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It is our 2012 New Year’s resolution to resurrect the blog!

Let me catch you up: I moved to Denver and got married (no biggie).  Jenny moved across the country and got a new job (as did her hubby).  So, between those life changing events and a family emergency or two, we were busy little bees this year! But enough excuses – let’s talk about the thing that is so near and dear to everyone’s heart – food.

We last left you with a post about the 1st Annual Drogue Holiday party.  I am proud to report that our 2nd annual Drogue Holiday party was also a success.  And since we left you last year at Christmas time, it’s fitting that we pick up where we left off – at New Year’s.

Every New Year’s day, Mimi opened her home to anyone who was interested in some simple “good luck” black eyed peas.  According to my Mary Mac’s Tea Room cookbook (thanks, Dad!,) this Southern tradition dates back to the Civil War.   Apparently Union troops would strip the land of all stored food and destroy whatever they couldn’t carry with them.  The  Northern soldiers didn’t consider “field peas” a suitable source of food.  So these “field peas” became known for good luck!

Seasoned with salt pork and hog jowls or pork hocks, Mimi served her peas over white rice, and topped them with stewed tomatoes.  The goal is to eat at least 12 peas (one for luck during each month in the year).  Happily, this goal isn’t hard to attain.  Mimi also served her famous cornbread as a sopping accessory (with jalapeno or strawberry jam) as well as fresh scallions to gnaw on/freshen your breath.

So this year, we will carry on the tradition.

 

Black-Eyed Peas
Adapted From Mary Mac’s Tea Room

1 small smoked ham hock
5 ounces of fatback (salt pork)
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper

Bring a stockpot two-thirds full with water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the ham hock, fatback, and onion and return to a rolling boil.  Add the black-eyed peas and let cook, uncovered for approximately 1 hour, or until the black-eyed peas are tender.  Add salt and pepper if desired.  Serve with slotted spoon over white rice, and top with stewed tomatoes.  See below for recipe.

Mom and I have debated about whether Mimi used canned tomatoes or whether she blanched tomatoes and stewed them fresh.  I can specifically remember Mimi teaching me to blanch tomatoes. I can’t imagine why she would have been doing that except for a recipe that called for stewed tomatoes.  We came to the conclusion that Mimi used canned tomatoes (sometimes her own and sometimes store-bought) just because it would be tough to find good tomatoes in December.  So, the choice is yours.

In case you need a quick 101 on blanching: bring some water to a boil, add the tomatoes for a minute or 2, remove and immediately submerge in cold water.  This makes the tomatoes really easy to peel, core, and seed.

Dried black eyed peas

Salt pork and pork hock

 

Stewed Tomatoes
2-3 cans of diced tomatoes, or 8-10 whole tomatoes, blanched and diced
1 onion – diced
Dash of white vinegar
A few pinches of sugar
1/2 stick of butter
tomato paste (optional)

Cook the diced onions in butter for quite some time.  You want the onions to begin to brown so that they take on that really sweet buttery flavor.  Add the tomatoes and stew for a while.  You may want to add a spoonful of tomato paste depending on the thickness.  Add vinegar and sugar to taste.  The tomatoes should take on a tangy taste.  Stew for 30-40 minutes.  This can be done ahead of time.

Happy 2012!

Happy 2012!!!

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Making use of your food

This is no novelty, but I really like the idea of using as much of your food as possible, whether it’s using beet greens for a salad or saving the fat from a pork shoulder to cook your winter greens.  In Florida, we have the sort of climate that allows for plentiful and delicious tomatoes.  As a result, we don’t mind using our tomatoes in things other than salads or marinara sauce.   In fact, we use tomatoes before they ripen – aka when they are still green.  This is not to be confused with varieties of tomatoes that are actually bred to be green.  When I say green tomatoes, I mean un-ripened tomatoes.  There is a difference.

Of course, there is the ever popular fried green tomato (FGT, not to be confused with the movie – it’s a great one if you haven’t seen it.) I eat FGTs plain or with a little goat cheese schmeared on top.  Actually, I have dreamt of making myself a BLT with an FGT and some goat cheese on top.  However, that might induce a gallbladder attack and I can’t have the surgeon laugh at me again when I tell him what I ate, so I will restrain myself.

