Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for August

 

August 1, 2017 | View PDF



The windows are rattling, the thunder is booming in the background, and the rain is as thick as fog right across the street. Any minute now and it will cross the street.

It just did and I wish it had not.

The wind is coming from a different direction than from the usual west. When the rain comes from the south, as it is now, the sunroom ceiling leaks. I have to move my chair and then lay towels on the floor to soak up the drips. I live in a home that is 187 years old, and I expect it to leak somewhere. Another interruption as I try to write recipes, search for ideas in my 350 plus cookbooks and scan through the myriad of web sites devoted to food from everywhere and with every ingredient imagined. I even have GOOGLE post a section on its home page, called Culinary Inspiration. When the weather is bad, I cannot go to one of my favorite grocery stores, Capital Market on East South Blvd., and scour the shelves and the refrigerated sections for something exotic to turn into a meal. I can while away an afternoon going up and down every aisle of that store!

I cannot complain about the rain too much. It has been a wet enough summer that my fruit trees and my pepper plants are doing well. In addition, the fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s markets and my neighbor’s gardens look good this year. We have starting canning black cherries and I think figs and peaches will be next. With all of the peppers that my two plants are producing, I need to find new combinations of fruit with peppers and for vegetables with peppers. I am like an alchemist in his lab when it comes to my peppers. I try different mixtures of spices, herbs, and peppers to produce a meat rub, a jelly or jam or a marinade. Having several shelves with jars of War Eagle Pepper Jelly and Screaming Eagle Pepper Jelly, I need to expand my inventory.

My usual pepper jelly has been a combination of some fruit, such as peaches, figs, and strawberries, or some vegetables, string beans or cucumbers with jalapeno and habanero peppers. This year after nurturing two pepper plants in my office over the winter, I have two healthy and beautiful pepper plants. One of the plants has already produced about 30 peppers with more coming. The other plant is a bit slower but has about 30 peppers on it that will be ready to pick in a couple of weeks. I have to wear vinyl gloves pick them because the prolific plant is a Carolina Reaper and the other is a Ghost Pepper plant. I am not 100 percent sure of the types of peppers, but from pictures and from where I got them, if they are not the hottest peppers they are in the top ten of the world. I will use them if I figure out a way to cut and clean the seeds out of the peppers and then crush them up to add to a recipe without becoming a viral YOU TUBE video. If you have seen some of the videos of people eating these peppers, you know what I mean. I have watched chefs make sauces and rub using these peppers and they wear professional filter facemasks to protect their eyes and mouth from the peppers. I do not plan to do anything less. I plan to dry them and use the powder in rubs and marinades. I will keep you posted on my success.

Now for the more joyful side of eating. Did you know that Sweden and Finland has a summertime crawfish festival? It is an eating and drinking party, with the emphasis on drinking. Since there is so little to eat in a crayfish, the partygoers tend to drink too much. They wear funny pointed hat and bibs, sing traditional songs or rounds, and celebrate the end of summer. When the winter days have almost 6 hours of light, celebrating summer seems like a fun thing to do.

The crayfish are boiled with dill as the main seasoning. Stores have matching sets of crayfish party gear, such as place mats, bibs, and napkins and special knives to cut open the crayfish. There are even paper lanterns and crayfish string lights. There are games, trivia contests, and plenty of schnapps to consume. The usual dinner will also have savory pies, salads, bread and cheese, as well as a dessert of ice cream, cheesecake, or fruit pies. The crayfish could be served with boiled new potatoes, broccoli, stewed mushrooms. I have never been to a Low Country Boil when everyone was wearing pointed hats and cute bibs, and the crawdads served meticulously arranged on platters. What counts is that you are having fun and enjoying the food and the company. You can check on YOU TUBE to see some funny videos.

One of the many things that I enjoy about the South is going to a grocery store. Now if you know me then you know that I love going to grocery stores anywhere and anytime. Going to a Southern grocery store is where you will find: WICKLES, voted Alabama’s best food product on AL.com, Barber’s Buttermilk, White Lily Flour, Conecuh sausage, and Grapico. Do not forget Red Diamond coffee, Golden Flake chips and Dale’s seasoning. At our house, the rolls are Sister Schubert’s. We are blessed with having a choice of three mayonnaises: BAMA, Blue Plate, and DUKE’S. I saw a sign once that said to think globally, drink locally. Well, I think you should, Think the South, Eat Alabama.

