Quick Pic: Pan-Seared Salmon

Stopped by my in-laws to see my son on the way to work (I’m a day sleeper and they were babysitting) and my Mother-in-law was pan searing salmon for dinner. I realize salmon isn’t exactly “southern,” but the results were too pretty to not shoot and post.

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I can confirm that they tasted as good as they look (she was gracious enough to send me off with a plate.

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On the Road: Woody’s Southland Restaurant

Woody’s Southland has been a staple of my family for three (now four) generations. First opened in 1947, the restaurant has changed locations, owners, and menu’s multiple times. But it’s current iteration, opened in 1989 has been one of my personal favorite haunts for nearly all of my life. For the uninitiated, I suggest ordering a hamburger steak and cheese stuffed potato (Woody’s signature dish.) Also, don’t miss out on their famous steak sauce (a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce) as well as their salad bar, complete with a basketball goal sized wheel of cheddar for customers to slice cheese off of at will.

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Woody’s Signature Sauce

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Hamburger Steak and Cheese Stuffed Potato

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Cheesy Potato Awesomness

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Steak and Sauce

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Generation #4 Sizing Up the Competition

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Success!

Woody’s Southland Restaurant

5388 Skyland Boulevard East

Cottondale, Alabama 35453

Phone: 205-556-3070

Low Country Boil

 

 

The Boil Plate

Typical Boil Plate

It’s that time of year again. The time when the glitz and glamor of the holidays has finally subsided. No longer do we crave chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or dream of a fat elf wiggling down our collective chimneys. Gone are the heartwarming thoughts of snow covered pine trees, or being bundled up to watch New Years Eve fireworks. The doldrums of Old Man Winter’s season has finally arrived.
The cold weather that bites at us on an almost daily basis (this is the south, after all) is now more an annoyance, than something to be looked at with reverie. We have no purpose for this cold now, no Thanksgiving to look forward to. No Christmastime cheer to lighten our hearts when facing temperatures that plummet. No reason to be bundled up all “cozy and warm” with good cheer to spend toward our fellow man.
But, we do have one thing.

Now every good southerner, boy and girl, young and old, tall and small, lie down at night and dream of one thing. The thing that gets us through these cold days better than any. The yearning and pleading that starts it’s prophetic rise on January 2nd, and burns within us like a fire that cannot be quenched. United in purpose, we suffer on though these cold months, with only one goal in mind:

 

We’re ready to go to the BEACH!
We’re ready to fry our bodies on the UV drenched, man made, sugar-white sand beaches of the southern coast! We’re ready to swim in jellyfish infested waters! We’re ready to visit tourist trap venues, and play putt-putt golf! We’re ready to drink canned beer (glass bottles are prohibited, you know!) We’re ready to eat over priced, over fried, previously frozen fish, all in the name of “supporting the local economy!”

Well, everything but that last part. I personally can’t stand some of the food found on the southern coastline. Mostly because the vast majority of the seafood in your “Admiral’s Basket” was “fresh caught from the freezer section THIS VERY MORNING!” Not to mention the cocktail sauce came in a five gallon bucket from Kraft Foods!

“So,” you must be saying to yourself, “Mr. Holier-Than-Thou blogger, what do YOU like to eat at the beach? What Suits YOUR fancy?”

I prefer my seafood boiled. More specifically, I like Low-Country Boils (as if you already haven’t figured that out, by now).

And I especially like having them now, when the weather is cold (makes me think of warmer climes, you know?)

The perfect one-pot-wonder that is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. Make it outdoors with a giant pot and a propane fish cooker, or make it indoors in a boiler with a stove top. Feed 5 or 50 make it mild, medium, hot, nuclear, melt-my-face-off or whatever suits you.

Now, to the uninitiated, cooking a boil may seem like a huge undertaking, that takes skill, patience, and years of practice. In truth, all it takes is know how to chunk things in a pot, at the right time, without boiling it over. (And a little common sense for good measure.)

 

Low Country Boil

*The traditional recipe calls for The pre-boil ingredients, potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp. Please note that ingredients for this dish are not based on certain amounts. However they are based on how much you and your guests can eat. I usually account for two potatoes, one piece of corn, one piece of sausage, and 1/4 pound of shrimp per serving.

The following table represents ingredient ideas as well as approximate cooking times.

Pre-Boil Dry Crab Boil (2 tsp/liter)Liquid Crab Boil (1 tsp/liter)

Crab Boil-In-Bag (2 tbsp/liter)

Lemon Wedges (1 wedge/liter)

Fill pot to just over 1/2, add spices and bring to boil. I split the boil-in-bag open, and let the spices in it boil out in the open. Once cooked, the seeds and spices coat the seafood, and make a tasty addition to the finished product. Be aware that liquid and dry crab boil is very potent, and quite spicy. If some people would like a spicier boil, see my note below. Make sure to account for the amount of total ingredients you’ll be placing in the pot. Remember, it’s much easier to add water (if there’s too little,) than take away (if there’s too much)
Stage 1 Red Potatoes (Of similar size) Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 20 minutes (small potatoes) or 30 minutes (larger potatoes), or until potatoes are almost fork tender.
Stage 2 Cased Sausage (cut into links)

Corn-on-the-Cob (small cobs)

Mushrooms

Onions (pearl, or wedged)

Whole Garlic Cloves (peeled)

Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stage 3 Shrimp

Crawfish (burped)

Crab

Mussels

Clams (bearded)

Small Whole Fish (prepared)

Add to boiling water. Cook based on cooking time for individual item.Shrimp: 5 min

Crawfish: 5min

Crab: 10-15min

Mussels: 5-7min

Clams: 6-8 min

All said, you want your boil to cook for between 35 & 45 minutes based on the thickness of your potatoes, and the stage three items you want to add. (Planning ahead, and doing a little cooking time math sheet will go a long way in having a successful boil.

