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Archive for the ‘Southern food’ Category

Every year now it seems that newspapers, food blogs, and radio shows debate the merits of turkey or sides as the highlight of Thanksgiving dinner.  Personally, I’m all about the dressing–cornbread stuffing baked in a separate pan for those of you who don’t have Southern roots.  I’ll never forget the year that my sister, accompanied by my mother, ended up in the emergency room the night before Thanksgiving.  The task of making the cornbread for the dressing fell to my father.  He made the mistake of picking a sweet cornbread recipe and using that cornbread for the dressing.  It’s the only year that I didn’t pig out on the dressing.  Needless to say, it was genuinely disgusting.  (Sorry, Dad!)  That dressing is part of family legend.  So is our regular recipe, anchoring us to our ancestors like Americans’ gastronomy nationwide reflect their origins.

As I’ve moved around the country, I’ve discovered that asking the simple question “Dressing or stuffing?” can place a person’s ancestors faster than any other question.  If you want to get more specific within the South, you have to ask more detailed questions about the recipe.  For example, the Georgia dressing recipe that I grew up with included the traditional cornbread as well as a sage stuffing mix, celery, onions, broth, and eggs.  The result was a mixture as solid as canned cranberry jelly.  We could cut it into neat slices.  (I use an all-scratch method now that stays fluffier, and I like it much better, but don’t tell Mom.)    Mr. Homesteader grew up in south Arkansas, and his dressing recipe included chopped boiled eggs.  Those chopped boiled eggs seem pretty consistent across the flatlands of the state and can mark a delta Arkansan faster than any accent.  Newer recipes that are tasty include squash dressing.

I confess to an endless fascination with dressing and stuffing recipes.  I’ve always wanted to compile a catalog of regional variations.  Will you help me to start that catalog?  You can build the recipe catalog one of two ways.  For both cases, you’ll need to answer the following questions.  You can answer directly on the blog, but if you prefer not to tie your ancestry to your regular name here, you can send answers to my email (Ozarkhomesteader AT yahoo DOT com), and I’ll remove names before I post them under anonymous listings.  (And, yes, I’ll preserve your privacy and not share your information with anyone else.)  You may also email photographs in jpg format to that address, and I’ll upload them with this post.  Folks from outside the US are welcome to join in too!

1.  What’s the recipe?  This can be a precise recipe or a vague one, but it needs to include the key components (like boiled eggs, chiles, giblets, fruit, nuts).

2.  What consistency does the product have?  Can you slice it?  Do you spoon it?  Is it fluffy?  Can you see discrete pieces of bread?

3.  What do you call it?

4.  What place do you call home, as in where you learned the recipe?

5.  What is your primary regional and/or state influence in cooking?  For most people, we’re talking about where your mother and grandmother(s) originated.

6.  Do you have any relatives who aren’t from that region?  If so, from where are they?

7.  How long have you used this recipe?

I hope you like mapping food history as much as I do!  Join the fun, and spread the word so that we can get a good sample here.  Remember to include your food origins location!

Update, November 23, 2011:  Please continue to submit your recipes and memories of dressing and stuffing at your house for Thanksgiving.  We’ve still got lots of the country to cover!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I have a confession:  I like pimento cheese. I still consider pimento cheese a treat.  Unfortunately, I know that, even made with natural ingredients, it’s not good for me.  Thank goodness for red pepper pesto, which provides all of the great pimento cheese taste with none of the guilt.

red pepper pesto on whole-grain penne

For those of you who aren’t Southern, let me begin by explaining the concept of pimento cheese.  Pimento cheese is an obscenely orange creation made of grated yellow cheddar, canned pimento peppers, and mayonnaise or even Miracle Whip.  When I was growing up, you could find it most often served at ladies’ luncheons where women wore fancy hats and drank sherbet punch, student piano recitals where parents eagerly awaited their child’s labored key plunking, and non-catered wedding receptions, where loving friends of the bride and groom decked out the church fellowship hall or local women’s club with crepe paper bells and garlands and tissue paper roses.  The pimento cheese at these events manifest itself spread on white bread that had been cut into shapes like playing card symbols (hearts, diamonds) and seasonal critters and emblems (turkeys, stars) and then made into sandwiches, sans crusts of course. I actually looked forward to events where I could anticipate pimento cheese.  When I moved north for school, I craved pimento cheese as a taste of comfort food from home.  I finally found it in a small grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood populated with–you guessed it–Southern expatriates.

