Quick Pic: Spicy Citrusy Pickles

My sister-in-law and her boyfriend made these over the summer. I don’t know who’s idea this was, but i’m going to ask for the recipe. They tasted better than they looked. Which says a lot, because they’re beautiful. I really wish I could make my food look, and taste, half as good as theirs.

Quick Pic: Spicy Citrusy Pickles

 

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Southwestern Grits

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By popular request, here’s my recipe for Southwestern Grits. (This recipe feeds an army, better grab the “big pot.”)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 Cups of Uncooked Grits

1 Can of Chicken Broth (49.5oz)

2 Cans of Chicken Broth (8oz)

1 Can Evaporated Milk

1 Can Rotel (Drained)

1 Can Corn (Drained)

1/2 Can of Chipotles in Adobo (Minced)

1 Bell Pepper (Seeded and Chopped)

1 Medium White Onion (Chopped)

1 Poblano Pepper (Seeded and Diced)

1 tsp Kosher Salt

1 tsp Cracked Black Pepper

4 tbsp Butter (Divided)

1/2 tsp Garlic Powder

1lb Shredded Cheddar

1/2 cup Whole Milk to Thin (if needed)

Start with your pot on medium head an melt 2 tablespoons of the butter to coat the bottom. Saute the green pepprer, poblano, and onion until softened. Bring the heat to medium-high and add the rotel, corn, and chipotles in adobo. Continue to saute until fragrant (about 5 minutes.) Pour all three cans of the chicken broth into the pan and make sure to to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the evaporated milk, salt, pepper, garlic powder and the remainder of the butter and bring the pot to a boil. Once boiling, hold the pot at a boil for 5-7 minutes before adding the grits. Cook grits according to package directions. Once they have cooked completely you might need to add up to a 1/2 cup of whole milk to achieve the consistency you desire. Lastly, mix the cheddar in one palmful at a time until incorporated. Serve immediately.

iPhone Backgrounds/Old Photo’s/Memories

I took these shots a while back, and have used them from time-to-time as backgrounds on my iPhone. I figured I’d share them with y’all, just in case anyone was interested. (My personal favorite is the tomatoes!)

“Elephant Ear”

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“Pea Hulls”

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“Tomatoes”

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“Elephant Ear 2”

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“Okra”

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“Peas”

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“Flowers”

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As you can tell by my vivid descriptions, I’m not a botanist. But I hope these images are as fun for you as they were for me. I took them over 2 years ago when visiting my grandparents. All of them evoke thoughts of my childhood.

Today’s lesson is this: take pictures. Lots of them. Not just the ones of people standing in rows smiling. Sometimes we focus all on capturing those moments, and forget how much emotion is wrapped into the rudimentary items that surround us. I’ll keep these pictures forever. Not just because they are interesting lockscreen on my cell phone, but because they are a great way for me to bottle up time and keep memories alive of the place they were taken, and the times I spent there.

Alabama Caviar

Alabama Caviar

Alabama Caviar - Image Courtesy: teamsugar.com

Here’s a quick, simple, recipe for Alabama Caviar (or black-eyed pea salad if you must.) It’s full of bright, bold flavors that fit in perfectly well at a picnic or a summer covered-dish dinner. There are probably hundreds of recipes out there, but I made this one with a few special ingredients that give it a twist. It’s simple, healthy, and relatively inexpensive.

Ingredients:

4 cans Black-Eyed Peas, Drained and rinsed
1 can Whole Kernel Corn
1 pint Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 Jalapeno, Minced
3 Bell Peppers, Chopped (I use Red, Yellow, and Orange)
½ Medium Red Onion, Chopped
1 Small Handful of Cilantro Leaves, Roughly Chopped
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Minced
5 pods Mild Pickled Okra, Ringed
½ bottle Zesty Italian Dressing, Large Size (24oz)
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp Cayenne Pepper Sauce
½ tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Directions:

Prep all ingredients and mix in a large bowl. Let rest, covered, in the fridge for at least 12 hours. As with any marinated salad, chili, soup or stew, the old adage holds true: “The longer it sits, the better it gets.”

Spicier:

For a spicier dish, add 2 more Jalapenos, sub the mild pickled okra for hot, and increase the hot sauce amount to 3 tablespoons.

