Archive for the ‘Southern’ Category

Black-Eyed Pea, Collard and Ham Soup

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2013.  In this part of the world collards and black-eyed peas are a good luck tradition for the new year.  They’re supposed to bring wealth and prosperity.  The story goes that black-eyed peas saved the starving Civil War South because Sherman’s troops considered them to be food for livestock and thus left those crops  while other foodstuffs were stolen or destroyed.  Most often you serve them as part of Hoppin’ John.  I love Hoppin’ John, but I was looking for a new way to have collards and black-eyed peas this year.  I stumbled on a soup recipe.  New Year’s Day in Central Virginia is gray and rainy this year.  How smart do I look for planning soup?! 

Black-eyed pea and collard soup

The original recipe actually calls for chickpeas and swiss chard, but it offers black-eyed peas as an alternative. I used the last of the black-eyed peas I put up from the farmers’ market.  I decided to use a large bunch of collards instead of a small bunch of chard.  Since collards are hardier than chard I figured they’d hold up better in soup anyway.    I also punted the chicken stock.  I had to make pot liquor for the collards anyway so I decided to use that as the broth.  That allowed me to leave out the bacon.  And I left out the tomatoes.  Tomatoes are a precious commodity around here this year because I didn’t get to do any canning last summer.  The few quarts I have left have to last 7 more months.  Now that I think about it the soup I made only vaguely resembles the recipe that I started with, but I really like it.

The pot liquor that I used in the soup and that I’ll use on the rest of the collards today is made with ham hocks, garlic salt, Seasoned Salt and Tabasco.  Sometimes I make it with smoked turkey instead of ham hocks, but pigs are good luck for the new year and fowl are not.  I used 2 ham hocks to make 3 quarts of pot liquor.  Just put the ham hock and seasonings in a big stock pot with 3 quarts of water.  Bring it to a boil; reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour or so.  You’ll end up with a smoky, slightly salty broth with a little kick to it.

 This is a very earthy soup.  The collards and the peas both lean in that direction.  The carrot adds a little sweetness.  Next time I’d probably use 2-3 carrots instead of just one.  I love the smoky flavor of the broth and the kick from the broth and the added red pepper flakes is terrific.  Of course you can adjust that to your taste.  One note about the collards.  For New Year’s you’re supposed to cut the collards in long ribbons to represent long prosperity.  That’s what I did.  Gotta tell you eating long ribbons of greens out of a soup bowl is not a pretty business.  The soup is yummy so tuck your napkin under you chin and enjoy!

Good? Good and good luck too!
Easy? Sure, prepping the collards and broth takes time, but it’s not hard.
Good for company? Not fancy, but makes plenty for sharing.
Special shopping? Nope. I had a devil of a time finding black-eyed peas this year, but normally that’s not the case.

Black-Eyed Pea, Collard and Ham Soup


1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 (6-ounce) piece smoked ham steak, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
l bunch collards, stemmed and sliced into thin ribbons
1 quart smoked ham hock broth
2 C fresh black-eyed peas
Hot sauce, as needed


Add olive oil to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. To the same Dutch oven, add the onion, garlic, and carrot, and saute until the vegetables are tender, roughly 4 minutes. Add the ham steak and red pepper flakes and adjust the seasonings with salt and black pepper, to taste. Add the collards and saute until they begin to soften.

Stir in the broth and black-eyed peas. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Add hot sauce to taste.


Smoked Turkey, Collard Green and Shrimp Gumbo

October 15, 2012

This post has been a while in coming.  That’s kind of fitting because this dish takes a while to make.  I ended up making it over two days.  That’s definitely a way to do it if you don’t have 4 hours to hang out fairly close to the stove. This is one of those times when reading the recipe carefully all the way through before I started would have saved me a little inconvenience.  Turns out it doesn’t work well to start this at 5:30 thinking that you’re going to have it for dinner that evening.

