Even when I thought winter would never come, I did wish that it would come gently into the night. As I write this, I was wondering what happened to the gentle part. I wake up one morning and it is warm, 70, and the usual muggy. Then a breeze started up and the temperature started down. The temperature dropped 35 degrees and I still had shorts and tee shirts as my wardrobe.
I was happy, in a way, for the change. It is supposed to be winter. I was looking forward to trying some new, heartwarming dishes. In addition, I was waiting to do some canning. With the boiling pots of water to sterilize the lids and jars and the stewing fruits and blanching vegetables heating on the stove, my kitchen gets quite warm. The house warms up enough that I do not need the gas heaters or the central heat pump to fight back the cold weather.
I am also looking forward to the cooler weather so I can practice doing more sous vide cooking. I obtained a PolyScience circulating pump that will handle a large pot or container of water. I was introduced to sous vide while working at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery and I have found restaurants in the area that do sous vide cooking and that got me going again. If you do not know about sous vide, I will keep you posted about my adventures at trying to use it as an alternative cooking method.
I have introduced several friends of mine to a grocery store in Montgomery that I think is a treasure trove for the adventurous foodie. It is the Capital Market on South Blvd. I go there for inspiration to try something new and for the memories of food I ate while living and traveling overseas. To let you know how adventurous I am, I try to eat a taco con lingua every time I go to the store. The store has varieties of produce unmatched by any store that I know of around here. They have everything from fresh apricots to zucchini, which does not sound too exciting. However, the other produce they have includes taro root, daikon radish, Japanese eggplant, lemongrass, bitter melon, enoki mushrooms, nopales, plantains and different types and colors of bananas. Their weekly ad has a special section for Asian Groceries, Indian Groceries, and Hispanic, African, and Jamaican Groceries. Where else can you find chappati flour and Mexican hominy and SPAM in the same store? Plan to spend an afternoon there and have lunch at their hot food counter.
As you know, it's January and that means Black-eyed Peas. In most cultures, foods that are prepared and eaten on New Year’s Day will bring good luck. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 'African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries made one of the most enduring contributions to the modern holiday (New Year Day). Starting in the Carolina's but extending throughout the South, hoppin' John and greens became traditional New Year's Day fare, black-eyed peas bringing luck....and greens (like money) bringing prosperity."
If you are trying to eat your way to more good luck past New Year's Day, make a thick stew with your leftover black-eyed peas, add other vegetables, and serve it in a puff pastry cup. Save some of the “pot liquor" from the peas to use in the stew. I got the idea for the puff pastry cups from another recipe. They are cute and practical if you are serving the stew as a side dish and want to start with a clean plate without a juicy stew spreading out on the plate when serving. Also, try serving it on a split corn bread muffing for the Southern twist.
BLACK-EYED PEA STEW IN PUFF PASTRY CUPS
12 ounces cooked Black-eyed Peas
12 Puff Pastry Cups- buy pre-made
2 Bacon slices, diced
1 small yellow onion small diced
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup carrots peeled and diced
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup white potato diced small
1 cup zucchini diced small
1 cup yellow squash diced small
4 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup cooking sherry
Chicken Stock as needed
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Prepare the puff pastry per instructions on package
2. Add bacon to large pot over high heat and cook until crispy and most of the fat is rendered out.
3. Remove bacon and save to add later to pot.
4. Add onion to bacon fat and cook until slightly caramelized. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until aromatic. Add carrots and cook until tender and slightly caramelized.
5. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add sherry and then more chicken stock if too thick.
6. Add potatoes and more stock as needed to cook the potatoes.
7. When potatoes are tender, add bacon and remaining ingredients except butter.
8. Heat thoroughly and adjust seasoning. Add more stock as needed. You want a thick hardy stew.
9. Add butter and stir until melted.
10. Place pastry cup on serving plate and fill with stew.
On a cold winter night a bowl of thick creamy hot soup, will sooth the soul. A recipe from the Lowndesboro Legacies Cook Book published by the Lowndesboro Landmarks Foundation, Inc. fits the bill and if need be when another warm spell hits Alabama, this soup is also good cold. I slightly altered the original recipe from Jane Dickson by doubling the amount of hash brown potatoes to make a thicker creamier soup.
