Roy G Biv pasta salad

 

This Is dedicated to Margaret who asked for this recipe and I told her it was here, but it wasn’t until now. Also to all the funny, clever, colorful, smart women who make me laugh when I need it the most, Shelly, Lisa, Tina, they keep me sane. Barely.

You might have heard me mention that I grew up in a matriarchal family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in the late 50’s and early 60’s. This was a very formative time in my life, from just born to seven years old. It has colored how I view the world my entire life. Women ran the world. They ran my small corner of the world as a child, therefore they ran the world. The men that were in the family were off sometimes for weeks or days at a time doing what they did, railroad jobs and businesses in larger towns. My Great Grandmother, Mimi, My Aunt Bonnie and her daughter Aunt Tina had, to my eyes, no discernible men in their lives. Rumor was, they had been around at one point but one or two of them weren’t worth keeping. My Great Grandfather who worked the railroad, building it not running it, had passed away when I was 2 or 3 so I barely remember him. These women got along quiet well all on their own. To my young mind, mostly the men were a footnote, that showed up occasionally to give out candy or sit you on their lap in your dress up clothes after Church and ask lots of questions when you’d rather be barefoot climbing trees.

Imagine my surprise at the dawning realization about the ways of the world. Imagine my indignation when I learned that my personal tormentor (my older brother) was the gender specified heir apparent that would have access to the keys to the kingdom. Not me. Him.

Yeah, Right. Not if I had anything to do with that particular outcome. I knew then who needed to be running things, the women, the ones who make it better on a daily basis, the ones that tend to be inclusive not exclusive. At the very least the women deserved an equal shot at running things, and little girls deserved a hope that someday they could. My new favorite song at the moment is “Put a Woman in Charge” by Keb Mo. Go give it a listen, it will change your paradigm or re-enforce it.

What does all this have to do with pasta salad? Well it’s Roy G Biv pasta salad, and if your high school science can be recalled, or if you happen to be a scuba diver you know those letters stand for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, the order in which color disappears as you go deeper under water. I feel like more than half of the population of this great nation has been living under water all these years. Its time to let the colors and the colorful women out into the light, so we can shine, shine, shine.

And then we can all sit down at a cheerful round table where everyone is equal and eat this wonderful color filled salad with a glass of sweet tea and talk about the bad old days that just seemed drained of color, almost white in a way.

Ingredient list, I am specific in terms of brand for some of this because it matters. I have been making some form of this salad for over 10 years. It has been honed so to speak for best taste and I’ve combined vegetables and cheese so it is a complete meal.

1 box Barilla COLLEZIONE CASARECCE (this is a sturdy pasta that holds up for days in the fridge with the dressing used)

1 or 2 bottles of VIGO marinated baby artichoke hearts sliced in half , reserve the liquid

1 to 2 bottles Panera brand Mediterranean Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing

1 can Bushs Navy beans drained and rinsed and drained again

6 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese, you can shave your own but this helps

1 big bundle of fresh asparagus, trimmed ends cut into 1 1/2″ pieces

1 red bell pepper cut in 1/2″ squares

1/2 pound carrots cut into rounds about 1/4′ thick

about 4 oz. pitted Kalamata olives cut into a rough chop

Get a large heat proof bowl ready for the goodness. Because I hate washing large pot I do all the boiling in one pot. Put a really large pot of well salted water on to boil, we are going to blanch the veg.

once it is boiling drop in

sliced carrots for 2 minutes

then add the asparagus boil for 2 minutes

add red pepper, blanch an additional  minute

use a large spider strainer and fish out all the veg well drained and put in large heat proof bowl, pour half a bottle of the Panera dressing and stir well.

Bring the large pot of water back to a hard boil, (yes it will look orange, that’s ok) drop in pasta, cook according to directions until a bit past al’dente.

While pasta is boiling, put drained navy beans, halved artichokes, and Kalamata olives in the bowl and stir well, add at least half the marinade that the artichokes came in, and stir. Because the veg are hot they will absorb the dressing well. as soon as the pasta is ready drain it well and dump it on top of everything else. While it is still steaming hot piled on top of everything else, add the dressing, I generally use a bottle and a half total, plus the half bottle of marinade from the artichokes. Stir gently together. let it cool down and last add the shaved Parmesan. you want it to stick but not melt.