 This is a rich, dark, smoky, salty gumbo.  Good stuff.  It’s a traditional flour and fat roux cooked to a dark brown.  Add some Guinness and it gets darker still.  By the time you’ve let some smoked turkey cook for 3 hours you’ve got a dark and smoky gumbo that’s reduced by about half.  Because it reduces so much be careful about the salt.  Don’t add any until the very end.  It concentrates.  That’s all I got done the first night.  I had to have time to let it cool before I put it away.  The next night I heated the gumbo, added some water and made a little extra roux so it wouldn’t be runny.  Then I added some fresh chopped collards and some I’d already cooked in smoked turkey pot liquor.  It took about 40 minutes for the fresh collards to cook down.  Five more minutes for the shrimp and you’re done – a mere 1 day and 45 minutes after I started.

A few tips.  The next time you’re going to make collards make 3-4 cups more pot liquor than you need to cook the collards and save it for making this gumbo.  You can freeze it until you need it.  Then cook enough collards that you have some for this recipe.  Freeze them until you need them.  Then chop the smoked turkey legs or wings from your collard pot and freeze it until you need it. (Are you getting the idea here?  Use your freezer!)  This way you’ve got most of the components done.  You just need to make the roux, chop the vegetables and add the elements you made ahead of time plus the shrimp.  I’m guessing you could do the whole thing in about 45 minutes that way.   

The truth is that this is worth the trouble.  I love the dark and smoky flavor.  The rice keeps it from being almost too rich to eat.  But it is rich, so start with small portions.  I made a half recipe and got 6 servings out of it.  Next time I’ll make a whole recipe and, you guessed it, freeze it!

Good? So, so good.
Easy? Not at all.
Good for company? My company enjoyed dinner and the leftovers I sent home.
Special shopping? Nope.

Smoked Turkey, Collard Green and Shrimp Gumbo

Usually I give you the recipe the way I made it, but since I messed up the timing I had to make some adjustments you won’t need now that you know what the timing is. What you see below is the original recipe from


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups small diced onions
3/4 cup small diced celery
3/4 cup small diced green, red, and/or yellow bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (12-ounce) bottle stout beer (recommended: Abita Turbo Dog)
8 cups dark chicken stock, chicken stock, or water
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons Essence, recipe follows
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 pounds smoked turkey legs
1 pound collard greens, stemmed and rough chopped
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Steamed white rice, for serving


Heat a large, 6-quart, wide-mouthed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour and oil to the pan and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour mixture is a deep chocolate brown color, about 20 minutes. Add the onions, celery and peppers to the roux and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook the garlic for 1 minute. Add the beer to the roux, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock, thyme, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of Essence, salt, and cayenne to the pan. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the turkey legs to the pan. Cook until the turkey legs are falling-from-the-bone-tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the turkey from the pot and transfer to a plate to cool. Add the collard greens to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. When the turkey is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite-size pieces. Discard the skin and bones. Return the turkey meat to the gumbo. Season the shrimp with the remaining 2 teaspoons of Essence and add them to the gumbo during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Taste the gumbo, re-season if necessary. Serve with steamed white rice.

Hoppin’ John – Not Just for New Year’s Anymore

October 1, 2012

Recently a friend inquired about my “death row meal.”  I didn’t list Hoppin’ John, but I might have to add it to the list.  This has everything going for it today.  It’s cool and gloomy out so this is a perfect comfort food.  Black-eyed peas are in season so I got them fresh at the farmers’ market on Saturday when I got the turnips.  Of course when you get turnips at the farmers’ market they come with the greens still attached – bonus!  The pepper plants around here are still producing – another check mark for South of the James market.  Dinner scores high on the “buy local” scale.  It’s mostly veggies and rice so it scores high on the cheap scale too.  I used smoked turkey instead of ham hock so it’s not bad on the healthy scale either.  Hoppin’ John is a good luck food for New Year’s, but maybe it will bring a little luck to the beginning of October too.