Another fun green tomato idea is ice tomato pickles.  Ice tomato who?  Essentially green tomatoes that have been pickled and canned in a sweet syrup.  They are crunchy and sweet and you can enjoy them solo or on a sandwich.

I have fond memories of my grandfather arranging a weekend in the summer to prepare and can ice tomato pickles with my cousins.  Some how I got out of any responsibility associated with the task (thank goodness for being the youngest) and was free to just pop-in and check things out in between playing.  When I say that I got out of having any responsibility, I don’t mean to say that spending time with granddaddy was a chore, but canning and pickling (two things I hadn’t done myself until a few weekends ago) green tomatoes certainly was.  It is a laborious and time-intensive process to say the least.

I got together with three good girlfriends to do exactly what granddaddy did with my cousins – process these tomatoes.  We had 14lbs (thanks to Nancy and Susan) of green tomatoes.  Why so many?  Here in Colorado our summers aren’t as long and so you end up with a fair amount of tomatoes at the end of the season that don’t have a chance to turn (red) before our first snow.   14 lbs ended up producing 15 wide-mouthed pint jars.

The first day was devoted to washing and slicing the tomatoes, followed by soaking them for 24 hours in a lime solution.

Day 2 called for draining the lime solution and soaking the tomatoes for several more hours in fresh water.  After the fresh water soak, you must make a syrup in which the tomatoes sit over night.


Day 3 involves thickening the syrup and actually canning the tomatoes in the syrup.

And here is my finished product along side a can from my grandfather’s last batch before he left this world.  You can see that with time, they darken.  And, if you aren’t sure you’ll like ice tomato pickles and aren’t ready to commit to canning just yet, you can order some online.

Ice Tomato Pickles
7 lbs washed green tomatoes (slice 1/4 inch thick) – stems removed
3 cups of lime
2 gallons of water
4 lbs sugar
3 pints of white vinegar
1tsp of ground cloves
1 tsp of allspice
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of mace
1 tsp of celery seed
1 spice bag or cheesecloth bag

Soak the tomatoes in 2 gallons of lime water (3 cups of lime in 2 gallons) for 24 hours.  Drain and rinse the tomatoes and soak in fresh water for 4 hours.  Drain the tomatoes again.  In a pot, boil sugar, vinegar and spices (in the spice bag).  Once the syrup has come to a boil and the sugar is dissolved, pour over the tomatoes and let stand overnight.  In the morning, pour the syrup back into a pot for boiling, and boil it for an hour (this is just to boil out some of the water). Then add the pickles/tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Now can the tomatoes and syrup and you’re done!

Canning details could require an entire blog post.  In an effort not to “re-create the wheel” I will share a website with you that my friend Nancy shared with me.  It was quite helpful.  I would definitely do research on canning if it’s your first time.  If canning is not done properly, and the food has a chance to spoil it could be dangerous.  And one last suggestion: think through what time of day the waiting periods will fall.  You don’t want to be stuck canning in the middle of the night!

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This year is our first with a garden.  As you’ll remember when I first wrote about the little (little!) raised bed we planted this year, I was thrilled to finally be in one place long enough to see a summer garden through the season.  So much for all my dancing and jigging about being in one place – yes, we made it through a year at the same address but now we’re pulling up roots, literally and figuratively, and moving to Los Angeles!

Anyhow, in the midst of all the packing and planning and preparing, I of course am still making time to cook.  It’s one thing that helps keep me sane and grounded.  This week, Dan brought home some okra that was a gift from a work friend (thanks, Dawn!) and requested I prepare it in the only way he likes that vegetable: fried.  I have had mixed results with deep-frying in the past, but once I saw these gorgeous purple and green fingers of summer goodness, I knew that’s what I’d do with them.

I could tell you all about okra, the myriad ways it can be prepared, its international, transcontinental interpretations, it botanical origins (did you know that it comes from the same plant family as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus?) – but I don’t need to.  My dear friend Jennifer tells it all, with three different recipes to boot, in this post over at the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market blog.

