sweet peach concoction. 

Next, she applied a crumb coat of icing around the entire cake. 

I wanted a peach ombre icing for this sweet treat. Monica found this tutorial and it worked perfectly, no matter which ombre colors you desire. 

All you need is a bit of patience and this type of icing is easy and fun to do. For the final touch, we added a sweet peach on top. But of course...

Instagram your own Sweet Peach dessert with the hashtag #sweetpeachsweetspots

 

Photos and Content: Sweet Peach    First and last pic: Whitney Ott Photography

 

The making of... "Sweet Peach Sweet Spots"

If you've been following my Instagram feed, you may have seen a picture or two teasing an upcoming summer project of mine. Well, by this weekend it will come to be. It all started last year when I picked up a mini newspaper in Los Angeles by Linus Bike. I loved the look and feel of it. Always wanting my own paper of some sort, I came up with the idea of one incorporating the Sweet Peach brand...

I'm calling it Sweet Peach Sweet Spots and it highlights 50 of the most scrumptious shops, restaurants and hangouts in Atlanta. I've been mulling over this idea now for about a year but it wasn't until six months ago that I got a team together to make this happen.  

When dreaming up this map, the only person I wanted to illustrate it was Sarah Neuburger of The Small Object. She's the creator of all things adorable. When we met for a coffee one winter morning, she said yes, without so much as a second thought. I was thrilled. It was a ton of work and dedication to not just create icons for a map and the main logo, but to figure out how the design can all work together in a cohesive format. She is supremely talented and a true professional. How lucky am I? 

And then there's Bob. Oh, how I love Mr. Bob Conquest. He created the Illustrator file for this paper and then we began, minute detail after minute detail, putting this paper together. Hours and hours and more hours over the last five weeks we spent side by side. I made dinners, we drank wine and we built it, one day at a time. I so appreciate his tireless efforts that came from a place of friendship and wanting to make this paper a success. Forever, I am grateful. 

Vanessa Dina, who designed my Sweet Peach blog (and named it) is one of my closest friends since grade school. She is a Design Director at Chronicle Books living in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. I am so appreciative of her impeccable art direction along the way.

I also need to thank my sweet friend, Monica Martino for helping me frost the Sweet Peach Layer Cake, to be featured on the front of the paper (it's peach season after all) and Whitney Ott, the talented Atlanta based photographer who came over to take a bunch of pretty pics against a white backdrop. Plus, the lovely Elena Buckley, my ever faithful editor who has my back at every turn, thank you too!

I will be approving the first ever Sweet Peach Sweet Spots paper at the press tomorrow morning and then, on Friday, June 6, 10,000 copies later, they will arrive on my front porch, ready for distribution around the city. How fun is that?  By Friday morning, I plan to have a printable PDF available here on the blog for anyone to print. I'll be working this weekend, but in those free hours and next Monday and Tuesday, I'll be delivering the paper to all 50 locations listed on the PDF.  

Oddly enough, about a month ago, my mom sent me some old editions of my first newspaper I did in grade school, called Pam's Digest.

Each edition I shared friends and family gossip, fun games, interviews and general advice like where to buy the best ice cream. It was 10 cents an issue or $2.00 for a year's subscription. Most were sold to aunts, uncles, my parents' co-workers and a bunch of others I coerced with child guilt. 

A huge heartfelt thank you is in order for the ten companies who advertised on the back of my first Sweet Spots paper. I asked all of them if I could design their ad on a paper that has yet to prove itself and each one of these companies gave me an enthusiastic yes. Please check out their shops or websites- all of them have been featured (or will be in the next month) on Sweet Peach blog and each one embodies the best of the Sweet Peach brand. So mark your calender, Friday is coming up fast...

 

 

Mercy Gumbo

When my friend Monica served me Mercy Gumbo at a party a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea I would be eating something I would remember for the rest of my life. This was good gumbo- made better by its origin from the small coastal town of Venice, Louisiana that's served in a bowl with white rice and potato salad. That's right, potato salad. And if you don't combine all three, there is no sense eating it. For all you skeptics out there, I defy you to eat this and not consider it the best gumbo, ever. 

Monica learned the recipe the authentic way- from a fourth generation fisherman on the open sea while producing a show for the Discovery Channel. 

