Broccoli-rice casserole

Broccoli rice cheese casserole (2)

I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to have a recipe that requires Cheez Whiz and Cream of Mushroom Soup.

I know it may surprise people outside the South – a place that prides itself on bountiful fresh produce and nose-to-tail cooking – that we also get giddy with excitement over Cheez Whiz, Cool Whip, Lit’l Smokies and Crisco. We love things in jars, tubes and tubs.

This is my mother-in-law, Bunny’s, recipe. It is politically correctly written in its original form, calling for “processed cheese spread.” But everyone knows that’s just a generic term for Cheez Whiz, of which there is only one version I’m aware of. It’s always in some strange spot in the grocery store. I think my beloved Publix had it in the pasta section, but I’ve also seen it in the bread crumb section and the refrigerator case. Since it’s one of a kind, it has no close relations with which to live except Velveeta, which is also much beloved and one of a kind.

Many people would argue that Cheez Whiz and Velveeta are the same thing. But they are not. Come on, people. One of them is solid and the other is liquid.

Dammit Boy has craved this casserole ever since Bunny presented it during a Thanksgiving long ago. It’s always the first dish to get eaten and it’s always the best leftover in the refrigerator if you’re lucky enough to snag some. I have even eaten it cold. It’s that good.

Broccoli-rice casserole
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Prep time: 
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Ingredients
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1⅓ cup cooked white rice
  • 1 8-ounce jar Cheez Whiz
  • 1 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Microwave broccoli according to the package directions.
  3. Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the onion until translucent.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the broccoli, onions and butter, rice, Cheez Whiz and cream of mushroom soup.
  5. Pour into a greased 2-quart shallow casserole.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.

 

 

 

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Butter spice cookies and the English Tea

Tea Room Resized

It is now Tuesday and I am almost recovered from the English Tea. The event itself was, of course, almost flawless. A few missteps, but nothing we couldn’t recover from. It was the last few days leading up to the tea that almost did me in. Have I mentioned previously that I am not renowned for my baking skills?

So we had a medical emergency with one of our sweets bakers. And as the food chairman, it is my responsibility to always have a Plan B and to adopt it with all due speed when necessary. And I thought I had a nifty Plan B. Did I tell you already that I’m not a very good baker?

Butter spice cookies. A Williams Sonoma recipe that came with my cookie press. I will just pop out 300 butter spice cookies shaped like Christmas trees and we’ll move along with our day.

Catherine with cookies resized

As you can see, these do NOT look like Christmas trees. Thanks goodness, I haven’t told anyone on the food committee that they’re supposed to. As Julia Child said about kitchen mistakes, “Who’s to know?” Except everyone will know now. Blabber mouth. But they’ll have 361 days to forget.

So the good news is they taste great. Uncommonly good. And when I presented them in the kitchen on the day of the tea, someone asked, “How did you get those so thin?” Who’s to know. Or, in my case, who knows?

Dessert plate tea

Butter spice cookies
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Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: About 48 cookies
 
Thin, crispy buttery cookies with warm Christmas spices.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Using a stand mixer with the flat paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer to low, add the flour mixture and continue to combine until blended well.
  4. Form the dough into 4-5 logs on waxed paper. Roll uniformly and refrigerate for one hour.
  5. Cut the logs into discs about ¼ inch thick and place on an ungreased or Silpat-lined cookie sheet two inches apart.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown with the edges of each cookie slightly browner.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.
Notes
You can also use a cookie press with these cookies if you want to openly weep when they flatten out.

 

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Sissy Eidt’s Chicken and Artichoke Casserole

Sissy Eidt Chicken and Artichoke Casserole

As most of you know by now, I am besotted with Natchez, Mississippi, and I promise I will move on to other topics after just this one last post – for now.

Sissy Eidt is a caterer in Natchez and provided my tour group with a very tasty lunch one day.

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Isn’t that pretty? I have never met Sissy but I can report that she knows her Southern food, through and through. First of all, you’ll notice that the finger sandwiches are crustless. This is key. You can always spot a Yankee finger sandwich a mile away because the crusts are still on the sandwiches, which is completely barbaric. No offense. At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the women in charge of receptions have been known to discreetly remove crusted finger sandwiches from the reception table and take a knife to them in the kitchen.

Secondly, Sissy has a cookbook/primer on the ladies of Natchez and their propensity to just take over everything (in a nice way) and run the show as it should be run. I understand this mentality completely. If I lived in Natchez I would knock down every door to join them. And listed as ingredients in her recipes, not exclusively of course, are these Southern necessities: cream cheese, frozen whipped topping, poppy seeds, Jiffy cornmeal mix and – last but certainly not least – cream of fill-in-the-blank soup.