What I will say is that I didn’t actually use any of Jennifer’s recipes – at least, not from that blog post.  I went with a recipe from world-class Atlanta chef Virginia WillisBon Appetit Y’all. (Mostly because I had extra buttermilk in the fridge – Jen’s version of fried okra doesn’t use it, while Virginia Willis’ does.) This is fitting enough because Jennifer introduced me to Virginia (well, not in real life – but you know what I mean!) when she gave me an autographed copy of her cookbook for Christmas a few years ago.  Now well-worn and much-loved, I thrill as much in the beautiful photography and spot-on recipes as I do in Willis’ recollections of cooking with her Mama and Meme.  I can’t step into the kitchen without thinking of my Mimi, so it’s nice that Willis brings hers along, too.

I’ll be bringing along my copy of Bon Appetit Y’all, and many other gifts and memories, as we wind up this summer, load up the wagons, and head west for the next adventure.  I wonder if they serve fried okra in L.A.?

Fried Okra
Adapted from Bon Appetit, Y’all by Virginia Willis

1 pound fresh okra, ends trimmed
1 cup buttermilk (I used a low-fat buttermilk…not that this matters much when you’re deep-frying!)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal (I had only half the cornmeal I needed and subbed semolina flour for the rest – it worked beautifully)
3 cups canola oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix flour and cornmeal together (I threw in some salt here, in addition to salting the okra after it came out of the oil). Slice okra into 1/2-inch rounds.  Toss with buttermilk.  Put a plate lined with paper towel next to the stovetop.  Heat oil in a heavy, deep (preferably cast-iron) wide-bottomed skillet to 350 degrees, or until flour tossed into the oil begins to bubble.  Working in batches, drain the excess buttermilk from the okra and toss okra in flour/cornmeal mixture to coat.  Fry okra in oil until golden brown, 3-5 minutes (for me, this took more like 5-8 minutes).  Don’t overcrowd the skillet or you’ll lower the temperature of the oil and won’t leave room for the individual pieces to bathe in the oil.  Using a mesh basket or slotted strainer, remove okra from oil and place on towel-lined plate.  Sprinkle with salt.  Keep frying in batches and enjoy!

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Among summer’s incredible bounty are fresh-shelled peas of all varieties: from fava beans to English peas to whiteacres and more.  Last week at the Morningside Farmer’s Market I picked up a couple of pints of pink-eyes, knowing they’d been shelled a few hours before and I’d be cooking them a few hours later.

Raw pink-eyed peas

There are many wonderful things that you can do with fresh peas.  I highly recommend this black-eyed pea, corn, and tomato salad from Virginia Willis’ Bon Appetit, Y’all.  After seeing her make this last summer (and tasting it!) at a market demo, we enjoyed this salad at home several more times last year.  I certainly don’t intend to let this summer slip by without making sure it’s as good as I remember.

Cooked pink-eyed peas and grits

But my favorite thing, and the easiest, to do with fresh summer peas is just to boil them up and serve them in their own broth, perhaps over rice or grits.  Here I served them over stone-ground grits cooked with fresh cream and parmesan.  A friend said she topped the same thing with crumbled up local bacon, and I just bet that it was out of control.

Simple Fresh-Shelled Peas

Fresh-shelled peas – pink-eyes, whiteacres, field peas, and on and on
Enough liquid to cover (you could use just water, or use vegetable or chicken broth or bouillon)
1 white onion, cut into eighths, length-wise
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Ham hock

A note on seasoning: My mom and grandmother would never have cooked peas without a ham hock in the broth to flavor them.  Salty, fatty, savory, and smoky, pork is used to flavor much Southern cooking – here’s a new book with recipes and history that calls pork “the King of the Southern table.”  (If anyone feels like buying me a present, feel free to make it this book!) However, as a vegetarian for many years, I adapted this dish to my needs.  I found that a few cubes of veggie bouillon, the cut up onion, salt, and maybe some additional olive oil or butter for fat content mimicked very well the taste I remembered from childhood.  If you do use bouillon, broth, or ham hock, you will need far less salt in the cooking liquid than if using just water, so do adjust accordingly.