Go to your garden, the farmers market, or your neighbor’s garden (with their permission) and pick up some of this summer’s crop of local vegetables. Make yourself a delicious vegetable soup. Yes, even during the summer a warm bowl of soup at lunch or with a light dinner is very relaxing. This recipe is adapted from a recipe from the Mayo Clinic so it is also healthy. Substitutions can be made for the vegetables depending on the availability and your preference. Other recipes that are designated as summer soups have green beans, field peas, and butter beans that are seasoned with thyme, basil, and freshly grated parmesan. These ingredients will give the soup a more Southern taste. The addition of cumin and cilantro to the Mayo Clinic recipe gives it a Southwestern flair. Of course, you can add some hatch chilies or jalapenos to kick it up a bit.

Grated lemon zest is in many recipes, to reduce the need for salt and it just adds to the overall flavor of whatever you add lemon zest to. However, be sure you rinse and clean your lemons as you would any other fruit or vegetable that you are going to eat, especially if you are eating it raw. Practice your knife skills and your patience by making tomato concasse. A skill you learn in chef’s training. Any good firm tomato will do. And there are plenty of online videos showing how to do this.

After sampling some of the summer vegetables, the summer fruits can be your next treat. If have noticed this about me, besides my love for chilies and grocery shopping, I love figs. They are higher in dietary fiber than most fruit and contain protein, are low salt and fat. They have a fair amount of calcium and iron as well as vitamin A, C, and B complex. They are high energy, with 91 percent of their calories coming from quickly utilized natural sugars. I like to eat them freshly picked from my tree.

A meal of a soup and salad is ideal in the summer and adding a cold meat such as sliced chicken or ham will give you a complete meal. I added some cold rotisserie chicken to this salad. Once you have the ingredients prepped, you can plate up each salad as you go and can add the amount of dressing, as you want.

SUMMER VEGETABLE SOUP

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 sweet yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

4 plum (Roma) tomatoes, Concasse (peeled and seeded, then diced)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

4 cups no salt added vegetable stock or broth

1 bay leaf

1 carrot, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced cross wise with your knife at an angle to produce half-moons that are somewhat longer than the width of the carrot (about 1 cup)

1 yellow or any color or a mix of colored bell peppers, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)

1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)

1¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

2. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds; do not let the garlic brown

4. Add the tomatoes, oregano, cumin, and sauté until the tomatoes are softened, about 4 minutes.

5. Add the stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and bring to a simmer.

6. Add the carrot and bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes.

7. Add the zucchini and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes longer.

8. Stir in the lemon zest and cilantro.

9. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

10. Discard the bay leaf.

Ladle into individual bowls or mugs and serve immediately. Count how many times someone comments of the neatly cut tomatoes and carrots in the soup. Serves eight.

A couple of articles back, I wrote about kitchen gadgets and appliances. One of the items discussed was a food mill. A food mill is great for creamy mashed potatoes and a seedless, skinless tomato sauce. Another article told what to do with all of your tomatoes your garden produced. The article on tomatoes left it up to you just how much time you wanted to spend reducing your tomatoes from tomato chunks to tomato paste. With a food mill, you can greatly reduce the time it takes to turn fresh tomatoes into a main dish.

To make a ready to use sauce, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and take a tomato shark and remove the stem end of 2 to 3 pounds of tomatoes. Lay them on a rimmed baking pan or dish and bake the tomatoes for about 50 minutes. Watch them; you want to cook them until they are soft.

Take the pan out of the oven and smash the tomatoes to release the pulp.

Return to oven for about another hour but every once in a while get a spatula and scrape the pan and mix up the tomatoes. You want a thick mass that looks like strawberry jam.