Serving:

Serve as a dip with corn chips or serve on toasted bread (for a southern style bruschetta.)

Pimento Cheese…?

Image Credit: "A Trip Down South"

…not “pimento cheese dip,” or “pimento cheese spread,” but “pimento cheese.” If you’re a non-southerner, and you want to ask a dyed-in-the-wool southerner what this much revered dish is, make sure you just refer to it as “pimento cheese.” “Dip,” and “spread” are only verbs to us. We find no need for an adjective to describe the proper procedure for using it. We’re quite well versed in it’s ability slather on, dip in, or dump over just about anything. We also don’t care that referring to the dish as “pimento cheese” is a complete misnomer. If you’re expecting a block of cheese filled with pepper pieces, go look for some pepper jack, you won’t find it here.

So what is this marvel of southern design? This versatile carrier in which half the things in your house would benefit from it’s unique taste? (Crackers, veggies, meats, the doorknob… whatever’s handy…)   Surely anything this good requires a full page of ingredients, hours of prep, and a lifetime of dedication to master it’s subtle nuances.

It’s sharp cheddar, mayo and jarred pimento peppers.

The base recipe is as follows:

8oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese

4oz Jarred Pimento Peppers (Drained)

1/4 Cup of Mayonnaise

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Mix all ingredients, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors meld.

Now, this may seem to be the epitome of backwoods, redneck cuisine. Especially to the untrained eye. But, believe it or not, a pimento cheese sandwich is THE thing to eat at one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. The Masters, held every year in Augusta, Georgia. Only something so special, so southern, and so tasty, can not only appeal to the masses, but can appeal to those who could afford to eat it on a golden plate with a platinum knife. From golfers, to spectators, to sponsors, everyone lines up to taste the one of the simplest staples of southern comfort food.

But, they do modify the recipe slightly.

The Masters Pimento Cheese Sandwich (Makes two sandwiches.)

4oz Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar (White or Yellow, Shredded)

3oz Jarred Pimento Peppers (Drained and Finely Chopped)

2 Tbs Mayonnaise

1/2 Tsp Hot Pepper Sauce

4 Thin Slices of Vidalia Onion

1 Cup of Watercress Sprigs (Stems Removed)

4 Slices of  White-Wheat bread.

Salt and or Pepper to taste.

Follow the base instructions for making pimento cheese (but remember to add the hot pepper sauce.) Once it has been well chilled, and the flavors have combined, spread pimento cheese evenly on bread. Top with onions and watercress sprigs.

As you can see, The Masters makes use of the base recipe and adds the flavors of red pepper, sweet onion and watercress. I would suggest that you experiment with other flavors as well. Jalapeño and garlic tend to be very popular additions in mass produced pimento cheese, and their flavors blend even better when incorporated into fresh pimento cheese.

Simplicity is the rule of the day when it comes to pimento cheese. It’s simple to make, simple to modify, and simple to serve. Therefore, I humbly suggest the next time you’re in the grocery store, bypass the Mrs. Stratton’s and try it the old fashioned way. The difference between fresh pimento cheese, and the pasturized, processed stuff that comes in a plastic tub will rock your tastebuds.

I’m pretty sure you’ll never go back.

Quick Recipes:

1. Pimento Cheeseburgers (Standard hamburger topped with pimento cheese)

2. Filled Veggies

Cream pimento cheese in food processor (add a little milk if too thick).  With a star tipped icing bag, pipe the puree into vegetables (pepper slices, tomato cups, celery ribs) Garnish with a dusting of minced parsley.

3. Southern “Canapés”

Top Ritz crackers, with thin Vidalia onion slices, cherry tomatoes (sliced into discs) and piped pimento cheese puree. Garnish with a small parsley sprig, or an olive ring.

The Times, They are a Changin’ (The Tomato Gravy Article)

Image Credit: Deepsouthdish.com

The process is inevitable. As times change, more and more of the things people once considered a staple of their culture fade into obscurity. Changing tastes, lack of ingredients, modernization of eating habits, or lack of cooking tradition all contribute to the evolution of our cuisine. Subsequently, for one reason or another, the staples of our parents tables (or our grandparents for that matter) become a distant, nostalgic, memory.