To cook: Place peas in a pot with onion and enough liquid to cover.  Boil for 20-30 minutes, or until tender but still firm and not mushy.  As the peas cook, you will notice a gray foam forming on the surface of the water – simply skim this off with a shallow spoon and discard.  Taste before serving for salt and pepper.  As mentioned, these are wonderful just in their own juices, perhaps with a piece of cornbread to soak up the liquid, or on top of white rice or creamy stone-ground grits.  Serve and enjoy!

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Tallahassee, Florida is home to the Florida State Seminoles, state government, and my family.  It’s located in what we call the “panhandle” of our Sunshine State.  As you know, the Panhandle borders the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that has recently met its match thanks to the unbelievable Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

I’m bitter – can you tell?  These are the beaches that I grew up on. I spent family vacations, spring breaks, and days in college when we just wanted to relax instead of going to class.  I caught my first “real fish” on this shoreline (a 10 pound black drum that was almost as tall as me!), jumped waves with my grandmother, and caught crabs in order to orchestrate “crab races” (it really didn’t take much to entertain me as a child!).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced predictable emotions in response to disaster in the Gulf: anger and sadness.  But I’ve also experienced, unpredictably, joy.  Unable to to see into the future, Mike and I planned a trip with Boulder friends (who happen to be originally from Louisiana) to head to the beach in the Gulf.  And so, while I am angered and saddened by the oil disaster, I am grateful that in light of all of this, we were able to hop on a plane and beat the oil to our destination.  We made it.  I savored the trip as much as possible, realizing that this would be (short of a miracle) the last chance we would have to visit “my ocean” in the way that I remembered it.

And so, we chartered a boat for a little deep sea fishing and caught, cooked, and ate some snapper

We went to the local seafood market, Goatfeathers, for some grouper, shrimp, and tuna

Goatfeathers

Robert preparing the grouper for the grill

Grouper with blackening spices

Grouper on the grill

Bay shrimp (grey) and Gulf shrimp (pink - saltier, and sweeter)

My cousin Katie's, famous shrimp!

Tuna

Prepared tuna platter with wasabi paste - compliments of Mike

And we made sure to spend plenty of time in the ocean and on the beach…

My two loves - Mike and ocean

Santa Rosa Beach - 10 miles from Destin, FL

 

Cousin Katie’s Delicious Peel n’ Eat Gulf Shrimp Recipe

Serves 2

1/4 cup of Old Bay seasoning (classic – loose powder, not in the bag)
1/4 cup of caraway seeds
1 lb of shrimp (shell and tail on, preferably fresh, if not fresh then at least thawed)
Large pot of water (filled with 1 or 1.5 gallons of water)
Seasoned salt (we like this one called Aunt Cora’s but I think that’s only available regionally)
1/4 cup of white vinegar

Fill the pot with the water, vinegar (vinegar helps make shrimp easy to peel), seeds, salt, and Old Bay.  Bring to a rolling boil and add shrimp.  Continue cooking until the water just comes to a boil again (sometimes even before.) It’s very important not to overcook the shrimp or they will be rubbery.  Once cooked, remove the pot from the heat and strain the shrimp.  Your strainer will collect seeds and spices.  I serve the shrimp hot or ice cold in a bowl with their seeds and remaining spices.  I also dust the shrimp with fresh Old Bay – or even sprinkle it on a plate to dip the shrimp in as I peel them.

Mike and I read about using the famous (or infamous) Sriracha Sauce (with the green lid and rooster on it) to mix with a little mayo.  It didn’t sound appealing to me at first but I tried it and it makes for a great tangy yet spicy dipping sauce for the shrimp.

Optional Sriracha Sauce Recipe

Sriracha Sauce
1/8 cup of mayonnaise
However much Sriracha you can handle

Mix together to your taste and voila!

