Ranch Jalapeno Lemon Potato Salad for a Seafood Boil

It never ceases to amaze me that imported shrimp is available in the supermarkets here when we are so close to the Gulf of Mexico and its wild shrimp. And the price difference is really not that notable.

Another staple of Gulf Coast living is crawfish season, which seems to go on a really long time. I was sent to the grocery store to buy a couple of pounds for a certain someone who eats them like they are going out of style. Oh well, the store only had a 15-lb. sack the fish counter guy said they don’t split. Instead, I resorted to 2 lbs. of wild Gulf shrimp, a lobster tail and a cluster of snow crab. Terrible, right?

Seafood boil with shrimp, crab, lobster and corn.

Anyhoo, my work was nearly done because my man was going to boil the seafood. I did intervene to vote again putting corn and potatoes in the seafood boil. If you do that the spices concentrate in the corn and potato, rendering them nearly inedible, even for spicy food lovers like me. I allowed the corn to go in the boil, but not potatoes.

Instead, I used the same red potatoes to make potato salad with a local twist: Meyer lemon juice. This time of year is all about the citrus in this region and we are blessed with a Meyer lemon tree.

I got to work on the tater salad while Byron organized his shrimp boil. Ahem, meaning he got the water, a lemon and some Cajun spices ready.

I boiled a separate pot of water with the potatoes in it. It was a 2 lb. bag of red potatoes. The timing depends on the size of the potatoes. Try waiting 20 minutes and test a potato with a toothpick. You can use a slotted spoon to place the potato in a spoon rest.

While the water boils and potatoes cook, collect your salad dressing ingredients (see below). Start by chopping garlic and the fresh dill. Cut the stem off the jalapeno and seed it. Then dice. Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk and place the bowl in the fridge. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander and let them cool. When they are cool, fold the creamy dressing in with the potatoes in a large serving bowl and enjoy.

Preferably serve with a seafood boil! The ranch dressing cools your palate while eating spicy seafood.

Jalapeno-Garlic-Meyer Lemon-Dill Ranch Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ sour cream
  • ¼ Duke’s light mayonnaise
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • Handful of dill (about 4-6 tablespoons chopped)
  • Half a jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed Meyer lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly ground pink salt


The Sage Leopard

When Life Gives You Meyer Lemon, Make Pesto

Lemon pesto on pasta is downright divine. You can eat a big bowl of pasta while enjoying the refreshing aura of citrus flavor.

What makes it pesto? It contains pine nuts, just like basil pesto, as well as garlic an Parmesan cheese.

Meyer lemon pesto with pasta and basil.
Pasta happiness: Meyer lemon pesto, spaghetti, chèvre and basil.

Before I tell you how I came to make lemon pesto, courtesy of a Pinterest search and a Tasty Kitchen recipe, I want to tell you why I find lemons so romantic.

Shortly after my boyfriend of several years started dating, we walked around his yard and he showed me where he thought about planting trees, shrubs or flowers. In the side yard where he considered planting vegetables, I asked about a little plant, maybe 18 inches high. He did not know what it was. Well, it was a Meyer lemon tree that grew and grew and grew.

It grew so big, that at one point it toppled over under its own weight during a massive rainstorm. But that moment when we first examined it and wondered, Byron found a ladybug on one of the tree’s leaves. I told him it was good luck to find a ladybug. Now, I associate the Meyer lemons with good luck.

We have found many uses for all the lemon juice. It is wonderful for deglazing a pan or marinating chicken. What surprised me was our lemon juice wasn’t great for baking.

At least that was the case with the juice from our first couple of Meyer lemon harvests. I’m going to try again. I started keeping an eye out on Pinterest for savory lemon recipes in addition to lemon desserts.

I have always loved lemon cake and always asked for one for my childhood birthday parties. It became a running joke during family slide shows if one of my birthday parties popped up for my sisters to bemoan yet another lemon cake. My mom even ordered a lemon cake from a local bakery in my college town for my 21st birthday.

I was totally intrigued by the lemon pesto idea. Why not? Lemon piccata chicken tastes great with a side of pasta. Now, I will insist you try this with a real Meyer lemon, not anything else.

Ingredients (based on the Tasty Kitchen recipe linked above)

  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan
  • ¼ cup pine nuts (or a little bit more)
  • ½ teaspoon honey (I used my honey dipper to place a bit more)

(I also had fresh basil and goat cheese on hand to add to the dish.)

To prepare the pesto, I simply placed the ingredients in my old Cuisinart food processor. But before placing in the lemon, I also had slice the tips off, quartered it and removed the seeds. I hit pulse, saw that it was nicely mixing and let her rip. Voila, lemon pesto.

