I was making supper the other night – pork chops, dressing and fried apples. And it occurred to me there are certain things that just “go together” – food combinations that I return to again and again.
Some of them could be considered odd or quaint. I have always served King Daddy’s favorite mustard chicken with buttered egg noodles. To do otherwise would be unthinkable. It just wouldn’t be right. On Sloppy Joe night, the Joe must be Manwich and it must lean along side Tater Tots. With ketchup. Ditto the ketchup with fried chicken livers.
Braised short ribs require mashed potatoes. Last night I was provisioning the refrigerator for KD because I am heading to Bunny’s tomorrow to help her unpack at her new home. I made the short ribs and mashed potatoes, but stuck some garlic bread in the oven for another meal. KD actually asked for garlic bread with short ribs. I was horrified. They don’t go together. Turkey sandwiches. Just turkey, mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, salt and pepper. No cheese. Cheese and turkey don’t go together.
Fish and rice go together. Fish does not go with potatoes or pasta. Flat chicken and green noodles. Only a classic in our home, I’m sure. It’s just breaded chicken breasts and thin spaghetti with pesto. But the chicken breasts must be thin and the noodles must be thin, also. The calorie count is not thin. Corned beef hash with English muffins and blackberry jam. The hash must be from a can. And you must fry it with onions until it is crispy. The jam can be seedless or not. That’s where King Daddy and I part ways. He likes the seeds.
A wedge salad demands blue cheese dressing and bacon. Diet Coke must be present with hamburgers and French fries. Iced tea does not go with hamburgers or French fries. Iced tea does, however, go with chicken salad. I don’t know why.
So what foods “go together” for you? What are your odd and quaint combinations? I hope you disagree with me. It’s always more fun when you do.
That old Billy King, what a rascal. No one’s ever heard of him save the fact that he invented one of my favorite comfort foods, Chicken a la King.
King was a hotel cook at the Bellevue in Philadelphia. His obituary in New York Tribune in 1915 had this to say:
“The name of William King is not listed among the great ones of the earth. No monuments will ever be erected to his memory, for he was only a cook. Yet what a cook! In him blazed the fire of genius which, at the white heat of inspiration, drove him one day, in the old Bellevue, in Philadelphia, to combine bits of chicken, mushrooms, truffles, red and green peppers and cream in that delight-some mixture which ever after has been known as ‘Chicken a la King.’ “
There wasn’t a restaurant in the greater Chicagoland area that didn’t serve Chicken a la King in the 1960s, but you can barely find it now. What a shame since we have something in 2014 that Billy could never have dreamed about – supermarket rotisserie chicken. Rotisserie chicken comes under the heading of “I can’t make it better.” I am a purist when it comes to Chicken a la King. I only use the white breast meat, saving the legs and thighs for another use. You can also poach chicken breasts for this recipe, but why would you do that? The package of chicken breasts will cost more than the entire rotisserie chicken and they won’t be half as good.
Prepare the puff pastry shells according to the package directions
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms. Saute until the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms are browned. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan. When all the alcohol has evaporated, add the flour and stir thoroughly.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the chicken stock and heavy cream. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the parsley, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Add the chicken and the frozen peas. Heat for 3-4 minutes until the chicken and peas are warmed through. Serve in the puff pastry shells.
We are getting ready for the Mayhew/Harbin/Mayhew Family Reunion. And, as always, if we do not lay in enough supplies, we might starve. Tammy, my daughter-in-law, has already stockpiled the entire freezer section of the Piggly Wiggly because she is the snack lady and a pox will be upon her if she runs out of Pigs in a Blanket and Stuffed Potato Skins.
We barely made it through the last reunion with the few ingredients we had in the refrigerator
So I made a little trip to the grocery store just in case Tammy forgets the cheese puffs and Bunny, my mother-in-law, does not produce adequate amounts of ham dip and chicken biscuits.
Just a few things. Let’s see. Bacon-flavored smoked almonds. Protein and pork. Have to have those. Crunchy Cheetos – a nice contrast to the softer cheese puffs my granddaughter prefers. Thirty-two ounces of sour cream to make two “servings” of onion dip. Josh, my stepson, has a habit of sneaking out to the refrigerator in the middle of the night and absconding with the onion dip. I shall leave a container under my bed for safe keeping.
Cheese. Five different kinds of cheese. And crackers. Two kinds. Little Smokies. One must have Little Smokies for that mid-morning pick-me-up. Tammy and I need to keep up our strength for the long drive (two minutes) to the spa for our pedicures. Dark chocolate Reese’s peanut butter cups. Quick energy for making our way out to the porch to read. Bacon. Seriously, how can you survive in the wilderness that is just five miles from Dollywood without bacon?
