Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

SOUTHERN CUISINE

 


To decide on the subject for my column, I do a great deal of research. I search through cooking websites, magazines, recipes I developed or modified from my chef days, recipes that were given to me, newspaper clippings friends and relatives have given to me. I have used my phone to video a TV show that showed how to cook something I wanted to try, so I could then write the recipe for it. In addition, I do a lot of shopping and I like to go out to eat.

I started collecting recipes from the days when PRODIGY® was my internet portal of choice; it was almost the only portal of choice. In addition, MASTERCOOK® was my choice for collecting and categorizing all of my recipes. I found places that had combined over 15,000 recipes files in MASTERCOOK® format. There are now websites that claim to have over 150,000 recipes. Except for some websites that require you to join and some that even require a membership, most recipes are available with a free download. If you want to cook anything edible, somewhere there is a recipe. In addition, I am sure there are recipes for many inedible items.

However, there a downside to following a recipe as is. The recipe belongs to someone else and the final product will cater to the tastes of the person who developed the recipe. My favorite reading is in old family or regional cookbooks when the person describing a recipe, says “Aunt Cora used this recipe for the people in Forsyth but in Wainscot, we added a few other ingredients.” I think a recipe needs to be prepared as written the first time you try it. This is especially true if the recipe is a long and difficult recipe. After you have cooked for a while and after you have confidence and know your way around a kitchen, you will know where you can tweak a recipe by adjusting the amounts for some ingredients or adding other ingredients to suit your taste. Examples of this would be the herbs and spices called for in a recipe. Changing the spices in a recipe could change the whole character of the dish.

This comes in handy when you want to follow some cooking shows where you prep certain ingredients on Sunday and keep changing the cooking method and the herbs and spices to make different meals for the rest of the week. I like the concept if you save money, buying everything at once and in bulk. In addition, it evolves being in the kitchen and at least assembling and cooking a meal. If you have children all the better, they can be part of the meal preparation. It is always a better choice than taking some processed TV dinner-like meal out of the freezer and nuking it in the microwave.

Buying in bulk can determine your recipe selection for the week. A common vegetable that many people in bulk are onions. I have never just bought one or two onions, except maybe red onions. Since onions have a long shelf life, buying a bag is a cost saver. Check the onions closely. They may not be the same size and some will be older than others will. My favorite preparation for onions to use in a meal plan for the week is to make caramelized onions. Use the onions to top steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs or any German style sausage, or in soups or in a biscuit slider.

Every cook should have the recipe for caramelized onions in their repertoire. If you keep your heat low with a little fat and have a lot of time, and many onions, you are on your way. The best types of onion to caramelize are the basic yellow and white. A sweet yellow onion is better for short cooking times or for raw eating. About four cups of sliced onions will produce about a cup of caramelized onions. A medium sliced onion works best, you do not want the onions to get too soft and lose their shape. Rings or strips are your preference. To four cups of sliced onions, add two tablespoons of oil and two tablespoons of butter. You get the taste of the butter and the oil prevents the butter from burning. The onions will become bitter if they burn. Put onions in a large fry pan and stir every few minutes. One teaspoon of sugar added also deepens the color. I add a teaspoon per onion of Worcestershire Sauce at the end to deepen the color. Prep in advance and save in refrigerator until ready to use. Just heat and serve when needed. A more detailed and gourmet method to prepare caramelized onions is as follows.

WINE-BRAISED CARMELIZED ONIONS

INGREDIENTS

About 1 small clove garlic per 2 onions

Onions (cook about 3-5 at a time)

Olive oil

Butter

One bay leaf per batch

Fresh thyme sprig

Salt and fresh cracked pepper

White wine

Beef stock

METHOD

1. Cut the onions in half lengthwise, and then slice thinly again lengthwise.

2. For every one large onion, heat about one teaspoon olive oil in a large, heavy-bottom pan over medium heat.

3. Add the same amount of butter, and allow the butter to melt, and then add minced garlic. Allow the garlic to soften (but not color), then add the onions.

4. Stir to coat the garlic and onions in oil/ butter, add a bay leaf and a small sprig of thyme, then turn down the heat to medium low (so onions don’t burn).

5. Continue to cook the onions until they are soft and deep golden brown, 30-40 minutes (depending on how many onions you cook).

6. Add about ¼-cup white wine, and ¼ cup stock, and allow to reduce down with the onions, another 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside enough onions for grilled cheese sandwich.

