Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for February

 

February 1, 2018 | View PDF



Is there something wrong with this winter’s weather? We had two snowfalls of over three inches each, and days when the temperature never got above freezing, and a few days later three inches of rain in a couple of hours. One can look at what happened as a blessing. The freeze and snow will kill the mosquitoes, and the rain will raise the water table so the ground will be just right for planting this spring.

We need to start now to be ready for the beautiful spring weather that will come sooner than later. My wife and I started canning to get back into the swing of things in the kitchen. Alternative motive for canning is; it is still cold outside and canning heats the kitchen.

We started with pepper jelly and pickled jalapenos. We used the peppers that I froze last year, because there were so many peppers we ran out of jars to can them. Another way to keep the kitchen warm is to make soups. We like making a large pot of soup, dividing it up into pint Mason jars, and then freezing them. A frozen ham hock leftover from Thanksgiving, a dollar bag of white beans, some stock, and you are on your way to a pot of Senate Bean soup. Our freezer is always loaded with jars of soups.

February is still winter but there are vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and fennel that are in season. Potatoes, parsnips, radishes, and turnips should also be available. We do not can too many vegetables, except we have canned okra, green beans, and pickled cauliflower. Most of the time, we buy vegetables such as corn on the cob and broccoli, prep it, and freeze it in smaller amounts. We vacuum seal it to retard freezer burn from long stays in the freezer. Radishes are in season and they are perfect to add to a salad for a little extra zing. The radishes right now are big, crisp, and full of flavor. In addition, to curb the chance of scurvy (I am kidding); it is a good idea to stock up on tangelos and tangerines.

Watching cooking shows has its drawbacks. I am loaded with many short, unrelated tidbits of information, such as the craze right now in the food world are super-foods. Whole Foods even has a section of an aisle labeled Superfoods. Turmeric, sprouted foods, and dairy-free milk top the list. I have been eating sprouted bread for some time now. It is expensive and I have only found the bread in the frozen bread section of upscale grocery stores. The only one I know of is Ezekiel 4:9 bread and I do like it. For dairy-free milk, the only one I like to drink is unsweetened almond milk. I can find it on sale for less than cow’s milk and I like it on my cereal.

Another craze right now is picking certain days or months to abstain from eating or drinking something. My least favorite is Meatless Mondays. To me, Meatless Monday brings Tuesday Tasteless Leftover day.

STOCKED PANTRY

Of course, there is a new list of items to have in your pantry. I am a big fan of a stocked pantry and if you saw my pantry, you would think I was preparing for an apocalypse. However, I can go into my pantry and make Soupe `a l'Oignon Gratinee` (French Onion Soup) and Hachis Parmentier (French Shepherd’s pie) and not have to go to the store.

So check your pantry and count how many of these items you have in stock.

1. Whole skin on almonds

2. 2% Greek yogurt

3. Eggs

4. Baby greens

5. Canned beans

6. Dried mushrooms

7. Lemons

8. Parmesan cheese with a rind

9. Apple cider vinegar

10. Hot sauce

11. Crushed red pepper flakes

12. Olive oil, but not just extra

virgin oil

BEANS...BEANS...BEANS

Canned beans are a pantry favorite because of the varied types of beans available and low sodium options. Beans are also good for you. They can be a

substitution in recipes to lower the fat content. A good example is in hummus and pesto. In pesto, the beans lower the fat and cost.

NAVY BEAN PESTO

From the FOODNETWORK

This is not so much a recipe but a guide and an alternative to buying expensive pine nuts.

Empty a can of drained navy beans, with olive oil, parmesan, sautéed garlic and fresh basil (or spinach) in a food processor; adjust the consistency with a little water add more of some ingredients to adjust taste. Add some lemon zest for zip and use as a sandwich spread or put a dollop on a fish fillet. Add a spoonful to a vegetable soup.

I am making a conscious effort to marinade or brine all the meat that I cook to impart more flavors into sometimes-bland pieces of meat, I have been looking for some quick and easy marinades and found a new theory on the length of time that meats should marinate. The common belief was that the longer the meat marinated the better. Now, a shorter marinade is best. A marinade usually contains an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, which breaks down proteins and acts as a tenderizer. If the meat is in the marinade too long, the meat will become mushy. Freezing the meat after marinating will

only make the texture worse. The acid content of the marinade should be proportional to the toughness of the meat.

Basic Brine

Ingredients

1-cup kosher salt

1-cup light brown sugar

2 quarts cold water

2 cups cold strong coffee (substitute two bay leaves for fish brine)

Directions

Step 1. Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes or until salt and sugar dissolve. Cool completely.

Step 2. Submerge meat in brine, weighing down with a plate to keep it covered, if necessary. Thin fish, such as flounder, should sit in brine only 10 minutes to 1 hour; thick fish, such as salmon, 1 hour; chicken pieces, 2 hours; and pork, 4 hours. Large meats, such as whole turkey, should brine 12 to 24 hours.

Step 3. Rinse meat to remove any surface salt, if necessary. Then cook as recipe directs.

Brining will increase the moisture in the meat. Muscle fibers absorb liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid gets lost during cooking, but since the meat is juicier at the start of cooking, it ends up juicy after cooking. This is a brine recipe to use for a wide variety of meats.

