Monday, January 31, 2011

While you wait...

I know, it's been a while. So while I work on some new posts, I thought I'd share a few links for sites that I just adore, and I think everyone else should too.  Just click the hotlinks and prepare to be entertained!

First up is a fantastic woman who really was the inspiration for my own blog, and I hope to meet her one day because I think we'd have a lot of fun hanging out and cooking together. And her husband wears chaps. Maybe he'd let mine borrow some...Oh dear. Where was I?

Yes, yes - The Pioneer Woman . Her name is Ree Drummond. She's married to a cattle rancher, has many children, is an amazing cook, and an incredible photographer. Please don't leave me for her, but definitely check her out. Also, tell her I sent you and that I want to meet her. Ree not only shares her recipes and photos, but also decorating, fashion, and even homeschooling stuff. And I want to be just like her when I grow up (even though Chris thinks I already am, without the cows).

Bakerella - This is, as far as I know, the birthplace of cake pops. If you don't know what they are then you have every reason in the world to visit this site. I'm making her S'more's cupcakes this week. She has amazing tips and inspiration for anyone who loves to bake cakes and cupcakes, and working with fondant. ~*WARNING: AVOID WHEN DIETING. YOU WILL BE COMPELLED TO CHEAT. *~

I have never been anywhere near New York, except for a 3 hour layover in Newark (which had a great view of Manhattan and delicious bagels), But I love Grubstreet . It's New York magazine's food blog, and it isn't just restaurant reviews, friends. It's all sorts of foodie articles, including a regular feature called "The New York Diet". NYD is sort of a celebrity food journal, where a public figure tells us what they eat for a week in the city. (Is anyone else compelled to spell New York, "New YOURK"? Maybe it's just me...)

Because I'm a girl and I like to window shop, there's Polyvore .I was introduced to this site by my future BFF The Pioneer Woman. It's so much fun! You drag & drop clothing, accessories, homewares, etc. onto a background and share with friends. The items are culled from all over the internet, in any price range. It's great for actual shopping, or if you are just looking to kill time and find inspiration.

I have to share my friend Kassandra Wood's blog. Budgeting Mommy follows Kassandra on her adventures in saving money. A lot of what she shares is local to the Carolina Lowcountry, but you can follow her advice and tips anywhere. I've been grocery shopping for a long time, but Kassandra's shopping strategies have really helped save our family money. And on top of that, her family is stinkin' adorable!

Saving the most important for last, The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is a project started by renown quilter Ami Simms (who happens to be a friend and business associate of my mom, Peg Howard). Ami's mother was a victim of alzheimer's, and this all-volunteer grassroots non-profit has raised nearly a half million dollars for research since 2006. Research funded by AAQI has been groundbreaking, and this is a worthy cause that deserves your attention. You will have to see for yourself the unbelievable artistry involved in the quilts for the AAQI. Stop by and check them out, bid on a quilt at auction, or simply learn about other ways to help. You can also find them on Facebook. ~*Ad revenue from here at BB&F will be donated to the AAQI, so please click for the cause!*~

Well, that should keep you occupied until I come back with some recipes and articles :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Family Heirlooms: Frozen Cranberry Salad

I know it's cold outside, but no matter what time of year, this is one of my favorite desserts from Nena Howard. It's a simple dump, mix, freeze and serve recipe in the family of classic icebox desserts. I'm sure it will become a favorite of your family too! (I'll try to make it soon and get a picture up)

Frozen Cranberry Salad

1-8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1-12 ounce container cool whip

1-8 ounce can crushed pineapple

1-16 ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce

1-8 ounce container sour cream

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well. Pour into a standard loaf pan and freeze until solid. Slice and serve!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gettin' Classy: Buttermilk-Brined Chicken Tenders

I have to be honest here, I haven't ordered chicken tenders out in public since '93. They are fun to make though, and a lot of my readers have kids, and kids like these fried little puppies almost as much as, well, puppies. Not fried puppies of course, because that would be wrong. Moving on...

