Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for August

 

August 1, 2019 | View PDF



According to my WSFA weather app, the heat index that day was up to 109 degrees. It was almost hard to breath. I was outside picking figs, tomatoes, jalapenos, and pears. Not being a complete fool, I would pick figs and go inside to cool off. Then pick tomatoes and go cool off. Repeating the picking and cooling until I could not stand the heat anymore. I had not finished the picking, but with that heat, I was thinking about waiting until autumn before I went out there again. I waited until dusk, but it was not much cooler, just darker.

My dilemma every summer is how to turn my fresh harvest or my farmers’ market purchases into meals that would not heat up the kitchen. I did some research for cold meal recipes and most recipes call for cooking the food and then making it cold or at least room temperature before eating. Not having a vent hood, I do not want to heat up the kitchen. Therefore, I want to do as little cooking as possible.

I have a gas stove. The oven is somewhat insulated, so does not heat the kitchen too much however one burner almost overpowers the air conditioner, so that’s out. I have a barbeque grill to cook on but it is outside. My toaster oven is large enough for a medium size casserole dish. It does not affect the temperature in the kitchen enough to fret about, but there is a point where you get tired of casseroles. My steamer is close to being an ideal appliance for a hard to cool kitchen. Most of the steam condenses back to water in the steamer, and not in the kitchen. I can steam cook veggies early in the day and put them in the refrigerator to cool and eat later. Steam cooking cauliflower is great for making a low carb mashed potato substitute. The bane of a chef’s kitchen is the microwave. I never worked in a kitchen that had a microwave. Yet there are times when a microwave pays for itself. Cooking eggs, defrosting, baking potatoes, and making nachos are the top uses for my microwave. Not heating up the kitchen is the best feature. Some cautions on microwave cooking include pricking the skin on a potato to keep it from exploding, do not heat eggs in their shell, and remember foods will keep increasing in temperature for a short while after removing them from the microwave. Be careful eating the food right away. Research now says that cooking by microwave does not affect the nutritional value of the food, as long as you do not nuke the food to death.

My goal is to prepare a dish that takes little or no cooking thus keeping the kitchen at a comfortable temperature and does not totally depend on raw vegetables. Your kitchen may not have the cooling problems as mine. How you cook the pasta for this dish will be different from mine. The difference is how I get my water to a boil. Using some basic science, I know that starches start to absorb water at approximately 180 degrees. As long as your water is at a rolling boil (212 degrees) when you add the pasta and your kitchen is at normal room temperature, the water will remain well above 180 degrees off the heat for longer than the typical 8 to 10 minutes it takes for the pasta to cook. Therefore, I boil my water in an electric teakettle. It will bring four cups of tap water to a rolling boil in four minutes. I boil water, pour it over the pasta in bowl, and cover it. After about a minute stir your pasta a couple times to prevent sticking, then cover again and let it sit until it is al dente. You will have cooked pasta without keeping the burner on, wasting energy, or having to wait around the kitchen to make sure your pot does not boil over.

Besides trying a different method of cooking pasta, I am presenting the no cook meal in a bread bowl as a cold salad. This is my rendition of a panzanella salad. Instead of having bread in the salad, the salad is in the bread. You can play with this recipe by substituting different meats, cheeses, and green vegetables.

Rustic Bread Bowl Salad

Two portions:

INGREDIENTS

Ingredients for salad

2 cups short pasta (e.g. penne)

¾-cup cherry tomatoes

Three ½ ounces sun-dried tomatoes (in oil)

Two bell peppers

Three ½ ounces arugula

One small onion (red)

½-cup pine nuts (toasted if you have a cool kitchen)

2 ounces Serrano ham (or substitute prosciutto, capocollo, or pepperoni)

Whole piece Parmesan cheese (shave at service)

Four tablespoons Sun-dried tomato oil

Two tablespoons Balsamic vinegar (white) or White wine vinegar

Salt

Pepper

Sourdough Bread Small round rustic loaf, one per serving. Use a large loaf for multiple servings.

Method for salad

Cook pasta according to package or preferred method, drain and let cool.

Peel and cut onion in half and then into thin half rings.

Drain sun-dried tomatoes and save oil. Cut sundried tomatoes into thin strips. Halve the

cherry tomatoes.

Cut bell peppers into bite sized pieces.

Combine the cooled pasta, onion, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts,

and arugula in a bowl. Mix in the sun-dried tomato oil and vinegar.

Tear the ham into pieces and add to salad.

If desired, chop the leftover bread from preparing the bread bowl and add to salad. Additional oil and vinegar may be required is salad is dry.INSTRUCTIONS:

Method for bread bowl

Make your own or purchase a rustic-type round loaf of bread. I found a loaf that was

par-baked and two of them fit in my toaster oven. As my pictures show, I have two sizes of

bread. For a side dish, I used the smaller loaf. For a group meal, use the larger loaf

instead of an everyday serving dish.

The final bake improves the flavor of the bread and crisps the outside nicely.

