The simplest everyday fare, says Chef Paul Prudhomme, can be turned into something really exciting with the right combination of ingredients and cooking techniques.
Here are some recipes for updated traditional dishes from hinew cookbook, "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Seasoned America" (Morrow, hardcover, $23):
Connecticut corn pudding
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups diced lean ham (about 6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup canned evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups whole milk, in all
vegetable oil cooking spray
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried sweet basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine the seasoning mix ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl. Makes 1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 teaspoons.
Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over high heat. When the butter is sizzling, add the ham, onions and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the seasoning mix and cook, stirring once, until a light crust forms on the bottom of the skillet, about 4 minutes. Add the corn, scrape the bottom of the skillet, and cook 4 minutes. Stir in the cornmeal and cook, scraping the bottom of the skillet to keep the cornmeal from burning, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk and scrape the bottom of the skillet well. Add 1/2 cup of the whole milk, scrape the bottom of the skillet again, and remove from the heat. Let cool a few minutes.
Whip the eggs with a wire whisk in a medium-size mixing bowl until frothy, about 45 seconds. Add the remaining 1 cup whole milk and whip until thoroughly blended. Fold the cooled corn mixture into the egg mixture.
Coat a 9-by-9-by-2-inch deep casserole with cooking spray, pour in the corn mixture, and bake until the pudding is set, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Cut into wedges or spoon the pudding onto plates, and serve warm.
Florida fish house grouper chowder
Makes 8 main-course servings or 12 first-course servings.
1 1/4 pounds grouper fillets (see note)
1 pound bacon, diced
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 cups shredded potatoes (about 1 1/2 medium potatoes)
6 cups fish or seafood stock (see below)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
2 (16-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, cut in halves
4 cups diced potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sweet basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine the seasoning mix ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl. Makes 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon.
Check the fish carefully for any bones that might have been missed, then cut it into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
Cook the bacon in a covered 5-quart pot or roasting pan over high heat, uncovering occasionally to stir, until well browned, about 12 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the onions and 1/2 cup of the celery and cook 5 minutes. Stir in the shredded potatoes and 2 tablespoons of the seasoning mix. Cook, uncovered, scraping up the crust that forms on the bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the stock and scrape up the crust again, and cook 2 minutes. Add 1 cup more stock and cook another 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot clean. Add the remaining 1/2 cup onions and 1 cup celery and 3 cups more stock. Stir well, bring to a boil, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomatoes, and the remaining seasoning mix and cook 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 25 minutes.
Turn the heat back up to high and add 2 cups of the diced potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the remaining 2 cups diced potatoes, and cook 5 minutes. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and add the fish. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit 10 minutes.
Serve as a first course or, with salad and bread, as the main course.
Note: Mr. Prudhomme started with a whole 3-pound grouper and cleaned, skinned, and filleted it so he could have the bones for his stock. You could have your fish market do this for you and give you the carcass separately.
To make stock: Put 2 quarts cold water in a large pot and add 1 medium onion, unpeeled and quartered; 1 large garlic clove, unpeeled and quartered; and 1 rib celery. Add shells, carcasses and/or fish heads. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer as long as possible -- 30 minutes to 4 hours -- replacing the water in the pot as needed to keep it covering the other ingredients. Makes about 1 quart; increase water depending on the amount of ingredients you're adding to the pot.