7. The rest, throw into a pot and make French Onion Soup.

There are other numerous ways to use the onions. Add to a salad, either a green leaf or even better in a pasta salad. A topping for a hamburger cannot be beat. Moreover, since you make your own pizza (hint) instead of buying an overly expensive frozen or a “to go” from a chain store, adding caramelized onions to your homemade pizza sauce or as a topping will enhance the flavor. While I write this article, the weather warnings are out about a hard freeze tonight. It should be the coldest day since January. However, Spring is in the air and that means we can get out and enjoy the food that has its own day or week to celebrate in April. Some foods have their own month; April is Florida Tomato Month, Fresh Celery Month, Garlic Month, Soy Foods Month, and Soft Pretzel Month. April is also National Grilled Cheese Month. Do you remember the recipe for caramelized onions? Hint!

How about a grilled cheese sandwich with the onions you just caramelized? It almost tastes like you are eating French Onion soup, hence the name, French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese. However, before you dive in and think this is just another grilled cheese sandwich, be watchful of these items; first, the thickness of the bread, the amount of butter and the temperature of the onions. If the bread is too thick, the bread will grill and burn before the cheese has melted. Second, I do not use butter on the outside of the sandwich. There is butter on the inside and that is plenty of butter. Thinly spread a good mayonnaise (Duke’s) on the side on the bread you are going to grill. This will produce a nice brown crispy exterior. Third, heat the onions before you assemble the sandwich. Again, the cheese needs to melt before the bread gets too brown. You will build the sandwich on one slice of bread and then cap it with the other slice.

FRENCH ONION SOUP GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

INGREDIENTS

Duke’s mayonnaise, just enough to thinly coat the outside of sandwich

Two slices of bread (hard-crusted French baguette or the like)

One-tablespoon soft butter

Enough gruyere cheese, shredded, to cover both slices of bread

One-half cup of your heated onions you caramelized earlier

Fresh minced parsley or thyme leaves

Salt and pepper

METHOD

1. Start warming a frying pan on low to medium heat.

2. Spread mayonnaise on one side of one slice of bread, place mayo side down on you work surface next to the other slice of bread.

3. Spread butter on each slice of bread.

4. Top one piece of bread with half of the cheese and then top the cheese with all of the heated onions.

5. Sprinkle herbs and then salt and pepper on onions.

6. Top the onions with the rest of the cheese.

7. Cover with the other buttered piece of bread, butter down.

8. Spread a thin coat of mayo on top of bread.

9. Transfer sandwich to the heated pan.

10. Watch for bread to get toasty brown and the cheese to melt. Flip over and continue until both sides have browned nicely and the cheese has melted.

Enjoy!

I had an invitation to go Sardis on Saint Patrick’s Day and visit a historic home that was on part of the Historic Selma Pilgrimage. I visited the Hain-Harrelson House (c. 1913) and I have a deep appreciation for the organizations and people that own and maintain these historic properties. This is a beautiful home and shows that you can have a period decor and still have modern comforts. Of course, the stove and refrigerator and the kitchen itself caught my attention. The desire to work harder on my house always overcomes me when I visit homes built in the early 1800’s.

There was a cheese and wine reception on the grounds. No food or wine allowed inside the house, I would think not! The cheese postponed my desire to get some more substantial food into me. To accomplish that we were off to the SAND BAR, on Marina Drive in Selma.

SAND BAR

Marina Drive, Selma, AL

Restaurant Review

If you like tender cornmeal, crusted fried catfish with a moist and flaky interior then you should eat here. If you want to hang out with your friends, enjoy some drinks and fried catfish, burgers, hot dogs, seafood baskets, plates, salads, and wraps this is a place to come. If you want to hang out with lots of friends, try the Sand Bar on Saint Patrick’s Day!

I am more forgiving than most about having to wait for your order. I understand what is going on in the kitchen and at the bar when there are people standing at the door waiting for a table and we were a table of six. I did not think it was an overly long wait. We did get our drinks early to keep us busy. When the food did come, it was all at once and the fish was hot. Moreover, with an order like this in a bar, I was happy to see that every order was correct and no one said anything during the meal except how good the catfish was. Everyone ordered something different, from a wrap, a platter, a basket, and a salad. Crafty me, I did not want to fill up on French fries, so I ordered the Catfish salad. For less money, I got more catfish. The salad part was just iceberg lettuce, and I think tomato and shredded cheese. There did not seem to be a choice of dressings but it came with balsamic vinaigrette. There was a listing for Cheese Curds on the menu, but it was actually cheese cubes, battered and fried. Our wait staff gave me a choice of cheddar or pepper jack. After many shakes of the hot sauce that was on the table, the pepper jack tasted like it had some peppers in it.

I would like to come back to the Sand Bar, but not next Saint Patrick’s Day. The bill for my wife and I was $27 for the food the other $26 was for the libations. It is a bar! The most expensive item on the menu at $16 is the seafood basket with 2 pieces of fish, four shrimp, four oysters, fries, and hushpuppies. For about $20, you can get an appetizer, catfish basket and a big draft cup.

“One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devout our attention to eating.” Luciano Pavarotti

 

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