Such is the story of tomato gravy. At least, in my family.

If you ask my mother, tomato gravy was a common accompaniment to a full breakfast in her family. Ironically, however, it was not a regular accompaniment to breakfast when she cooked for me.

Why is that?

Was tomato gravy a victim of our faster paced lifestyle? Was there a taste-change, or maybe a sense of being burned out from eating it regularly as a child? I don’t know.

I do know that once in a blue moon, my Grandmother made her tomato gravy for all of us. Usually at a family function (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter etc.) as an option for those who don’t like giblet gravy (Ooh! I smell a future post! )

Ironically, the last time I had tomato gravy was two Christmases ago at my Mothers house (remember, the one who didn’t cook it?) Which begged me to ask myself a few questions.

Internal dialog:

Do you like tomato gravy?

Yes.

Is it simple to prepare?

Yes.

Is it time consuming?

No.

Are the ingredients readily available?

Yes, they’re in my pantry year round.

So why has it been two years since you’ve eaten it?

Uhh…

To make a long story short, I have no idea why I don’t cook this on a regular basis. Especially since my wife and I have started a family tradition of having a big home-cooked breakfast on Saturday mornings. Despite this, it eludes me. I never think “Oh I want some tomato gravy with my biscuits!” Even though if I was at a restaurant that had it on the menu, I’d slather it on a biscuit so fast it would make your head spin.

But, I digress.

For all of you who don’t know how to make this, here’s the base recipe my family uses. Only, to be completely honest, I’m guessing on the amounts. This is always been an “eyeballed” recipe due to the fact that it only requires knowledge of one cooking technique to make it. Namely, making a simple roux (something that I will more-than-likely touch on in a future post.)

Ingredients:

¼ cup of oil (pan drippings, butter, vegetable oil)

½ cup of flour (all purpose is fine)

2 cups of milk

1 can of diced tomatoes (28oz or less, drained but not pressed out)

Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat oil over med/low heat until it comes up to temperature. Add flour slowly, a teaspoon at a time, shaken evenly over the surface area of the pan and stirring to combine before adding more. This is the foundation of your roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it achieves a blonds color (just slightly lighter than peanut butter. Add milk and stir to combine until smooth. Add tomatoes, and cook for around 5 minutes, until gravy has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

As for the health conscious among you, I know your first thought was “I’ll use vegetable oil.” Go right ahead, you’ll make a great gravy. I would just ask, that for your own safety, you stop reading this article right here. I’m not responsible for what happens to you if you continue reading.

Now for the rest of us, the health heathens if you will, here’s how to give your tomato gravy that restaurant quality taste. You know how all those restaurant sauces have a huge depth of flavor and a texture almost impossible to recreate? That’s because they use clarified butter. Buy it in a store, or make your own by cooking down butter over low heat and skimming off the solids that will form. The result is a clear, yellow liquid with a nutty depth of flavor. Using this, or a combination of this and pan drippings/residue will take your tomato gravy to a whole new level of flavor.

Delicata Squash: A Small Winter Wonder.

Delicata Squash

Delicata Squash. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Delicata Squash also called the Peanut, Bohemian, or Sweet-Potato Squash, is a winter heirloom with a sweet, delicate and nutty flavor. Originally introduced in New York, in 1894, the squash fell into obscurity after the 1920’s and has since come back with vigor in farmers markets across the U.S. The flesh, though firm, has a flavor of a sweet potato crossed with a peanut (hence the nicknames) and cooks to a wonderful creamy consistency, with a sponge-cake like appearance. It’s notoriously thin skinned, but varietal growers, and improved storage and transporation methods have made it easier for this squash to reach many different communities outside of it’s normal range. Best of all, the skin is edible. When cooked, the skin takes on the texture of eggplant skin, and helps to hold the delicate flesh together. The squash can be steamed, or fried, but my preferred method is pan roasting. Slice the squash across the grain in 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick slices, and scoop out the seeds to form a nice donut shaped service. Toss in olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt, dried herbs (I used Herbes de Provence) and then sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Place on a parchment lined sheet pan, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-35 min, or until golden brown. The results are a salty, sweet, nutty winter delight.