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A Foodie Escape

Anyone can throw a burger on the grill at the beach, but what does a well-respected chef prepare on vacation? Chris Rainosek of The Noble South let MB tag along as he entertained a few close friends for one unforgettable meal on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

  

ABOVE LEFT Chef Chris Rainosek pauses in the doorway of Sunswept (more info below) to enjoy the lingering twilight.
 

Sometimes we find lifelong friends in unexpected places. Dauphin Way United Methodist Church’s Four Course Fellowship should have been only a blip on the social calendars of the participants. For four months, four couples were to convene once a month, each bringing a course to share, so they could get to know one another and build, well, fellowship. For this particular group, however, the connections stuck and the supper club ate on and on.

The group of four couples — Lesley and Chris Rainosek, Sarah and Christopher Watkins, Courtney and Brian Murphy, and Stephanie and Austin Bradford — began meeting as a non-church-sanctioned supper club every month for several years after that first meeting. They all giggle remembering that they were nervous to bring alcohol to the first gathering. “Everyone had wine hidden in their purses,” remembers Brian. “The dinner was at our house, and so they all asked me if it was ok to pour a glass, with it being a church event. I told them my wife and I were already several in!”

Fast-forward a few years, and three out of four couples had newborns. Monthly supper club gatherings dwindled to just quarterly while each family was in the trenches of young parenthood. “It just got complicated for a while,” says Lesley. But these days, the kids are growing and the fellowship is back and better than ever.

  

ABOVE LEFT Christopher Watkins and Brian Murphy throw a few bocce balls in the sand while the chef prepares dinner.

ABOVE RIGHT Lesley Rainosek brings a tray of supplies down to the beach in preparation for dinner.
 

On this day, the crew (minus the Bradfords) gathered for a summer sunset dinner at the tail end of West Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, where the beach is quiet and the views are unbeatable. Chris Rainosek, who also happens to be the chef of The Noble South in downtown Mobile and The Wash House in Point Clear, agreed to cook for the crew and allowed MB to tag along. His guests sipped cold wine and snacked on “East Indies” salad while bocce was tossed in the sand and waves crashed on the shore. Courtney reminded the group of the time Chris and Lesley shipped an entire bushel of Hatch green chiles fresh from New Mexico for one supper club menu. Having a chef in the club has certainly upped the menu expectations. “I guess I’m a good guy to have around in your supper club,” Chris jokes. “I’m not good for much else.”

For this gathering he designed a menu that was fresh and light, with no heavy starches or sauces. “Just the kind of thing I want to eat in the summer at the beach when it’s hot,” he explains. “It’s got to be easy, include some local seafood and make great leftovers for the group. Throwing something on the grill is always a good idea.” While his tips may seem obvious, his flavor combinations are anything but and pack just the right punch to be surprising and impressive. We definitely came away with some new ideas for summer dinner parties, and a reminder to look for friends in unexpected places.

Green Bean & Field Pea Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups mixed field peas (pink eye, crowder, creamer)
2 strips bacon, plus 1 cup chopped bacon
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh chopped watercress, for garnish

1. Blanch green beans in salted boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove to ice bath until cool.
2. Cook all field peas in a pot with the 2 strips of bacon and a pinch of salt, until tender. Strain out peas and combine with green beans in a large bowl.
3. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the cut bacon until crispy. Add onion and cook until soft, 2 - 3 minutes. Add garlic, stirring constantly so as not to burn. Add tomatoes and cook until they begin to swell and burst. Stir in sugar, then add vinegar. When mixture reaches a boil, add olive oil. Bring back to a quick boil, then add a pinch of salt and black pepper.
4. Combine green beans, field peas and bacon-tomato mixture in a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool until just warm. Serve topped with fresh chopped watercress.
* To make ahead, cool completely and refrigerate. Then gently warm before serving. Serves 8.

Grilled Eggplant with Citrus Yogurt, Crispy Quinoa
and Herbs

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange (blood orange if possible)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
4 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions
2 cups canola oil
1/4 cup each of mint, basil and flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Place the yogurt in a small mixing bowl. Using a microplane, zest the lemon, lime and orange into the yogurt.
2. Juice the lemon and lime, being careful to remove any seeds, and add to yogurt. Remove the pith and the remaining skin of the orange with a knife and carefully remove the segments, reserving the juice and segments for serving. Squeeze the remaining juice out of the orange into the yogurt.
3. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and the salt. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
4. Brush eggplant with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on hot grill or grill pan, cooking until almost tender on that side. Gently flip and finish cooking on the skin side until tender but not mushy. Set aside.
5. Pat cooked quinoa dry in paper towels to remove any excess water. Heat canola oil in a large pan. Gently add quinoa, a little at a time, and fry until crispy. Remove from pan onto a plate lined with a paper towel and season with salt to taste.
6. On a large platter, smear the citrus yogurt. Top with grilled eggplant. Add reserved blood orange segments and juice.
7. Drizzle eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil and top with crispy quinoa. Scatter the herb leaves over the entire dish and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Curry Crab Salad with Green Papaya Slaw