But that was then, and even though I’m back in pimento cheese territory now, instead I feast on red pepper pesto with gusto but no guilt.

Red Pepper Pesto

Begin by broiling 3 sweet pimento peppers, turning regularly until the skin starts to separate from the peppers all over.  Yes, you can use something other than pimento, but pimentos have a special flavor.  I used sheep-nosed pimentos, fresh from the garden.  Take the peppers out of the broiler and while still piping hot, put them in a lidded glass container and set them aside for a few minutes.  Then slip off the skins, rinsing if you need to get the skins off.  Clean up the seeds and membranes inside too.

Now comes the pesto part.  Chop the peppers to get the process started.  Then using a food processing, mortar and pestle, or hand blender, blend the peppers with a tablespoon or more of good olive oil, until you get a nice paste.  Add less than half an ounce of finely grated real parmesan cheese and combine.  Add salt to taste.  That’s the basic version.

If you’d like a little more kick, add a mashed roasted garlic clove or a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts or herbs.

This pesto is great on toast points, crostini, scrambled eggs, or as a pasta sauce.  It’s tasty warm or cold.

Are you a fan of pimento cheese?  What childhood favorite have you converted to a more sophisticated, adult treat?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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I started our summer squash late this year, but we’ve still ended up with bushels of it.  Last year I posted about summer supper squash pancakes, and earlier this year I offered a can-less version of squash casserole.  Of course, you can always sauté squash with onions, but why not go a little crazy and come up with a few more variations?

Earlier this week we had squash roasted with sweet onions, pimento pepper, a little chile pepper, and strips of turkey ham.  The recipe is simple; just cut the onions into chunky slices (half the onion and then quarter and separate into leaves), toss with a little oil, and give them a head start them roasting at 400 degrees F while you cut the squash into nice chunks, the pepper into dice or slivers, and the ham into strips.  Once everything else is prepped, toss it in with the onion, season to taste, and roast for about twenty minutes more.  You can sprinkle fresh, chiffonaded basil or another fresh snipped herb across the top.  I served ours as a side dish with spinach oyster soup, balsamic fig and bleu cheese salad, and crusty grilled bread.  My husband said he could easily enjoy the squash dish as the whole meal. Of course, this squash dish with that characteristic Southern drawl used a lot of squash, but I still had a lot more.

What to do?  How about squash stir-fried with Asian flavors?  This dish is still based on onions and squash, but it’s definitely different from traditional Southern squash.  Begin by slicing a sweet onion into thin slices.  Stir-fry the onions in a blend of walnut oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil and a tablespoon or two of toasted sesame oil.  While the onions fry, cut your squash into chunks and sliver some crystalized ginger (yes, the candy ginger!), about two whole pieces per small squash (yielding a couple of tablespoons or three of slivered crystalized ginger).  Add the squash and crystalized ginger slivers to the stir-fry along with a splash of good soy sauce and, if you want, a splash of hoisin sauce.  Sit fry until a few pieces of the squash start get brown goodness.  I served our Asian-flavored squash with citrus-glazed broccoli and ginger-sesame salmon.  

What’s next?  I’m thinking squash with scallops and grits and perhaps some yellow squash muffins on the side, with cheese to make them a savory addition to supper.  I’m also planning on trying the squash relish that reader Regina posted for me in the comments of this squash post.  And this fall without a doubt I’ll be making some squash dressing to go with chicken or turkey.

How do you use your squash bounty?  What’s the weirdest thing you ever did with squash that tasted good?

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This summer while visiting my dad, I had a chance to go to the heart of cast iron cookware in the United States:  the Lodge Outlet in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee.  (No, I do not have a relationship of any kind with Lodge; I just like their American-made, last-several-lifetimes products.) The Lodge Outlet is located on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama.  It’s right where Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia come together.  Its location no doubt was influenced by its proximity to the Tennessee River and the iron-producing region of the South that stretches from Chattanooga to Birmingham.  Lodge has been manufacturing here for more than a century, and Lodge’s products will last for centuries if you take care of them, making them some of the most eco-friendly housewares available.

The outlet has cast iron galore!

And the outlet has accessories, like walnut chargers.

And they carry a lot of enameled cast iron now too, although I think it’s made in China instead of in the US like everything else in the outlet.  I love the colors, but I try to avoid Chinese products.