You can not underestimate the importance of cream of fill-in-the-blank soup in the all-encompassing arena of casseroles. There are uninformed people who tend to be snobby about this. We look down on them because they are morons. They also don’t understand the intrinsic value of Crisco, Velveeta or Bourbon Slush. But I can assure you the ladies of Natchez do.

So when I got back from Natchez, I was feeling a little homesick for this boozy, eccentric and charming small town. And I made Sissy’s Chicken and Artichoke Casserole just to make myself feel a little better. You have to love a recipe with a sauce made from two types of cream of fill-in-the-blank soup and a soup can of mayonnaise.

Sissy Eidt's Chicken and Artichoke Casserole
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10-12 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 10½-ounce can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 10½-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 soup can of mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 box Wild Rice Blend (cook as directed)
  • 3½-4 pound chicken, cooked, deboned and cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • Freshly chopped parsley for garnish
Instructions
  1. Blend the soups, mayonnaise, basil, thyme, lemon juice, pepper and Worcestershire sauce together. Reserve.
  2. In a 9 by 13-inch casserole, layer the rice, chicken and artichoke hearts. Top with sauce, cover and chill overnight or 3-4 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Bake, covered, until hot and bubbly, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with cheese. Let rest a few minutes and sprinkle with parsley.
Notes
I used a rotisserie chicken for this recipe and after adding the cheese I popped the casserole under the broiler for a few minutes.

 

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Eating my way through Natchez

Peoples of the South, I am stuffed. I do not need to eat another morsel for at least three weeks. After I have my seafood gumbo tonight. Not one more crumb. Except the peanut butter pie I’m having tomorrow at Weidmanns in Meridian.

So I thought I’d just catch you up on eating my way through Natchez. Let’s start with Mammy’s Cupboard, renowned for its sandwiches on homemade bread and its pies.

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Here’s my chicken salad sandwich with vegetable beef soup and potato salad at Mammy’s. They bake the bread every morning. The locals mix the potato salad into the soup. I did not.

 

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And the coconut cream pie. Yes. That is all.

The next day we had a catered lunch at Brandon Hall, which is a magnificent antebellum home off the Natchez Parkway. Hold on to your hats.

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We had the tomato bisque soup. And the chicken salad, shrimp salad and tossed salad with blue cheese, pecans and balsamic dressing. And the croissants. And the bread pudding, lemon squares and brownie bites. I had seconds. I am ashamed.

I skipped the evening entertainment, but I had smuggled a couple of mini buttermilk biscuits and sausage patties upstairs from breakfast. They were quite delicious with imitation grape jelly. By the way, the Grand Hotel has a spectacular complementary breakfast. Some of the best grits I’ve had. If I could have figured out a way to get them upstairs in a napkin, I would have.

On to today. How about a little Brandy Milk Punch at historic Linden Hall to prime the pump?

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In a silver cup, naturally. I have never had Brandy Milk Punch, which is kind of like a boozy vanilla milkshake. I rather liked it.  I had two servings. I would have had a third but I didn’t want to trip getting on the bus.

Lunch was at Routhland, another magnificent antebellum home that is privately owned. Yes, once again we crashed somebody’s private residence for a lunch from famed Natchez caterer Sissy Eidt.

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Assorted finger sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit salad and deviled eggs with:

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Chess squares and brownies. I had seconds and bought Sissy’s book – Ladies’s Legacies in Natchez, Mississippi – later in the day just for the recipes she serves at prestigious events and parties.

So, Peoples of the South, I am finding Natchez much to my liking. The people are unfailingly hospitable, the city is utterly charming and the food is irresistable. It’s a pity we have to leave tomorrow. After the seafood gumbo.

 

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Filed under breads, breakfast, chicken, lamb, pasta, salads, seafood, sides, sweets, tea sandwiches

Jimmy the Cricket

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There is a soul to the South that is mysterious, eccentric in the best possible way and which explains why we treasure the Scott Smiths of our region who breathe special life into the sultry air and spin magic we can barely imagine.

When Scott – who is historian, gourmand, nurturer, spinner of magic – organized this trip to the Oz of the South, I clicked my heels not to go home but to follow him down the Yellow Brick Road.

Scott divides his time between Franklin and Natchez and he is devoted to preserving and celebrating the unique personality of this Mississippi River gem. Yes, I`ll get to why he is dressed up as Jimmy the Cricket in a moment.

We started the day at Frogmore Plantation, one of the largest cotton producing enterprises in the world. But did we learn about the production of cotton? Well, sort of.

