Kentucky Hot Browns

Kentucky Hot Brown

Right now my Facebook feed is abuzz with all manner of cooks tortuously worrying over the proper way to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. They are debating the merits of wet brines over dry brines. Smoking versus the oven. To inject or not to inject. But I can tell you with some confidence that it just doesn’t matter because turkey tastes like nothing.

No one wants to admit this, of course. Nobody wants to spend four hours laboriously basting the bird after a three-day brine that took up every blessed inch of space in the refrigerator and then admit that their masterpiece tastes like a piece of cardboard. There’s a reason that people don’t eat turkey all year. It’s because in the depths of their souls, where only they can admit the bare truth, most people don’t like turkey.

For reasons I won’t go into here, I had to cook four turkeys in October. Four. Brined, roasted, smoked, grilled…you name it, I did it. I really, really, really don’t like turkey now. So we are not having turkey for Thanksgiving. I am doing a magnificent bone-in prime rib, a majestic cut of meat that does not require gravy to taste like anything.

However, I do like a good Kentucky Hot Brown. You take that piece of flavorless turkey and you hide it under a mountain of cheese sauce and then top it with bacon. Now there’s a meat I can stand firmly behind. Or in front of. Bacon. If you want the recipe for the highest and best use of leftover turkey, hop on over to the Char-Broil site and get the recipe.

 

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Cajun ribeye steak with creole butter

Cajun Ribeye with Creole Butter

We like things spicy at 5117. We have probably 17 bottles of different hot sauces hanging around, plus a healthy supply of sriracha, chile oil and various chile powders. So when a beautiful rib eye steak walked into my life, the hot stuff came out of the cupboard.

This recipe is mildly spicy, which is the way I like it. King Daddy is in the middle of the “hot” spectrum – he likes more heat than me but not nearly as much as Dammit Boy. Noah has a special bottle of ghost chile hot sauce that is reserved only for him because the rest of us put on nuclear waste suits just to walk near it. He is the only one, not only in the family but of anyone I know, who embraces native Thai cuisine where the heat level approaches solar proportions.

Head on over to the Char-Broil LIVE site for the recipe. If you’re too much of a weenie to do this on the grill (and, yes, I am calling you out – I grilled through the Polar Vortex last year), you can also sear the steak in a screaming hot cast iron skillet and then put it in a 400-degree oven to finish.

Cajun Steak 2

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I apologize (and a recipe for Alabama Firecrackers)

Catherine trying to determine what a gigabyte is and how to shrink it.

Catherine trying to determine what a gigabyte is and how to shrink it.

I apologize. I am truly a sad and pathetic individual because my picture thingie is broken and I haven’t been able to post the Cajun Steak with Creole Butter or the thousands of other photos that are sadly sitting in my camera phone because they will not or cannot be uploaded. I am sorry.

Due to the beautiful Sherry Dedmon, my web administrator, I partially understand that my photos are too big. I don’t understand what a gigabyte is but I have one photo that is 2.97 gigabytes. 2.97 doesn’t seem big to me, but apparently that translates into 2,971,824kb. I don’t know what a “kb” is, either. Have I ever told you I almost failed algebra in high school? A+B=C. What is “A?” I never knew. My parents had to get me a tutor. I still can’t do percentages. No, do not attempt to teach me. It will only make me cry.

So this new digital age has me a little flummoxed. What is a pixel? Apparently, they’re important, too. But Sherry will fix all this. She always has. It’s good to have a web administrator. I know she will read this because that poor woman has to roam around in my inflated, flatulent photo archive unearthing morbidly obese images. I imagine this is the kind of thing that makes web administrators snicker.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe from my sad, dysfunctional archive for Alabama Firecrackers.  Great football food. And simple to make. No gigabytes required. Just bites.

Alabama Fire Crackers

Alabama Firecrackers
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 envelope ranch dressing mix
  • 1 envelope Italian dressing mix
  • 3 tablespoons red pepper flakes (crushed)
  • 1 pound Ritz crackers
Dipping Sauce
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 package taco seasoning mix
Instructions
  1. Whisk the vegetable oil, dressing mixes and red pepper flakes in a bowl to combine thoroughly.
  2. Put the mixture in a 2-gallon plastic zipper bag. Place the crackers in the bag, seal, and turn the bag over to cover the crackers with the spice mix. Let the bag sit for about 1 hour, then turn again. Repeat several more times until the crackers are well-coated with spice mix, and allow the bag to sit refrigerated overnight. Remove crackers and serve with the sauce.

