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We might starve

weather map

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.

Storm 1As 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.

Storm 2It’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.Storm 5

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.

Storm 4But 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.

 

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Chorizo bread pudding

Nothing succeeds like excess and I had a bout of excessive cooking over the weekend. The boy came home and he brought a friend with him. So, naturally, I started ticking off all his favorite foods. And chorizo is at the top of the list along with Little Smokies and sausage balls. Do you detect a pork pattern here? He is my son.

Here’s the thing about chorizo. There’s two kinds. One of them is a hard sausage and the other, Mexican chorizo, is a soft one. In my opinion, you always want to go for the Mexican. You have to seek it out like a sneaky food detective. My beloved Publix carries only one brand that hides out in the sausage section of the meat case. The most reliable place to find Mexican chorizo is at a – wait for it – Mexican grocery store! If you have never been in a Mexican grocery store you are in for a real treat. Nobody does pastries like the people of Mexico. I have to avert my eyes as I walk by the pastry display because I am afraid I will just grab a shopping cart and pile it high.

So Noah was thrilled with his chorizo break pudding. In fact, he took the leftovers back to school in Tupperware that I will obviously never see again and which is probably stuck, unwashed, somewhere under his bed right now. That’s O.K.  That’s his roommate’s problem now.

Chorizo and Peppers Bread Pudding

1 pound Mexican chorizo

2 peppers, one red and one yellow, diced

1 medium onion, diced

8 cups bread, cut into cubes

8 large eggs, beaten

2 ½ cups whole milk

½ cup cream

8 ounces Mexican melting cheese, shredded

 

Remove the casings from the chorizo and sauté in a heavy skillet until the meat is well browned. Remove and reserve. Saute the peppers and onion in the leftover chorizo grease until soft and beginning to brown.

Place the bread cubes in a 9-by-13 baking dish. Beat together the eggs, milk and cream and add the shredded cheese.

Top the bread cubes with the chorizo, pepper and onion. Pour the egg mixture over the casserole and refrigerate overnight. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

 

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Cream gravy

I first encountered cream gravy in high school at my boyfriend’s house. Tommy and his highly unorthodox family lived in the middle of an orange grove in Dade City, Florida, about an hour from where we lived in Tampa.

Tommy’s mother and father were divorced, but had never really found a way to live without each other so Mrs. Stevens lived downstairs in the rambling farmhouse and Mr. Stevens lived upstairs. This, of course, absolutely horrified my very Patrician mother. However, in my eyes the Stevens were very bohemian and that was ridiculously attractive to me because my parents were decidedly not.

But I digress and I haven’t even started yet. Cream gravy. One morning, Mrs. Stevens was making it for breakfast. I had not even heard of gravy that was not brown. Mrs. Stevens was mortified that I had somehow gotten entirely through adolescence without eating cream gravy. So she taught me to make it.

Cream gravy is just a country version of a bechamel sauce, which is flour, butter and milk with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg added in. The recipe for a bechamel sauce calls for you to melt the butter and whisk in the flour to cook out the raw taste. Then add a specified amount of warm milk and whisk until it thickens into a sauce.

But I don’t do that. I do it the way Mrs. Stevens taught me. So here you go. No recipe. Just a procedure. And if you substitute bacon grease for butter, it’s even better.

Cream Gravy

Use equal parts butter and flour. For a small batch just use two tablespoons butter to two tablespoons all-purpose flour. Heat up your skillet and melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk it around for a couple of minutes, but don’t let it brown. Now, get out your whole milk. You don’t have to warm it up. Pour a little in the skillet and start whisking until the sauce is extremely thick and smooth. Add a little more milk. Keep doing this until the sauce is the consistency you like. It should be thick but not paste-like. Remember, you can always add but you can’t take away so don’t add so much milk that the sauce gets runny. Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg.

Here’s the kicker. Cream gravy is not really cream gravy without bits (or hunks) of sausage in it. So fry up a couple sausage patties, crumble them in the gravy and then – AND THEN – pour the sausage grease into the gravy as well. You will not be sorry, I promise you that.

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Refrigerator management

Crack! Silence. Crack! Silence. Mmmmm. Crack! Silence. This is the approximate sequence by which Mark and I eat crab legs. There is no talking while eating crab legs. The business of cracking the shell, extracting the meat and dipping it generously into melted butter requires the utmost concentration. The sad fact is we are watching CNN’s coverage of the Gulf oil disaster while we are eating crab. The irony of that is not lost on us. But we eat on.