I have included three marinades that will tenderize meat and will leave a tasty coating on the meat, especially after grilling the meat over an open flame or charcoal. Recipes for marinades are all over the internet; these were adapted from Allrecipes and Delish.

The first marinade is for beef. This recipe calls for the meat to marinate overnight.

Orange & Pale Ale Marinade

Ingredients

For 2 pounds of beef, best for not the most tender steaks

1. ½ cup medium-bodied beer, such as pale ale

2. Zest and juice of one large orange

3. 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4. 1 tablespoon soy sauce

5. 1 large garlic clove- minced

6. ½ medium onion, peeled and coarsely shredded on a box grater

7. 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

1. Whisk all ingredients together.

2. Put beef in a nonreactive baking dish and pour marinade over, turning to coat.

3. Marinate for one day, covered and chilled.

4. Remove meat and discard marinade. Pan cook or grill as desired until done.

The next marinade is for chicken thighs and has a shorter marinade time, one to two hours.

Honey-Lime Chicken

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Juice of two limes

1-tablespoon honey

Two cloves garlic minced

½-teaspoon ground Turmeric

¼-teaspoon ground ginger

Four bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

Directions

1. Make marinade: whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, honey, garlic, Turmeric, and ginger

2. Add chicken and toss to evenly coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 425F. To a large ovenproof skillet, add remaining oil, enough to coat the bottom of pan. Heat pan over medium high heat. Remove from marinade and season meat on both sides with salt and pepper. With the skin side down, place chicken in pan. Sear until the skin becomes golden and crispy, about 6 minutes. Flip the thighs and cook two more minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the pan to the oven; bake until the chicken has cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes more.

4. Good served with rice.

The next marinade is for fish. The low acid level will not cook the fish before its ready for the oven.

White Wine-Dijon Fish Marinade

Ingredients

Two cups dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground pepper

½-teaspoon cayenne pepper

One-pound tilapia, halibut,

or salmon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh lemon slices

Directions

1. In a large bowl, whisk together white wine, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

2. Add fish and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Marinate in refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight (preferably 12 hours).

3. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray.

4. Remove fish from marinade and place in prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then top with fresh lemon slices.

5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until opaque and lightly brown on edges.

Remove from oven; serve immediately.

BACON

Now for some not so serious thoughts. Can you name ten different ways you can cook bacon? Your plate of bacon and eggs can use a sprucing up. Your kids will love it.

1. Waffle Iron: There are different patterns to place the bacon strips; woven, side-by-side, or checkerboard. The pattern will determine if you use it as a garnish, a side or as part of a sandwich.

2. Deep Fried: Fry to whatever crispness you want. This is a way to make a not too healthy piece of pork even less so.

3. Oven: When cooking for breakfast banquets, we could have 20 full size sheet pans full of bacon ready to cook at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. Having the bacon on racks, the bacon fat would drip to the pan and we would pour it into hotel pans and save it in the cooler, for use in recipes for corn bread, greens, and many other southern recipes.

4. Microwave: My least favorite way to cook bacon. Cover the bacon with a paper towel to keep the inside of your microwave free of splattered bacon fat. The paper towel catches all of the good fat and you throw it away, what a waste. In addition, the bacon does not cook evenly, tough at one end and limp at the other end. The exception is with pre-cooked bacon. A very short cooking time produces desired results, though at a higher cost.

5. Grilled: To me, this is more trouble than it is worth. The bacon will shrink up and fall through the grill and the drippings catch fire and burn everything. Having the bacon coming right off the grill and onto your hamburger patty is nirvana.

6. Skillet: Good, but you need a large skillet to cook more than a few slices of bacon. If the bacon fat that accumulates is not poured off frequently, it becomes deep fried bacon.

7. Smoked: Yummy. Smoke either a slice or a slab. If you have a good smoker, 30 minutes will be long enough.

8. Broiled: I think this is the worse way to cook bacon. I have a gas broiler, and all I can think of is all that fat splattering around inside my oven, waiting to smoke me out of the kitchen. My pecan pie baked a couple of days later, will taste like bacon. Hmm, maybe not that bad.

9. Dehydrated: 200 degrees for 8 to 12 hours, good for snacks and camping with its jerky like texture, but bacon is not jerky. Buy some good jerky or make real jerky yourself.

10. Electric griddle: My favorite. Easy to control the temperature and the bacon fat collects in a tray underneath. If I am going to cook bacon for any reason, I cook a whole package and I buy packaged bacon by the pound. Therefore, I bought a griddle that I can cook a whole pound of bacon as crispy as I want without prep, waste or potential for fires or smoke alarms going off.

We have our lists of recipes, a few tips to save money and a method to eat healthier; however, what is our focus when we go in the kitchen to prepare a meal? Are you cooking for yourself or a family? Are there children for whom you want to set an example? Are you cooking just to fill a stomach or to impress, either yourself or others? Do we aspire to be the next Iron Chef?

Some of my most enjoyable meals came from what I would call a well-rounded cook.

I do not mean a cook that is a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. To be well-rounded, one must be knowledgeable, skilled, and a master of the basics, but not opposed to learning new things. In addition, share what you have learned and love what you are doing. Remember that properly prepared and properly cooked foods taste better and eating healthy requires attention to detail.

 

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