I want to take a moment to thank all of Japan for panko. This incarnation of bread crumbs has changed my life. If it can be breaded and fried in my house, it will be breaded in panko. Always crunchy, never heavy. LOVE. IT. (You MUST try it on fried okra. It's a revelation)

The marinade I use here is almost the same as what I use on my classic fried chicken. You may think there's a lot of salt here, and there is, but you don't taste it in the finished product. I won't go into the science of brining (if you e-mail me I'll be happy to explain), but know that the magic of food science is at work here. What you end up with isn't salty at all, but unfailingly juicy and flavorful. You can also probably tell from the picture at the end of this recipe that I let my tenders get a little darker than most folks. I assure you this was on purpose. I like the added flavor of a dark brown crust. Not, mind you, burnt. Just darker than average. Alright, let's fry some stuff!

Buttermilk-Brined Chicken Tenders

2lbs chicken tenders

Juice of 2 lemons

1/4 cup honey

2 cups buttermilk

2 Tablespoons coarse kosher salt

2 teaspoons old bay seasoning

1 Tablespoon Sriracha

for breading:

1 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten with 1 cup milk

2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Oil for frying

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, and salt until honey is melted and salt is mostly dissolved (technically the honey won't "melt," but it reaches a nice fluid consistency). Whisk in the buttermilk, old bay and Sriracha to combine. Add the chicken and refrigerate 1-4 hours (4 would be ideal, don't go much beyond that though), turning occasionally.

I almost didn't take a picture of this step. It's not exactly pretty...

Dump the chicken into a colander and let the marinade drain off. Set up your breading station: the flour, egg/milk combo, and panko each get their own bowl, and place a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Dredge each chicken tender in the flour and shake off the excess, then dunk in the egg wash, and coat in panko. Set each tender on the rack.

Ready to meet their destiny

Once you're done breading, pour 1 inch of oil in a heavy frying pan and heat on medium to 350* (you do have a candy/oil thermometer, right?). While the oil heats, 2 things are going on with your resting tenders: 1.) the coating will "set," giving you a crispier result and 2.) it will take the chill off, which will allow them to cook more evenly and thoroughly.  

*if you have a fry daddy or deep fryer, definitely use that. I don't have one yet, so I do it the old fashioned way: in a cast-iron skillet. Please note that I do accept gifts and bribes, though...

Drop the tenders in the hot oil 2 or 3 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Don't overcrowd! Fry about 5 or 6 minutes, turning once, until deeply browned. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve to happy childern with their favorite dipping sauce and fries. Or mashed potatoes. Or if you want to be classy like me,  lemon-thyme orzo*...

*Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta and a favorite in our house. Just boil till al dente, toss with melted butter, salt, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves

Try these for dinner tonight. Hope you enjoy them!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kitchen Queries: POrk Chop Boredom

Kelly L. asked: "I am tired of cooking the same old pork chops all the time. Do you have any ideas?"

Oh do I! So many of us fall into a routine with our cooking. Between how your parents did things and the magic of Shake & Bake it's easy to feel at a loss for new ideas for your favorite cuts of meat. Pork chops are about as versitile as chicken breasts though, so there's a lot of possibilities!

Go with the boneless ones. You can cut them into strips and use them in stir-fry recipes just like you would with chicken or beef. Or leave them whole, dust with salt, pepper, and flour, and brown in a bit of olive oil. Take them out of the pan and throw in 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup white wine, and a tablespoon of grainy mustard. Let that reduce to about 1/2 cup and spoon over the pork chops. You can do so much with a simple pan sauce. Another option would be to saute some sliced apples and onion until soft (after removing the chops), sprinkle with some flour and slowly add 1/2 c chicken broth and 1/2 cup apple cider ( a tablespoon of bourbon wouldn't hurt...). Let that simmer until thick, whisking constantly, and you have a great cider gravy for your chops - I'm a fan of sweet-savory combinations. OR you could cut a little pocket in them and stuff them (one of my favorites). you can make your own stuffing or use prepared store-bought stuffing. Just cram it in the pocket and bake! I'll be featuring a recipe for that soon, but in the meantime you can search "stuffed pork chops" and find a wealth of great recipes. My favorite sites are Epicurious and Allrecipes .