I would like to speak to you tonight about refrigerator management. Eating crab legs is directly associated with refrigerator management. Crab legs wait for no man. Or woman. You cannot let them sit in the refrigerator for a week and then decide you have a hankering for crab legs.

This is how my refrigerator looks right now, exactly as I am writing this. I have not altered a single thing to make it look pretty. And I know it doesn’t. But let’s go shelf by shelf. Note that there is one – one – leftover container on the top shelf. This is because as I was warming up the crab legs I was methodically throwing out any leftover that had been there more than one week. Mark and Noah are not sensitive to the one-week rule. They can go almost a month before declaring a leftover hazardous to their health. It’s a wonder they’re still alive.  Second shelf – two cartons of eggs from my friend,  Bobbie Cox. Eggs last a really long time in the refrigerator. Many people do not know this. Under that is the cheese drawer. It usually contains deli meat, too, but Noah ate all that.

Last shelf. More eggs. I know. But we’ll eat them. And wine. Wine lasts forever if you buy it by the box. It actually lasts about a day and a half in my refrigerator so freshness is never an issue. And iced tea. Lasts forever. Milk? The carton was there, but after milk is three days overdue, it goes down the drain. Please note the refrigerator door is jammed with condiments. They last a long time.

You might think from this that I throw out food willy nilly. I do not. I hate waste, especially of anything that gave its life to wind up as a leftover in my refrigerator. But I also hate to see a refrigerator so crammed with containers that inevitably something will end up towards the back until it begins emitting an odor. Just as everything else in life, refrigerators must be managed.

Now here’s the best tip of the day, I promise. When something does manage to go south and I can’t flush it down the disposal, I freeze it. This works well with moldy cheese in particular. Then when trash day comes – mine is Thursday – just throw out the frozen stuff. It will not thaw before the garbageman gets here.

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We might just starve, part two

Awhile back, I told ya’ll about our annual get-together with my in-laws and my son and daughter-in-law in the mountains. We bring enough food to last for two weeks even though the trip only lasts three days because, after all, we might starve.

There is a rumor of snow in Middle Tennessee tonight. The weather service is calling for “significant accumulation.” Normally, the level of frenzied discussion of snow is in direct correlation to the lack of actual snowfall we receive. But this does not keep us from engaging in sheer panic and food hoarding.

So today I went to the Publix just to get a few things. Some mushrooms and a head of lettuce. But I could feel the fear of my fellow shoppers as I wheeled my buggy toward the meat section. There might be snow. Significant accumulation. The bread was almost gone. I pick up a loaf.

Pork chops. I could probably use some pork chops. Just in case. And chicken. Chicken is always good. Fruit. Fresh fruit. Is scurvy still around? It could be. Who knows how long we’ll be trapped in the house? I pick up some tangerines and apples.

Breakfast. Do I have enough for breakfast if we’re snowed in for a week? Sausage. I must have sausage. And Little Smokies, an essential survival tool during a blizzard. Blizzard? What exactly does “significant accumulation” mean?

I pick up a bag of biscuits, too. And some spaghetti. And some potatoes. Starch. We’re going to need a lot of starch if we’re going to survive this. And milk. My God, I’ve forgotten the milk. I barely make it to the dairy case in time. The threat of calcium deficiency weighs heavily on my mind. I don’t even drink milk. But I might have to start.

The last real threat to our survival occurred only a few weeks ago. Forecasters at the television stations were warning of dire consequences if the citizenry was not completely prepared for a long confinement to our homes.

We spent an anxious night, listening for the snapping of large tree branches and the sound of our roof caving in from the weight of the anticipated snow. And we woke up to this. I don’t think you could actually measure the depth of the snow with a pica pole.

However. HOWEVER. We were prepared. I had laid in supplies for this storm, too. We Southerners are alert and ready for every weather emergency. But we are particularly attuned to the possibility of snow, with all the precarious dangers it brings.  There might be sliding. There might be swerving. You could fall down the steps and break your leg!  Attending school, of course, is out of the question. Work is not a possibility either.

So I am ready. The protection of my family is my foremost concern. After all, we might just starve.