Waylon Buras (bottom left) is Captain of the Miss Carmine. Chookie (in top pic with Monica) is his longtime friend and deckhand. While on the shoot, word got out that Waylon could cook. Monica was lucky enough to feast on many of his freshly caught, shellfish delights throughout the shoot, including shrimp scampi, shrimp wrapped in bacon and blackened shrimp salad. But when Monica tried Waylon's Mercy Gumbo, she had a moment, sharing, "It was so good, I had 5 bowls of it." 

Waylon learned this recipe from his mom and over the years, he's tweaked it again and again until it was just right. Monica smartly had Waylon teach her how to make the gumbo on the boat, and now, he's been gracious enough to share it with all of us. 

Gumbo ingredients: 3/4 cup roux (see below); 4 chicken breasts; 2.5 lbs. smoked sausage; 3 lbs peeled wild-caught Gulf shrimp; 1/3 cup olive oil; 4 onions, chopped; 2 or 3 green peppers, chopped; 1 red bell pepper, chopped; 2 stalks celery, chopped; can of diced tomatoes; 1/3 cup parsley flakes; 1/4 cup chopped garlic; 1/3 cup dehydrated sweet bell pepper; 2 TBSP worcestershire sauce; 2 TBSP hot sauce; 1 TBSP garlic powder; 2 TBSP Tony Chachere seasoning; 1 1/2 TBSP salt

As this is a Louisiana gumbo, there is no substitute for wild-caught Gulf shrimp. For anyone who knows Gulf shrimp, you know their sweet, incredible taste. Plus, these are a clean shrimp with no sandy grit in the vein so you won't have to devein them. As Monica shared, "Gulf shrimp have a distinctive and delicate flavor because the water where they live is brackish, meaning less salinity." (see below for ordering info)

Cajun cooks prefer a dark roux for their gumbo, which offers the most depth in flavor but is also the hardest to make. Yet with rapt attention and patience, this dark, smoky roux is well worth the effort. To make, heat up 3/4 cup vegetable oil on medium low in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle 1 cup of flour over it, turn the heat up to medium and start mixing the oil and flour together until it gets dark. If it seems like the roux is getting too dark too fast, lift the frying pan off the heat, stir some more and set it down. Keep stirring and do not walk away - if it burns even the tiniest bit, you need to throw it out and start over. Stir until it is a rich brown color, much like dark chocolate and about the consistency of peanut butter. Allow 30-40 minutes. Set aside. 

Heat up olive oil in a large pan, then add in all the chopped vegetables and the seasonings. Crank the fire up and keep stirring. 

When the onions soften, throw in the chicken and sausage. Keep the fire cranked up and keep on stirring steadily. If the mixture looks dry, add a little bit of water but not so much that everything is floating. 

Once the chicken looks cooked on both sides, but not all the way through, add a little bit of the roux and keep stirring. Once the sauce gets thick like gravy, add in hot water. Start mixing it all together and keep adding roux and water until the roux is gone and it's the consistency that you like. 

While your gumbo is simmering, peel and add the shrimp. Next, add the can of tomatoes, (this is optional). Turn the heat down and keep it on low boil for about an hour or up to a few hours.

Next, make the potato salad. Boil about 10 medium potatoes (peeled and diced) with 7 eggs and 1/t tablespoon of salt. When the potatoes are soft, the eggs are ready. Strain the water, peel the eggs, cut them up and dump the chopped eggs back in the pot with the potatoes. Add 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Tony Chachere, 1/3 cup sweet relish, 3/4 cup mayo, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard. Stir to combine and add seasoning as needed. Finally, cook 8 cups of white rice. (this gumbo recipe will satiate 10-15 people)

To properly serve Mercy Gumbo, place a scoop of cooked white rice in a bowl, a scoop of gumbo over that and a scoop of potato salad on top. 

And there you have it, Mercy Gumbo. I brought my friend Bob to this tasting and at first a skeptic, he's now a believer, claiming "That was the best gumbo I've ever had." It really is that good. A huge thank you to Waylon Buras for sharing his treasured family recipe with us, as well as a heap of gratitude to Monica for inviting me to try a bowl of gumbo at her house in Atlanta. It's a gumbo, I dare say, that will change your life. Merry Christmas everyone...

 

**When ordering your wild-caught Gulf shrimp, medium size is best. Ideally you want 31/35 or 36/40. This number is the count and it denotes how many shrimp per pound. Large (21/25) or XL (16/20) work too but cut them in half before cooking. 

**New blog posts will resume Monday, January 6. 


Photos and Content: Sweet Peach