Oh, and Danish Butter Cookies. Honestly, King Daddy should not be eating Danish Butter Cookies. Well, none of us should. But we will. And dried apricots. Because we want to set a good example for my granddaughter, Puddin’.
By the way, here’s a photo of Puddin’ eating a funnel cake. Because we don’t have enough food in the house, Bunny always takes her and Noah to get funnel cake. I realize when she’s 13 Puddin’ will hate me for this. But right now Nana is willing to take the risk.
And here’s Bunny teaching Puddin’ how to create a massive sugar overload by dumping three pounds of candy sprinkles into canned icing for cupcakes. As I said, we try to set a good example.
I can’t even remember how many reunions there have been, but not a single one of them involved kale or carrot juice. I believe we have our priorities straight. Bless our hearts.
The Peoples of the South are, of course, petrified. As you can see from this weather map of tomorrow’s weather, there are “minus” signs. The Peoples of the South do not understand. What is a minus? And there are dangerous arrows around Memphis pointing directly in my direction. What are those arrows? I do not know, yet I am very afraid.
So I went to stock up at my beloved Publix and I could see that other Peoples of the South had seen the same map. We understand these life and death situations better than most. A few weeks ago we had flurries. I don’t even want to talk about it.
As you can see, there are exactly three buggies at the Publix where there are usually about 180. Yes, that means others sense the impending disaster. And they’re all inside. I think I hear screaming.
It’s just as I feared. The Peoples of the South are most fearful of running out of milk and bread during a disaster. The woman next to me fainted when she realized there was no 2 percent left. Fortunately, the paramedics revived her and assured her she could get by on skim until the thaw.
Eggs. The symbol of life. And death. Death by starvation. I take the last carton, even though I already have two in my refrigerator. Perhaps I will attempt to whip up a frittata as my frigid hands grasp the cold handle of a cast iron skillet never to be warmed again because the power is now off and my life is ebbing away. Oh, the iron. Or irony.
But I must live on for King Daddy, for he would surely starve without me. So I load my buggy with staples such as cornbread mix, chili fixin’s, bacon, lingonberry preserves, Smokehouse Almonds and the latest issue of People magazine. As I said, the Peoples of the South have our priorities straight. As I huddle under a blanket with my dying flashlight, I will at least dimly perceive the brilliance of Kim Kardashian’s make-up tips.
Not to be ungrateful, but this is the time of year when anyone who has a hobby or a collection of any kind knows that something wicked this way comes. Poor Bunny, my mother-in-law, was graced with a precious plenty of bunny items every Christmas, including some from me. She finally switched to flamingos just to get a break.
For me, it’s grilling items. Some of them have been fabulously useful and genuinely appreciated. But there’s a lot of trickery out there in the grilling world. Here’s a guide to the worst grilling accessories ever invented.
My suggestions for the best tools a grilling enthusiast needs are over on the Char-Broil LIVE site. Hop on over there and take a look. Two shopping days left until Christmas and my recommendations are easy to find and won’t break the bank. Plus there’s a yummy recipe for my dad’s favorite grilled chicken.
I have to tell you, around this time of year I love all the talk about how to roast or grill a turkey. Yes, you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving just as you have to leave cookies and milk out for Santa Christmas Eve. But does anyone really love, love, love the turkey? I don’t care if you put a bow tie and a top hat on it. Turkey is still going to be bland and, once out on a buffet table for an hour or so, dry.That’s why I don’t bother brining mine. Too much trouble for too little payback.
Sides are king on Turkey Day. I’m all about the mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and cranberry sauce. I’m also about trying new sides to change it up a bit.
Curried fruit compote
Green bean and corn casserole
Curried fruit compote has been around at least since the ’70s because that’s when I started making it. It is the only acceptable use for canned fruit that I know about. And green bean and corn casserole is what the classic green bean casserole wants to be when it grows up.
The fried chicken livers, nestled between the fried potato wedges and foil-wrapped chicken biscuits
King Daddy and I will drive absurdly long distances for food. We once drove 2 1/2 hours from Reno to Gerlach, Nevada – which is perilously close to a ghost town – to eat ravioli at Bruno’s Country Club, which in no way qualifies as a country club. The ravioli was damn good.
So I was all ears when KD asked me the other day to accompany him to Centerville, Tennessee, for fried chicken livers. DO NOT TURN UP YOUR NOSE. If you’ve never eaten the fried chicken livers at the fastStop Market you have never lived a day in your life. Centerville is an hour from Nashville and I counted every mile marker.