I do not receive any compensation for any reviews of establishments or products mentioned in this article. I will be writing about more restaurants, grocery stores, and local products found in central Alabama since I believe that we should eat, drink, and buy locally as much as possible. In addition, I hope that the recipes and tips I offer will help your meals be a shared event.
"Cooking gave us not just the meal but also the occasion: the practice of eating together at an appointed time and place. This was something new under the sun, for the forager of raw food would have likely fed himself on the go and alone, like all the animals. (Or, come to think of it, like the industrial eaters we're more recently become, grazing at gas stations and eating by ourselves whenever and wherever.) But sitting down to common meals, making eye contact, sharing food, and exercising self-restraint all served to civilize us." Michael Pollan.
"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook" Julia Child
"Meat isn't murder, it's delicious." John Lydon
LOADED POTATO SOUP
2 packages Ore-Ida hash brown potatoes
2 large cartons chicken broth
1 stick salted butter
1 8 ounce carton whipping cream
1 medium onion, chopped fine
16 ounces sour cream
1-pound block Mexican Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
Optional shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and green onions for toppings.
1. In a large pot, add chicken broth, potatoes, and onion. Bring to a boil and then simmer for twenty minutes.
2. Add butter, cheese, and cream.
3. Cook at low, stirring occasionally until cheese has melted. The soup will be chunky. Blend with a hand blender until lump free for a creamier soup.
4. Spoon the soup into bowls and top with cheese, bacon bits, and green onions.
You can freeze the soup in wide mouth Mason jars to serve later. Place jar in refrigerator to defrost soup and serve cold. To serve hot, take defrosted jar and with band and lid removed heat in a microwave oven.
Since I told you about one of my new favorite grocers, I might as well tell you about a new restaurant experience I had. I was in Auburn for a conference and five of us wanted to go out to eat the night before the conference and the other four wanted me to recommend and make reservations at a restaurant. I have been eyeing a restaurant for some time. The restaurant serves,” stylish modern food with roots deep in Southern soil”. It is ACRE in Auburn three blocks from Toomer's Corner.
ACRE has a variety of charcuterie and cheese boards. We did not have a chance to try either, which gives me an excuse to go back. We did try two of their "For Starters". I had the Beef Steak Tartare and two others divided the Fried Green Tomatoes. Both were fresh and very tasteful. I prefer carpaccio, but the Tartare was a nice change of pace. The grilled ciabatta ran out before the Tartare but when asked, our wait staff brought a larger serving of bread than came with the dish in the first place. In addition, it was hot and soft. I saved some to eat with my ribs. The two who order the green tomatoes wrongly thought that the dish is hot when served, but with fresh Gulf crab and pimento cheese on top, it tasted fine cold. The entrees we ate were the Bone-In Beef Short Rib, the Mustard Glazed Salmon, and two split the Roasted Gulf Snapper. The pot roast gravy on the short rib was rich and flavorful. The hard balance to maintain between the different vegetables being cook evenly was almost right on, being that the onions were slightly under cooked.
A chance you take with short ribs is they are fatter than you want. There was a good measure of tender meat on the large rib I was served. There was nothing but praise for the Salmon and for the Snapper, both cooked just right, flaky, and moist.
We ate on a Thursday evening at eight p.m. finished about 10 p.m. We had drinks, looked over the menu forever, and we were surprised by the crowd for a Thursday night and Auburn not being in session, and we admired the building, asked the wait staff many questions, but never took out our phones to take pictures of the food to post on social media. Thank goodness. It was an enjoyable evening, friendly staff, and good food.