Smoked bologna and red cabbage – American Grilled

Competitors This is what four schmoes who said “what the hell” when invited to compete on the Travel Channel’s American Grilled look like after the first 20-minute challenge. Not a pretty sight.

It was 9 a.m. in the morning, our hands were shaking so badly we couldn’t write down the ingredients of our dishes and we’d just invited ourselves to steal some of the beer meant for the contest for a little liquid courage. The producers appeared not to notice that “the talent” was drinking. Without regret.

Despite the seven-page confidentiality agreement, I can now talk just a little about the first ingredients since two commercials are out that reveal them.

I had compiled a long list of traditional Southern ingredients that might be in the competition and I can honestly say that smoked bologna and red cabbage weren’t on there. This despite the fact that I’ve eaten smoked or fried bologna sandwiches all my life and I buy red cabbage at the farmer’s market almost every week. You do not understand the level of fear that surfaces when you are confronted with a 5-pound chub of bologna.

My episode with my barbecue band of brothers – Kevin Jacques, Clint Cantwell and Blake Carson – airs next Wednesday on the Travel Channel. I believe my 5-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, will be watching her Nana compete. I hope I didn’t drop the F-bomb.

 

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Squash casserole (don’t hate me)

Too much squashWe are a little dim in the South. You know that old saying from Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  We do that every year. We plant squash.

We have been doing this for hundreds of years. As I said, we’re a little slow down here. In late April, it seems like a good idea. One plant. A few pounds of yellow squash, just for a squash casserole. Let me just say that anything, even one plant, that produces a vine is trouble. Here’s how the season goes.

April: Ah, spring. Time to get our hands dirty and grow our own vegetables. I will put the squash plant off to the corner of the garden so as to minimize its naturally invasive  nature.

May: The tomato plants next door to the squash plant become visibly upset as the squash plant has now turned into ground cover and is creeping slowly but confidently straight for them.

June: I move the tomato plants to the other side of the garden. It is my only hope of a tomato sandwich as the squash vine has now encircled them and is heading toward the peppers.

July: Well, I don’t really like peppers anyway. They have succumbed to the squash vine, which is now approximately the size of Delaware.

August: The squash are ready to harvest – all 10 acres of them. That is a substantial accomplishment considering I have a 10-by-12 foot garden. I make my squash casserole in a 9-by-9 inch pan. I need approximately six squash for this. That leaves me 857 squash to creatively give away. It starts with subtle subterfuge. I tell the neighbors, “I have a little extra produce from the garden – would you like some?” They know this is code for she’s going to try to force 10 grocery bags of squash on us. They do not make eye contact and politely refuse.

Church. I will take the squash to church. It will only taken seven trips.  If I go after dark, leave it on the steps of the parish hall and run quickly away no one will be the wiser. NO! God will know what I’ve done and who knows if that’s one of those things that’s a deal breaker in the afterlife. Squash dumper. Murderer. Rapist. It may be all the same to Him.

As I said, we are a little slow down here. This sad story repeats itself each and every year and it’s multiplied by the fact that we are all growing squash like it’s our birthright as Southerners.

Squash CasseroleSo here is my squash casserole. There are two schools of squash casserole makers – those who prefer the squash chunky and those who like it as a more homogenous part of the casserole. I am in the latter camp  so I grate my squash. There is also a divide between grated Cheddar cheese and Velveeta. I think you know where I stand on that.

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Squash casserole
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Serves: 4
 

Summer on a plate -squash casserole made with Velveeta and a buttery cracker topping (euphemism for Ritz Crackers).
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups seeded grated crookneck squash
  • ½ medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces Velveeta, cubed
  • 24 Ritz crackers, crushed and divided
  • 1 egg, beaten

Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the squash and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until the squash begins to brown.
  2. Put the squash and onions into a bowl and add the Velveeta cubes. Then add ⅔ of the cracker crumbs and the egg. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Put squash mixture into a casserole dish, sprinkle with remaining cracker crumbs, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

 

 

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Grilled Filipino adobo chicken wings

Filipino Adobo Chicken Wings 1My beloved Tennessee Volunteers will take the field once again a week from today. We are going to battle Utah State and I believe we will prevail. It’s been a tough few years to be a UT fan. I will not disparage the two worst ever in the world coaches who got us into this pickle, but I’m counting on Butch Jones to get us out of it.