Except I may not be able to resist this casserole dish.  Resisting, resisting . . . .

The outlet room is less pretty (thus no photo), but it’s my absolute favorite, because everything is at a really good price.  It’s tempting, and you know you’re getting a good deal.  And then your cart will start to look like this:

And you may start to worry about whether you’re buying too much, but then you see this sign:

Great!  I’ll keep shopping.  And then you get to the check-out counter and discover if you spend six more dollars, you’ll get twenty dollars worth of merchandise for free.  And you do.  And then your cart looks like this:

I’m not a “shopper” by nature, but I have a really hard time restraining myself at the Lodge Outlet.

Some of the things I bought are for gifts, like these 2-and 3-quart Dutch ovens, which will be wedding gifts.  They were half price but aren’t seconds; Lodge is just changing the design slightly.  I love the idea of giving an enduring gift like a Dutch oven to a couple who likes to cook and eat; they can pass it down to their children and their children’s grandchildren.

I bought some things to keep too–shhhhhhhh.  Don’t tell Mr. Homesteader.  I’ve already used them around him, but I don’t think he’s recognized that they’re new.  Check out this great Dutch oven or skillet lid that doubles as a skillet itself but will also fit in the toaster oven, so I can make my deep-dish whole-grain pizza in the summer without heating up the whole house. Of course, I also really like small cast iron for when you’re not cooking for a whole crew.  Check out my papa bear lid/skillet with my new baby skillet and lid.I have used this little fry pan so many times since I brought it home.

It’s not only cute; it works well!

I can have a perfect over-easy fried egg on buttered toast in about 4 minutes, and I can come up with 4 minutes on all but my busiest work mornings!

The lid that fits the little skillet also fits this nifty little pot with legs.  I picked up two of them as my freebees, but I wish now I’d gotten more.  They’ll be perfect for making individual servings of the chili-cheese-cornbread bake this fall and winter.

Imagine lifting the lids on little bread puddings in these tiny cauldrons!

I also got two more of these wonderful cast-iron plates that work for fajitas, for starting fish on the stove top and then finishing in the oven, and for smaller versions of my thinner-crust whole-grain pizza.  I think these “plates” are indispensable, especially with the walnut charger, which makes it so easy to go from oven or stovetop to table.

And ultimately I could not entirely resist the enamelware.  I bought this trivet.  My kitchen is white with red accents, so this trivet is perfect!

And I got a couple of more things that were neither wedding gifts nor for me.  They’re a gift for one of you, my dear readers.  And they weren’t on sale or from the seconds area, but that’s okay, because months ago I said that a camping Dutch oven would be my first giveaway.  Watch for me to post it tonight or tomorrow morning!  I didn’t want readers to miss it in this long post.

Do you have a favorite outlet for an American-made product that warms the cockles of your heart?  Have you ever been to the Lodge Outlet?

If you want to know more about using Dutch ovens, check out this recent cook-off, this beginner’s recipe, and this roasted chicken recipe.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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Recently I posted a savory tomato tart recipe, with the possibility of leftover pastry dough if you made an 8-inch tart.  I promised that I’d give you another use for that pastry dough, and here it is:  whole-grain apple turnovers.

I must admit that I grew up with whole pies, not turnovers nor my husband’s favorite from his Arkansas grandmother, fried pies made with her own dried fruit.  You could turn these turnovers into fried pies, but why?  They made Mr. Homesteader perfectly happy in the baked form and reminded both of us of fall when we were kids.

recipe for 4-5 turnovers

Start with 1 or 2 fresh apples.  I like to minimize waste, so I cut my apples into quarters and then eighths and then core them.  You may peel the apples if you want.  Now cut each slice in half to make chunks.  In a small, non-reactive pot, cook the apple chunks with a little water, cider, or even butterscotch schnapps and a teaspoon or more of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. If you’re feeling decadent, you can add a little cream.  Cook the apples until they release some of their liquid and it cooks off.

Now let’s assemble the turnovers.  For this recipe you’ll need about a handful of chilled pastry dough, leftover from the tomato tart or another small pie recipe. (Picture a disk about four inches in diameter and an inch or a little less tall.) Because we’re making a sweet recipe, sprinkle a bread board or obsessively clean, dry countertop with sugar instead of flour if you want.  Roll out your dough to about 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into rounds of about 4-5 inches each.  Re-roll the dough to get your last round out of the scraps if need be.

