Birthday Food Part 2: Salmon Cakes

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It’s our boy’s birthday week. And even though he’s now fully grown with a wife, career in the Air Force, and a life of his own stationed in the desert too far away; his mother still wants him to have all of his favorite foods from childhood.

Because it’s his birthday!

Salmon Cakes

Our boy didn’t handle cow milk well when he was very young and there were sadly few alternatives like the almond, soy or cashew milk so wildly available today. So I set out on a plan to ensure that he had plenty of calcium heavy food in his diet.

That’s when salmon cakes became a cheap, healthy and regular dinner item. The best part is that everything you need for this super simple dish is probably already in your pantry or refrigerator.

1 can Alaskan canned salmon
1 egg
1/3 cup (plus more if you need it) bread crumbs…fresh or store bought are fine, cracker crumbs also work
1/4 cup of milk (soy or other alternatives)
Chopped fresh rosemary is optional but it gives a good boost
Black pepper

Drain and rinse the salmon in a colander. Then take a fork and crumble the bones and skin. Don’t worry, it’s not as gross as it sounds.

Combine salmon, egg, bread crumbs, rosemary and pepper in bowl. Drizzle with the milk until mixture reaches a consistency that is easy to assemble into round balls. Shape the mixture into balls or press into patties and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. When ready to cook, pour a small amount of olive oil in a skillet, warming over medium heat. Add the cakes and brown on both sides. This makes about five patties.

Our boy would—and continues to— eat these on sandwich buns or as small round poppers dipped in mustard. I prefer them with a salad, roasted potatoes and Cecelia’s homemade French dressing (Nectar of the Gods recipe first published in September, 2014).

However you eat them, they’re easy and delicious.

Enjoy!

Cooking for Eudora

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“…like all good visits snatched from the jaws of time…” – Eudora Welty, letter to William and Emily Maxwell, June 10, 1970.

This is how I feel when my friend Cecelia and I meet for lunch—whether it’s a long overdue catch-up like the one we enjoyed today or a brief conversation over a sandwich.

Cecelia is also a world class cook with intuition: the friend who somehow senses that you didn’t quite make it to the grocery or that while the husband is travelling you will probably settle into a giant bowl of cereal for dinner. Without having to say a word, she will appear on the doorstep with a perfect Flow Blue Platter full of her famous “Macho Salad” or pork tenderloin with apples saying “I just made way too much and we’ll never finish it all.”

Cecelia is a gracious Southerner in the tradition of Eudora Welty’s neighbor and the Southern Living cookbook author Winifred Green Cheney, who kept the great writer as well as many other friends and neighbors sustained.

“She cooks to honor the visitor, and also she cooks for a varying but ever-present list of neighbors or friends who are convalescing from illness, who are in trouble of some kind, who are alone or confined to their homes,” Welty wrote in the preface to Cheney’s 1976 cookbook The Southern Hospitality Cookbook.

“The original Lady Bountiful was the invention of an Irish dramatist in 1707,” Welty wrote. “Winifred exists as her own version. She makes her rounds with baskets and trays as a simple extension of her natural hospitality. In good weather but especially in bad, splashing forth in raincoat and tennis shoes, carrying a warm cake straight from her oven, she sympathizes with you or celebrates with you by sharing her table with you.”

In addition to being a world-class neighbor, Cheney was a food columnist for The National Observer and also wrote the Southern Living Cooking for Company as well as the books Singing Heart and Singing His Song. Although her recipes are definitely from the 1970s sour cream loving era, I take some comfort in the fact that Cheney died at the age of 87 in 2000; Welty died the following year at age 91.

My favorite recipe from Cheney’s Southern Hospitality is the Sour Cream Pound Cake which she introduces with little fanfare other than “With no exceptions, this is the best pound cake I have ever tasted.”

Agreed!

Sour Cream Pound Cake

“Let me be confined to my typewriter with a deadline, and, as though it were a fate I didn’t deserve, Winifred appears with something on a tray to sustain me,” Eudora Welty.