If you take a look at my New Year’s version of this dish you’ll note that it takes a couple of hours to put together.  This is a Monday and not a holiday so I didn’t have 2 hours.  It’s hard to rush the pot liquor, but I decided that 45 minutes was long enough.  In that time I was able to get all of the stemming and chopping of the greens and the chopping of the peppers and onions done.  A few things worked in my favor too.  The black eyed peas were very fresh – just a few days out of the field.  The fresher they are the faster they cook.  And the turnip greens were a little wilty so they cooked quickly also.  I used white rice instead of brown so that’s half time there too.  I cooked the rice in the black eyed pea water so it was almost boiling when I started.  I know, now I’m reaching, but I was hungry!

One note about this.  If you’re going to bother to make the pot liquor and stem and chop greens do lots of them.  You can always freeze the leftovers or eat them plain at another meal.  Ditto with the black eyed peas if you’re using fresh ones.  Go ahead and cook them all.  Mash the leftovers for black eyed pea cakes or serve them as a side dish.

My only complaint about Hoppin’ John is that my kitchen is a disaster. It takes four pots to put this together:  one for the greens, one for the rice, one for the peas and one for the peppers and onions.  You can use that last one to combine everything at the end.  It’s a great combination of flavors (earthy, green, smoky, sweet and salty) and textures.  Serve it with a little sweet cornbread and plenty of butter on the side.  And, of course, a big pitcher of tea.

Good? This is a favorite food of mine so it’s much better than good.
Easy? Not exactly. There are lots of things happening simultaneously.
Good for company? Absolutely. Who doesn’t need a little extra luck?
Special shopping? Nope, if you’re lucky you’ll hit the farmers’ market jackpot like I did.

Hoppin’ John


1-1 1/2 gallons of water
1 smoked turkey wing
2 T salt
1/4 t cayenne
greens from one bunch of turnips, stemmed and chopped
2 T butter
1 C fresh black eyed peas
1 T olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 C cooked rice


In a large pot heat the water and turkey wing to a boil. Add 2 T salt and cayenne. Simmer 45 minutes. Add chopped greens and 2 T butter. Simmer until greens are soft. Remove the turkey wing and pull the meat from the bone. Chop the meat finely. Discard the skin and bone.

In a small pot cover black eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until peas are tender, but not mushy. Keep warm.

In a medium stock pot heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add peppers, onions and garlic. Saute until tender, but still crunchy.

Use a slotted spoon to dish 1/2 of the greens into the peppers and onions. Repeat with 1/2 or more of the black eyed peas. Add the rice and chopped smoked turkey. Toss gently to mix. Serve with Tabasco.

Tomato Onion Pie

August 12, 2012

I can’t believe this is my first tomato pie of the summer, but it is.  Criminal.  This is just the best stuff.  My motivation for putting it together was an invitation to “Lobsterpalooza” with some friends.  That’s right, a bunch of folks gathered around a table picking lobsters on a Saturday night.  It’s pretty hard to beat.  I wanted to take something worthy of the occasion.  There are a million ways to make tomato pie and pretty much any recipe you choose will be about the best thing you’ve ever eaten provided you get good tomatoes.  My hat is off to the folks at Rocking F Farm in Hanover County for  growing fantastic Hanover tomatoes and selling them at a very reasonable price.

Because I was cooking for 10 people I made this tomato pie in a casserole dish instead of a deep dish pie pan.  I used a store bought crust, one and a half of them actually, because Pillsbury is good at pie crust and I am not.  I’ve learned to live with that.  I started with an Emeril Lagasse recipe and made a few adjustments.  I left out the thyme because I don’t like it in this.  I used extra sharp cheddar instead of fontina because in my world tomato pie has cheddar in it.  I left off the Parmesan because I just didn’t need it.  I did like that this recipe uses less egg and mayonnaise than some without sacrificing any of the flavor.  And if you know me then you know that the key to the whole thing is that the mayo has to be Duke’s.