Now fill each dough round by putting a little mound of filling slightly off center.  Fold the round over the apple mound and press the edges together.  Use a fork to crimp the edges closed.  Poke holes in the top of the turnovers with a fork or small knife.  Place the turnovers on a baking sheet and sprinkle with extra sugar if you want.  Now bake them in a 375-400 degree F oven (toaster ovens work great for these) for about 15-20 minutes, until the filling reveals itself a little and the turnovers are golden brown.

Serve warm with a dollop of good vanilla ice cream or some apple butter.  Eat any leftover filling with your cereal tomorrow morning. Grin.

Mmmm.  Look at how pretty the sugar is, like a sprinkling of fall frost!

Here’s the dough recipe in its entirety, in case you want to make a big pile of turnovers.  Just remember to use about 1-2 apples for every 4 turnovers or so.

Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into bits
  • optional but really tasty!:  handful or two of toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • flour for rolling

Put the flour mixed with with salt and leavening and cold, cut butter in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry cutter or fork.  Once you’ve cut in the butter, creating a mealy mixture, mix in the toasted pine nuts, breaking them with the pastry cutter.  Now stir in the yogurt, just until you’ve formed the dough. Do not overwork pastry dough! Wrap the dough and chill for a few minutes.  Roll on a well-floured or sugared bread board and cut into desired shape.

Do you have a favorite recipe that does double duty?  Did you grow up with baked turnovers or fried pies–or something different all together?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.


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Recently a Canadian reader, Anita, who has fallen in love with Southern food asked me for my squash casserole recipe.  I said I’d be happy to oblige but would need a few weeks for two reasons:  first, the squash crop around here was in the summer lull (argh, squash bugs!), but most importantly because I needed to actually come up with a recipe.  I make mine a little differently every time, just as I do with most things that I cook and bake.  Anita remembered a casserole she’d had in Georgia that was creamy, with a buttery flavor.  She hoped it did not involve the ubiquitous can of Campbell’s soup that has made most “casseroles” since the 1950s.  I’ve certainly had the souped up casserole at many a potluck, but that was not my favorite squash casserole; my favorite was my grandmother’s.

While my mother-in-law was visiting, I made a squash casserole as my mother-in-law said she did, using milk, mayonnaise, and egg as the binding agent.  It definitely was not what we were looking for, having a heavy feel, and I knew my own grandmother had used a white sauce.  I hunted to see if my grandmother ever wrote down her recipe, or if she had gotten it from that trusty 1899 cookbook that belonged to her mother.  No, that cookbook made no mention of a casserole at all, the concept of a casserole having been foreign (literally) in much of the Southern United States until the introduction of Campbell’s “casseroles” in the mid-twentieth century.  (The infamous green bean casserole with canned soup dates from 1955, by the way.) I surrendered to the inevitable; I had learned how to make squash casserole at my grandmother’s side, and I needed to just give up looking for a recipe and create my own.

My grandmother’s version of squash casserole would have involved either a standard white sauce with cheese and egg or evaporated milk with cheese and egg.  Today I’ll give you my white sauce version, using the dangerously easy cheese sauce with all real-dairy ingredients that I posted in May.  I’m going to give the recipe in proportions for one or two medium yellow squash, with the variations for more.  Remember as you select your casserole dish to keep the squash mixture at about 2 inches depth in the dish.  That way, every serving can have a good amount of the crunchy topping.

A couple of casserole sizes:

  • 1-2 squash:  Try using one of those cute little .4 L Corning casseroles
  • 7-8 squash:  Go for a 2-quart casserole dish.

Recipe for 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and tiny pat of butter (better!)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 medium-sized sweet yellow onion, cut into very thin slices  (If the onion makes you cry when you cut into it, use less.)
  • 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • dash of salt, pepper, and, if you want, a pinch of Italian herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup dangerously easy cheese sauce, cooled sufficiently to avoid cooking the egg.
  • 1/4 cup more freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • fine, dry bread crumbs (like Panko) or fine cracker crumbs, sufficient to cover the top of the casserole in a thin layer (about 1/4 cup)

Saute the onion in a heavy pan in the olive oil and butter mix just until the onion starts to get a little color.  Add the squash and saute it with the salt, pepper, and herbs until a bit of the liquid in it yields and is cooked off.  (The salt will help this process.)  Let the mixture cool a bit.  In a measuring cup, add the cheese sauce to the beaten egg and stir well to combine.  Start layering the squash and onions in a lightly greased casserole dish, then pour on a little cheese-egg mixture, then more squash and onions, then more cheese until you’ve used it all.  Sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar on top, add your bread crumbs, and bake, covered, in a 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Take off the lid and let the casserole brown on top, about 5-10 minutes more depending on what type of crumbs you used.  Let the casserole cool about 5 minutes and then serve.