Get you a big old plate and eat it up. After all you do need to taste test it.

 

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Candies Cornbread

This is by far the most popular recipe I have ever posted, the funny thing is I have made it for so many years that I no longer measure anything. So I had to go back and make it again just to get the amounts right.

Heres the recipe for Candies Cornbread

Preheat Oven to 420 degrees (I know it sound’s hot, but this is a quick bread, they need hot and you want a crispy crust)

put 1 stick of salted butter(use real butter) in a 9″square or round pan, like a good heavy cake pan, if you have a 9″cast iron skillet you are gonna have an extra degree of wonderful, put it in that warming up oven to melt the butter. But keep an eye on it.

crack 2 large eggs (need I say fresh) in a med size ceramic bowl, I use Egglands Best eggs because they are the freshest I can find, as I no longer have a coop of my own, beat them up slightly with a fork.

Keep you eyes  on the melting butter, you want it to brown slightly and sizzle but not burn!

Add 1 2/3 cups of fresh WHOLE buttermilk to the bowl (Purity Milk in the yellow carton is what I use) don’t use the 2% buttermilk its not as good. Beat that in good, I use a long tine   fork.

Add 1 3/4 cup of White Lily Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix (flour is included in the mix so its lighter) it has GREEN writing on the front (they sell White Lily everywhere now so you should be able to find it, go ahead and get the 5 lb bag you’re gonna want to do this again) Mix that well until its smooth and thick about like pancake batter, if its too thick add more buttermilk. If it’s too thin add more cornmeal.

Check the butter, it should be browning and sizzling, if it burns throw it out and clean the pan and start again, burnt is gonna ruin the whole pan of cornbread. (yes I have burned the butter!) Once it has melted and browned carefully take it out of the oven, swirl it around the pan to coat the sides good and pour in into the bowl of batter, this is why you use a ceramic bowl, and it WILL sizzle when it hits, stir the butter into the batter good and pour the whole thing back in your pan.

Stick it back in that hot oven and it will rise and turn golden brown on top. As for how long you cook it, well… until it’s done. Generally about 15 to 20 minutes, but stoves vary so keep an eye out. Some folks likes to turn it out onto a plate so the crust stays crisp, but let it cool a few minutes before you do that, this is really moist cornbread and you don’t want it to fall apart on you.

Set cornbread aside to cool a bit before flipping it out on a plate.

Get a big old glass of milk, where I grew up we called it sweet milk and a big old hunk of cornbread and you will be so happy.

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Lets talk Turkey Dressing, not stuffing…

img_0863.jpgTurkey and Dressing is important to me. It’s a meal that gets cooked once a year and in my mind it needs to pretty much dazzle. So I go to a lot of trouble to make it a shining meal for my family. Turkeys are kinda’ seen as the star of the show but they can be dry, so I brine mine for exactly 10 hours before roasting. But the dressing in my mind is really the star. This is where a creative cook gets to shine. I am pretty well known for my dressing (not stuffing, we ain’t stuffing this nowhere) and there is a reason for that. It’s so good I have seen someone (who shall remain nameless but you know who you are) sit down and eat THREE full platefuls of dressing and gravy, THREE,  it was amazing to behold. But I get it, I get to eat it for 4 or 5 days after thanksgiving, this person was leaving my house the next morning.

So… here is the secret. The stock that you make has to have tremendous flavor, so lots of herbs, spices, and root vegetables plus chicken breasts, thighs and turkey legs (bought separately, you don’t want to de-leg your turkey).

2 large or 3 medium chicken breasts boneless skinless

4 chicken thighs again boneless skinless

2 turkey legs

1 turkey neck, heart, and gizzard, (this adds so much flavor to the stock, but I don’t actually eat those parts)

1 package(2/3 oz) whole fresh thyme (it’s a good handful if you grow your own)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary about 6” long

1 package (2/3 oz) of whole fresh sage, crushed a bit with your hands to release the flavors (again good handful) use the stems etc we are going to strain the stock.