I cooked a pound of spaghetti and tossed it with half of the pesto. That was just the right amount. The pasta was served with chevre goat cheese and basil. The leftovers were delicious too. The pesto was originally made Saturday night. Tuesday night, I pulled it out of the fridge and tossed it with bucatini. Again, I added chevre and some drizzles of olive oil.Meyer lemon pesto with pasta and basil.

To finish it, I sprinkled in more Parmesan, basil leaves, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Once again, I’ll have lemon pesto pasta leftovers and look forward to eating it on my birthday!

Grits and Boudin Make Even Better Leftovers

Much is made of the comforts of Southern food and its has been enjoying praise in many non-Southern cities. My love of Southern food wasn’t really in my mind in college in Virginia, except for Carolina BBQ.

It wasn’t until I lived in Washington, D.C., that I tasted shrimp and grits at a fancy restaurant that my eyes were opened to broader possibilities. I only knew grits as a wonderful breakfast food.

Shrimp and grits have their origins in the Lowcountry and the Gullah people are credited with combining them. Now, it’s not a bad idea for people who have leftover shrimp from dinner to make grits in the morning to combine them. For us, it’s the other way around: we make a batch of stone-ground grits from Georgia and are delighted at how well they keep in the fridge.

Andouille sausage in a cast-iron skillet.
Browning sliced Andouille sausage in a cast-iron skillet.

What to do with the leftover grits? Well, if you live on the Texas Gulf Coast or near it, you can go to the supermarket and get wild-caught Gulf shrimp. Last time, though, there were only a handful of shrimp left and they were unusually expensive. I looked in the freezer aisle and shook my head. Side by side, there were imported shrimp and Gulf of Mexico shrimp packed in nearby by Galveston. The local frozen shrimp were cheaper too, probably on account that they didn’t have to be shipped as freight across the Pacific Ocean.

I grabbed a pack of Andouille sausage prepared in Texas (shhh, don’t tell Louisiana). At home, I sliced the sausage into relatively think pieces and browned them in a cast-iron skillet. Once nicely browned, I transferred those to paper towel.

Saute chopped bell pepper before adding shrimp and sausage.
Saute chopped bell pepper before adding shrimp and sausage.

Now, for the shrimp, we had the unusual situation of being in possessing of frozen cooked shrimp. Usually, we buy fresh shrimp and my boyfriend shells and cleans them. This time, I boiled water, squeezed in the juice of one big Meyer lemon and pour the shrimp in when the water had reached a roiling boil. I also starting cooking up chopped bell pepper and garlic.

Shrimp and grits in a green bowl.
Shrimp and grits are a wonderful comfort food.

Next, it was time to make the roux. I have yet to master the roux. Frankly, I’m not that good at it and should just listen to a friend from New Orleans who makes it with flour and oil. This time, I once again tried butter and flour. You put those in a pan and stir for 10 minutes until it turns brown. My roux was more like beige. Anyhoo, I combined everything: drained cooked shrimp, browned sausage, peppers and garlic and the roux. The leftover grits were heated in the microwave.

Boudin Balls

These are the best if you are at a good Cajun restaurant. To the uninitiated, let me take a step back: boudin is a Cajun pork sausage that includes rice. It has a soft consistency.

Boudin balls browning in a pan.
Browning the boudin balls in olive oil.

We have a tradition, inherited from my boyfriend’s uncle, of stopping at Boudin King in Jennings, Louisiana, when we are driving back to Texas from Georgia. We have a cooler with us just for this purpose. Their fried chicken is outstanding as well. We keep a few links in the freezer.

Ranch dressing with hot sauce.
Store-bought ranch dressing mixed with hot sauce.

We recently grilled some of the boudin and there was a link left over. Here is how I made the boudin balls. I sliced the link lengthwise and peeled off the casing. In a bowl, I smashed up the meat and rice with a fork, then added an egg and beat it all together. Now, I added shredded Parmesan and Italian style breadcrumbs until the consistency was tight enough to scoop into balls with a teaspoon and my hands. I then rolled the balls in breadcrumbs in a cereal bowl. Meanwhile, I had started heating olive oil in a sauté pan.

I browned them all around and while doing so added slices of red bell pepper and some leftover grilled asparagus. For the dipping sauce, I mixed a Greek yogurt Ranch dressing with Frank’s hot sauce. Voila, I liked my homemade boudin balls as much as great restaurant boudin balls. I love boudin balls more than I like boudin. They are the epitome of leftovers being better than the original meal. Just like shrimp and grits!

Always enjoy your leftovers!