Place and food are very intertwined in the South. Generally speaking, the more humble the place the more beguiling the food. Rules of rooting out the best food in out-of-the-way places:
1. If it looks condemned, go in.
2. If you see a BBQ joint and there’s no wood pile and an abandoned car in the back, keep on driving
3. If the name of the restaurant is the Kountry Kitchen and there’s a bunch of ancient license plates tacked to the outside of the building, you’ve found mecca.
So I was highly anticipating fried chicken livers at a gas station. I was slightly alarmed when we arrived and I found the fastStop Market to be disturbingly clean and modern.
King Daddy is a regular at the fastStop because he practices quite a bit of law in Centerville (I love how you “practice law” as though you will never quite get it right). He has eaten fried chicken livers there frequently and one or two leftover livers find their way back home for me. But I had never had them hot and fresh out of the fryer.
Gina serving up our order…nice goes a long way in the South and Gina is extremely nice
Oh, my. We hurried to the car with our box of fried chicken livers and several ketchup packets and did not speak for a full five minutes. King Daddy makes a mean fried chicken liver and I can honestly say they’re the best I’ve ever had. But these come in second just by a nose. I had to accompany KD to the Centerville Justice Center where he had a few cases to try. I will tell you that I admire his keen legal abilities and his talent at oration before the Bench, but I can honestly say the best part of my day was behind me.
I have no great story to go with Mediterranean Chicken. I started making this years ago because I just happened to have all the ingredients and it sounded like a good idea at the time. Now, it’s a go-to recipe because it just takes minutes. Have a can of whole tomatoes? Just dice them up. Don’t like kalamata olives? What’s wrong with you?
I will now tell you about my day. So the first thing is that it’s Halloween and the weather forecast is calling for torrential rain and straight-line winds. Trick or treating has been cancelled throughout Middle Tennessee. This is a good thing. I forgot to buy candy. Now, they’ve moved trick or treating to tomorrow night. This is also good because Halloween candy will be 50 percent off. I love it when a plan comes together.
The second thing is that I spent part of the day at work being a low-level personal shopper. I love this about my job. Basically, for those of you who think I just sit in my garage, smoking, drinking wine and writing this blog, I have a day job running a nonprofit that provides basic necessities to people in need. And today I got a call from a social worker about a homeless family that had moved into their first apartment. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Did we have anything we could give them? Yes, indeedy. We have lots of things to give them – new clothes, new cookware, super cushy pillows that I wish I had in my own house, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, lamps, decorative items. The social worker thanked me profusely. No, sweetie, you don’t understand. It is truly our pleasure.
And then, the most unexpected thing ever. I head to the grocery store to get the ingredients for tonight’s supper and there, in the produce department, is a man wearing a kilt. I mean it is Halloween, but this guy was not heading to a costume party. He was honest-to-goodness, sincerely, a Scottish guy in a cable-knit pullover, kilt and those funny shoes with the patches at the top. He was picking out onions. I wanted to take a photo with my phone, but that would have been rude. I now regret that I didn’t.
So enjoy the chicken. I hope your day was as interesting and fulfilling as mine.
Chicken, diced tomatoes and kalamata olives combine for a healthy Mediterranean weeknight meal.
4 thin skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Cavender’s All-Purpose Greek Seasoning (or your favorite seasoning)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
⅓ cup sliced kalamata olives
½ cup chicken stock
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the chicken breasts with Cavender’s. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy sauté pan to medium heat and add the chicken breasts. Saute for about 4 minutes or until nicely browned on one side. Flip each chicken breast and sauté the other side for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, cover in foil, and reserve.
To the same pan, add the diced tomatoes, olives, chicken stock, garlic, lemon juice and paprika. Cook over medium high heat until the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt and pepper.
I cannot discuss Mustard Chicken without giving you a little background on Reno, where I found the recipe. If you want the recipe, just scroll on down. But we are heading down Memory Lane, my friends. Come along, will you?
It was wild living in Reno. I moved there from the Bible Belt to (eventually) marry King Daddy, sort of like a mail-order bride but not. Despite my intense devotion to the South, Reno may be the best place I ever lived. The first week I was there I went into a grocery store and noticed that not only was there a wine section, completely (and to this day) unheard of in parts of the South, but there was a spirits section and a little gray-haired lady was giving out martini samples. Why, yes, I’d love a martini sample!
We lived in an apartment for a year and would do our laundry at the Duds and Suds, complete with a bar and slot machines. These people in Reno have no shame. I just loved that about them. Because we were both in the media, we would get invited to fancy casino parties with obscenely large shrimp cocktails, prime-rib carving stations, unlimited bar privileges and closed circuit boxing matches.