Preheat oven to 325

1 ½ cups butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, lemon or ½ teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond)

Cream butter until it has reached the consistency of whipped cream. When you think you have creamed it enough, cream it some more. Slowly dribble in sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream. Put measured flour into sifter with soda and salt, and resift three times. Add flour ½ cup at a time to creamed butter, blending well with mixer on lowest speed. Add flavoring.(Cheney used vanilla and almond along with two tablespoons brandy. I use orange blossom honey moonshine).

Pour batter into one tube pan, greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours or until cake tests done. Cool on rack 15 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Remove from pan and continue to cool.

Enjoy!

New Year’s, Collards and Potlikker

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“Greasy grit gravy and gizzard greens
Big fat pie and mobo beans
Make you wanna split your jeans
Eatin’ greasy grit gravy and gizzard greens.”                        From the song Greasy Grit Gravy, lyrics by Shel Silverstein

In the South, legend has it that if you eat a serving or two of collard greens on New Year’s Day you’ll have riches in the New Year. Each bite symbolizes $1,000.

We eat so many collards throughout the year you would think our last name would be Gates or Rockefeller by now. Without any financial incentives we do collards as a side dish, at brunch topped with fried eggs, or as a main dish spooned over spaghetti squash with bacon.

Collards are the original kale; but better. They can be cooked any way you see fit and are also full of great anti-oxidants even when boiled with a ham hock.

Every Southern cook I know has their own “special” collard recipe: Leslie adds cabbage to her collards, Tristan throws onions and garlic into his pot, but I prefer the smoky potlikker-style collard recipes.

Potlikker is the best part about any kind of green. (Pookie loves it so much that she has a hat from the Southern Foodways Alliance that says “Potlikker, it’s a SFA thing”). That delicious pork seasoned broth can be saved and turned into soup, reduced into sauces or as Craig Claiborne suggested in his book Southern Cooking, “If you want to be fancy, you can always make cornmeal dumplings to float on top of the cooking liquid.”

In our house, potlikker doesn’t last long enough to make it to the fancy dumpling stage, and only rarely to the soup stage. We usually take what’s left and pour it over some corn bread and eat the dripping goodness with no shame, although sometimes over the sink.

Here are a few of our varieties of collard greens recipes.

Happy New Year!

Tristan’s Big Batch of Greens
1 onion
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Smoked ham trimming and bone
6 heads of collard greens, cleaned and chopped (no stems)
In very large pot, bring 1 and a half gallons of water to a boil. Add onion, garlic, salt, ham trimmings and bone. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add greens and cook for 1-2 hours until tender.

Sunday Collards, The Lee Bro.’s
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 smoked ham hock or ¼ pound slab of bacon, diced
8 cups of water
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 ¾ pounds of collard greens, ribbed, washed, and cut into 1 inch wide strips (confession: I use the pre-washed and pre-chopped collards and they work just fine in lieu of a direct garden connection)

Pour oil into an 8-quart pot over medium-high heat and swirl until it covers the bottom. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, put the ham hock or bacon in to sear and let the fat render. Takes about 5-6 minutes.

Pour the water into the hot pot. Then add the red pepper flakes and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the cooking liquid for 30 minutes.

Then add in the collards by the handful. They will try to float so stir them often, fully submerging them, until they’re a bright green. They’ll become floppier and more compact, so you can add more handfuls. Continue adding handfuls of collards, stirring and submerging them, until all greens are in the pot (6-10 minutes). Turn the heat to low and simmer very gently for 1 hour. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender.

From The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, Matt Lee and Ted Lee, 2006.

And check out the great work going on at the Southern Foodways Alliance at http://www.southernfoodways.org

Enjoy!

Tangerine Sherbet

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“Actually, it is very simple, and the only tricks to it are in having one’s own tangerine trees—and the patience to squeeze the juice from at least a twelve-quart water bucket of the tangerines.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek Cookery, 1942.