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Chocolate pie

I am snowed in. Sort of. My Northern friends will laugh at this, but there is a half inch of snow on the ground. However, we have an extremely steep driveway and no four-wheel drive and the thermometer did not see a speck above 20 degrees today. So I could easily have careened down the driveway, but I could not have gotten back up.  Actually, I realized this yesterday after I did careen down the drive to go to lunch with a friend and then couldn’t negotiate the hill on the return trip. Mark did his best Evil Knievel impression and drove the car up the driveway.

So, in my mind, I’m snowed in. Unless Mark takes me for a Diet Coke, which must be a fountain Coke and must be in a Styrofoam cup. But I digress.

So, I thought chocolate pie was in order. I cannot claim authorship of this recipe, but I don’t know who can. I got it from a candle. A soy candle that smells exactly like chocolate pie. The recipe was attached to it. I searched the internet trying to find out who manufactured the candle and I hit a dead end. Perhaps the company that made Uncle Joe’s Chocolate Pie Soy Scented Candle is no longer in business, which is a damn shame because it’s a great candle. But his recipe for chocolate pie will live on.

You can use a store-bought pie crust for this recipe, but I strongly suggest you make your own crust using the recipe that Crisco has perfected through countless testings so that you can make it perfectly the first time. I deviate slightly from the directions. I leave my Crisco sticks in the freezer. Try that.

Here you go:

Uncle Joe’s Chocolate Pie

3 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons cocoa

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Scald half the milk (heat it up until a skin starts to form). Mix the other half of the milk with the sugar, salt, flour and cocoa. Beat well with a hand mixer. Add to the scalded milk and cook slowly until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Whisk constantly while you do this. Beat the egg yolks, then add some of the hot liquid and mix well (and quickly!). Add the egg mixture to the hot pudding in the pan. Cook slowly until thickened, stirring constantly. Cook one more minute. Remove from the heat and add vanilla and butter. Cool completely and pour into a baked pie shell.

A couple of notes. If you put the filling into a plastic container and cover it with waxed paper before putting it in the fridge, the pudding won’t form a skin. Also, I know you are going to ask me if you can just use chocolate pudding mix. No, you can not. It’s better to make your own pudding. Just like the crust. Promise.

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Mac and cheese

Velveeta is just one big block of processed cheese food love. I’m just saying.

Today, I had a real craving for macaroni and cheese but I hate making it when there’s just the three of us because I do not think it reheats well. This is why, in my younger, fatter days, I used to eat an entire box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at one sitting. I just loved that stuff and still do. It’s a food memory from a time when I was starving to death because my mother didn’t cook.

Over the years, I’ve tried probably three dozen recipes for macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is peasant food and it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to make. But most recipes that look pretty tempting call for cheese that sells for $14 a pound. No, sir.

So, today Noah called and asked if he could have a few friends to supper. Yea! Enough people to eat an entire pan of mac and cheese. Fortunately, I had stocked up on Velveeta when the Publix had it “buy one, get one free.” Velveeta keeps for years, you know.

So, here it is. Isn’t it pretty? Why, yes, thank you. I think it looks fairly appetizing. What to serve with it? I think if you’re busting out the seams with macaroni and cheese you might as well go all the way. We had fried pork chops. Oh, I threw in some green beans just for color. JUST for color.

Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

8 ounces Velveeta

Salt and pepper to taste

Corn flake crumbs

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat and add the flour. Whisk  about two minutes to get the raw taste of the flour out. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously, until you get the consistency in the sauce you want. Cube the Velveeta and add it to the pot. Whisk until it melts and season with salt and pepper (I usually throw in a little smoked paprika, too). Taste it.

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until it’s just tender. Do not cook the macaroni to mush. It’s the biggest mac and cheese sin.

Combine the macaroni with the cheese sauce and put in a 9-by-9 pan. Top with a generous sprinkling of corn flake crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

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Chicken Fried Steak

“What made you start cooking chicken fried steak?” Mark asked the other night as he wolfed down a portion. Well, I’ll tell you.