 

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Butter-roasted pecans

pecans

And I wonder why I have to keep King Daddy on a strict portion-control diet. It’s because I’m an enabler and I can’t help myself, especially when the weather turns cool. So I just got back from my beloved Publix, where I bought 23 bags of Halloween candy because it’s 50 percent off. And now I’m making these ridiculously rich roasted pecans that are drenched in butter and hot sauce. What is my issue?

I hope he doesn’t read this.

There are certain things that are required when the weather  turns cool. One is a big pot of chili. Another is that egg nog with bourbon in it that only makes an appearance in November and December. And I am compelled to make these roasted pecans. The original recipe, which I got from a distant acquaintance, called for two tablespoons of butter so naturally I add three.

How you pronounce “pecan” has a lot to say about where you’re from. Down here, it’s pronounced Pee-KAHN. But if you live in the North, many times it’s pronounced PEE-Can. When I hear someone pronounce the word as PEE-Can it grates on my nerves a little, but naturally I don’t say anything because they don’t know any better.  They’re not from around here.

So the Pee-KAHNS are cooling on the counter after which I will display them in a beautiful nut jar I got a few years ago and I will carefully monitor the speed at which the level of nuts in the jar drops.

And then I’ll make some more. Bless my heart.

 

Butter-roasted pecans
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound pecan halves
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Dash of Tabasco Sauce
  • Sea salt in a coarse grinder
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter (I do this in the microwave using a coffee cup) and add the Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Line a large rimmed cookie sheet with foil and mound the nuts in the center. Pour the butter mixture over the nuts and coat thoroughly, spreading them out into a single layer.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir to redistribute nuts and bake another 10 minutes or until nuts are a golden brown. After removing them from the oven, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and stir one more time. Let cool completely before storing them in a glass jar.

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Hot chicken salad: Everything old is new again

Hot Chicken Salad

Celebrity chefs may have signature dishes, but Southern girls have signature casseroles. Southern women will practically break down your front door to bring you a casserole. It’s a compulsion.

Entire cookbooks have been written about casseroles but that is not where you find the best recipes. Community cookbooks are what you want because every woman who contributes is bringing her A game. You might not care if you write a lousy casserole recipe for a mass-produced book, but you will be mortified if you turn in something substandard in the casserole genre to a community cookbook and your bridge group finds out.

In the casserole universe, everything old is new again and I rediscovered that this week while thumbing through a very fine community cookbook published by the Newnan Georgia Times-Herald in 1967.  There are the usual antiquated flourishes of recipes written at a time when Cool Whip, marshmallows and lime Jello were mainstays of the culinary landscape.

But right there on pages 57 and 60 – surrounded by recipes for Reception Salad (lemon Jello, crushed pineapple and cream cheese) and Seven Cup Salad (cottage cheese, fruit cocktail and miniature marshmallows) – was a “salad” that I first read about in a 2005 Paul Deen cookbook: Hot Chicken Salad.  A casserole that dates back at least 47 years that is still on my all-time greatest casserole hit list. It was so popular in 1967 there are two recipes for it in the cookbook, one of them almost identical to old Paula’s. In fact, I got to wondering if  Paula had a copy of the Favorite Recipes from Coweta County Kitchens since she’s from Georgia, too. No matter.

The thing that makes Hot Chicken Salad is the potato chips. Once you assemble the casserole, you top it with a gracious plenty of crushed potato chips. Golden Flake are the best in my opinion because there is more grease trapped in a Golden Flake potato chip than at a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

I have made this casserole mine over the years by adding rice at the bottom, more lemon juice than Paula wanted to use and a few other flourishes. One of the original version in the Newnan, Georgia, cookbook called for pickle juice and grated American cheese.

One last thing about community cookbooks. Back in the day, the authors names were sometimes included at the end of the recipes and they spoke of a time when a woman’s place was in the home and small-town addresses were easily remembered:  Mrs. A.H. Sprayberry, 4 First Street, Newnan; Mrs. J.B. Johnson, Jr., grandniece of Mrs. Parker; and Mrs. Ross Beavers, Route 1.

