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Southern Cuisine - March

 

I attended a Beekeeping symposium last month after having mixed luck with my hives. There was an entire-day beginner’s class to review what you have been doing right with your bees and to keep from doing things wrong. I have been able to collect 3 gallons of honey from my first hive but the next two hives collapsed. Besides the classes I went around talking and asking questions to the vendors showcasing the latest technology and hardware. Learn a few things that will help me, but I only bought a tee-shirt with the logo of beekeepers at Auburn, “AU bees”.

Beekeeping is not a cheap hobby but an important part of the ecosystem. Over the past decade colonies of bees have been disappearing and we are not quite sure why. “Colony collapse disorder” has caused billions of bees to leave their hives and never return and in some areas 90% of the bees have disappeared.

Here are some interesting facts about bees; they are the only insects that produce food eaten by man, and the honey has been used as an antiseptic and first aid treatment for burns and cuts, and is incredibly healthy and includes enzymes, vitamins, minerals and pinocembrin, an antioxidant associated with improved brain function. But, most important is what would happen if there were no more bees. The world would lose all the plants that bees pollinate. Then lose all the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. I have read that the greatest impact if there were no more bees would be that man would only have four years left to live. But research is coming close to discovering ways to keep bees healthy and thriving. Beekeeping is a thriving industry with more people building hives and also planting flowers and plants to attract and help feed bees.

The month of March has several important celebration days.

March 3: What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

March 9: International Fanny Pack Day

March 13: National Ear Muff Day and National Chicken Noodle Soup Day

March 17: National Irish Food Day In celebration of Saint Day, try making some traditional Irish food—from Irish Soda Bread to Corned Beef and Cabbage.

March 21: Absolutely Incredible Kid Day

March 23: National Chips and Dips Day

March 30: National Turkey Neck Soup Day. An old American way to celebrate the end of Winter and the promise of Spring. Turkey Neck Soup is pretty much what it says – a soup whose stock is made from turkey necks. The tough neck meat helps make soups richer.

According to an almanac, the best days in March to bake are the 4th and 5th. Best days to pickle vegetables and fruit are the 12th and 13th. The best days to make jams and jellies is the 21st and 22nd. The only weekend is when you can make your jams and jellies.

Spring break is this month and for families with kids in school or parents that work for schools the normal routine changes. There are people wanting to get fed every mealtime. And the mealtimes get pushed about because there are things to do and places to go. Some go on trips like to the beach or skiing. Some start their gardens and tend to their yards. I start on my beehives.

The weather is iffy this time of year. There is still cold days and the threat of rain looms.

This is the time for hardy stews and warming soups. A time for meals that can be made in large portions and ahead of time, ready when the need arises. This is the time I like to fix something that has not been on my menus for awhile. This month I decided to make French Onion Soup. The soup does not need many ingredients. Yet it is rich and satisfying, especially when you serve it right out of the oven with the cheese bubbling and the whiff of the broth fills the air. I found three recipes that looked promising and read the comments from people that already made the soups. I edited out parts of the recipes that others did not like and I agreed with. All three of the recipes had tweaks to the broth that was the deciding issue for my final recipe.

This or any soup will be fine for a tide you over until the next meal or as a part of a larger meal. Lunch, dinner and supper can be “fly by” meals when everyone is off doing whatever they can during spring break. But breakfast can be a set meal where everyone gets together, somewhat, and plans the days activities. Nothing beats a meal that can be made in advance, serves many, is popular, and fills you up to tackle the day without stopping in an hour because you are hungry. Nothing does these things like a casserole and not too many menu items do this like a “biscuits and sausage gravy” casserole. There is no reason why this can not be served at lunch or dinner. It can be served at supper, too! My grandparents had four meals a day. Supper usually consisted of eggs poached with toast or a biscuit, sausage or bacon, and plenty of hot sauce. To get back at task on hand, I am preparing this casserole for Sunday breakfast at church. Along with cheese grits, fruit and juice.

This dish isn’t better or worse than cooking biscuits and making gravy and pouring the gravy over the biscuits and then serve. It is just easier to do for a group of people where there isn’t a full kitchen available. Which is the main reason for casseroles anyway.

ONE CANNOT THINK WELL, LOVE WELL, SLEEP WELL, IF ONE HAS NOT DINED WELL.

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

INGREDIENTS:

2 cans (16 oz. each) large butter milk biscuits

1 pound ground breakfast sausage (your choice, mild or spicy), see notes:

4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

3 cups whole milk

2 Tablespoons melted butter

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Coat a 9X13 casserole dish with cooking spray.

3. Open both cans of biscuits and cut into fourths.

4. Arrange one can of the cut biscuits evenly around the bottom of the sprayed dish.

5. Bake for ten minutes or until nicely browned.

6. While biscuits are baking, brown the sausage over medium high until cook through. Reduce to medium heat. Mix flour, salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl and then stir the flour mixture into the sausage until completely absorbed. Then add milk and stir frequently until the mixture starts to simmer. Reduce heat and stir frequently until it starts to thicken. Pour gravy over the cooked biscuits and top with the second can of cut biscuits. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the biscuits are a golden brown.

7. Brush the melted butter over the tops of the biscuits. Serve.

Notes: I am making two casserole dishes, so I and combining completely one pound of mild and one pound of spicy sausage. Then dividing it up for the two dishes.

Serves 8-10 in a 9X13 dish.

French Onion Soup

INGREDIENTS:

5 Large yellow onions, peeled, halved and sliced ¼-inch thick. Yield 3 to 4 pounds.

¼ pound butter

1 bay leaf

Pinch of salt

½ cup dry sherry

½ cup brandy

1 ½ cups dry white wine

1 can beef consommé soup

2 quarts beef broth

1 loaf of hard crust country bread. Best if bread is no bigger across than the soup crocks you are using.

Sliced Swiss cheese, one per serving or Gruyere, Mozzarella grated about a cup

Makes about 3 quarts, servings depends on size of bowl

METHOD:

1. Trim the ends off each onion then halve lengthwise. Remove peel and finely slice into half-moon shapes.

2. In a large deep fry pan, at medium-high heat, melt butter and add onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Sauté the onions stirring occasionally, until they have reached a golden brown or dark mahogany color. This should take up to 45 minutes to an hour.

3. If you cook on gas, turn the gas burner off and then add the sherry, brandy and wine. Turn the gas back on and reduce to syrup consistency. Add the consommé and the beef broth and bring to a simmer for at least 20 minutes.

4. Turn on oven broiler. Cut the bread in slices that will fit your toaster and toast to a medium brown.

5. Ladle hot soup into oven proof soup crocks leaving about one inch for the bread. Top with bread and then top with cheese.

6. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

 

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