What's Up Doc? : Spicy Roasted Carrot Soup

Bugs Bunny would be so proud!  So would my friend April, who asked me to put up something that isn't loaded with cheese and/or meat and/or butter.

When I told my mom I was working on a carrot soup recipe, she said "you don't really hear of people doing carrot soup these days." Well, that's a shame. It's rich, creamy, delicious, healthy, and pretty easy. It's a nice lunch with a salad or sandwich, and a great use for that handful of carrots rolling around in your refrigerator crisper drawer. It's also a lovely first course for a fancy fall or winter menu...

This recipe is great for doing ahead or in stages. Like most soups, the flavor improves over time. Roasting the carrots with olive oil and honey concentrates their flavor and sweetness and makes for a fantastic finished product. You can roast the carrots a day or two ahead (pick an evening when dinner is on the stove top and the oven is free - multitask!) and keep them in the fridge until you want to finish the soup. The finished soup will separate after sitting in the fridge, but you can just whisk it up and reheat it.

I roast the carrots low and slow to not only help coax out extra flavor, but to keep from over-caramelizing (aka burning) the natural sugars. Caramelized = good. Burnt = bad.

Ready, go! (if you don't want it spicy, just check out the variation at the bottom)

For about 4 one-cup servings

Spicy Roasted Carrot Soup:

3 Tablespoons olive oil

2Tablespoons honey (I used a raw honey)

1 tsp Sriracha (asian chile-garlic sauce. You can find it anywhere. There's a rooster on the bottle)- more or less depending on your tolerance of heat

1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder

1/4 tsp each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces - DO NOT use "baby carrots"

1 small white onion, quartered

1 can chicken broth

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/4 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 325.
heat olive oil, honey, sriracha, and 5 spice powder in a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, stirring, until well blended (the spices may foam a bit).

If only you could smell this- well, I guess if you make it you will...

Add the carrots and onion, salt & pepper, and toss to coat. Place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

Thought I'd toss in a "before roasting" pic.

The vegetables should be soft and lightly browned.

Heck, if you don't want soup, just eat them this way!

Let the roasted veggies cool, then transfer them, along with any juices in the pan, to a blender. Add the Chicken broth and coconut milk and puree till smooth. You may need to add up to 1/2 cup of water if it's too thick. I did, and it didn't diminish the flavor one bit.

Transfer the puree to a medium saucepan over medium low heat, stir in the cream, and heat through. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve. And that's all there is to it, kids!

So good you'll think it's bad for you! But it's not!

You could top this off with a little chopped cilantro and maybe some homemade croutons (cube some bread, toss it in a hot skillet with some melted butter and a bit of chinese 5 spice and a pinch of salt until golden and crispy).

*Sriracha doesn't just add heat, but flavor too. If you leave it out, add 3 or 4 unpeeled garlic cloves to the pan with the carrots. Peel them before pureeing.

*to take this vegetarian, use vegetable broth but omit the onion (canned vegetable broth is onion-y enough). Leave out the cream and use your choice of either extra broth, extra coconut milk, or almond milk. 

*Try substituting curry powder for the Chinese five spice  - SO GOOD!

The variations will give you a different flavor altogether, but still a delicious soup!

Go give it a try - hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kitchen Queries: Sugar Substitutes

Anna P. wrote: "What is the best substitute for sugar? I want to make cinnamon rolls but the whole 'diet thing' is getting in the way."

Well, Anna, baking is surprisingly scientific, so tweaking recipes is more challenging. When you're cooking dinner, you can add a pinch of this and substitute that without affecting the outcome of the dish. But when you bake, a whole new set of rules comes into play. Alton Brown's show "Good Eats," and Harold McGee's book On Food and Cooking are great resources for the scientific details, which I won't go into here because people would get bored really fast.