And when salads contained canned asparagus,maraschino cherries and tomato soup.

 

Hot Chicken Salad
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • Breast meat from one rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1 ½ cups celery, diced
  • ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • ½ teaspoon minced dried onion
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • ⅔ cup crushed potato chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together the chicken, celery, almonds, onion, lemon juice mayonnaise and cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  3. Butter a 13-by-9 inch baking dish. Put the rice in the bottom and top with the chicken filling. Liberally sprinkle the crushed potato chips over the top.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.

 

 

 

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My Russian son and borsch (no T!)

I have learned a thing or two from my 22-year-old son and I expect to learn a lot more as time goes by. The first thing is that when you throw out a leftover drink at the convenience store, always pour out the contents first. You do not want to create “trash juice” for the poor guy who empties the trash.

And it’s BORSCH without the T. Even though the entire internet spells it with a “t,” the entire internet is wrong. I know this because Noah is my Russian son and he spent five hours making BORSCH the other night. I am screaming, I know. But since becoming conversationally fluent in Russian during his college career at the University of Tennessee, my son speaks Russian around the house every day. With correct pronunciation, which is slightly irritating. Sadly for him, he speaks Russian mostly to my cat, Peanut. Peanut seems to understand.

Noah and Peanut

So Noah loves all things Russian. He loves the culture, he loves the vodka (WODKA)  and he loves the food. Particularly BORSCH. He made 10 gallons of it the other night. It only took him five hours. The recipe, by author Anya von Bremzen, is the luxury version because it contains meat. I have learned from my Russian son that there are many versions of BORSCH and they reflect the varying economic climate under which the Soviet people lived. Most of the time it sucked to be Russian during this era and much of the traditional Russian food culture went underground.

But at 5117 times are good and our BORSCH included beef brisket. I am a big beet lover as is Noah. King Daddy not so much so he reserved judgment as this soup slowly came together.

IMG_5559

I think he looks a little like an oppressed Russian dock worker here, cooking his BORSCH in a ripped t-shirt. But King Daddy and I were much the richer for the finished product. It was absolutely delicious and King Daddy had seconds. We paired it up with some terrific rye bread with Russian butter and Russian sour cream from Alexsey Market.

Noah had some WODKA with his BORSCH.

Photo by Noah Chapin Mayhew

Photo by Noah Chapin Mayhew

As I said, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. But it’s truly spectacular and on a frigid winter day when the Polar Vortex revisits Middle Tennessee, you can make it and reminisce about the bad old days in Russia and celebrate the young man in Brentwood, Tennessee, who treasures his new-found, old-school Russian heritage.

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Filed under bacon, beef, veggies

Always go to the funeral

Altar at funeral

When my father died, we took him back to his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, to be buried. As we drove out of town toward the cemetery, I noticed a man standing on the corner outside the funeral home. He had his hat over his chest and he looked mournfully at the hearse. I asked my mother if she knew who he was.

“He’s mentally a little slow and he was made fun of a lot growing up,” my mother said. “Your father was always kind to him and he’s paying his respects.”

Always go to the funeral.

No one wants to go to a funeral. Certainly not the family of the deceased who are painfully confronted with the finality of the thing. And not the mourners. But I learned this at my father’s funeral. It is more important than you may know to see that people took the time to show respect. There are other things they would rather be doing. But they put on their funeral clothes and showed up.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I went to the funeral of a good friend’s mother. She had lived a good long life but she struggled with the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s the past few years and her daughter had faithfully and lovingly cared for her. Some of us had met Barbara but I don’t think any of us were considered to be close friends. She was in her 80s and close friends are hard to come by in your 80s. And then there was that memory thing.

I looked around the sanctuary as the service began and I saw hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects. Hundreds of people on a sunny fall afternoon who would rather have been watching football, playing golf or decorating for Halloween. Hundreds of people who were slightly inconvenienced.

It’s what you do in the South. It’s what you do everywhere when overwhelming grief is visited upon those you break bread with and love. I hope the family was comforted. I hope every name written down in the condolence book gave them some small measure of our respect.