My mother made three meats only when Louise and I were growing up – dried out chicken breasts, dried out halibut and dried out cube steak. So for YEARS I avoided all three, but especially cube steak. Then a couple years ago I was eating at my beloved Dillard House where they just load you up with every good Southern thing to eat there is, and I tried some of theirs. Wow! What a difference when you fry it up in a lot of oil and blanket it with cream gravy. Lesson learned.

country fried steakSo here’s the recipe and it’s more of a procedure. You start out with some cubed steak. Take it out of the package and drizzle it with a goodly amount of soy sauce and sprinkle it with garlic powder (not garlic salt). Let it sit for about 20 minutes. Now, get some flour and sprinkle a goodly amount over the steaks on both sides. This will be your crust and you do not want to be stingy with the flour. You can add some pepper here, but don’t add any salt. The soy sauce has enough salt in it to kill a horse.

Heat some vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is good and hot, add the steaks. You will have to do this in batches because you don’t want to crowd them. Fry them on both sides until they’re deeply browned. You might want to shake the skillet a few times to make sure the crust doesn’t stick to the pan. It’s all in the crust.

Now, to the cream gravy. I was talking to Terrell the other day and mentioned bechamel sauce and he said he’d never had that. I said, “Yes you have. You have it all the time. It’s the same thing as cream gravy except you use butter instead of bacon grease.” You can take the boy out of Georgia, but you can’t take…well, you know.

Cream gravy: Take two tablespoons of bacon grease and melt it in a sauce pan. Add two tablespoons of flour and stir it for a minute or so to get the raw taste out. Now, slowly add whole milk and keep whisking it in until you get the consistency you like. I use about a cup. Season it with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. This will make enough gravy for two country fried steaks. Just double it if you need more.

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Paula Deen and Velveeta

O.K., ya’ll, I just couldn’t resist this! I have a television on the kitchen counter and when I’m cooking I usually have the Food Network on. So I’m making country fried steak with cream gravy (that’s a post for another day – I make the best chicken fried steak ever – I got it from a cook in Dillard, Ga.). At any rate, I have Paula Deen on and she’s making a cheese grits casserole. paula oneAnd she starts cutting up an entire block of Velveeta and she doesn’t even apologize for it! She acts like it’s just the only kind of cheese you could use to mix in with grits and, of course, she’s absolutely right. So I grab my camera and I’m just praying that Paula goes really slow so I can get a shot of that block of cheese, but she goes right on without me and the best I could do was snap the grits pot topped with multiple thick slices of Velveeta.

paula twoSo after she mixes up her grits and cheese and garlic and egg and milk and pops them into a baking dish, she tops it with more cheese! But, as we all know, Velveeta is not a grating cheese and she has to resort to regular Cheddar. That’s alright. The girl’s trying.

Now here’s the curious part. I thought I’d just pass along her recipe to you because Paula Deen probably makes grits better than me, although I think I can hold my own in this category. Here’s her recipe. And the Velveeta has been replaced with regular Cheddar! What happened? Did the Food Network people shame her? Did she think folks in other parts of the country were unfamiliar with Velveeta. I don’t know, but I sure wish I had that photo of the block of Velveeta. It was pure and conclusive evidence.

paula threeAt any rate, here she is eating her grits casserole and it sure does look good. I love that Paula eats her own cooking and doesn’t push it around on a plate like Rachel Ray does.

Just remember when you make the recipe, substitute Velveeta for the chunks of Cheddar you mix into the grits. I promise you it will make all the difference in the world. And Paula knows that.

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A word about grits

gritsI am very particular about my grits. I think the people who don’t like them have just never had good grits. This is my pot from church breakfast on Sunday. They were darn good.

When I was a girl, of course, we didn’t have grits because we lived in the North and grits were called Cream of Wheat and eaten with butter and brown sugar. Cream of Wheat was really bland and still is. Grits, as you know, are made from corn and corn is savory and sweet at the same time. When you grind up the corn a certain way (not fine like cornmeal), you get grits. In the store, you find them three ways – slow-cooking grits, quick-cooking grits and instant grits. Stay away from the instant grits at all costs. Just flavorless mush. Go with the slow-cooking grits if you have time. But the easiest and best way is to buy quick-cooking grits. Here’s the secret – don’t cook them quick.

If you do the following, you will learn to love grits. Mix the grits and boiling water at whatever quantity you want based on the package instructions.grits Now, using a whisk, constantly stir them for at least 15 minutes. That will make them creamy. Then add in a chunk of butter and, if you have it, some cream. Keep stirring. If you don’t have cream, add a little whole milk. Whole milk. They will need a liberal dose of salt and pepper. Add that. Then taste them. They should be creamy and rich and totally satisfying.

If you don’t like grits after making them my way, then I just don’t know what.

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