1 very large yellow onion, size of a softball peeled and cut into chunks.

8 stalks of celery trimmed rinsed and cut into chunks, use the inner parts with the leaves they have loads of flavor.

2 carrots cut into big chunks

7 fresh bay leaves

1 Large tablespoon of whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon rubbed dried sage

1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon of white pepper

6 to 7   32oz boxes of chicken stock, I use 2 low sodium, 2 chick broth, 2 chic stock. Now I don’t view this as cheating, naturally I would rather use homemade stock, but I give myself a break and buy the box kind, I use Swanson it has good flavor. And remember with all this other stuff in here we a kicking this boxed stock up to flavorville. Put all this in a LARGE stock pot bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, it needs to simmer for about 4 hours at least. Its fills your house with a heavenly fragrance.

This stock is the backstory to my Thanksgiving goodness. All good stories have a backstory, sometimes you don’t even get to know what the backstory is, but it informs the story in a way that enhances the characters and the plot. Just like this stock enhances the food I cook.

I use the poultry meat in my dressing and gravy and I combine the strained stock with the Roasted turkey drippings to pour over my dressing components before I bake it and to make giblet gravy.

Next part, chicken livers…

This is the secret ingredient to my dressing. I know… I know some of y’all don’t like liver, get over it, you’ll never know it there, but it gives a depth of flavor and yes, “umami” to the dressing that just sends it over the top.

Take the turkey liver out of the giblets package and sauté it with about ¾ pound of chicken livers gently in a skillet until they are done (i.e. no longer bloody) set aside to cool. Do not overcook they will turn to rubber. Or refrigerate until you need them, if its going to be longer than 30 minutes.

Now the bread part. I grew up with cornbread dressing and I love it, but my favorite is a combination of both bread and corn bread dressing.

1st make a cake of my cornbread in a 8” or 9” round iron skillet if you can, but a cake pan will absolutely do just fine.

Heres the recipe for Candies Cornbread

Preheat Oven to 420 degrees (I know it sound’s hot, but this is a quick bread, they need hot and you want a crispy crust)

put 1 stick of salted butter(use real butter) in a 9″square or round pan, like a good heavy cake pan, if you have a 9″cast iron skillet you are gonna have an extra degree of wonderful, put it in that warming up oven to melt the butter. But keep an eye on it.

crack 2 large eggs (need I say fresh) in a med size ceramic bowl, I use Egglands Best eggs because they are the freshest I can find, as I no longer have a coop of my own, beat them up slightly with a fork.

Keep you eyes  on the melting butter, you want it to brown slightly and sizzle but not burn!

Add 1 2/3 cups of fresh WHOLE buttermilk to the bowl (Purity Milk in the yellow carton is what I use) don’t use the 2% buttermilk its not as good. Beat that in good, I use a long tine   fork.

Add 1 3/4 cup of White Lily Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix (flour is included in the mix so its lighter) it has GREEN writing on the front (they sell White Lily everywhere now so you should be able to find it, go ahead and get the 5 lb bag you’re gonna want to do this again) Mix that well until its smooth and thick about like pancake batter, if its too thick add more buttermilk. If it’s too thin add more cornmeal.

Check the butter, it should be browning and sizzling, if it burns throw it out and clean the pan and start again, burnt is gonna ruin the whole pan of cornbread. (yes I have burned the butter!) Once it has melted and browned carefully take it out of the oven, swirl it around the pan to coat the sides good and pour in into the bowl of batter, this is why you use a ceramic bowl, and it WILL sizzle when it hits, stir the butter into the batter good and pour the whole thing back in your pan.

Stick it back in that hot oven and it will rise and turn golden brown on top. As for how long you cook it, well… until it’s done. Generally about 15 to 20 minutes, but stoves vary so keep an eye out. Some folks likes to turn it out onto a plate so the crust stays crisp, but let it cool a few minutes before you do that, this is really moist cornbread and you don’t want it to fall apart on you.

Set cornbread aside to cool a bit.