I'm not personally a fan of artificial sweeteners for a ton of reasons, but if you're OK with them, you could substitute Splenda's Baking Blend into the filling of the cinnamon rolls. Usually the dough itself has sugar in it too, though, and I wouldn't make any substitutions there. That's where that pesky science comes in- you don't want to mess with the chemistry of a yeast-risen dough. Of course, the easiest way to make cinnamon rolls diet-friendly would be to make them smaller and only have one! I'm a much bigger fan of real food in moderation than chemically-engineered "healthy" food...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets Version 2.0 : I can't make grilled cheese

 Why would I tell you this? Because I don't want you to confuse me with a certain person whose name rhymes with Blartha Blewart. I'm a good cook - you wouldn't keep coming back for my recipes if I weren't - but I suck at a lot of things. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen my cookie confession over the holidays (more on that later). It's so odd, all the things I'm bad at are really simple things that most people can do blindfolded. Like make a grilled cheese sammich.

I can roll sushi. I can break down a chicken in under 3 minutes. I can turn melted sugar and cream into magical candy goodness. I can make butter-poached salmon that would make you weep. But I can't make a grilled cheese sammich. Or chocolate chip cookies. OR plain rice on the stove.

Sad but true, I am a victim of gadgetry. I can't make a grilled cheese in a pan because when I was a child, other people did it for me. When I got older, a little thing called a George Foreman grill came into my life and I used that to make what we all now know as "Panini." Then my Nana (the one that DOESN'T cook) gave me this:
I'm not showing you the inside because I'm not in the mood to clean it...

It makes perfect little triangles, with toasty brown outsides and gooey insides. If I attempt to do that with a spatula and a frying pan, the results are either burnt yet cold in the middle or a soggy mess. I have accepted the fact that I cannot make grilled cheese, and must rely on machines or other people to do it for me.

Note: try putting some Sriracha on your grilled cheese - whether you make it in a pan or a machine. You will thank me, assuming you like fiery hot Asian sauces. It's also fantastic on pizza. And in chicken noodle soup. Confession: I put it on everything. Maybe that will be Dirty Little Secrets Version 3.0 ...

While we're talking about machines that do things for me and fiery Asian sauces, lets talk about my inability to cook rice on a stove-top. Once upon a time I was capable of this simple task. Like anyone raised in the Lowcountry, or most parts of asia, I eat a lot of rice. A LOT. I used to cook it quite often, usually with success.

Then I moved to Japan and discovered a fantastic little thing called a rice cooker.

Say hello to my little friend. No, not the bottle of bourbon in the background, the rice cooker.

"You mean you just put it in there and push a button and it comes out perfect every time?!?! No boil overs? No adjusting of temperatures? I'll take three of them!!!"

That was ten years ago and I haven't done plain rice right on the stove since. Now don't get me wrong - I can cook a mean pilaf or perloo or whatnot. That's different. It's the plain stuff that kicks my fanny every time. If it were up to me, no one in America would be subjected to the torture that is cooking white rice on the stove - every home should have a rice cooker.

On to the Cookie Fail... This embarrasses me almost as much as the grilled cheese (which I am now craving, thanks to typing it over and over)


At least I could make rice at one point in my life. I have never, EVER, made a chocolate chip cookie worth it's weight in dough. They always come out looking like they dropped from the wrong end of a cow. Assuming they come off the pan at all, as seen in the above photo. The scraps and scrapings are usually edible, but they are ALWAYS ugly. And I don't understand it. I took Baking 101, and although my teacher was a bit of a tool and we all had to hit the bar before and/or after class to tolerate him, we managed to turn out good cookies. Every Christmas I bake like a crazy person and turn out bar cookies and crackers and candies that are divine. I can make a baguette that would make you want to run out, find a Frenchman, and hit him upside the head with it, but I can't make a stupid cookie. Even my 7 year old daughter knows my cookies look like bovine feces, so we stick to making marshmallows together. (So much fun, by the way - try it if you have a stand mixer!)