Always go to the funeral.

 

 

 

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The Big Easy

I know you want some of this - turkey from the Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer

I know you want some of this – turkey from the Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer

I have fried a turkey the traditional way once. ONCE. It was at Bunny and Paul’s house in Knoxville and here’s how it went.

I buy a turkey frying kit for about $80. I like fried turkey plus I regularly engage in pastimes that are traditionally male like competition barbecue, high heat grilling and never asking for directions. Frying turkeys falls into that category. I load the turkey fryer into the CC and head to Knoxville with King Daddy and Dammit Boy for Thanksgiving.

I buy about $40 of oil. I’m already starting to get skeptical. This turkey has already cost me more than $100. And that’s without actually buying the turkey. Plus, my mother in law is not pleased.

“Where are you going to fry the turkey?” Bunny asks skeptically.

“On the driveway,” I answer confidently.

“No, you’re not. There are a lot of children and dogs in this neighborhood. It’s a fire hazard.”

True enough. “How about the basement patio?”

“Just don’t get too close to the house. Your father in law already has a heart condition.”

So I lug the turkey frying kit and the 5 gallons of oil downstairs and set up shop. This is going to be great!

Long story short, it wasn’t. First you have to fill the giant turkey cooking vessel with water and lower the turkey in to gauge how much oil you need. If the boiling oil spills over the top as you lower the turkey, you will die. Then you have to completely dry the turkey. If you don’t, when you lower the turkey into the vessel any residual water will cause the boiling hot oil  to shoot into the air like a lunar rocket. And you will die. And then, of course, as you are frying the turkey – should you still be alive – you cannot use a digital probe thermometer to check for doneness because if you stick the probe in the boiling hot oil. Well, you know.

And then there’s the matter of cleaning up. The turkey fryer instructions say you can strain the oil and save it for another use. And I actually did that. Once. It sat in my garage for six months before I decided that it didn’t look quite right. I think I disposed of it illegally. Don’t tell.

So what I use now is the Char-Broil Big Easy TRU-Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer. Yes, I blog for them but my love affair with all things Char-Broil goes back way before the All-Star team was formed. When I wrote a cookbook about grilling, I needed a gas grill and the salesman at Lowe’s took me straight to the Char-Broil grills. I loved that first Char-Broil so much I almost moved it into the bedroom with me.

No complicated instructions - slather a turkey breast with butter mixed with Cajun seasoning, put it in the fryer basket and take it for a spin.

No complicated instructions – slather a turkey breast with butter mixed with Cajun seasoning, put it in the fryer basket and take it for a spin

So how, you may ask, can an “oil-less turkey fryer” fry a turkey? Honestly,  I don’t understand it. It’s magic. I believe. I was hooked after my first bird. I get shatteringly crispy skin, a juicy moist interior and no clean up. Actually, I do not believe the Char-Broil folks brag on this as much as they should. After the turkey’s done, just leave the heat on for about 15 minutes and it burns away any debris. And the Big Easy costs less than the old-fashioned fryer when you add in the cost of oil. With no potentially deadly results.

This 5-pound turkey breast was done in an hour and a half.

This 5-pound turkey breast was done in an hour and a half.

So now I use it for turkey, but also for pork butts, chickens, pork loins – any large cut of meat. With Thanksgiving coming up next month, you might want to think about getting a Big Easy. It also clears up oven space for some of the equally important stuff like the dressing, mac and cheese, and green bean bundles. Tell me you have green bean bundles at your house on Turkey Day. No? We’ll have to have a talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The “lady with the notebook” and burnt carrots

Burned carrots

This is a story about why it’s good to be a nerd. Why it’s an excellent idea when you’re listening to a world-famous chef give you a few tips about a new way to cook that it’s a friggin’ excellent idea to actually write the instructions down. And why taking notes may get you a shot of tequila.

My son Noah, my friend Mary Ann and I recently grazed our way through the Music City Food and Wine Festival. Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern swooned about it on his website. And, of course, we went to Chef Tim Love’s demonstration because there’s not a funnier chef who continually drops the F bomb out there. Love was demonstrating the fine art of burning food, which is not what you think. It’s more like charring one side of a vegetable while keeping the other side crisp tender. It’s a good idea, trust me.