A few tips for making a good tomato pie.  Do not try to make this in the Winter.  It’s tomato pie so the tomatoes really matter.  Get good fresh ones.  They should be ripe, but firm enough that they slice easily.  Leave yourself plenty of time.  You pre-bake the crust.  The finished dish bakes for an hour and sits for another 30 minutes before you can cut into it and expect it to keep its shape.  Think lasagna timing.  The process is pretty similar.  You get all your ingredients together and put them in the pan in layers.  If you’ve made an actual pie then by all means cut it into slices.  If you make it in a casserole dish you can cut it into squares or serve it with a big spoon.  Just make sure you get all the way to the crust when you serve it.  Otherwise you’ll miss the flaky, buttery goodness at the bottom of the pan.

This pie has lots of cheese, sweet onions, fresh basil and just enough eggs and mayonnise to hold it together.  It doesn’t get much better than that. Two regrets:   one, in my haste to get out the door I didn’t remember to take a picture and two, I didn’t make enough to have leftovers to bring home.  It got rave reviews from the Lobsterpalooza crowd.  It’s hard to imagine a tomato pie that would get anything less than a rave.  Happy, happy summer food!

Good? So amazingly good.
Easy? Let’s call it intermediate. Lots of steps and lots of time.
Good for company? You’ll be the hit of any party.
Special shopping? Get farmers’ market tomatoes or, better yet, ones from your own garden!

Tomato Onion Pie


Note: These are the ingredients for 1 deep dish pie. I used half again as much to make a 9X13 pan full.
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup panko
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 egg
1 cup thinly sliced Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons chiffonade fresh basil
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface to fit a deep 9 or 10-inch pie pan. Place the pastry in the pie pan and crimp edges decoratively. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, then line with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Remove foil and pie weights, and return to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
Slice the tomatoes, discarding the stem and root ends, into 1/4-inch slices and lightly season with the salt and pepper.

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the bread crumbs in the bottom of the pie crust. In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise with the egg and stir until smooth. Place a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the piecrust over the breadcrumbs, using about half of the tomatoes, then top with half of the sliced onions. Drizzle with half of the mayonnaise mixture, half of the basil, half of the cheddar and half of the mozzarella cheeses. Top with half of the remaining breadcrumbs then top with the remaining tomato slices, remaining onions, remaining cheddar and mozzarella, remaining mayonnaise mixture, and remaining basil. Top with the remaining bread crumbs and drizzle with the olive oil.

Place in the oven and bake until bubbly hot and golden brown, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Squash Rice Casserole

July 30, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve spent the last two days in the kitchen making and canning salsa.  Hard to believe then that I was still interested in cooking come dinner time.  Turns out that the call of the squash was louder than the call of the couch tonight.  This is a favorite casserole of mine and I’ve made some improvements this time around.  All but one of the squash I used tonight came from my garden so that makes it extra special.  Hope you like it!

My only complaint about this casserole since I discovered this recipe in Cooking Light years ago has been that you can’t really taste the squash.  I fixed that by keeping the amount of squash the same and cutting the rice by half.  Then I substituted 5 oz. plain yogurt for the 8 oz. sour cream to reduce calories and increase protein.  I used one egg instead of two, just because.  I used regular cheddar because I think fat-free and reduced fat cheeses are an abomination.  All the adjustments turned out to be good ones.  The flavor is just as good and you can taste the squash!

A few tips about putting this together.  I usually do the squash and onions in a skillet just like I would if they weren’t going into this casserole.  They’re yummy that way, but it takes a while and a fair amount of stirring.  It’s a lot faster to boil/steam them.  A little water in the bottom of a pot is all you need.  Just be sure to drain them well before you add them to the mixing bowl.   In fact, drain them in a colander and press down with the back of your spoon to get out excess water.  Also, stir the yogurt into the egg before you combine it with the hot rice and vegetables.  That will help you avoid ending up with scrambled eggs.  Feel free to use brown rice if you like.  I used basmati this time because it’s what I had.  And use whatever squash you like – yellow and/or zucchini.  I used both.