And many of my favorite people lived in Reno. There was the millionaire newspaper magnate who literally lived in a chicken coop as a child, wore the same $10 wedding ring for more than 40 years and essentially paid for our honeymoon in Hawaii just because he knew how broke we were (by the way, I did not ask him to do this – he just walked up to me in the smoking section at the paper and gave me a $2,000 check). He took me around and introduced me to important people, not because he had a need to impress me but because it was the nice thing to do. Rollie Melton was, above all else, a nice guy. He lost a lot of weight at one point and his $10 wedding ring disappeared down a sink drain at one of the casinos. He cried.
There was the newspaper columnist who caused me untold headaches as his boss at the Gazette-Journal. He just pissed off everyone. I liked that. One time, Cory wrote something bad about a hot dog place and the owner angrily demanded a meeting with us. The hot dog guy was a rotund 5-foot-3. Cory was a lean 6-foot-4 or so. Cory sat next to this guy in my closed-door office, his knees grazing the edge of my desk we were in such tight quarters. And he just took it. And I wanted to say to the hot dog guy: “First of all, your hot dogs suck. Second of all, you’re sitting next to a former Green Beret who could – at any moment given the slightest whim – rip your lungs out through your nose.”
There was the district court judge who also refereed many of the high-dollar boxing matches we watched while eating our shrimp cocktail. His name is Mills Lane and his famous sassy instructions to heavy weights was: “Let’s get it on!” He was a Georgia boy who also embraced Reno. He officiated at the wedding of a friend of King Daddy’s in a hotel conference room. After pronouncing the groom and bride as husband and wife, I believe he yelled, “Let’s get it on!” He had no pretense.
People in Reno were and are originals. It’s a city where – old or new – you are embraced if you just love the city back. Which I did with a great passion that exists to this day. So if any of you are Reno mockers, you just let me know and I’ll set you up a little meeting with Cory.
But I digress in a major way and I sincerely apologize. Mustard chicken. Far and away King Daddy’s favorite meal. New to Reno, anxious to impress my soon-to-be husband and insanely fearful about never finding a job there, I spent a lot of time checking out free cookbooks at the library. And I found Mustard Chicken in a Bed and Breakfast cookbook. I don’t remember the author but I know it wasn’t called Mustard Chicken. But I have been making it on Oct. 23 for 24 straight years and I will now claim it as my own. Like any good Southern recipe, it has only four ingredients: chicken, sour cream, Dijon mustard and honey. It is imperative that you serve it with buttered egg noodles.
Here’s to the pirates, the renegades and the oddballs – many of whom I met and became friends with in Reno. Life is so much more interesting when you hang out with the right crowd.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and sauté them in the oil until both sides are beginning to brown and the chicken is cooked through. Set aside on a plate.
Drain any excess oil from the pan and add the sour cream, mustard and honey. Blend and add the chicken back in the pan along with any juices that may have accumulated.
Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what it means to be Southern, either by birth or by choice. As many of you know, I was born a Yankee. But I got here as quick as I could and have not over-stayed my welcome yet going on almost 50 years.
My great friend, Danny Bonvissuto, who is Southern through and through, shared another great Southern woman’s definition of the South. It’s from the noted actress Alfre Woodard being interviewed in this month’s Gun and Garden (which, by the way, is the most improbable name of a magazine ever):
“You want to know something? You can leave the South, but it never leaves you. And I think we feel confident because of that. If you are Southern, you never run out of company. Because it lives in your head and in your heart. It is a well inside you that keeps you from ever being lonely.”
I hate that I didn’t think of that first because she is exactly right. And she’s also right about what makes the South a unique place:
“I like that people touch each other there. They fight. They don’t back away from human contact. The South is like a family. There is more social engagement. There are more real relationships between cultures, age groups, economic groups. The people are alive. The region is a huge, breathing organism. My husband is from an old New England family. And I’m just saying, if you boil some meat instead of frying it, you aren’t going to be telling any good stories.”
You tell it, Alfre. And, of course, that comment about frying instead of boiling (who does that?) made me think of fried chicken, a topic of conversation that’s never far from my thoughts). I will say that I have fried many a chicken over the years, but I don’t do it often because King Daddy would not be able to fit through the door if I did. For my money, this recipe from Bon Appetit is the best fried chicken ever. Here’s the link but you can also just use this version below.
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons paprika
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Peanut oil (for frying)
Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.
Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and ½ cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2″ baking dish.
Pour oil into a 10″–12″ cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of ¾”. Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.
Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.
Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack.
Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.