King Daddy and I always watch the games in separate rooms. I cannot stand the yelling. When Noah was little he actively became afraid of football because of the screaming at the screen. Normally, King Daddy is a very composed individual, but not on UT game days. He watches in the den and I watch in our bedroom and when he hollers at the TV I can still hear him. Chardonnay helps. With both the yelling and, in the past few years, the games.

But I always do football food in the hoped-for spirit of victory. This has backfired on me more than once since the more the game deteriorates so does King Daddy’s appetite. One game last year, I couldn’t even get him to try the hot Rotel, Velveeta and Tennessee Pride Sausage dip. The man loves his hot cheese and sausage dip (he can take or leave the Rotel since tomatoes are a vegetable – actually a fruit, but that’s another discussion).

By the way, the first game of the year is on a Sunday. I take that as a sign of divine intervention because we’re going to need a lot of that this year. I will be making Char-Broil’s Filipino Adobo Chicken Wings. You will be alarmed when you see what they’re marinated in, but I guarantee they will cure even the most forlorn UT fan. The recipe is over on the Char-Broil LIVE site. Go on. Get on over there and you can thank me later.

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Summer on a plate: crowder peas, fried okra and cornbread

Crowder Peas, Fried Okra and Cornbread

I wasn’t born in the South, but I got here as quick as I could. When the dinner bell rang at our house in suburban Chicago (yes, we really had one to call my sister and me in from playing – oh the good old, carefree, no-worry days), it was usually to a meal of soggy boiled yellow corn, canned asparagus and dry cube steak. As many of you know, my mother hated to cook.

I did not realize until I got to the South that summertime was abundant with farm-fresh vegetables. I didn’t know there were seasons to take into consideration. I never felt that sense of gustatory anticipation when fresh crowder peas and vibrant okra hit the farmer’s market. As I said, I got here as quick as I could.

We often have summer on a plate at 5117. King Daddy loves his meat, but he seems to be satisfied with a big pot of crowder peas (kind of like black-eyed peas but not) laced with some ham hock meat if you can find hocks and cubes of city ham if you can’t. Crowder peas are always served with Duke’s mayonnaise because that’s the way Granddaddy liked them and we always, in every way, deferred to his superior judgment.

IMG_5150Cornbread must be done in a screaming hot cast iron skillet with a precious plenty of Crisco melted into it and it cannot be sweet cornbread. I use the recipe on the back of the Martha White cornmeal container. The most important thing is to heat the cast iron skillet with the Crisco in the oven for 15 minutes or so. When you pour the batter into the skillet, it must sizzle violently. That makes the crispy crust prized by Southern cooks. I am teaching Noah how to do this. I did not have a Southern great grandmother so I have borrowed Mark’s and made her my own.

And fried okra must be done in the method King Daddy learned from his mother’s mother’s mother, Granny Belle. It is a simple country recipe but it yields superior okra with a crackling crisp crust and tender green interior. No slime. Mark is teaching Noah the method, as well. I am proud to say the line of Northern aggression stops here because my son is Southern, through and through. He knows that canned asparagus is never a good idea, that corn must be white Silver Queen never yellow, and that a ham hock trumps cube steak every day of the week. Unless it’s country fried steak with cream gravy. But that’s a lesson for another day.

Okra

Fried okra
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Serves: 4
 

Ingredients
  • 1 pound fresh okra, tips and stems removed and cut into ½ inch slices
  • Whole milk
  • Cornmeal
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
  1. Put the okra into a medium bowl and cover it with milk. Let the okra soak for about 15 minutes. Drain and add enough cornmeal to coat each piece, tossing in the bowl so all areas of the okra are covered with cornmeal.
  2. Heat about ½ inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan or other heavy skillet. When the oil bubbles around the end of a wooden spoon resting on the bottom of the pan, the oil is hot enough to fry.
  3. Add the okra to the pan carefully (the oil will boil fiercely in the beginning) and fry until a medium golden brown. Drain on a plate covered in paper towels and salt to taste immediately while the okra is still hot.

 

 

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Tammy’s best dessert

Tammy, my daughter in law, won the award for “Best Dessert” at the Mayhew/Harbin/Mayhew family reunion this past week. This may come as a shock to her because Tammy does not cook, at least in the conventional sense. Let’s just say boxes are her friends, her happy and comfortable place. That is why she’s in charge of “snack day” at the cabin, a day that has become one of our favorites. It’s so good to be bad and we’re so bad on snack day. The line up this trip included pigs in a blanket, pretzel dogs, fried macaroni and cheese bites, Bagel Bites, taquitos with sour cream and salsa, stuffed potato skins, Southwestern wontons and cream cheese and bacon bites coated with tortilla chips.