This is one of those dishes I always burn my tongue on because I can’t wait for it to cool before I dig in.  And it’s one of those dishes that I always eat every bite of.  It’s terrific reheated.  I’ve also added some chicken to it to make a complete meal.  This recipe is such a keeper that I actually wrote it out on a recipe card, and that’s saying something!

Good?  Good enough that I’ve been making it for many years.
Easy? Yep, but requires a few pots to get it together.
Good for company? This has potluck/church supper/comfort food written all over it.
Special shopping? Nope.

Squash Rice Casserole


8 C sliced squash
2 medium onions, chopped
1 C cooked rice
5 oz fat-free, plain Greek yogurt
1 egg
1/4 C panko or breadcrumbs
1 1/2 C grated cheddar
2-3 T grated parmesan
1 t salt
1 t pepper


Put squash and onions in a pot with some water in the bottom. Cover. Bring to a boil. Steam until squash and onions are soft. Drain thoroughly in a colander, pressing out excess water.
In a large bowl beat egg and stir in yogurt. Add cooked rice, panko and cheddar. Add squash and onions. Stir until well combined. Stir in salt and pepper.
Press mixture into casserole dish. Top with grated parmesan. Bake 30 minutes at 350. Brown top under a broiler if needed.

Sausage and Black-Eyed Pea Hash

June 18, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever made hash.  For many years I thought hash only came with corned beef in it and that’s not a favorite of mine.  Turns out hash, in the food world, is just a dish of diced up meat and vegetables all cooked together.  Just jumbled up food.  It’s a good way to use up odds and ends.  It looks kinda gross, but this one made for a really good breakfast for dinner kind of meal.

I followed the recipe to a tee with the two exceptions that I used frozen peas instead of canned and I drained the sausage grease out of the pan before I added the vegetables.  I’m sure that was supposed to be in the directions.  It’s a Cooking Light recipe after all.  There’s not a lot to this.  Dicing and sauteing mostly.  Two recommendations – use a sausage with a lot of flavor and do the egg over easy even if you don’t like to eat them that way.  I didn’t use andouille because I had some of the magical Della Nonna sausage from SausageCraft.  You just can’t beat the flavor a sausage made from local pork, ramps and pecorina cheese.  Seriously good.  So I guess that’s a third change to the recipe.  And a darn good one.  The thing about the egg is that the yolk helps make a sauce on the hash.  You won’t notice the yolk the way you do when over easy eggs are served to you by themselves.  Trust me.  Just try it.

This is good stuff.  It’s one of those dishes that started off good and got better as I ate.  The sauce is tangy, but very subtle.  It’s nice because the vegetables are pretty subtle too.  The strongest flavor in here other than the sausage (have I mentioned how good that is?) is the black-eyed peas.  The peas add an earthy flavor and a nice weight to the hash.  Without them I think the sausage would so over power the vegetables that it wouldn’t seem like a unified dish.  The egg gives it just enough richness.  For a dish that’s not much to look at it certainly is the perfect balance of flavors and textures.

The last few years have seen a number of Southern “home cooking” foods make their way to restaurant menus and take on a trendy flair:  deviled eggs, pimiento cheese, etc.  I think hash could just be the next local food meets Southern kitchen cooking meets restaurant menus trend.  The possibilities are endless!

Good?  Unexpectedly very, very good.
Easy? One knife, one pot, one plate. Easy.
Good for company? Maybe for a weekend breakfast with overnight guests.
Special shopping? Nope, that would defeat the purpose of hash!

Sausage and Black-Eyed Pea Hash


8 ounces diced flavorful sausage (hot italian, andouille, something unique from your local butcher)
1/2 C diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 medium red bell pepper, cubed
1 medium yellow squash, cubed
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked
1 teaspoon canola oil
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove sausage from pan and empty all but 1 tablespoon of the grease. Add onion and next 4 ingredients (through squash); sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1/4 cup water and next 5 ingredients (through peas). Return sausage to the pan. Simmer 2 minutes or until peas are thoroughly heated. Remove pea mixture from pan; keep warm. Wipe pan with a paper towel.
2. Return pan to medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Turn gently after 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Place about 1 cup pea mixture onto each of 4 plates; top each serving with one egg. Sprinkle eggs evenly with black pepper.

