The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for March

Have you ever watched a carpenter preparing to make a piece of furniture, or a artist starting to put their vision on a canvas? Or watched a professional chef prep for a meal? Have you noticed what anyone preparing to paint, assemble, repair, or prepare a meal have in common? They have all of the materials, be it paint, wood, tools, and if need be, instructions, on hand and easily accessible before they started. I have lightly covered this before. The term mise en place means "everything in its place" and is used in the culinary world to a point that in professional kitchens it is engrained in chefs as a state of mind.

Mise en place is also important in the home kitchen. If you are following a long recipe, the recipe calls for several different time sensitive steps, and the list of ingredients is more than two items (LOL), having your yourself organized, will make the experience easier and more enjoyable. The final dish will probably look and taste better.

My friend, Dave, sent me a picture of his mise en place before preparing King Ranch Chicken for 30 people. The picture shows his recipe close at hand next to his glass of wine. I'm sure the wine is an ingredient in the recipe! I know his kitchen and the knives and other utensils he will need are either in the drawers under the cutting board or on a knife rack behind him. Also the sink is behind him. His recipe has been printed out and I am sure that he added steps and clarified the procedures he was going to follow. When setting up your mise en place, remember that you need to pay attention also to the utensils, not just the food required for that particular recipe. Does the recipe call for the use of a cheese cutter, a cheese knife, or a cheese slicer? They all have different purposes when handling cheese.

There are two other terms that my wife, Anne, and I discuss when we are planning a dinner party. They are “service a la russe” and “service a la francaise.” The first term is dining when the courses are brought to the table sequentially. An example is when you are served the salad or soup first, then the entree and then the dessert. The later term is when all the food is brought at once and set on the table. The “Southernized” terms are, “plate up” or “family style.” For plate up my wife and I will have the salads on the table when we call everyone to dinner. While the guests are eating their salad I will plate and then serve the entree. When the guests are close to being finished with the entree, Anne will then prepare and serve the dessert. As for family style, the meal will be divided up into bowls and platters and everything will be on the table when the guests are called. The bowls and platters are passed around the table so each guest can chose which and how much they want of each item. Family style for a group of people larger than the number of place settings at your dining room table would warrant a buffet station and seating locations around the house. The deciding factor for which method to use is the number of guests.

Every once in a while, I come across an article that has some sort of list. Like the top ten things to eat, drink, buy at COSTCO, and don't eat, don't drink and should not buy at COSTCO. My favorite lists are the ones about kitchen gadgets, ratings of different foods, and just general tips to make your life easier. A list of tips to make your life in the kitchen easier, is my favorite. I am going to share some of the tips that I did not know of forgot about and will heed in the future. This list was in ESQUIRE. Not sure which, the web site or the magazine, or both.

Kitchen Tips:

1. Line your refrigerator crisper drawer with paper towels. This will absorb moisture and keep your fruit and vegetables from prematurely going bad.

2. If you need a small amount of lemon juice, do not cut the lemon into pieces because whatever you do not use will just dry up and you will end up throwing it away. Grab a skewer and poke a hole in the lemon. Then just squeeze the lemon the get the juice you need. The lemon will still be fresh the next time you need it.

3. To keep your hard cheeses, the ones with a rind or wax covering, from being exposed to the air and get hard and dry, rub the exposed cheese with butter. You are using a dairy product to protect a dairy product.

4. When radishes, celery, or carrots lose their crunch, put them in a bowl of ice water with a potato slice. They will crisp right up.

5. Store your plastic tubs of sour cream and cottage cheese upside down. The vacuum this creates with inhibit bacteria growth.

6. I think this is a fairly well-known tip about honey. Honey is the only non-perishable food. It has not gone bad because it is cloudy or crystal have formed in it. Be careful of the container the honey is in(no metal or thin plastic) and microwave the honey in 15 to 20 second increments until crystal clear.

7. For short term storage, put leftover pasta in a sealed plastic bag with as much air squeezed out as possible, and refrigerate. When you need it, take pasta out of the bag and drop in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds. This will heat and restore moisture to the pasta.

8. If you are not sure how to cook a piece of tough meat, first marinate it in beer, vinegar, papaya, tomato juice or pineapple juice. The acid in these liquids will soften the meat. How long is up to you. Too long and you will end up with a pan of mush.

9. I have never had the desire to hasten the ripening of my fruit, I wish I could stop it until I was ready to eat the fruit. But if you have some bananas or other fruit that is not quite ready to be eaten, place the fruit in a paper bag with a apple. The apple produces ethylene gas and will speed the process. Shippers of tomatoes use this method to ripen green tomatoes. Green tomatoes ship better than ripe ones.

10. If the instructions on the box of instant chocolate pudding calls for water substitute whipping cream. End product is thicker, creamier and yummier.