O.K., she may have overstated the number of tangerines, but Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knew how to turn an abundance of seasonal fresh produce into delicacies .

Back before the Farm to Table movement had taken hold or I had ever heard of Michael Pollan or Wendell Berry, we bought our Old House with a small citrus grove in the yard. Moving from a thin row house in Washington, D.C. to central Florida, I was determined to use every last bit of my new-found bounty of grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.

So I filled the freezer with juice and learned to prepare a real tangerine sherbet that is nothing like the old tubs of orange-colored ice my mother used to keep on hand for summer treats.

No, as Rawlings noted, this is a dish that has “an extremely exotic flavor and is a gorgeous color.” It is also an easy make ahead treat that is perfect as a Christmas gift, spooned over vanilla ice cream or eaten by the gallon right out of the container.

Sadly, our tangerine tree succumbed last year to old age and disease. This has left us with a void of readily available sherbert.  Although our kids are grown now and no longer plow through pounds of it while leaving sticky spoons all over the house, they miss the tree as much as I do and keep asking  when we’ll get another sherbert tree. So this Florida winter, you will find me out at the farm stand buying bags of tangerines and getting that juicer fired up.

I hope Santa will bring me a new tree…

Cross Creek Tangerine Sherbet

I cup sugar
1 ½ cups of water
Juice of one large lemon
4 cups tangerine juice
Zest from 4 tangerines

Boil sugar and water for ten minutes. Then add the tangerine zest to the syrup while hot. Let cool slightly and add the lemon and tangerine juice. Taste for sweetness and acidity, as the tangerines vary. Chill thoroughly, strain and freeze.

I freeze some of the sherbet in single serving containers for easy desert options or treats for the neighbors.
ENJOY!

Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

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I remember the smell of the sofrito coming from the stove as I played with my two great childhood friends in their house located just a few feet from mine. Because I was a child I never fully understood that just a few years before this family lived a very different life in their native Cuba…before they were forced to make a dangerous escape to the United States as a young couple with two small girls and leave everything behind except the clothes they were wearing.

This extended family became a loving window to a larger world for me. One grandmother was a painter who patiently sat with us at the small dining room table as we drew and colored pictures trying to impress her. A grandfather was convinced that he could teach me to speak Spanish but gave up after a few days declaring with a smile and a wink that it was an impossible task due to my Southern accent.

The food that came out of that small kitchen was unlike anything I had ever imagined. Golden fried plantains, heaping bowls of black beans over white rice and for New Year’s, a whole pig roasted in a pit dug in their back yard and served on a giant platter complete with an apple in its mouth.

Arroz Con Pollo, or chicken and yellow rice, was always my favorite and one of the thousands of versions of it is still served at every church dinner, local festival or fundraising event around Florida.

“If the mockingbird is the Florida state bird and the orange blossom the state flower, then chicken and yellow rice may well have become the state dish,” Jane Nickerson wrote in her 1973 Florida Cookbook.

And while I have tried many “reinventions” of the recipe, the old Spanish-based one from Tampa’s Columbia restaurant remains the best. Unfortunately, work nights call for some short cuts but this is a delicious standby using a store bought rotisserie chicken and some items already in your pantry (especially the packaged rice when you don’t happen to have saffron on hand.)

But even in this short-cut version, the smell of that sofrito still carries me right back to those days on Crystal Terrace…

Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

1 store bought rotisserie chicken (I use either a no flavor or a mojo flavored chicken if you can find it)
1 small white onion sliced
Two cloves garlic minced
1 small can chopped tomatoes drained
1 small green pepper chopped
A 16 ounce bag of yellow rice mix (I use Vigo)
Frozen small peas cooked to package instructions
1 jar of sliced pimentos

Preheat the oven to 350

Quarter the chicken and set aside. Prepare the rice to package instructions preferably in a large covered oven proof pot. Sauté sliced onions and garlic until tender, and then add tomatoes and green pepper to heat through. When the rice is done, add the onion mixture to the pot and give a big stir. Add the chicken to the top, cover and place in the oven until heated through, usually about 15-20 minutes. Add heated peas and sliced pimentos to taste.