Pimiento Cheese Stuffed Tomatoes

June 17, 2012

Whew, it’s been a whirlwind weekend in the kitchen.  Last night was potluck so I’ll start there.  Knowing that I had the family coming for Father’s Day dinner today I signed up to bring an appetizer for potluck.  We’ve taken to having themes for potluck.  This month was gluten free month.  Gluten free isn’t so hard to do when the vegetables are as wonderful as they are this time of year.  It was a wonderful meal of lamb roast, lentil salad and chocolate chip meringues for dessert. I kicked it all off with these lovely little tomatoes.

The challenge for me was how to serve up the pimiento cheese without using bread or crackers.  Yes, I could have used gluten-free crackers, and there are some good ones, but I was trying to avoid investing in a special food product.  I found these little ‘strawberry tomatoes.’  They’re the perfect size for something like this.  Bigger than grape or cherry tomatoes, but lots smaller than a roma.  I’m hoping that maybe my Juliet tomatoes will fit the bill later this summer.  Anyway, I halved the tomatoes and scooped out the innards.  A scant teaspoon of pimiento cheese in each one and that’s it.  Yum.  The perfect delivery system for my famous pimiento cheese.

I’ve made the pimiento cheese before so I won’t reprint it here.  Here’s the link.  I did this a touch differently.  I grated this cheese with the food processor instead of a box grater in the interest of time.  I left out the cayenne this  time, but added a little garlic powder.  I left out the white cheddar/mayonnaise fluff and stuck with straight mayonnaise this time.  Again, I was long on chores and short on hours this weekend.  Two things that are non-negotiable:  Duke’s mayonnaise (I’ll give you a pass if it’s not available in your geographic area, but only then) and a teaspoon of smoked paprika.  It really does make this something special.

These went like hotcakes at potluck.  They weren’t as cute in reality as they were in my mind, but it’s an awfully convenient way to serve pimiento cheese to a group.  And it’s leaps and bounds better than stuffing celery!

Simple Southern Supper

April 7, 2012

Today has been an “-ing” day here:  painting, baking, chopping, mowing, whipping, frosting, grilling, eating – in that order.  By the time I got to the grilling and eating part of the day I was already 18 kinds of worn out.  Fortunately during the baking portion of the day I had the foresight to do a little dinner planning as well.  I managed to put some chicken thighs in to marinate and make a little slaw.  Boy was I glad of that when dinner time finally rolled around!

Dinner tonight was kind of a family affair.  I have my brother to thank for the chicken thighs.  He makes barbeque sauce.  Really good barbeque sauce.  He makes several varieties, but this one is about my favorite.  It’s a mild to medium vinegar based sauce.  It has a little tomato and plenty of red and black pepper.  It’s thin, so perfect as a marinade, and not sugary so it doesn’t burn on the grill.  All good.  So, if you live in Alabama and happen to run across some JB’s BBQ Sauce you should check it out.  I poured some on some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and let them marinate for 6 hours or so.  When I put the chicken on the grill I put the leftover sauce in a sauce pan and boiled it down to use for dipping.  Boil it plenty so you don’t risk any salmonella.  Five minutes on each side and done.  Yum!

My slaw came from my MeMa to my mom to me.  Not much to it.  Just cabbage, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, but it’s the best slaw ever.  I know lots of folks add sugar and milk and lots of other things.  I don’t like my slaw sweet and I don’t like to have to strain it when I serve it.  Here’s the thing about this slaw.  You have to chop the cabbage by hand.  If you use a food processor it chops way too fine and you end up with a yucky texture and too much water in your slaw.  And, of course, I have to advise you to use Duke’s mayonnaise if it’s available in your area.  Accept no substitutes.  Just one more thing about tonight’s slaw – a shout out to the Farm to Family Market.  This little cabbage came from their garden!  It was a sweet and mild cabbage and just the right size.