Cut and remove a quarter to a third of the top of the bread. Scoop out the inside of the loaf to

form a bowl, leaving enough to hold the shape of a bowl. If par-baked, prepare the bread

bowl before doing the final bake.

Fill the bread bowls and top with shaved parmesan.

When looking for ideas for recipes, I always find ways to improve the taste, looks, or time spent on a dish. I know the basics, but by tweaking a part of what I am doing, I may find something that I have missed that improves a recipe, or at least makes it easier to prepare. You know how to scramble eggs, boil water, measure ingredients, but there are ways that may better the outcome. I recently found these a few tweaks.

1. Tips to Make Perfect Scrambled Eggs

Eggs are both inexpensive and extremely versatile. For the perfect scrambled egg, be careful not to overbeat the eggs. Adding some salt to half-and-half produces scrambled eggs that are decently puffed. Adding extra yolks to the mix yields richer results. Starting with a combination of first low heat then higher heat at the end gives creamy scrambled eggs. The high heat is to remove some of the moisture but not too much that will turn the scrambled eggs into rubber chewy morsels. Use a smaller skillet, to keep the eggs in a thicker layer, thereby producing larger curds.

2. How to Poach an Egg

Once you have mastered scrambled eggs, the next step in your egg education is the perfect poached egg. Use the freshest eggs possible. If presentation is important, crack the eggs into a colander to strain the whites prior to cooking. In a Dutch oven, heat water, a small amount of vinegar and salt to a low boil. Remove it from the heat, and gently add the eggs. Set your timer to 3 minutes for eggs that are firm yet gooey.

3. How to Simmer and Boil Water

The difference between simmering and boiling water can mean the difference between a chunky vegetable soup and a bowl of mush. Water reaches its boiling point and starts to evaporate at 212 degrees, while a simmer is generally between 185 and 205 degrees. Nevertheless, you do not have to get out a thermometer to tell the difference between the two. If bubbles aggressively break the surface of the water, it is boiling; if the bubbles are smaller and gentler, it is simmering. Use boiling water to cook sturdy foods like dried pasta and hearty vegetables, but simmer delicate ingredients like rice and sliced potatoes.

4. Read the entire recipe before starting to cook.

How many times have you started cooking only to realize that you are missing an ingredient or do not have something prepped that needs to go into the pot right away? There is a simple way to avoid this stress: Always read a recipe before beginning to prep and cook.

5. How to Chop an Onion

Cutting an onion like a pro is about more than imitating your favorite TV chefs; the key to even cooking is evenly sized pieces. Start by halving the onion, peeling it, and trimming the top. Make horizontal cuts and then vertical cuts, and finally slice across those previous cuts.

6. How to Use a Digital Thermometer

Thermometers are one of the most useful pieces of equipment in the kitchen because they take the guesswork out of cooking meat (and many other things). Using a thermometer is a surefire way to know when your food is done or even safe to eat whether you are cooking a chicken breast or a beef tenderloin.

7. How to Use Measuring Cups for Wet and Dry Foods

You really do need two sets of measuring cups. Measuring cups made for dry ingredients allow you to level off the excess, while those made for liquid ingredients are transparent, so you can see exactly how much liquid you are using.

This next recipe requires no cooking, has no pasta, It is a colorful combination of vegetables and beans.

Lively Colored Salad

Servings: 10

INGREDIENTS

2 ¾ pounds mixed beans (canned)

14 ounces corn (canned)

1 onion

1 yellow bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

½ cup olive oil

½ cup white wine vinegar

1 lemon (juice)

2 tbsp. sugar

½ tbsp. salt

½ tbsp. pepper

½ tbsp. ground cumin

½ tsp chili powder

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. In a colander, strain the beans and rinse to get rid of the preserving juices.

2. Then strain the corn.

3. Finely dice onion and chop bell peppers into a medium dice.

4. Add all the ingredients to a big mixing bowl and stir until completely combined.

5. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours to combine flavors.

6. Serve as a meal in a shallow bowl lined with multi-colored greens or as a side with a fish dish.

While skimming through several foodstuffs related web sites, I came upon an article about the James Beard Awards this year. If you do not know, the James Beard Foundations recognizes chefs, restaurateurs, authors, and journalists every year. This year the Foundation changed rules to reflect race and gender imbalances in the food industry. However, there is still a bias against some regional cuisines in favor of others. The chefs that graduate from culinary schools pass on the bias toward French, European, Italian, and other so-called classical cuisines. There is a brighter future for the regional cuisines of the South. The Carolinas, Texas, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Birmingham are introducing the public to innovating, unique, and excellent fares using techniques, ingredients, and cooking methods from the South.

This quote from Junebabyseattle.com sums up what I sometimes try to

convey in this article.

“…America’s culinary history was built on corn, peas, and the hog; many of the ingredients associated with Southern food. Seen through the eyes of most Americans as inferior, unsophisticated, and unhealthy, Southern food reflects hard times and resourcefulness and is nothing short of beautiful. It is cuisine to be respected and celebrated”

AMEN.

 

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