Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brooke Parkhurst is really cooking with 'Belle in the Big Apple'

Writer Brooke Parkhurst
Think Paula Deen, Scarlett O'Hara, and - dare we say it -maybe just a hint of Rachael Ray. Brooke Parkhurst, Southern belle, highly energetic cook extraordinaire, and now, first-time novelist, just hit the road to promote her first novel, "Belle in the Big Apple," and it's somehow fitting that the Florida Panhandle transplant is taking along Mom.

Like "Rach," Parkhurst is very close to her mother, Suzanne Parkhurst, and is thrilled they'll be spending the next six weeks on the road together for a book tour

"Mom is an amazing cook," says Parkhurst, the day before the tour got underway. "She was a journalist who had four kids - that includes my father - and she quit to take care of us all."

At age 22, Parkhurst decided to follow her mother into the family biz, but thought she'd have a better shot at becoming a newspaper woman if she left the family farm in Pensacola and came here. "I'm from the Redneck Riviera," she says. "There are lot of shark attacks and abortion doctor killings. When I moved to New York, it was almost as if I were living in a different country. Everything was so different."

She made the rounds with her resume and finally landed a short-lived job with Fox News.

"It was very eye-opening for me, just coming into the epicenter of media and working for a conservative station," she says. "I was pretty naive, and seeing how the system actually works, I thought, my gosh, people don't really know how news is made."

Not wanting to stay at the station and having always loved to cook, she started cooking and blogging. And that blog (her website is www.Belleinthebigapple.com) became a book that's somewhat autobiographical. The protagonist, Belle Lee, from Mobile, Alabama, moves to the city and acquires a job at an ultra conservative TV station. The fast-paced, tightly written book has plenty of intriguing elements - an illegal network deal, a female news anchor who becomes Belle's mentor, even a female presidential candidate (nope, nothing like Sarah Palin.)

What makes this book even tastier are the recipes interspersed with all the plot twists - shrimp and crab gumbo, oyster stew, plus Bribe your Coworkers Pound Cake, Lemon Chess Squares for the Working (Sulking) Girl, and Pickled Pensacola Shrimp. Parkhurst hopes to demo some of these on her book tour, and she dispenses recipes on her blog, too.

These days, she's got even more reason to be in the kitchen: she and soon-to-be fiancé, James Briscione, are co-writing a cookbook. The subject? Couples cookery. Once the book tour ends, Parkhurst will return to her Soho apartment for a favorite pastime, creating recipes. This fall, they will be both for the new book and for her highly digestible, fun to read blog. Though her Southern accent is starting to fade a little, Parkhurst still loves Southern cooking - with a twist.

"I think of myself as Mark Bittman with a 20-something feminine edge," she says. A favorite recipe in her book? This is one of several.

Fancy Shrimp and Grits

Serves 6
1 recipe stoneground grits, prepared
1/2 pound thinly sliced bacon, about 2 slices per person
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 medium red tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds medium or small shrimp, peeled and deveined
Mixture of chopped herbs - parsley, chives, chervil (optional)
1/2 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the grist following the directions on the package. Keep grits tightly covered in a warm place. Cook the bacon in the oven until very crisp and set aside on paper towels to drain.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, sweat half of the shallots and the garlic in a bit of olive oil until well softened, but not browned. Add 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar and reduce slightly. Scrape the chopped tomatoes and all their juices off the cutting board and into the pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes at medium-high heat, not letting it reach a full boil. After 20 minutes, take the pan off the heat, throw the whole thing in the blender - make sure you put the lid on tight - and flip it on high. When it starts running smoothly, open the top and slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

When the oil is fully incorporated, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Let it get a little foamy and toss in the shallots; cook about 2 minutes, until just softened. (Again, no color.) Add the shrimp, season well with salt and pepper and continue cooking over medium-high heat until the shrimp is bright pink, very firm and no translucence remains in the center. Stir in the herbs and squeeze half a lemon over the pan.

To assemble, place a heaping spoonful of the grits in the center of the plate and pour a generous amount of the tomato sauce over them. Top with the bacon arranged in an X and divide the shrimp between the plates.

[via NY Daily News]

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