You can’t very well have a Southern supper without some greens.  These are just chopped mixed greens with garlic and leeks, cooked down and dressed with cider vinegar.  Finished the meal with some iced tea.  And since Spring has sprung the tea is full of spearmint from my garden.  Come to think of it the spearmint came from my mom too, so that’s one more family thing.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a family meal even when your family isn’t around!

Good? Very.
Easy? Very.
Good for company? Excellent for having folks over to eat on the patio.
Special shopping? Nope.

Garlic Cheese Grits

April 1, 2012

Last night was the monthly potluck dinner.  We decided on a ‘breakfast for dinner’ theme.  It was a little heavier than the normal potluck:  green chile egg bake; french toast casserole; coffee cake; bacon; garlic cheese grits. and watermelon – had to throw in a little fruit for good measure.  Add some mimosas and evening brunch is served!

I was in charge of the bacon and the grits.  First, a million thanks to the Clark’s at Greenway Beef for introducing me to Crabill’s Bacon.  This is amazing stuff.  At potluck we call it ‘crack bacon.’  It’s salt cured slab bacon.  The slices are thick and meaty.  This is the only bacon on earth that doesn’t make my hands swell up.  God bless folks who make bacon without all the nitrates and preservatives you find in commercial bacon.  So, if you live in the VA Valley or are a farmer’s market regular in Central VA be sure to check it out.

I know I’ve made grits for the blog before, but these deserve a post of their own.  I used Wade’s Mill grits that I got from Relay Foods.  Local, stone ground and fabulous.  I made these with a combination of salted water and milk.  Did you catch that?  Salted water.  Even if you’re adding cheese you have to salt the water.  You can’t recover bland grits after they’re cooked.  No way, no how.  Add some fresh garlic, extra sharp cheddar and a little smoked paprika and you have an amazing dish for any time of day.  Rich, creamy, garlicky, smoky and wonderful.

A few helpful hints.  Using milk isn’t required, but it does add some richness.  If you’re using skim milk use half water and half milk rather than the amounts listed below.  If you’re adding fresh garlic to grits add it to the water at the same time you add the grits.  That way it will cook all the way through the grits and mellow as it cooks.  If you add it at the end you’ll have little bites of garlic that add bitterness to your grits.  Also, shred your cheese from a block.  Pre-shredded cheese has just a little coating on it to keep it from sticking together.  That little coating also makes it harder to get it to melt smoothly.  You’ll end up with little bits of unmelted cheese.  It’ll taste fine, but it won’t look as nice.  Beverysparing with the smoked paprika.  You’re adding it at the end so if you use too much your slightly smoky grits will have a little chalkiness to them.

Grits are showing up in all kinds of high end restaurants these days, taking over for polenta on the “in” list.  You can do just about anything with them – breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Use them in place of rice, potatoes or polenta.  They’re a great way to stretch a dish a little farther.  Make them at home and save yourself a few bucks!

Good? So, so good.
Easy? You bet.
Good for company? These are really garlicky so be sure they’re good friends!
Special shopping? Nope, but if you can get local stone ground grits they’re the best.

Garlic Cheese Grits


3 C water
1 C milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 C stone ground grits
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1-1 1/2 C grated extra sharp cheddar
dash of smoked paprika


Bring water, milk and salt to a boil in a large sauce pan. Stir in grits and garlic. Stir often as the grits cook until soft, about 20-25 minutes. Add additional water if needed to reach desired consistency. Remove from heat. Add cheese. Stir until fully melted. Stir in paprika. Serve warm.

Carolina Fish Muddle

March 25, 2012

I bet you’d almost given up on me!  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to cook something worth posting it’s that I haven’t been home much and when I have been it’s been mostly when I needed to sleep.  I finally made it to the grocery store late last night and I finally made it into the kitchen in time to make dinner.  Turns out it’s quite a dinner!