11. My favorite bacon tip, is save your bacon fat. One of hundreds of reasons to save bacon fat, is for use in a spinach salad. Mix two parts bacon fat with three parts balsamic vinegar for your dressing. If you need the dressing to be a little tamer add one part vegetable oil to the mix.

12. If you do not have a salad spinner, get one. When you get home with your whole heads of salad greens, give the leaves a rinse and then a spin. Roll the leaves in a dish cloth lined with paper towels and put in your paper towel lined crisper. Remember tip number one? If I do not have a lot of greens, I wrap them in paper towels and put in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

It is a school day and the kids need to be fed or you are in a hurry to get to work and everyone needs something quick and healthy to eat. You can pull out some store bought pancakes or waffles from the freezer, but I said something healthy and quick. The toaster is ready and you want to load it with something besides a tasteless over priced frozen waffle. So you load it with a frozen waffle or pancake that has over 25 grams of protein. This is where you can use tip

number nine with those over-ripe bananas that you left for too long in that bag with that apple. The other plus with this recipe is it is gluten free. And Elvis would love them.


Depending on the style of your waffle iron, this recipe can make about four waffles.


Two cups over ripe bananas, mashed

One teaspoon molasses

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

One tablespoon corn starch

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

Six large eggs

1 ½ cups peanut butter, your favorite. I recommend a sugar free smooth peanut butter.


1. Preheat waffle iron.

2. Mix together the bananas, baking powder, corn starch, molasses and vanilla in a large bowl.

3. Whisk in the eggs until smooth and then the peanut butter.

If your waffle needs it, spray with cooking spray.

4. Start with one cup of batter to check your waffle iron size. Add more or cut back as needed.

5. With most waffle irons about 5 minutes will be enough time to cook.

If you are industrious in the morning, cook to order. If you are in a fog in the morning, cook several batches and freeze them. Your toaster will heat the waffles and you will need to heat the butter and syrup. Also top with fresh berries. And as with any batter like this, you can make pancakes.

I am always looking for something out of the ordinary or just weird to cook. I have found something that I knew about but just never tried. And that is black rice. For centuries, black rice was known as Forbidden Rice, because the only people allowed to eat it were the emperors of China.

My how the world has changed because you can buy black rice at Walmart and on Amazon! It is said to help your heart and has antioxidants to fight chronic diseases, is high in fiber, improves your blood sugar levels, is gluten free and is high in protein. And it is low calorie and low fat. I think the only reason it has not caught on in the mass market is it takes long to cook and is still fairly pricey compared to the white tasteless rice that we eat.

You can serve black rice (which is more purple than black) as you do any rice. The color and cooking time limits its use. But I found a recipe using black rice in a salad and the color does not interfere with the rest of the ingredients. The final assemble salad has good presentation at a meal. This recipe can be changed by using cooked yellow (saffron) rice if black rice is unavailable and by adding frozen peas that are thawed. You can then call it Paella Shrimp Salad.

The recipe has sixteen ingredients and several steps, but remember mice en place and you should be able to make the salad without any trouble.

I am always good for a celebration. A celebration of food is a plus. So for the whole month of March we can celebrate Fresh Celery, Noodles, Flour, Nutrition, Peanuts, Sauce, and Caffeine Awareness. You can get real tired of fresh celery and noodles about a week into the month, so enjoy a day when you can appreciate the food without over doing it. On the Fourth of March, enjoy National Poundcake Day. My wife is noted in town for her poundcakes. Do not miss National Irish Food Day on the 17th. Most people on that day will be celebrating with something besides Irish food. Try the Peanut Butter and Banana Waffles on International Waffle Day, the 25th. That is if you missed the First of March, National Peanut Butter Lover's Day. What a way to end the month but with National Turkey Neck Soup Day on the 30th, and on the last day of the month, National Oyster on the Half Shell Day.

I will have to find a good recipe for turkey necks. I like them smoked.



Two cups cooked black rice at room temperature

One 14-ounce jar quartered artichoke hearts drained

1 pound shrimp, medium size cooked and peeled, cold

½ red bell pepper cut to 1/2" dice

½ yellow bell pepper cut to 1/2" dice

Four green onions thinly sliced

One large tomato seeded and cut into 1/2" dice

Two cups kale leaves tough stems removed, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh basil leaves thinly sliced

Two tablespoons fresh mint leaves thinly sliced


One lemon zested and juiced

One teaspoon Dijon mustard

Four tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

One large clove garlic minced



Combine the shrimp, artichoke hearts, rice, bell peppers, onion, tomato, and kale into a large bowl. Set aside.


In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic until emulsified.


Add the basil, mint and dressing to the salad and toss well to combine. Serve.


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