Sauté on med low heat two very large onions (softball) diced ¼ inch square with 20 stalks of celery diced ¼ inch square in 1 stick of butter, the regular salted kind, until celery and onions are translucent. At this point add

3 heaping teaspoons of rubbed sage

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 large bunch of fresh sage leaves chopped fine aprox ½ cup chopped

1 large bunch of thyme leaves (pulled off the stems)chopped fine about ¼ cup,

cook 30 seconds more just to release the herb oils and flavor,

Combine 1 pkg of Pepperidge Farm Country style cubed stuffing with 1 pkg of Pepperidge Farm Cornbread classic stuffing in a large bowl. Crumble in about 2/3 of the cornbread you just made, pour the sautéed celery, onions and herbs of top of that.

Take your cooked chicken livers and mash them up one by one ( I use my hands) removing any and all connective tissue so that all you are going to end up with is the crumbly meat part. Sprinkle that over the top, finely dice all the poultry meat from the stock, reserve 1 cup for the gravy and put the rest in the dressing.

With your hands mix it well all together and put it into buttered pans LIGHTLY, do not mash it down.

It is at least two 9”X 11” pans of dressing.

When the turkey is done, take the pan drippings and mix them with the strained stock. Take cupfulls and pour it over the pans of dressing until it is moist not dripping. Bake dressing at 350 degrees until golden brown and set.

So heres the deal, most people aren’t going to go to this much trouble to make this. I also felt that way when I published my recipe for 7 hour Coconut cake. But if you ever do make it this way, you probably will make it this way forever.

Then the gravy is super easy, bring stock and pan drippings to a simmer, melt 1 stick of butter and add ½ cup of S.R. flour and combine it until smooth, temper it with a ½ cup of stock, then add gently to simmering pot of stock, if it lumps, get out the immersion blender, once gravy has thickened, add about ½ cup of half and half crème and shredded, diced chicken and turkey meat left from the stock we made. I also add sliced boiled eggs to the gravy when I serve it, because that’s how we do it in the south and man is it good that way. You end up with about 3 quarts of gravy maybe even a gallon, and y’all know you need that much cause if your food don’t float you ain’t got enough gravy yet.

 

 

 

 

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Comfort Food and all that means, to me at least

Comfort food is a term used very widely these days, and it means a lot of different things to different people and different cultures. But the common thread here is that it is usually food that you had growing up that someone who loved you more than anyone else ever would, cooked for your nourishment and happiness. It can be pie that your Granny cooked like no-one else ever has. It could be beans and cornbread served with homemade chow-chow and fresh sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplins, corned beef and cabbage, spaghetti and homemade marinara, stir fried chicken and vegetables in a wok, kimchee made from scratch, chopped chicken liver pate made with schmaltz. Where you come from, the food you eat, the things you crave, most importantly the food that gives you comfort, speaks to who you are. And who you are sometimes needs a little pat on the head and warmth in the tummy. A comforting meal can be like a shoulder to lean on when times get tough. Now I know there are people out there who do not put this much importance in the food they eat, I have never met them, but I hear tell they are out there.

One of the absolute toughest times in my life involved a desperate dash to New York City on a week long mission I hope to never repeat. I was alone. I was immensely focused on the many tasks I had to accomplish and I was short on money. It has been over a decade since then and I can still remember how it felt in the pit of my stomach the whole time I was there. I was in full fight mode for the entire week. Every lesson I had ever learned in my life up to that point was necessary to accomplish what I needed. It was winter, it was cold and it was grey. There was one lucky thing, one wonderful family owned a cafe that fate allowed me. Joe’s on 5th avenue, the Avenue of the Americas. They were a Greek family that welcomed me like I was their own. I sat at the counter most times and spoke with one of them as they worked. I found out much later they were quite famous for their hamburgers cooked on the flat-top. They had like 400 things on the menu, I couldn’t believe the offering. But I found down near the bottom, something called a chopped egg sandwich. It was $3.50. An amazing price in NY city at that time. It was beautifully baked handmade white bread cut in very thick slices with about 4 boiled chopped eggs mixed with a touch of mayo piled 1 inch thick between the bread. It was huge. It was nourishing. It tasted like home. It was a small reprieve, an exceptional ray of hope served to my southern soul when I needed it most. It helped fill the pit that had become my stomach. It was $3.50. And the conversation I had daily with the many different family members that ran that narrow cafe became like home to me for a few minutes. Human kindness and good food can save your life.