There you have it. A few of my culinary weaknesses. I also always overcook white fish, and although my baguettes are pretty pimp, my brioche would make a Frenchman want to hit me upside the head. Fudge confuses me, and I have yet to master pound cake (I know, I'm a bad southerner). But all those failures and things I can't do are what make cooking so much fun. Sure, they result in me throwing a fit of epic proportions, but they also show me that with food, you can never stop learning.

No matter how many cookbooks you read, blogs you visit, recipes you come up with, you will never know it all or be good at it all. I love discovering things in the kitchen, and I get as excited as an 11 year old at a Justin Bieber concert when I learn something new about food. That's why I write this blog - because I can't keep it to myself. I love to share my discoveries with everyone else, and I love teaching other people how to cook things. I also love being honest about my failures, because for all you may learn from visiting my world, I'm still learning too. I hope you like the food that I am good at, and I hope you keep coming back for more. Just know that you will never see chocolate chip cookies on this site. Go ask Blartha for that one.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What A Hunk: Herb-Crusted Roast Beef

I know what you're thinking:

"Roast beef? but that's so expensive!"

Nay, say I, doesn't have to be. Tonight we're talking about taking a less expensive, but no less delicious, cut of beef and putting it where it belongs- Eye of round roast. The key here is to NOT OVERCOOK it. This recipe may exclude a few parties based on their meat done-ness preference. I say to you now: if you like your beef cooked beyond medium, then don't try this with eye of round roast.

Actually, if you like your beef cooked beyond medium you have issues I cannot address, and you should seek help and/or therapy. But I digress...

In a mostly-related aside, the holiday issue of Food and Wine magazine had an article on intuitive cooking, and I highly recommend it. Mostly because that's how this roast came about and I'm not offering a lot of precise measurements. Don't panic. The seasonings here are pretty classic and fool-proof, so you should be fine working in "handfuls" and "pinches." A certain manic, bubbly, raspy voiced TV cook does it all the time - and this is way better than Rachael's that person's food.

The seasonings here would work on a pricier roast as well, so feel free to experiment.

One other important note - you need a probe thermometer. They're about ten bucks at most mega marts. It's a digital display with a probe on a long wire. Simply insert probe into the meat and set the digital display  to the preferred temperature of done-ness. The beast goes in the oven and the display (usually magnetized) can hang out on your oven door. It will beep when the meat is ready. (I always back it up with an instant read meat thermometer though, just to be safe and double check the temp after cooking)

Okay - here we go!

Herb-Crusted Roast Beef

1- 2 1/2 to 3 pound eye of round roast. (This smallish size cooks quickly, and easily feeds 3-4 people if you have a nice hearty side dish or two)

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

a handful of fresh sage leaves, torn

leaves from 3 or 4 sprogs of rosemary, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt

2 cloves garlic

about a palmful of fresh ground black pepper (coarse grind)

First things first - crank the oven up to 500 degrees and have a roasting pan with a rack handy.

This is what the roast looks like. Well, it should, at least:

yep - that's a roast

If you flip it over it will have a slab of fat. Don't panic - we like that sort of thing around here. Turn the roast fat-side up and score the fat in a nice diamond pattern, being careful not to cut all the way into the meat. It helps to have an incredibly sharp, fabulous knife like mine:

8-inch Shun Ken Onion series Chef's knife. Merry Christmas to me.
(For those who don't speak chef, this is an awesome knife and my husband gets SERIOUS brownie points for getting it for me)

Moving on - Brush the scored surface generously with the Dijon mustard. Get it all in the nooks and crannies.

Brush the sides too. Apparently I did...
Now toss the herbs, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil into a mini-prep or food processor and pulse to form a paste. Or you can use your awesome Christmas knife to chop and smush it into submission. Slather the herb paste all over the roast and place it in the roasting pan. Or put it in the pan and then slather it. Whatever tickles your fancy.