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My little garden is really starting to produce: my first cherry tomatoes have ripened, the first large green tomatoes are ready to ripen, we’ve enjoyed many wonderful leaf lettuce salads, and now the cucumbers are going crazy.

Mimi and Granddaddy always had a big garden when I was growing up.  In the summertime, they grew sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, scallions, and green beans, at a minimum.   I remember helping them sometimes, mostly with the harvesting: crouching along the rows of green beans, making sure to get all the little pods.  Or helping Granddaddy in the winter, washing his harvests of collard, mustard, and turnips greens in successive water baths in big white buckets in the carport (don’t you know, there were no “garages” back then – just carports!).   Somehow, though, I escaped most of the labor involved in their garden and simply got to enjoy the fruits: those greens, cleaned, cooked, and doused with Granddaddy’s home-grown and -made pepper vinegar; soft, cooked green beans with onions and ham hocks in the summer and crisp canned green bean salad with tangy dressing and sharp onions in the winter; steaming hot cornbread sticks – like the ones Rachael made here – slathered in Mimi’s home-made and -grown pepper jelly; Mimi’s ratatouille, surely inspired by Julia Child’s introduction of French cooking to America’s home cooks, composed of stewed eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.

More than anything, though, summer at Mimi and Granddaddy’s house meant dinners full of crisp, beautiful, home-grown cucumbers – very often, cucumbers simply peeled, sliced, and bathed in white vinegar, topped with ice cubes and chilled in the refrigerator.  Crunchy, light, tangy, and cool, biting into these helped combat the sweltering blanket of heat that covers North Florida in the summertime.

Iced cucumber salad

My one cucumber plant is producing about one or two cucumbers a day right now – that’s upwards of a dozen a week, and I don’t pick them until they’re pretty big (the ones pictured above are actually from the farmer’s market, before mine were ready to harvest – much smaller than what I’ve been picking at home).  We have a lot of cucumbers to eat!  Mimi canned many of hers, of course, making a couple of kinds of cucumber pickles, in addition to her green tomato pickles, canned green beans, jellies, relishes, and frozen home-grown fruits and veggies.  But I wondered what other fresh preparations of cucumbers she made, so I turned to the pile of hand-written recipe cards I brought home after her funeral last Christmas.  Of course, Mimi didn’t disappoint.

“Buttermilk Salad” was the answer I came away with.  I don’t remember ever eating this growing up, but that could be because I turned my nose up at it.  I thought I hated buttermilk, one of those decisions you make as a child and don’t question until you’re old enough to have forgotten why you thought you hated that thing in the first place.  I don’t think I could drink a tall glass of buttermilk with dinner, like my mom is apt to do, but sliced fresh cucumbers drenched in the creamy, tangy stuff?  I’m there.

Mimi’s Sliced Cucumber Salad with Vinegar

Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
White Vinegar, enough to cover sliced cukes
Sliced sweet white onion (preferably Vidalia)
Salt & pepper
Ice cubes

Peel and slice as many cucumbers as you’d like and place in a bowl.  Add sliced white onion, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix.  Cover with white vinegar – if you want the salad to be a little milder and less vinegary, replace some portion of the vinegar with water.  Top with ice cubes and place in refrigerator to chill before eating.  This is best made an hour or less before you plan to eat, so that the cucumbers are at their freshest.

Mimi’s Buttermilk Salad
Serves 6

3 medium cucumbers
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme (I used fresh lemon thyme)
Salt
1 quart buttermilk
Optional: thin slices of sweet white onion

Peel and slice cucumbers as finely as possible.  Put the garlic through press and add with thyme to the cucumber.  Add onion if you’re going to use it – only use a small amount and slice very thinly.  Mix thoroughly with the cold, fresh buttermilk and season to taste with salt.  Serve immediately or chill for an hour and serve.

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“Spring has sprung!”


On at least a dozen walks around our neighborhood in March and April, I hopped around, kicking up my heels and exclaiming to Dan, “Spring has sprung!”  like a huge dork.  The first day we had temperatures above 60 I was ready to pack up all my winter clothes and haul them up to the attic.  I was so ready for this winter to be over.


(more…)

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