The Sage Leopard

Baked Ham with Madeira and Chicken Stock

I found myself at the garage workbench, prying open the plastic grinding cap of a black peppercorns jar and wondering why I have to go to a spice store to buy loose peppercorns. Go to any grocery store and I challenge you to find black pepper that is not already ground or packaged with its own convenient plastic grinder attached to the top of the jar. Thing is I like to grind my own pepper and my own pink salt. I like pinching this, sprinkling that and pouring in something else.

Last night, I was making hummus and accidentally spilled in more paprika than intended. No problem! At least it wasn’t the cumin. The whole point of cooking is to bring together flavors, not just pour sauce out of a jar.

Baked ham in wine and stock.
Baking ham takes time and Madeira wine

For the recent New Year’s celebration, I wanted a basic little ham to cook in a Madeira wine bath. Now, I needed two cups of Madeira and only had one, but I found a cup of frozen red wine in the freezer, which was perfect. The ham baked in 3 parts chicken broth to 2 parts red wine/Madeira with two bay leaves. Whenever a recipe or standard practice calls for two bay leaves, I just can’t help myself and toss in two.

Here’s how to start the ham: slice two large carrots and one medium size onion in large pieces. Pour olive oil (about 1/4 cup) into Dutch oven over gas stove. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute carrots and onions in pot. Sprinkle some dried herbs in (I used herbs de provence) and the two bay leaves.

Carrots and onions in a Dutch oven.
Sprinkle herbs in with carrots and onions.

Once the onions are golden place the ham in the pot. Pour in the wine and stock. Bring to a boil and place in the over to cook for two to two-and-half hours. Here’s the tricky part: about every 20-30 minutes you want to baste the ham with the cooking juices so clear everyone from the kitchen because you are pulling out a very hot Dutch over pot. Use your best oven mitts. If possible, rest the pot on the open over door and carefully pull off the lid. With a ladle, generously pour the wine-stock juices over the ham.

Ham with hoppin john, turnip greens and corn bread muffin.
Ham with hoppin john, turnip greens and corn bread muffin.

The other delightful thing you can do with the ham-wine-stock juice is use it for other food you are cooking at the same time. For New Year’s, I was making hoppin john and ladled ample amounts of my stock into the black-eyed peas. This would work with with any beans.

The key to this kind of cooking is patience. This is not a quick fix. There is no immediate gratification. Let it bake. Let is stew. Let it ruminated. Relax. And then enjoy.


The Sage Leopard

Happiness is Truly Up to You

Can you determine your own fate? Before extrapolating a lifetime, contemplate how you decide the fate of your day, any given day.

Happiness is Something You Decide Ahead of Time

I bought a sign that tells me so at a craft store. It rests on my bathroom vanity to remind me in the mornings who is in charge of my day’s outcome. That would be me.

Craft sign with inspirational wording about happiness
A mantra sign in my bathroom!

Granted, something you cannot control can happen, but how you react is up to you too. How hard is this in practice? Very, especially when we get into routines and forget our own advice.

Last night, a friend shared a postcard on Instagram that reads:

Imagine If We Obsessed about the Things We Loved About Ourselves

Wow, I needed that reminder. I tend to create to-do lists with unattainable schedules and then beat myself up for not meeting goals. To be sure, these objectives need to be identified before anything can be accomplished with purpose and results. But, I must be mindful to reflect on accomplishments and experiences, large and small. How often do we celebrate the small moments? The incremental change?

This morning, I awoke with my to-do list front of mind and raced to the office to get going on it. I also reviewed affirmations of what I like about myself. What attributes do I have to contribute? What little things do I like? How do I shape my days? The day progress and things popped up unexpectedly, but things that are most welcome.

I had new experiences and met new people. I got back to my office and knocked out some work too. I’m mostly prepared for tomorrow, but not completely, and that’s OK.

My big goal for tomorrow is to carve out a little time in the afternoon for me, to stretch, to think, to smile.

Foxhound-Catahoula Leopard Dog mix reclining on couch.
Mr. Higgins, a.k.a., The Sage Leopard

I started this blog as a passion project to celebrate what I love most, including my dog, my cooking and my quality time outdoors. Life is ever evolving, which is wonderful. There are also constants, which for me include great cooking, dogs and laughter. Those are things I choose to celebrate.

What do I love about myself? Admittedly, it seems like a cringe-worthy contemplation, of someone self-centered and vain. Remember, though, we become what we choose and so to better ourselves we should visualize what we appreciate and what we want.

Catahoula Leopard Dog puppy with blue merle markings.
Our puppy knows how to be happy.

Good luck,

The Sage Leopard