What I would like in this astonishing time in these United States, times I never thought I would see again, is to sit down at a very long table with all different peoples and all different comfort foods to share a meal and human kindness. Because human kindness and good food can save your life and it can lead to an understanding that we all are indeed one. And those people that I hear tell don’t think food is that important, we’ll invite them too.

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Soup and Love

I love soup. I love a big hot bowl of something good to eat. It can be a big hot bowl of beans, or soupy potatoes (my Mothers special thing she cooked when someone was feeling ill) or a big hot bowl of Thanksgiving dressing floating like an island in a copious serving of giblet gravy, (pretty much dressing soup). That last one is probably my almost favorite, cause I only get it once a year. Although my favorite at any given moment is the one that is sitting on the table in front of me, steaming it’s intricate melding of herbs, vegetables, rich stock, and general goodness into my face as I bend over to have my first spoonful of luscious liquid comfort. Sometimes soup is just a vehicle for a large wedge of buttery golden cornbread, laying in the bowl soaking up all that goodness from the soup. Cornbread is good with almost all soups. Certainly it is a given with beans. I don’t remember eating a lot of different soups when I was a child. Mostly it was vegetable soup made with my Granny’s beautiful canned summer vegetable soup fixings, shining like precious jewels in their glass jars… okra, tomatoes, corn, and green beans. Add a few diced potatoes, onions and some stock and you had soup, magical summer tasting soup, that warmed a winters cold day. Plus if you make it in large batches like I do it’s food for like 3 days.

These days I always make beef vegetable soup, as the men in my house like it that way. But you could skip the beef part and use vegetable stock as the base. But I would add 2 cups of pinto beans to up the protein level, either canned or cook dried ones until almost done in the vegetable stock, I have also bought fresh black eyed peas at the market, they could be added with the potatoes.

The first thing I would like to say is, use fresh everything, as good as you can lay your hands on. I no longer have access to Granny’s soup fixin’s and have not put up produce in a long time, so use fresh.

Candie’s Vegetable Soup Market list

3 1/2 pound chuck roast or 3 pounds stew meat (I generally cube up my own from a roast but I understand if you don’t want to)

fresh celery stalks

2 large boxes (32 oz) of beef stock or beef broth

2 32 oz cans of petit chopped tomatoes

3 dried Bay leaves

1 tsp of rubbed sage or 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh sage (sage gives a warmth to the broth that you cannot get any other way)

4 ears of corn in the shucks (how to tell if they are fresh? look at the silks, light green fluffy silks mean its fresh. If the silks are dried and brown, I’d buy some good, name brand, frozen corn)

1 pound of carrots that’s about 6 or 7

4 to 5 potatoes (russet Idaho hold up better in the soup)

8 white onions (tennis ball size)

2 large handfuls of green beans (about 2 cups trimmed)

4 large handfuls of fresh okra (another thing a bit hard to find in winter but try to use fresh if you can, small pods, bright green) you can use frozen

1 pound bag of White Lily cornmeal mix green label

Butter (the salted kind) 1 pound

Whole milk Buttermilk at least a quart

Let me just say this is going to make you house smell so wonderful.

1st thing is cook the meat…

Take the cubed roast after you have cut it into 1″ pieces or the stew meat and dry it off really well with paper towels. Salt and pepper it, for each pound of meat use 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Lightly sprinkle it with flour, rubbing that in good with your hands. Brown off the pieces of meat on med-high heat in olive oil and butter on all sides in a large skillet in about 2 or 3 batches. Get it really brown, the more caramelized it is the richer the taste. (If you crowd the meat it will steam and get really tough.) As you remove the meat from the skillet put it in a LARGE stock pot. Once it is all browned, add the 2 boxes of beef stock to the pot, 4 cups of water with 4 rough chopped onions, 3 bay leaves, 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut in half, leave the leaves on as they have a lot of flavor, and the sage. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 2 to 3 hours until the beef is fork tender, adding water as necessary to keep it well covered.