If I weren't such a pansy I'd just eat that raw. It looks so good...
Now place your thermometer probe in the roast and set it to 130 (medium rare), and pop it in the screaming hot 500 degree oven for 12 minutes. This will sear the outside and get a nice crust going. After 12 minutes, lower the heat to 375 and roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 130. This took my roast about 30 more minutes, but the time can vary. That's why your little probe thermometer comes in handy :)

When it gets to the magical temp, remove it from the oven and let it rest 10minutes before you carve it up. The temperature will go up a bit and the meat should be medium in the center. And now you have time to set the table...

After the meat is done resting take it to a cutting board and slice it nice and thin with your best carving knife. The ends may be a little more well done, but it should be rosy in the middle.

And the leftovers make FANTASTIC sandwiches!

Pictured with yesterday's risotto recipe

And in case you were wondering, I got my roast at Costco. It was a pack of 2 roasts for something like 12 dollars. Well worth it!

This and yesterday's risotto are nice to trot out for company when you want to impress but aren't made of money. If you are made of money, though, use truffles in the risotto and a standing rib roast. And call me for dinner...I'll bring the wine.

Hope you like it!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Leftover Bubbly? Champagne-Porcini Risotto

If, for some odd reason you didn't drink every blessed drop of champagne in your house on New Year's Eve, or squeeze the last few drops of it into a mimosa the next morning, AND you love mushrooms: This recipe will make your day.

If you don't love mushrooms, come back tomorrow.

I fell in love with this dish. I has a strong, earthy aroma and flavor. I think a good mushroom-y dish has an effect on me that I simply cannot describe on a family website. Just sayin'... Gentlemen, prepare to impress the ladies.

Champagne-Porcini Risotto

5 or 6 large pieces dried porcini mushrooms, re-hydrated in 1 cup HOT water (reserve soaking liquid)

1 cup leftover Champagne

1 cup arborio rice (sushi rice can be substituted with excellent results. Shout out to chef Ming Tsai for showing me that via PBS)

1 shallot, minced

1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) butter

3-5 cups hot chicken stock

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In case you were wondering, this is what the porcinis look like in their dried state:

let's keep the poo jokes to a minimum, kids.
They don't look much different in their hydrated state, just darker and soft. Anyhoo, squeeze the excess moisture out of the mushrooms and chop them up fine. Set them aside, and don't forget to save that soaking liquid! (Unless you want to ratchet down the mushroom flavor, which is understandable for most folks. If you decide to leave it out, just know you'll need more broth to finish the dish.)

Now, melt the butter in a nice big pot. If you have a Le Cruset, now would be a time to use it. If you have a big, sexy All-Clad saute pan, by all means use that. And send me pictures because I don't have one. Add the shallots and saute till they are a bit soft, then add the rice. Toss it around till it's well coated in butter and is ALMOST translucent. It should look like this:

Sorta see-through, sorta not...
Now add the mushrooms and 1 cup champagne. Simmer over medium-high heat, stirring, till the bubbly is fully absorbed. Still stirring, add all but about 1/4 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid (if using). There will be sediment in the bottom of that liquid and you don't want that, so pour carefully, or strain it first if you aren't lazy like I tend to be sometimes.

KEEP STIRRING! Preferably with a wooden spoon, by the way. Wooden spoons are gentler and do less damage to the grains of rice. Once the mushroom liquid is absorbed, you may begin adding the chicken broth or stock. I do about a half-cup to 1 cup at a time. Make sure the liquid is nearly completely absorbed before adding more. You will notice the rice becoming creamy and your arm becoming tired. I like doing risotto when I have at least 1 other person handy, because then you can tag-team the stirring efforts. Plus, guests usually want to help in the kitchen...let them if you're making risotto.

You may or may not use all the liquid. What you are looking for is a loose, creamy pot of lusciousness, the rice should still have a little bite to it. Not crunch, but it should be a weensy bit chewy in the center. When it reaches that point, take it off the heat and stir in the Parmesan.