Let’s multiply to make bigger casseroles:

For 3-4 squash, use 2/3-1 onion, 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce.  For 5-6 squash, use 1 to 1 1/2 onion, 3 eggs, and 3/4 cup cheese sauce.  For 7-8 squash, use 1 1/3 to 2 sweet onions, 4 eggs, and 1 cup cheese sauce.

As my husband tucked his fork into his serving of casserole last night and put it in his mouth, he sort of made a face.  I was downhearted.  I’d already tasted the casserole and thought it was blog worthy.  I waited a few minutes and asked him what he thought, explaining my quest.  It turned out, he was thinking about his master’s class in statistics when he made the face.  He went into Food Network judge mode to extoll the virtues of the casserole.  He described the squashy, cheesy portion of the casserole as almost custardy, with a fluffy lightness that balanced the richness of the cheese.  He pointed out that the fine crumbs had contributed to the lightness of the dish with their crisp coating on the top.  He liked the flavor too.

To be sure, there are plenty of squash casserole recipes out there, and this is just one, Anita.  If it doesn’t fit your memories of the squash casserole you had in Georgia, I’ll happily go back to the kitchen to work on it more.  My late-planted squash is about to produce a bonanza.  I’ll end up freezing a few squash casseroles by the time the season is over, for use in the winter.

Do you have a favorite squash casserole recipe, with or without canned soup?  Please share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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My 83-year-old mother-in-law is visiting this week, and it’s been a real lesson in how folks used to do things versus how they do today.  She has talked a lot about what it was like growing up in rural Arkansas as tenant farmers in the 20s, 30s, and early 1940s.  Some of her brothers and sisters weren’t able to finish high school or even 8th grade because her father needed them in the fields.  They ate a lot of beans and cornbread.  And she didn’t know you could buy a loaf of bread already made until she was in her late teens.

Several times since she got here, she’s commented, “If you keep feeding me like this, I may never leave.”  You see, after being raised on home-cooked meals, which we have most nights, she got out of that habit after my husband’s father died several years ago.  And even more recently, splitting time between my two sisters-in-law’s homes, she has become accustomed to “supper from a bag.”  When I asked her what she meant, she replied, “Oh, you know, McDonald’s or something.  I’m going to have to re-learn how to eat out of a bag when I go back there.”

I reminded her that we live a dozen miles or more from the nearest fast food, and that by the time I go pick something up, it’s not fast anymore.  Our local groceries don’t carry those pre-roasted little chickens nor the pick-up-and-bake pizzas.  We can’t get anything delivered here–except Lou Malnati’s (and, no, they aren’t paying me; we just splurge on their pizza packages  about once a year when they go on sale.) Our really good meals are also a lot cheaper than take-out.  Tonight, for example, we had wild salmon simply grilled with a butter-dill sauce, corn on the cob, and an old-fashioned squash casserole (for my mother-in-law), all for much less than a bag of burgers would have cost.  It also took me about the time to make everything from scratch that it would have to get the infamous, unhealthy bag.  And I got to stay here and chat with my mother-in-law and husband and drink a little wine while I cooked.

Planning ahead for cooking at home takes a little time when you first start doing it, but the longer you do it, the easier it gets. I try to think of creative meals while I’m walking, showering, whatever.  I bought a little blackboard at a craft store and put magnetic strips on the back, so I can keep it on my fridge.  I take it down and write out menus based on what we have in the garden and the freezer and fridge.  It makes it easy for my husband at a glance to see what I’ve got planned for my cooking nights, and I don’t lose track of good ideas or food that we need to eat.

If you eat out of the bag more often than not, why?  Have you considered making more home-cooked meals?  (I’ll bet if you’re reading this blog, you have!)

If you cook most of your meals at home, what inspires you?  How do you manage it?  Do you have a simple planning system?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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