But this dessert I’m about to tell you about is not out of a box. Well, it kind of is. It’s out of a plastic sleeve, a container and a bottle. But it’s a genius idea and I’m stealing it from here on out.

Cookie DessertYes, it’s a cookie, ice cream and hot fudge sauce sort of mini sundae. A warm cookie straight from the oven. Granted, it’s a packaged cookie dough cookie, but who cares? It’s warm out of the oven. In this case, a chocolate chip cookie, topped with vanilla ice cream and microwaved hot fudge sauce. And you cannot feel guilty eating it because it’s an individual dessert. That means you’re supposed to eat the whole thing without consequences. Served on a paper plate for easy disposal of the evidence.

So now, of course, I’m thinking of other combinations: peanut butter cookies with butter pecan ice cream and caramel sauce, chocolate chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce and sugar cookies with strawberry ice cream and strawberry sauce.

Yes, I know. I am, as usual, over thinking this. Just shut up and eat the dessert. It’s a warm cookie.

 

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Ham dip and the Princess

 

Noah and Sydney ham dip

The Princess is in the house and the first order of the day is ham dip. We are at our beloved Oak Haven Resort for the latest family reunion and after the luggage is deposited and the wine is cooling, ham dip must be created. It is the glue that holds this family together. We will make multiple batches over the far too few days we are here and it is now tying generation to generation.

It is a simple concoction from my mother in law, Bunny – Underwood Deviled Ham (I know of no other kind) and sour cream. Served with Fritos Scoops. Bunny taught me. I taught my son, Noah. And now, Noah is teaching my granddaughter, Sydney. She is 5. We call her the Princess because that’s what she is. Truly. She wears a tiara. And she’s a generous girl – she shares it with whoever is within tiara range. Gender is not an issue.

Noah crownedNoah and Sydney

Ham dip is the catalyst for a week of excess. It is a miracle we have not all been admitted to the cardiac care unit of the Sevierville City Hospital. This is literally the snack list for the week: deep fried macaroni, taquitos, steak bites, pigs in a blanket (both kinds – puff pastry and pretzel dough), Lipton’s onion dip with bacon-flavored Pringles, Doritos with that magic cheese dust, triple chocolate chip cookies, apple fritters, molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and both chocolate and caramel sauce, a 4-pound jar of Jelly Bellies (49 flavors!) and an energy blend of edamame, cranberries, almonds and sunflower seeds strictly for health reasons.

If you cannot smile broadly and swallow a laugh as you dig into the onion dip and bacon potato chips while preparing for an excursion to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Aquarium in Gatlinburg, you are not our kind of people.

So Tammy, mother to the Princess, inspired snack week by the virtue of the fact that when she married our beloved Josh she did not cook. Snacks she could do and she has taken this genre to a high level of art. But I believe Bunny and I have rubbed off on her over the years. A few weeks before the reunion, she asked me if I could teach her how to grill a steak. Wow, that’s a single source of food that requires heat not set to 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Hell, yes.

So, here’s the lesson and your tip for the day. Pick a steak. I like flat iron. Hot and fast on the grill. Salt and pepper or your favorite rub. Put it on the steak. Spray oil. Spray one side. Throw the spray side on the grill. Hear that immediate sizzle sound. That’s what you want. Grill it until you can peek and see nice grill marks. Don’t mess with it too much. Spray the top side and flip. USE AN INSTANT READ THERMOMETER. Sorry to yell, but if you’re an amateur griller you need to invest in one of these. 130 degrees internal temperature for medium rare. Pull it off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes under a tent foil. That’s it.

Tamy grills

There’s my girl. Checking her steaks with an instant read thermometer. Notice King Daddy and the Princess in the background. They are waiting for this:

Sriracha-marinated flank steak

Done deal. From ham dip to perfectly cooked steak. We’ve got it covered. And it’s just Day 3. By the way, the super secret recipe for ham dip is two large cans of Underwood Deviled Ham to 8 ounces of sour cream. Serve with Fritos Scoops. It looks like dog food but you will eat every last scrap. You’re welcome.

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The last good fight

This one isn’t about food. It’s about the last good fight in the newspaper industry. I spent 30 years in it so I have some skin in the game.