After about an hour taste the stock and add more salt and pepper if needed, this is the time to add flavor so it gets well into the meat.

When the meat is well cooked, remove the bay leaves and remove the celery stalks as they have served their purpose and given up all of their fresh greenness to the stock. Taste the stock again, adjust the salt as needed.

Now for the VEG!

You can’t really add the veg all at once as it takes different cooking times to get it to it’s peak flavor. But this is the order I add the vegetables and putting them in this way allows for chopping times in between additions.

Add the 2 large cans of tomatoes with their juice and 4 onions chopped 1/4 inch dice bring stock and beef back to  boil and boil it 15 minutes to reduce slightly, then ADD

1 pound carrots trimmed and sliced into 1/4 in pennies, I don’t peel my carrots, I like the dirt taste

2 cups of trimmed green beans (I cut them about 2 inches long)

Cook at a low boil for about 30 to 40 minutes then add

2 to 3 cups of peeled cubed potatoes (Do about a 1 1/2″ cube)

Simmer this for 15 minutes then add the last 2 ingredients, the okra and corn, both of these only need about 10 minutes to cook. The okra should still be bright green and the corn bright yellow, but tender.

After all the vegetables are cooked and delicious, turn off the pot and let it rest while making a big cake of cornbread. I won’t make you hunt my blog for the recipe…its right here.

Candie’s Cornbread

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees (I know it sound’s hot, but this is a quick bread, they need hot and you want a crispy crust)

put 1 stick of salted butter(use real butter) in a 9″square or round pan, like a good heavy cake pan, if you have a 9″cast iron skillet you are gonna have an extra degree of wonderful, put it in that warming up oven to melt the butter. But keep an eye on it.

crack 2 large eggs (need I say fresh) in a medium size ceramic bowl, I use Egglands Best eggs because they are the freshest I can find, as I no longer have a coop of my own, beat them up slightly with a fork.

Keep you eyes  on the melting butter, you want it to brown slightly and sizzle but not burn!

Add 1 2/3 cups of fresh WHOLE buttermilk to the bowl (Purity Butter Milk in the yellow carton is what I use) don’t use the 2% buttermilk its not as good. Beat that in good, I use a long tine fork.

Add 1 3/4 cup of White Lily Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix (flour is included in the mix so its lighter) it has GREEN writing on the front (they sell White Lily everywhere now so you should be able to find it, go ahead and get the 5 lb bag you’re gonna want to do this again) Mix that well until its smooth and thick about like pancake batter, if its too thick add more buttermilk. If it’s too thin add more cornmeal.

Check the butter, it should be browning and sizzling, if it burns throw it out and clean the pan and start again, burnt is gonna ruin the whole pan of cornbread. (yes I have burned the butter!) Once it has melted and browned carefully take it out of the oven, swirl it around the pan to coat the sides good and pour in into the bowl of batter, this is why you use a ceramic bowl, and it WILL sizzle when it hits, stir the butter into the batter good and pour the whole thing back in your pan.

Stick it back in that hot oven and it will rise and turn golden brown on top. As for how long you cook it, well… until it’s done. Generally about 15 to 20 minutes, but stoves vary so keep an eye out. Some folks (me) like to turn it out onto a plate so the crust stays crisp, but let it cool a few minutes before you do that, this is really moist cornbread and you don’t want it to fall apart on you

Cut you a big old hunk, slap some butter on it, get a tall glass of cold sweet milk, a large bowl of Candie’s Vegetable soup and enjoy a little piece of the happy life.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, it really isn’t and you actually end up having food for 3 days. It also freezes well but use in within 3 months.

It’s starting to snow a bit here in Tennessee so I’d best get to the grocery store for some soup fixings.

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?????? What IS on my plate…

Have you ever been to a dinner or a family gathering or a pot luck dinner where you just had a hard time eating the food, or if you did eat it, you regretted it soon after, like with stomach cramps and massive grumbling in the lower regions of your digestive track? What is up with that? And if food and feeding mean love and caring, does that mean they just hate you? And where are their taste buds in all of this?