NOW TAKE THE WHOLE POT TO THE TABLE AND SERVE IT IMMEDIATELY! Risotto waits for no man. when you spoon it on to the plate it should creep to the edges like lava flowing from a volcano to the sea. Creep - not rush. Maybe kind of ooze, but this is a sexy dish and "ooze" isn't a sexy word. "Creep" it is then...

It really is a meal in itself with a nice salad of bitter greens, some crusty bread, and a glass of white wine. But my husband believes a meal is incomplete without a hunk of roasted creature involved, so it's pictured below with herb-crusted roast beef. Recipe for that tomorrow.

Oh you have NO idea...
A special note on leftovers: Generally risotto will be devoured by all parties present at the table. If by some act of God it is not, here's what to do with it the next day or a couple days later:

Use a cookie scoop to make little risotto balls. Shove a small cube of mozzarella into the ball and pinch the little hole shut. Roll in breadcrumbs and fry till golden. Little balls of heaven. Leave it to a Southerner to deep fry perfectly good risotto...


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Lady Who Invented Cornbread

I actually have no idea who invented cornbread, but if you asked my 5 year old self she would tell you it's this lady right here:

This is my Nena Howard, the year she got a dishwasher for Christmas

My grandmother on my dad's side, Jean Howard, is pretty much the reason I cook. As far as I'm concerned everything she ever made was delicious. I can't smell macaroni and cheese baking in the oven without being transported to her house on Christmas day (or any other holiday for that matter - I believe it is actual law in Brooks County, Ga that Mrs. Howard make mac and cheese for any celebratory occasion). I would gorge myself on her fruitcake cookies, crumble her cornbread over greens, eat my weight in the jiggly green congealed salad, and fight for the last slice of pound cake. I'd hover in the kitchen, underfoot, amazed at the fact that she needed no measuring cups for biscuits or cornbread. I'd make excuses to run in and out of the house to see what she was up to, what that smell was, and steal a taste.

Now I'm stealing recipes- quite literally (she's hardcore, man - won't give them up!). A while back I did high recipe crime: while the family was distracted on the porch I claimed a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. I ran into the kitchen, rifled through the recipe file, snatched out the cornbread dressing and took post-it notes and a pen to the bathroom. I felt like Jennifer Garner in Alias copying some secret government document, or maybe Julian Assange when he does whatever it is he does... Anyway I emerged from the bathroom, sweaty and with a pocket full of post-its. My deed was done. But why? Why did I resort to covert ops just for a recipe? Because I wanted it and there was no other way to get it. That's why.

Look, I'm thirty-two thirty-something years old now. I am aware that people do not live forever, and is it SO important to keep Nena Howard's food alive, well, forever. I want my children and grand children to sit down to a table like this on a regular basis:

Yes, that fluffy headed thing in the floral sweater is me.

As she gets older, my need to keep her cooking going gets stronger. Watching her cook, and eating her food, is what helped make me the food lover and cook I am today. No, my mac and cheese is not hers, but its roots are in hers. And no, I cannot make a biscuit without measuring everything (my husband will say I can't make a biscuit, period. He never seems to be available when they come out PERFECT...). But I do think I know what her secret ingredient is. You all know what it is too...

Duh. It's love. Yes, I know that that is cheesy and over-written, but hear me out. It's not just any love. It's this unwavering desire that the people you are feeding are satisfied and nourished and made happy by what you put on the table. It's not just "you're my family and I love you so let's eat," It's more along the lines of "I love you and I want you to taste it in your soul."

Hence the term Soul Food.

So here we are, I'm writing and you're reading. Sure, I'm hoping for a book deal and maybe a TV show. But mostly, I'm hoping that when you cook my recipes (and any of Nena Howard's that I share), that you cook it with that love and make it soul food. I hope that you can taste it, I hope you can taste how much I love to cook and how much I love to share it. I hope you can taste it in your soul.

Still cookin'. Hope you aren't too miffed that I stole some recipes!

Thanks, Nena, for all the good food and for helping me realize who I am and what I want to be. Betcha had no idea you could do all that with a spoon.