The Tennessean announced this week that it’s blowing up what’s left of its newsroom. Everyone has to reapply for their jobs and there are fewer of them. Musical chairs. When I walked those halls, there were 196 full-time jobs. Now there are 76.

Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in the world. That sounded pretty good a few years back. Now, not so good. Chain of fools.

The new order at The Tennessean will be bottom up. Reporters will rule the roost, according to the current but probably not future editor whose name escapes me now. They’ll use scientific data to discern what readers want. I don’t know how that works, but I’m ready to give it a go. The thing about the newspaper business is it’s totally intuitive and completely unscientific. The best newspapers create an agenda and then bring readers along for the ride. This newspaper, it appears, will make sure Fred in East Nashville and Sadie in Belle Meade get a vote at the table. If they know how to use those electronic buttons to register their opinion. It will get confusing. But let’s reserve judgment.

I said this post is not about food, but it occurs to me that it’s exactly like food. Food represents place. It is a reflection of what is grown, what is cultivated and eaten in a particular region of the country. Newspapers are – or should be – the same. Maybe the new order at The Tennessean is trying to restore that sense of place. I doubt it because they’ve spent a lot of time creating stupid names for new jobs like consumer experience director. And there aren’t readers anymore. Now there’s an audience. Sound of one hand clapping.

So the naysayers – cheap talk from the bleacher seats – are decrying this “new” approach to solving a continuing problem. It’s not new, of course. It’s just repackaged. Just as there are no new recipes, there are no new ways to run a newsroom. Whatever they’re calling this iteration in 2014 is the same as News 2000, which attempted to give readers what they wanted through what was then the best scientific research 14 years ago. But mindless criticism from the sidelines is cheap. Everyone who loves newspapers should want this to work.

I say let’s just let ‘er rip. What the hell. Let the inmates run the asylum. Sure, there will be some misspelled words and odd turns of phrase but who cares? Everyone’s done with the idea of just hanging on to a job. Maybe that will free them to get energized, afflict the comfortable and make that barrel of ink count for something again. Let’s go down in a blaze of glory.

But I would say this. Let’s cultivate what was always the strength of newspapers. While you’re creating a new order, give a nod and a wink to what really made newspapers great.  Throw out the corporate white noise chatter and bring back the oddballs, the misfits and the eccentrics who made newspapers interesting. What I don’t hear in all this reorganizing bullshit, is that you – Mr. or Ms. Tennessean – are going to give them hell. Balls to the walls. Full steam ahead. It’s your last, great gasp so use it all up, make it all count and at the end of the day you can at least say you gave it all you had.

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Roasted red pepper spread

We had a little bit of a dilemma last week when we started planning the reception for our departing youth minister. He and his wife are vegans. This does not compute to the Women of St. Paul’s.

I sent out a plea for help with the food and got only three responses back. I knew why. The women were collectively scratching their heads to figure out a reception food offering that did not contain mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese. Whenever St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – or any other church in the South for that matter – throws a shindig the supply of cream cheese runs dangerously low in the region. And mayonnaise? We practically drink the stuff for breakfast.

A few brave souls came forward at first. One offered to make vegan banana bread, which she had never baked. Another said she’s attempt vegan chocolate brownie bites. And I searched the internet for anything that wasn’t hummus. I can imagine that vegans begin to loathe the sight of hummus at some point.

When I pointed out to the ladies that approximately 2 percent of the guests would be vegans – which left 98 percent that would be alarmed without cream cheese, mayonnaise or sour cream – the food came pouring in. Collective sigh of relief heard – cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, cream cheese and olive sandwiches, cream cheese and tomato sandwiches. Chess squares with plenty of butter and eggs.

We made a special vegan table so Derek and his wife wouldn’t have to go foraging for food among the forbidden offerings. Yes, there was a lot of hummus but it was good hummus and some of it came with the most charming miniscule cherry tomatoes on the vine from Julie Reinhardt. We try…we try. And Margaret Brown made a valiant effort at creating the new face of hummus – a hot hummus dip with kalamata olives and tomatoes – but sadly some feta cheese found it’s way into the dish and I had to move it to the non-vegan table.

As for me, I found a recipe for vegan roasted red pepper dip that I paired with some grilled crostini with olive oil and salt. It is from Martha Stewart and here’s the link to the recipe. I can report that the non-vegans drifted over to the vegan table more than once to get some of it. I would make it again. Maybe with a little cream cheese.