So Mary Ann is a very analytical person and she spent every demonstration taking copious notes in a teeny, tiny notebook. And during Tim Love’s demonstration, he stopped what he was doing, looked up and said, “Who’s taking notes? There’s always one person taking friggin’ notes during a demonstration.” And, of course, Noah and I both pointed at Mary Ann and we caught Tim Love’s eye.

Lady with the notebook

“Come up here, lady with the notebook,” Love cheered. “I want you to take a shot.” And before I could even get my camera out, Mary Ann had bounded up on stage and downed a shot of tequila. And I am not kidding you – this is absolutely true. For the rest of the festival, countless people recognized Mary Ann as the Lady with the Notebook. And since Mary Ann does not usually do shots of tequila, she was slightly impaired for the next few hours. Tim Love seems impervious to the stuff. He not only drank during his own demonstration, he crashed all the other chefs’ demonstrations with a bottle of tequila. I just love that guy.

At any rate, the method for “burnt vegetables” is just this: for more tender vegetables like yellow squash or zucchini, cut them on the bias and then season them with whatever you like. Then get a skillet screaming hot and char one side only. For more firm vegetables such as carrots, roll them in a little olive oil and season them. Then put them under the broiler until one side is charred. In this case, Love used red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and honey and sprinkled them with walnuts after they came out of the broiler.

Genius and simple. He even has the burnt carrots on his menu at Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth. And how do I remember all this? The Lady with the Notebook.

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Nothing succeeds like excess

If Father Wesley Smith is at the rectory right now emptying a bottle of Tums into his gullet I would not be surprised. I believe, once again, the Women of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have overdone it. Gleefully. We don’t know any other way.

Father Wesley is our interim rector at St. Paul’s. His first Sunday was today. He preached a fantastic sermon all from memory. The choir. Oh, my Lord, the choir. We were all in tears during the offertory anthem and almost burst into applause at the end, which Episcopalians do not do. Lots of God Moments going on this morning.

Because St. Paul’s is a historic church, we don’t have room for everyone at one service so we have four. And that meant four receptions for Father Wesley. And we’re not talking punch and cookies. We don’t do punch and cookies. We do full-on, blow-out-the-windows gala receptions. At all times. Hospitality chair Leslie Fraser coordinated all of them and I do not believe there was a single box of gourmet crackers or block of cream cheese left in all of Williamson County.

So here’s a little visual tour of the astonishing precision of the Women of St. Paul’s (including honorary member son Noah) and the fortitude of poor Father Wesley, who will probably need one of those 3-day detox cleanses in the next couple of days.

Father Wesley

Here he is. Smiling like the pro priest he is at the tail end of reception number two. I felt like the stranger stalker lady asking for a photo, but sadly for him, he’ll get used to it. St. Paul’s is some of my best material.

We had relatively (to us) small receptions after the 7:30 and 8:45 services. The Mac Daddy always comes after the 11. It is where Episcopalians come into their own because it is after noon and wine is served!

Cucumber Sandwiches

First, there are multiple tea sandwiches to be prepared and plated. Noah is allowed to assist in this endeavor. He told me today that as a child he was very intimidated by this whole process, as well he should be. It is serious business.

Ellen Kirk Cheese Plate

Ellen Kirk begins meticulously laying out layers of cheese on a cheese tray. Cheese is big in the Episcopal Church. And no Kraft singles.

Julie Drink Containers

There are no cartons of orange juice or jugs of tea at a St. Paul’s reception. No, no, no. All liquids to be consumed either have to be contained in glass dispensers or wine bottles. Julie Reinhardt completely understands this. Even though they are ridiculously heavy.

Cork screwSpeaking of wine, we have our own cork screws at St. Paul’s. They get a lot of use. Trust me.

Flowers

All the flowers are personally arranged by Wanda Woolen.

Wanda

Who then has a glass of Chardonnay because, well, it’s after noon for goodness sake.

Lemon cupcakes with blackberries

Needless to say, everything was impeccable.

Mini ham biscuits with floral flourishes

Perfection. That is the bar we set for ourselves. Father Wesley will be with us until we call a new permanent rector, which could take up to two years. I hope he is up for this.

 

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