GRAPE AND FRESH FIG SALAD with

ROTISSERIE CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

Any arugula, escarole, iceberg, leaf lettuce, mesclun, frisee, and spinach blend you like

8 to 10 fresh figs, depending on size and appetite, washed and cut lengthwise

8 to 10 ounces of seedless grapes washed and cut in half

½ cup chopped pecans slightly toasted

One cold, skinned rotisserie chicken, cut boneless breast and /or thigh meat into long strips enough for four servings

Salt and pepper to taste

For Dressing:

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons orange juice

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons olive oil

Comment: My favorite dressing for this salad is champagne vinaigrette, like Pear Champagne vinaigrette or even a KRAFT Red Wine that does not contain high fructose corn syrup or try BRIANNA’s Homestyle Poppy Seed Dressing. I like a sweet dressing on fruit salads.

DIRECTIONS:

1. Place small mound of greens on a cold salad plate.

2. Arrange the figs and grapes on the greens.

3. Place strips of chicken like wagon wheel spokes on the greens

4. Mix the dressing ingredients or use purchased dressing and drizzle over salad

5. Sprinkle pecans over the top

Serves four.

Remove from oven and scrape tomatoes from pan into your food mill. You should have about a cup of sauce and your kitchen will smell like an Italian restaurant. Depending what you are going to use the sauce for, you may want to add a pinch of sugar, due to the acidic tomatoes. The sauce will keep for about a month frozen, and less than a week refrigerated.

Last Sunday, a dish that was prepared for our Dinner on the Grounds, was at first glance a typical spaghetti pasta and meat sauce. However, it turned out being spaghetti squash. The squash baked up perfectly for a casserole and the layer of cheese melted on top hit the spot. The dish would be perfect to use your freshly made tomato sauce. I usually sample just about every dish that is prepared for the meal, and when I find one I really like I find out who prepared it. I found him and after some discussion, I found out he had some more spaghetti squash in his garden and he may be persuaded to part with some. Well, not an hour after getting back home, he showed up with two squashes and we were able to come up with a trade of jars of jelly for his squash. What a country!

I am sure that most of my readers know what is “Dinner on the Grounds”. However, just in case some non-Southern readers are scratching their heads and wondering why people would eat the evening meal on the ground, I will explain. First, it is not dinner nor on the ground. Well, it is dinner as Southerners call the meal served on Sunday after church. Any other noon meal is called lunch. My family calls the evening meal supper. The ground part of the meal may have come from the old days when it was too hot to sit inside the parish hall with no air conditioning. So, the congregation would set up tables on the church grounds and have their meal under the shade of the majestic trees that dotted the grounds.

I think of it as an all-you-can-eat-smorgasbord of Southern home cooked delicacies. There will be Funeral Food worthy casseroles, meat-flavored vegetables, and homemade desserts. Salads made from every plant and from every garden, breads loaded with butter and deviled eggs that will be consumed early. In addition, if there is only one serving left in a dish you want to try, take it. If you do not the person next in line will scarf if up in a heartbeat. There are books, blogs and memoirs written about the rules and etiquette of Dinner on the Ground, but if you do nothing else, at least compliment the maker of your favorite dish, and ask for the recipe. Make a Southern home cook proud.

I have had several people comment to the fact, that I do not spend enough time writing about or having recipes for desserts. While I was working in commercial kitchens, my job was hot prep banquet chef. We had a pastry chef to take care of the desserts. I would always sample the ware but never made it myself.

I like simple desserts with an assortment of whole fresh fruits left whole for smaller fruits or cut in big pieces, and a light glaze or sauce pour over. And a sprig of mint and a piece of dark chocolate used as a garnish. Go to your farmers market for your favorite fruits (try nectarines, plums, fresh figs, cherries and grapes), go to the grocery store, and find your favorite gelatin dessert. Look on some of the gelatin boxes for recipe ideas you may want to try later on. Cut the fruit in pieces that will show off the color and texture of the fruit. Mix up your gelatin as per instructions on package and pour it into single serving dessert cups. Start cooling it a bit before you add pieces of your fruits. Do not be afraid to let some of the fruit stick out of the gelatin. Serve when the gelatin is set and garnish with fresh mint or a drizzle of crème de mint. Serve with a crisp cookie.

 

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