Roasted Red Pepper DIp

 

 

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The Pioneer Woman’s Salisbury Steak

So one of the things I love about cooking is that, really, there are no rules. I’m not a rules girl. It’s probably why I ultimately failed in upper management at a giant newspaper chain. It’s also why I’m not a very good baker. Baking is science and it has a lot of rules. Cooking is chaos. It’s a pinch of this and a dab of that. This is also why I love Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Not only does she not have rules, she doesn’t have any pretensions about her cooking.

When I got her first cookbook, I leafed through it eagerly to discover new and exciting recipes. What I found instead was a very level-headed guide to simple things she cooks for her family. Who puts Egg in a Hole in a professionally published cookbook? Or her husband’s favorite sandwich – a steak sammie made with cube steak. And yet, my absolute favorite blackberry cobbler comes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook. And it’s not even really a cobbler. It’s more like a cake. But King Daddy absolutely adores it.

So the other night, Noah was watching The Pioneer Woman and she made Salisbury Steak. I actually had to look up what Salisbury Steak was and then I got curious about who invented it. Turns out it was a doctor in the 1800s who was a proponent of a low-carb diet. Some things never change (pass the pasta, please).

This is decidedly low brow. The recipe calls for ingredients like ketchup, a beef bouillon cube and Kitchen Bouquet. I didn’t exactly know what that was, either. Turns out it’s primarily made of  caramel with vegetable flavorings. My beloved Publix didn’t carry it and just as well. It would have sat in my cupboard for another 17 years before I found another use for it.

The bottom line is this:

Pioneer Woman Salisbury Steak

It was unfussy, easy, pedestrian and delicious. Even without the Kitchen Bouquet. I’m going to send you on over to the Food Network now to take a look see at the Salisbury Steak Recipe.

And here’s my recipe for the sour cream mashed potatoes that went with it. Equally simple, unfussy and delicious.

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
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Prep time: 
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Serves: 4
 

Ingredients
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold or red potatoes
  • ½ stick butter
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
  1. Bring two quarts of water to a boil.
  2. Cut each potato into quarters. Boil until tender when pierced by a fork.
  3. Drain and put back into the pot and let the potatoes dry for a minute. Add the butter and milk.
  4. Mash with a potato masher (this is a simple device but the best one for the job – if you don’t have one, invest in one). Stir in sour cream and salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

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A sea of cellophane and cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls

 

IMG_4893

Well, I am fairly certain that there is not a single tube of cellophane left in the entire Middle Tennessee region. Nobody defied Judith Atkinson and brought their treats for the Women of St. Paul’s bake sale in plastic wrap. When Judith, the bake sale chair, says, “Make them pretty,” she means there had better be a trip to Michael’s involved.

IMG_4892

Of course, I immediately spied my arch baking rival’s Chocolate Bacon French Macarons. Charlotte Fraser is just insufferable. She is only in her early 20s and she just makes us all look like slackers.

IMG_4889

See what I mean? What a show off. And she had the audacity to charge a dollar for a cookie the size of a nickel. I wish I’d bought more. That, by the way, is how church fund raisers go, if you don’t know the protocol. We spend fifty or sixty dollars baking cookies, cakes or pies and then spend another forty bucks buying other people’s baked goods. We do the same thing at the annual bazaar in August. We bring our junk from home and then buy other people’s junk. Not very efficient, but it’s the Christian thing to do.

But I digress. I realized halfway through packaging my coveted peanut butter, dark chocolate chip and bacon cookies that I was going to run out of tags before I got to the cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls. And, by the way, I will digress again to say that I am fairly certain my prowess with bacon cookery is what inspired Charlotte to add bacon to her macarons. Unfortunately, I believe bacon is in the public domain so I will not be able to pursue a legal remedy to such thievery.

IMG_4890

I will say I wish I’d used italic lettering like Charlotte did. My font kind of looks like EAT THIS. Since I was not making another trip to Michael’s for more tags, I cleverly raided my Christmas room and disguised a gift box tag.

IMG_4891

I know. It looks clunky. Don’t tell anyone, especially Charlotte. She will just lord it over me for the next 11 months.

Cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls
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Ingredients
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Thaw the puff pastry in the refrigerator.
  3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and spread half of it on a large cutting board.
  4. Top the sugar with the puff pastry and put the remaining sugar on the exposed pastry.
  5. Roll out into a thin rectangle and then tightly roll the pastry into a cylinder. Cut the pastry into ½-inch slices and lay them flat on a parchment-covered rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry begins to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

 

 

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