I was fully “growed” before I experienced any of these un-digestible situations. I grew up on really good, often, really simple food. Everyone I knew could cook. I was related to most of them so I did not have a varied experience. But they did a lot of cooking, they had to. Of course, I am so old there weren’t many restaurants in my small cotton mill town in Carolina, and the ones that were there were reserved for special occasions, and they were usually a mom and pop affair and had excellent food. Bad restaurant food is bad restaurant food, it is self adjusting. It gets better or the restaurant closes and something way better takes its place. But when it involves family or friends, what are you supposed to do? Tell them? Buy them cookbooks? Buy them cooking lessons? Suggest to them lets not go to any trouble… how about we order out and I will pay the bill? Because when a family member or a friend cooks badly that situation is not self adjusting, its self perpetuating. One of my past solutions is eat before you go and then you can just push the food around on your plate, or say well I’m doing this cleanse on the advice of my doctor, no meat, no poultry, no fish, no sugar, gluten free, dairy free, egg free diet. Then all you have to eat are the carrot sticks (which hopefully they washed) and the olives. The bad cooking does sort of make what could be a great occasion into a problematic situation, where you are begging your spouse as he is dragging you out the door, “please don’t make me go, PLEEZE don’t make me go.”

OR, here’s a solution, always have it at your house where you get to control the outcome.

OR, here’s a better solution… PEOPLE learn to cook a few things really well, even if it’s breakfast, breakfast for dinner is a great solution. Shop at the edges of the grocery store, where all the fresh food is. Learn to taste your food as you are cooking it, learn to figure out what spices or flavors go with meats, don’t be putting the Oreo’s into the meatloaf, learn what makes vegetables taste delicious, use real food, real butter, real olive oil, fresh vegetables.  Aren’t there like 50 million cooking shows on television? Watch a few. Pay attention to your guests, if the fattest person at the table isn’t eating, maybe there’s something you need to know about what your are putting in front of them.

Look, I get it. Not everyone cares all that much about good food, I don’t know anyone like that, but I assume it’s so. How about this, we all just go play putt-putt golf and eat at the burger joint with the pool tables, they are still in business for a reason, right?

Here’s another solution, look on the internet for easy quick recipes. Or read my blog, these things will change your life, on my blog you will learn all about the best pimento cheese in the world, how to fry green tomatoes AND make a wonderful gravy to go on them, and the cornbread is divine. My mother-in law, Linda Wilson and her sister, Judy Watson, both excellent cooks who make banging potato salad (that I personally have adopted as my own) and other wonderful preserved and delicious foodstuffs read this blog all the time (probably because they are related to me). Are they better cooks than they used to be? Maybe not, they were pretty damn good before. But Linda was here for Christmas and stopped at the Krogers on the way out of town and picked up a couple of quarts of Duke’s Mayonnaise (the best mayo in the world) to take back home to Indy, cause they don’t sell it up there, and once she had tasted it, she agreed, in the South it’s all about the food.

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The gift of love, bread and pie.

Nutella pie with hazelnut Biscoff crust, sitting on a kitchen towel that my wonderful Mother-in-law made me for Christmas, the pale blue bowls were her gift also.

Nutella pie with hazelnut Biscoff crust, sitting on a kitchen towel that my wonderful Mother-in-law, Linda made me for Christmas, the pale blue bowls were her gift also.

When I was growing up in the foothills of Carolina, Christmas just wasn’t Christmas without something homemade given to you by someone that loved you dearly. It could be a crocheted scarf or a special dress or a pretty apron made of gingham and cross-stitched with bright thread and trimmed in rickrack. I am sure this tradition sprang from the history that my ancestors, Carolina farmers, had to endure during the depression. And the time they spent to make you special something was the love they gave to you.