We sat in a wooden, one-room church on the plantation as the baritone of an African-American slave sang of only finding joy in the painful fields by singing and prayer. We learned of a year in the life of a plantation from the slaves` perspective and ended singing Come Tell It On The Mountain. It was not a program designed by Scott but he found it and wanted us to understand at the core what it was like to endure unspeakable cruelty and triumph through spirit.

And then he took us here for lunch.

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Yes, ridiculous, completely inappropriate and eccentric. Mammy`s Cupboard. No, it is not run by black people. They are eating at the Palm. It is a former 1940s gas station turned country cooking place by a woman who knows a thing or two about pie. I don`t eat sweets. I ate a whole giant slice of coconut cream pie without regret.

The last stop of the day was at an antebellum home called Cherokee. I had tried to research it on the Internet but couldn`t find anything about it. Why? Because it`s a friggin` private home. We were, complete strangers, invited into this magnificent home to dine on herbed ham biscuits, venison sausage and smoked salmon because Scott is friends with the owners.

Jimmy the Cricket. Scott, on occasion, will dress in period clothes and lead parades, appear in productions or just generally greet people on the street. And sometimes Southerners of a particular intellect, will just get things wrong when confronted with such majesty.  A gentleman, upon observing Scott`s 19th century appearance, exclaimed, “Why, you look just like Jimmy the Cricket!” Of course, he meant Jiminy Cricket, but it makes no never mind.

We have two more days in this almost mythical place and I can`t wait to see what magic Scott spins. Oz. The Wizard. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain? No, no. Pay particular attention to the man behind the curtain.

 

 

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Magic time

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After a 10-hour bus ride that was as much fun as 10 hours on a bus can be, we`re finally in Natchez and I can already say it was worth it. Here`s my view from the hotel room looking out at the Mississippi River with Christmas decorations in the foreground right out of Steel Magnolias.

We went directly from the bus to the loveliest dinner at Magnolia Hall, a beautful antebellum home curated by the Natchez Garden Club. They served cocktails, too. I like this place.

The garden clubs of Natchez wield considerable power in this town. They basically saved many 0f the historic homes here after the city fell on hard times. There are two of them and they are somewhat at war with each other I am told, but collectively speaking, women rule this town.

Tomorrow we are touring Frogmore Plantation, lunching at the wildly inapporpriate Mammy`s Cupboard, touring Stanton Hall and having cocktails at another antebellum home. Scott Smith, our tour guide and beloved friend, told us many of these grand homes are still in the hands of descendents of the original owners.

It`s a place a little lost in time, which I find utterly charming. And Scott also told us that when Natchez natives have a little too much fun partying, they go to New Orleans to recuperate. As I said, I like this place.

 

 

 

 

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On my way to Natchez

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I am tremendously excited to have acquired a portable keyboard for my iPad Mini so I can blog all the way to Natchez tomorrow. My fingers are far too fat for this liliapution keyboard, but it will provide endless hours of fun as our corpulent tour bus lumbers towards Natchez with a stop in Tuscaloosa for smoked chicken and white barbecue sauce at the Cypress Inn.

A bunch of us Episcopalians are touring historic sites, eating every two hours whether we need to or not and drinking, maybe even on the bus. That is why we have a bus.

So it is a long trip tomorrow – about nine hours – and you’ll hear from me along the way. Until then, some fun facts about Natchez.

  • The first plantations and settlements in Natchez were French after they founded a fort in the territory in 1716.
  • Natchez is the starting point of the Natchez Trace, which ends in Nashville. Traders would float their goods down the Mississippi to Natchez, sell them and their boats as lumber and make their back to Nashville by land on the Trace.
  • Prior to the Civil War, Natchez has more millionaires per capita than any city in the United States.
  • Natchez has more antebellum homes than anywhere else in the U.S.

Of course, I will be blogging mostly about food as I have already mapped out my eating itinerary, down to my first order at the Cypress Inn tomorrow. Doesn’t everyone study menus online before they travel?

And I’m proud to report that it only took me four hours to write a 20-minute post on the iPad. Baby steps.

 

 

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Prime Rib with Fennel Coriander Rub

prime rib

As Thanksgiving approached, King Daddy and Dammit Boy become more and more agitated at the thought that for the fifth time in a month and a half I would force them to eat turkey. I am a traditionalist, but I am not cruel. Even though I had already bought the cranberry relish that only I eat because the boys hate it and the turkey base for the gravy from Williams-Sonoma (truly outstanding and the only thing I can afford there), I was ready to retire Tom Turkey for the year. Maybe for a lifetime.