One the boil is over, allow the items to cool in the pot for at least 10 minutes. This is called “resting” and allows the stage three items a chance to absorb some of the seasonings that are floating on the top of your boil water. This is also the time to have a side pot ready for those who would like spicier seafood.

To make a side pot, pre-boil a mix of liquid and dry crab boil in a smaller side pot, and use double the standard proportions (or more if you know what you’re doing.) Then, once the boil is finished, transfer the seafood that needs to be spicier to this pot, and allow it to rest in it. The heat will ramp up significantly, based on the amount of seasoning you use.

Finished Boil

The Finished "Stove Top Boil"

Serve with my “Better than the Bottled Crap” Cocktail Sauce:

3/4 cup Ketchup (more/less for spicier/milder sauce)
2 tbsp Prepared Horseradish
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
1.5 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1/2 of a medium lemon

Mix, chill and serve.

As a final note, The traditional way to serve (when outdoors) is to drain the pot, spread out old newspapers on a table, and dump the whole lot in the middle. However, I find that straining ladles, and paper plates work just fine. Just, omit the plastic ware. You are supposed to be on the beach, remember? Just eat with your hands, and dream of July.

Hoop Cheese

Image Credit: jacksonbros.com

Never heard of hoop cheese? Probably because it’s rarely available anymore. It’s a traditional farmers cheese, made by draining the whey from a cottage cheese then placing the curd into a round mold (the hoop) and pressing it out. Some are aged slightly to increase firmness, but the vast majority of hoop cheese produced is semi-soft. At one time, hoop cheese was a staple of southern cooking, and more widely available than any other type of cheese. Now, you’ll be lucky to find a wedge or two in you local supermarket. For two distinct reasons;

1. It’s hard to standardize the manufacturing process, and it spoils quickly.

2. It’s not the most flavorful cheese in the world (especially by today’s standards.)

Both of there reasons, in the minds of cheese producers, make it a product that’s not worth their time and effort.

But, for me to be writing this article, there must be some kind of redeeming factor. Right?

Of course there is!

Actually, not only is there redemption for this cheese, there’s also an explanation as to why it was NEVER mass produced, even in it’s hey-day in the deep south. Ask any southerner that was alive before 1960 about hoop cheese, and they’ll probably tell you that they bought it at a market, cut fresh off the wheel. Nine times out of ten, it was actually cut and weighed on a machine that was made specifically for store’s use.

Not only did the store cut it off the wheel, they probably made the cheese in the back-of-the-house. At the very least, someone in the nearby community made it, and sold it to the store for immediate sale. Because the cheese is a fresh farmer’s cheese, and spoils much quicker than the aged cheeses that the store could outsource and keep on hand. It will only keep for about a week or two after it’s been made, and cutting off of the wheel increases the surface area which shortens the spoilage time.  So it was in the best interest of the store to be able to get in in the door, and out the door, as quickly as possible with as few cuts as possible. I’ve included a picture of a hoop cheese cutter/scale machine below.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Now, on to taste.

The thing that makes hoop cheese stand out among all the other cheeses in your dairy case, it it’s ability to impart a distinct creaminess to cheese based dishes, while keeping it’s flavor profile limited. I like to use it in combination with a sharp cheddar to offset the bite, and keep my dishes from becoming blocky or sticky. Not to mention, because it has a neutral flavor, it’s WONDERFUL when paired with fruits. It makes the sweet taste of strawberries or melons sing out while giving a firm creamy texture to the palette.

One of my favorite dishes to cook with hoop cheese, is  “Apple Cheese.” A casserole that normally pairs cheddar and apples, I add a bit of hoop cheese to give it a creamy texture:

Ingredients:

9 apples (peeled and sliced thin)

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

10 ounces of cheddar cheese. (grated)

3-5 ounces of hoop cheese (grated)

1 sleeve of Ritz crackers (crumbled)

1/2 cup of melted butter

Simmer apples in boiling water until tender. Drain and place a layer in a buttered casserole. Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over apples. Repeat layering until all ingredients are used. Bake at 350 degrees, 35-45 minutes.

So what’s your best bet for finding hoop cheese?

Occasionally you’ll find it in a local supermarket. But, your best bet will be to find a farmers market. You might be surprised to find that in addition to the vegetables and preserves that frequent the market, local artisan cheese makers often make an appearance too.

Finally, if you’re feeling like worming your way into nouveau southern cuisine in your own home and want an easy recipe, try substituting the mozzarella in an insalata caprese with hoop cheese. Throw in a few good acidic heirloom tomatoes while you’re at it (I prefer a purple heirloom with a nice smoky bite.)