Serve with a warm loaf of Cuban bread (or any crusty bread) and ENJOY!

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

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“I have nibbled at the Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie, and have served it to those in whose welfare I took no interest, but being inclined to plumpness, and having as well a desire to see out my days on earth, I have never eaten a full portion.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, “Cross Creek Cookery”

This is a pecan pie for people who don’t really care for pecan pie.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie” is a transformational recipe that lacks the bitter, burnt flavored top crust that other pecan pies seem to have. It is more like praline candy than pie and according to Rawlings “fat men are particularly addicted to it.” So you know it’s good!

For 30 years, I have made this pie for Thanksgiving, sharing it with people I very much care about, not just the “fat men” who clamor for it.

Enjoy!

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

“True Southern pecan pie is one of the richest, most deadly deserts of my knowledge. It is more overpowering than English treacle pie, which it resembles in texture, for to the insult of the cooked-down syrup is added the injury of the rich pecan meat. It is a favorite with folk who have a sweet tooth, and fat men in particular are addicted to it.”

Preheat oven to 375

4 eggs
1 ¼ cups Southern cane syrup (if you can’t find cane syrup Karo light corn syrup works just fine)
1 ½ cups broken pecan meats
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Boil sugar and syrup together for two or three minutes. Beat eggs until not too stiff, slowly pour in the hot syrup (I let the syrup cool a few minutes first as to not curdle the eggs), add the butter, vanilla and pecan meats. Turn into a raw pie shell and bake about 45 minutes, or until set.

*For the pie crust I use the Barefoot Contessa’s basic and foolproof recipe which holds up well to the heavy confection of the filling.

They’re Good People

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By Pookie

“They’re good people, babe!” Those are the immortal words of my uncle whenever he encounters good cooks. His logic is simple and sound: good people make good food.

I know it’s basic but cooking for someone is the best way to show that you care—even if it’s something as simple as a thrown together casserole.

Although we’ve all experienced this through dinners with family or friends, my favorite local rib joint demonstrates the “good people rule” daily. Its run by a wonderful couple who take the time to get to know their patrons: they remember that I can’t have butter on my hamburger bun, that my neighbor always drinks diet Coke with her chicken and waffles, and that my Mamaw wants sausage gravy for both her biscuits and grits.

John Currence, the James Beard award-winning chef of Oxford, Mississippi’s famous City Grocery, is a proponent of just taking the time to think about what you’re doing in the kitchen and who you’re doing it for.

“Make a drink or pour a glass of wine before you start cooking,” Currence writes in his 2013 cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. “Create a joyful working environment. Cooking is work, no question about it, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. Make it fun.” He also suggests listening to specific music while cooking and there’s even a great Spotify playlist to go with his recipes.

A simple home dish that I love making is an extraordinarily basic but tasty hamburger casserole. It’s far from healthy so it’s a rare treat, but always worth the calories and preservatives.

Share this with some good people, babe.They’ll know you care.

Hamburger Casserole
Listen to: Tall, Tall, Trees by Alan Jackson

• One can of Grands biscuits
• One pound of hamburger
• One can of cream of mushroom soup, or your favorite dairy-free alternative
• One quarter cup of sour cream, again you can use your favorite dairy-free alternative
• As many Frenches fried onions as you want…yes, the ones in the jar.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brown the hamburger and drain it on a paper towel. Then transfer the meat to a cast iron skillet or 9 inch square pan, stir in the cream of mushroom soup, the sour cream, and the onions. Once that is thoroughly mixed place the uncooked biscuits on top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the meat mixture is bubbly and the biscuits are golden brown on top.