I’d never heard of fish muddle until I stumbled upon this on  It sounds a little bit gross.  The original recipe is called Bacon Infused Carolina Fish Muddle.  Clearly I decided to read it because of the bacon.  I left it out of the title here because I didn’t want to discourage folks who don’t eat bacon from reading further.  I think you could make this very successfully without the bacon.  A tiny touch of liquid smoke would replace it well enough.  (But for those of you who do eat bacon it’s really good in here).


Of course I didn’t make it exactly according to the recipe.  First, I mostly halved the recipe because the original says it makes six servings and the fish would spoil before I got through it all.  I say mostly because I used the whole amount of shrimp stock and nearly the whole amount of fish.  I skipped the part where you make the shrimp stock because I had some in the freezer.  My shrimp stock was infused with lemongrass, but I decided that was ok.  I didn’t puree the tomatoes because I prefer them a little chunky.I left out the potatoes because I think having potatoes in a stew that you serve over rice is weird. I used catfish and snapper instead of striped bass and grouper because it’s what looked the best at Kroger last night.  I used green Tabasco instead of red because it’s my favorite.  And I punted the croutons made with bacon grease because that seemed like overkill.  That’s a lot of adjustments, but I feel like the flavor and overall texture of the dish are pretty true.

Make sure you have some time on your hands when you make this.  It took me about 90 minutes from start to finish including chopping and cooking.  You could absolutely do your chopping the day before to speed things up by about 30 minutes.  There are a couple more things you should know.  The snapper is a mild, but meaty fish that works really well in here.  It holds together really well.  (The catfish tends to flake a little).  Here’s a tip:  if you choose to use snapper have your seafood guy or gal remove the skin.  It’s a bear to do yourself.  The other ingredient that requires special handling is the leek.  Leeks get really dirty in those stalky leaves.  You couldn’t possibly wash it all out.  Here’s what you do, per Rachel Ray:  chop the leeks; put them in a bowl with enough water that the leeks float and have a couple of inches of water below them; swish them around some; let the dirt settle to the bottom; use your hands to remove the leeks from the bowl without disturbing the dirt on the bottom of the bowl; rinse.  Everything else is pretty straightforward.

The nice thing is that all of your hard work is well rewarded.  This is super yummy stuff!  The bacon makes it a little smoky.  The thyme makes it a little earthy.  The vegetables make it a little crunchy.  The tomatoes make it a little comfort food-y.  The seafood makes it a lot yummy.  This is another dish where the quality of the ingredients really counts.  If you don’t get good quality fish the stew will taste old the first time around and not improve the leftovers.  I used my home canned tomatoes – you know how I feel abut those – but if you use commercially canned ones just be sure you get good ones.  I served the muddle with basmati rice, but I can see how stone ground grits would be good too.  If I’d included the potatoes I would have served it alone.

Tell you what folks, this makes a big pot of muddle.  I’d guess there are easily six servings here.  If you want to join me for leftovers left me know!

Good? So very good.
Easy? It takes too long to be called easy. We’ll go with intermediate.
Good for company? Definitely.
Special shopping? Get good quality fish.

Carolina Fish Muddle


1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into 1/2″ cubes, or thick-cut bacon, sliced into 1/2″ strips
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 onions, finely chopped
1 leek (white and pale-green parts only), finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 T dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 quart (or 28oz can) whole peeled tomatoes with juices
2 C shrimp stock
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco; optional)
1 1/4 pound red snapper, cut into 1″–2″ pieces
1/2 pound catfish fillet, cut into 1″–2″ pieces
1/4 pound small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 C cooked rice


Heat bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until some of fat is rendered and bacon is just beginning to crisp, 10–15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Remove all except 2 T of bacon grease.

Add celery, carrots, onions, and leek to pot. Increase heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, bay leaves and thyme; cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Add shrimp stock (or add 2 cups fish stock or clam juice) and cooked bacon. Bring to a simmer. Simmer about 15 minutes. Season stew with salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce, if desired.

Add fish and shrimp; bring to a gentle simmer. Cover; cook until fish and shrimp are just opaque in center, about 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked rice.