So we had prime rib for Thanksgiving. It was intimidating. When I picked up my two-bone prime rib from the butcher on Wednesday I pretended to be nonchalant as I looked at the $85 price tag. That’s about 25 senior breakfasts at my beloved Krystal. And I thought: What if I screw this up?

But this is what I discovered. Making a prime rib is way easier than cooking a turkey. Zero effort. I made my own rub, but I could just as easily have thrown some Montreal Steak Seasoning on it. Then you just stick it in the oven with a digital thermometer and take it out when the internal temperature is 115 degrees. That was it. When I carved it, Mark had a moment. An actual moment.

So here’s the funny thing about this dinner. I was going to make Julia Child’s scalloped potatoes to go with since a regal piece of meat requires a regal accompaniment. But I learned something about King Daddy that I had not known in our almost 25 years of marriage. He has a thing for boxed scalloped potatoes, much as I have a thing for the blue box Kraft mac and cheese. So with our $85 prime rib, we had $1.79 scalloped potatoes. And it was a perfect match.

 

Prime Rib with Fennel Coriander Rub
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Serves: 4 servings
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup fennel seeds, ground to a powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup New Mexico chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon dried orange peel, minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 5-6 pound prime rib
Instructions
  1. Combine all spices and add the olive oil. Mix until a paste forms.
  2. Rub the paste generously on the prime rib.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put the prime rib on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast, uncovered, 20 minutes per pound for medium rare.

 

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Cookbook emergency

It’s funny how relationships work. Back a few years ago, I was…ahem…between jobs and I e-mailed an old colleague about possible recipe editing because she then worked for a cookbook company. One thing led to another and I ended up spending three years writing books for the company.

That same friend is now the project manager for an upcoming Southern cookbook for a prestigious publisher and I got an e-mail from her the other day. It was titled “cookbook emergency.”  I like emergencies. I do some of my finest work in an atmosphere of panic and angst.

Seems the copy editor for the book had a laundry list of recipes about to be published and they just weren’t sure they would work. Right up my alley. I can read a recipe and immediately tell you if it won’t work and why. I can’t do percentages or explain why a fax machine operates, but I can do that.

And so for the first time in my life I became an official recipe tester for a major cookbook. I got pretty excited about that. Perhaps too excited. I volunteered and my friend shot back several recipes. Two I tested and one I knew wouldn’t work going in. Here’s what happened.

First recipe: Cuban Pork Roast with Chimichurri “Barbecue” Sauce

Warning signs:

1. It called for a 20-pound pork shoulder or butt, skin on. If there is such a thing as a 20-pound pork shoulder you can commonly find at a grocery store, I would like to see it. And a shoulder does have skin; a butt does not. Warning, warning, Will Robinson.

2. It called for a marinade but the directions didn’t call for actually marinating the meat. They called for just pouring it over this flatulent piece of pork and sticking it in the oven. No, no, no. It would just slide off the pork and burn in the bottom of the pan.

3. It called for a chimichurri with “2-3 cups of olive oil.” Which is it? And there was nothing in the ingredient list that even remotely suggested a barbecue sauce.

This is the one I totally passed on.

Second recipe: Whole Fresh Ham with Cracklings

Warning sign:

1. It called for 1 (15- to 20-pound) fresh uncured pork leg. Seriously? What home cook could fit a 20-pound pig leg in their oven? I went to my beloved Publix to see a whole pork leg. They had to bring one out of the back of the meat department. Not much call for these and I see why. It was the size of New Jersey.

I committed to this one and took 7 pounds of uncured pork leg home with me. It looked like a volleyball. I faithfully followed the instructions using all 34 ingredients (including 4 prunes for the sauce – what impact could 4 prunes possibly have on a 20-pound pig leg?). It just sucked. The meat was dry as a desert and the “paste” made from 16 of the ingredients from that torturous list slid off that huge haunch of ham like clothes from a stripper. King Daddy gamely pronounced the pork “edible” and promised to eat every last scrap. After five days sitting lonely and inglorious in the refrigerator, I crammed it all down the disposal. A pig gave his life for this.

Pretty on the outside; ugly on the inside

Pretty on the outside; ugly on the inside

On the bright side. On the bright side.

Third recipe: Browned butter pecan pie

Huge hit. Easy to make with very few ingredients. I can’t give you the recipe because the book’s not published yet, but let’s just say the browned butter mentioned in the title is the key.

Winner winner, chicken dinner

Winner winner, pecan pie dinner

Here’s my rule on cookbooks. I know everything in a cookbook isn’t going to be a game changer. What are the odds? If I can get one good recipe out of a cookbook that I make over and over, I consider it a victory. Browned butter pecan pie. Victory.

 

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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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