1/4 cup green curry paste
2 cups canola oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 pounds jumbo lump crab, picked for shells
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups ice water
Green Papaya Slaw (see below)

1. In a blender, combine the green curry paste and canola oil. Blend until smooth, approximately 1 minute. Let sit for 10 minutes before using.
2. Place half the diced yellow onion in a large bowl. Top with the crab meat, followed by the last of the diced onion. Pour the curry oil through a strainer directly onto the crab and onions, pressing to make sure all the oil gets through. Add the vinegar, followed by the fish sauce,
lime juice and salt. Top with the ice water. Do not stir.
3. Place in fridge and allow to sit overnight. Stir only right before serving. Place in serving bowls and top with Green Papaya Slaw. Serves 8. 

Green Papaya Slaw

1 green papaya
2 green chilies (jalapeño or serrano), deseeded and cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from the green papaya. Use peeler to remove long, thin strips of flesh. Cut these strips into thin matchsticks. Continue until you have 4 cups of cut green papaya.
2. In a bowl, add green papaya, chilies, sugar, fish sauce, oil and lime juice. Let sit for at least 1 hour.
3. Toss with picked herbs immediately before serving.

Oven-Baked Lamb Ribs with Chipotle Sauce & Quick Pickles

4 tablespoons beer
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 racks Denver-cut lamb ribs
4 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons black pepper
Chipotle Sauce and Quick Pickles, for serving (see below)

1. In a small bowl, combine beer, vinegar and Worcestershire.
2. Lay each rack of ribs on its own sheet of aluminum foil large enough to fully enclose it, and season with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of black pepper each. Add 1/4 of the marinade to each foil packet and seal tightly. Bake at 275 degrees for 2 hours or until tender.
3. While ribs are cooking, prepare chipotle sauce and quick pickles (below).
4. Remove from oven. Unwrap and reserve all juices.
5. Set oven broiler on high. Brush lamb ribs with chipotle sauce and broil until starting to brown and caramelize. Remove from oven and cut into individual ribs. Place on a platter surrounded by piles of the pickles. Drizzle with the sauce and serve extra sauce on the side. Serves 8.

Chipotle Sauce

reserved juice from lamb ribs (approx. 1 cup)
2 chipotle peppers
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
pinch of salt & pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Quick Cucumber Pickles

2 seedless cucumbers, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. Toss sliced cucumbers with salt and sugar until completely coated. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the cucumbers will release some liquid and the salt and sugar will have dissolved.
2. Strain off all but a couple tablespoons of the cucumber liquid. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Blueberry Cornbread Pudding with Sweet Corn Ice Cream

2 pints blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
1 recipe prepared cornbread, cooled (recipe below)
10 eggs
1 quart half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
Sweet Corn Ice Cream, for serving (see below)

1. Cook blueberries, sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and water in a pan until blueberries begin to burst and form a sauce-like consistency.
2. In a large bowl, mash up cooked cornbread until there are no longer any large chunks. Crack eggs on top of cornbread, then add half-and-half, sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla and cooked blueberries. Mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cast- iron pan in oven with 1 tablespoon of butter. Add blueberry batter to hot cast iron and bake for 40 - 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cut blueberry cornbread pudding into wedges and serve warm topped with sweet corn ice cream or ice cream of your choice. Serves 12. 

Cornbread

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place butter in a large cast-iron pan and warm in oven.
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until smooth. Remove warm cast-iron pan and pour in batter. Bake 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cornbread from pan, and let cool.

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sweet corn kernels

1. Add cream and half-and-half to a medium saucepan. Heat slowly.
2. Whish together sugar, egg yolks and vanilla until creamy. Add warm cream, a little at a time, while whisking until well combined. Add sweet corn and let mixture cool for 20 minutes.
3. Pulse mixture in a blender 10 times, then strain and cool completely.
4. Finish preparing according to directions of ice cream maker. Makes 6 cups.

Sun Swept

The kitchen that produced this feast was a chef’s dream — two full-sized refrigerators, a six-burner Kitchenaid range, two ice machines and two dishwashers to make light work of cleanup! Miles and miles of beautiful gray marble countertops made for easy prep while guests gathered around the kitchen island to watch and sample the treats chef Rainosek prepared.

This Gulf-front beach palace was built in 2018 with six bedrooms and six-and-a-half baths, sleeping 20 of your nearest and dearest. It sits at the end of West Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, where the crowds disappear and the sand seems to go on for miles. See more photos

Sun Swept was generously provided by Meyer Realty. Book direct with Meyer Vacation Rentals by calling 866-382-9635.

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