But being farmers, we always had good food. And good food was often the gift, a cake, a pie, homemade bread, a smoked ham, or beautifully canned pickles. My Granny’s favorite thing to give to us kids was homemade popcorn balls wrapped in stiff red and green cellophane twisted at the ends and tied with curly ribbon to keep them fresh. When was the last time you even saw a popcorn ball? Or sometimes homemade doughnuts, the cake variety that she’d cook in a rolling vat of oil and sprinkled with granulated sugar and cinnamon. I always got the doughnut holes because I was such a good helper, because I always got the doughnut holes. To this day they are my favorite kind of doughnut. We always got plump juicy oranges in our Christmas stockings, because they were very special when Granny was growing up, something she didn’t get very often.  Each distinct holiday, we had special food. If we had nothing else we had excellent food.

This year, I was reminded of that tradition when my best friend (besides my beagle)  in the whole world, Shelly left homemade goodness on my front porch still warm from the oven, on Christmas Eve Night. She made Pumpkin bread, her specialty and my favorite, and this amazing orange cranberry bread that looked just like Christmas because the fresh cranberries had floated to the top of the loaf and made a bright red crown of berries on each slice. As an accompaniment to this amazing loaf was a jar of orange glaze that she had made to pour over the top once it had cooled. We however just spread it on each slice of bread as we ate it. Me, I actually just ate it right off the spoon, pretty much made my Christmas. Y’all are thinking I am going to give you that recipe right? Well I am in the form of a link to the page it appears on,

Two Peas and Their Pod

So there, now you can made me some and bring it on by the house.

The other thing I am going to talk about today is a pie that I have come up with to feed my Nutella and Biscoff crazy craves. I remember the first time my son’s high school girlfriend introduced me to Nutella on toast. I didn’t much care for it. But then years later I bought another jar, and ate it off a spoon and thought to myself this has possibilities. It just needs a crunchy cookie to go under it.  Enter the crunchy cinnamon cookie, Biscoff. First of all I am a nut for crunchy sandy cookies, the addition of cinnamon just makes it even better, it reminds me of the crunchy edges on my Granny’s doughnuts. You will need a whole package Biscoff cookies, but you are allowed to eat 3 of them while making this pie, more than that you won’t have enough for the crust. If you don’t want to make the pie you can spread Nutella on this cookie and be very happy. But if you are looking for something a little more fancy, here you go. the end result has an almost cheese cake texture. And the creaminess combined with the crunchy crust is divine.

Nutella Pie with hazelnut Biscoff crust.

1 Package of Biscoff (8.8 oz size) cookies minus 3, chopped in a food processor until they are fine crumbs

1 cup of hazelnuts, chopped in a food processor until they are ground up good (by the way this makes a fine noise, like if you want your husband to wake up and get off the couch)

2 heaping tablespoons of granulated sugar

1 teaspoon of cocoa (I used Hershey’s dark chocolate cocoa)

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

6 tablespoons of melted butter (the regular salted kind, don’t you just hate it when a recipe calls for unsalted butter, like who buys that on a regular basis?)

Mix the 1st 5 ingredients together in a bowl really well, pour the melted butter over the top and mix again, press into a buttered deep dish pie pan, glass or metal. Put into refrigerator to chill and harden up some.

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Now the creamy part…

1 13 oz. jar of Nutella (you will need all this for the pie so if you want to nibble some on a cookie get a larger jar and measure out 1 cup)

1 8 oz. brick of creme cheese softened, room temp is good I let mine sit out for about 4 hours (get the good stuff and for heavens sake not the low fat, this is dessert people)

1 cup of heavy whipping creme

4 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar, separated

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Get out the big mixer for this…

Whip the heavy whipping creme until soft peaks form, add in 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl. In the same mixing bowl that you whipped the creme in, dump in the creme cheese and whip it up some, then add the Nutella , blend them together, add the 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar and mix well. Add the whipped creme back in and on LOW speed blend mixture together finishing the mixing process with a spatula.  Pour all of the mixture into the pie crust you already made and stick it in the freezer for 1 hour. Grate dark chocolate on top as a garnish. And serve. Keep leftovers (if any) in refrigerator, the freezer part is just so it will get a little more solid before serving.

Now see wasn’t that easy, you didn’t even have to turn on the oven.

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