THE PERFECT ROAST POTATOES

The Perfect Roast PotatoesRight down the street from where I lived was a tiny, taupe elementary school sweetly nestled next to a convenience store and a beloved grocery store. Tucked in between the worn hurricane fence and the textured brick façade of the school was a small, modest plot of dirt where Mrs. Benoit’s 2nd grade class were to conduct very important physical science experiments.

The entire group marched outside onto the magically damp, dark chocolate lot. We fashioned furrows with our hands, gently created holes with our index fingers and dropped tiny seeds into the hollows. We covered them with mossy, murky soil, gave them a drink and hoped they slept tight under the soil and not to let the bedbugs bite.

The Perfect Roast PotatoesDaily during recess, I took a quick peak at the petite garden. My heart filled with delight as I began seeing little sprigs of green hairs and emerald leaves peaking through the soil and stretching out in the sunlight like a small child awakening after a midafternoon nap.

Then, on one bright and sunny day, Mrs. Benoit told us to retreat to our adored garden we had been tending to for quite some time now. She handed out little shovels and gardening gloves and directed us on how to tend each row of veggies. I was assigned to a short row of mysterious emerald fronds while the rest began plucking beautiful vibrant green cucumbers and juicy red tomatoes off their vines. Immediately, I became chartreuse with envy but quickly shrugged it off and stayed on task.

The Perfect Roast Potatoes Rising to the challenge, I lowered my shovel, confronted the bright green shrub and gave it a good yank. All of a sudden with a zip I flew onto my back, holding what seemed like a clump of mud. Desperately, I shook myself off trying to clean the dirt from my clothes without attracting too much attention to myself. Then, I stared at my fist and gasped. I ran over to Mrs. Benoit screaming, “ I think I just harvested turtle eggs!” She just laughed and said, “Honey, those are potatoes.” My eyes became as big as golf balls in sheer disbelief. I never looked at a potato the same way ever again.

This is the best roast potato recipe ever. These little beauties are quite addictive, and they will disappear in mere moments. Breaking through these perfectly roasted potatoes, listening to the cartoon crunch, inhaling its meaty aromatics and allowing the creamy, fluffy insides of the potato fall on your tongue like warm, buttery clouds, makes every second spent cooking them, tending to them, worthwhile. Enjoy!

The Perfect Roast PotatoesRecipe: The Perfect Roast Potatoes

Inspired by Jamie Oliver

Serves 4 as a side

Note: Parboiling the potatoes, adding them to hot fat and slightly crushing them after they have cooked ¾ of the way, helps create a fluffy, insanely crunchy roast potato. Also, you can substitute clarified butter or duck fat for the olive oil for a less healthy option. I won’t tell!

1 bulb of garlic

3 sprigs of rosemary

1- 1 ½ pounds of baby potatoes, peeled

Olive oil

Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Crush the bulb of garlic, leaving the cloves in their paper jackets and pluck the leaves off of the rosemary sprigs.

Place the potatoes into a pot of cold water, covering the potatoes by about 1-inch. Season the water with salt and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and allow them to steam dry for a few minutes. Then, shake the colander until the potatoes start to look fuzzy and blurred around the edges. This step will help create a crunchy roast potato!

Place a skillet on medium-high heat (or place in the preheated oven until hot) and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic cloves, rosemary leaves and potatoes and place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the skillet out of the oven, gently flip the potatoes and smash them slightly with the back of a fork. Place them back in the oven for 30 more minutes, or until the edges are crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately.

FAREWELL WINTER

Pecan Chicory Cream Dutch BabyWe were teased. Teased by pleasant weather, by the tiny, pointy buds resting on the trees and the brilliant yellow daffodils, which magically emerged from the earth. Spring was surely on its way. Then, surprisingly, I woke up last Monday morning to a wonderful, winter wonderland. Slightly muddled but still enchanted by the snowy spectacle, Michael and I grabbed our coats and boots we had hastily stashed away in the back of the closet and set out on our last possible snow day of the year.

We took a stroll, arm in arm, through sleepy downtown Franklin and wandered closer to one of our most beloved spots, the beautiful and historic Carnton Plantation. The Carnton Plantation became famous during the Civil War for reasons I will lovingly spare you from. We slowly trekked the frozen ground, taking in the stillness of the landscape. Vibrant daffodils stared at us with their luminous, trumpet faces, reminding me to cherish this passing winter’s day.

The only sounds on the estate were the crunching of my black wellies underfoot and the soft, trickle of snow falling to the ground. Everything was still. It gave me a chill how eerie the plantation grounds felt. Here, on the same land where many men fought on crimson soil, we stand in bliss over a blanket of white snow.

After rambling through the main manor, we made our way to the back of the grounds where a secret, swampy area teems with life. We spotted a family of mallards having a morning swim, each of them taking turns ducking under the glassy surface, only to have beads of water swiftly glide off their backs.  Fog slowly crept across the water like a fold of delicate tulle gently, slowly unraveling from its seams. Flotsam from an old, cockeyed structure in the swamp jarringly thumped against the side of the building, waking us from our wintery daydream.

Carnton PortraitWe ran back to the car with stiff, frozen limbs and glided away. I sat there thinking of winter and hoping this was its farewell finale. If this was winter’s way of saying goodbye, then I believe the occasion calls for creating something special with the rest of the lovely pecans I’d been hoarding. This pecan and chicory cream is earthy and slightly surreptitious in nature, just like our winter spectacle. Hopefully I’ve taken off my heavy coat for the last time this season. Until next time dear winter…it’s been grand.

Recipe: Pecan & Chicory Cream

Makes about 1 ½ cups

Note: Pecan & Chicory Cream can be covered on toast, cake or spread across the top of a Dutch Baby (recipe below) sprinkled with pecans, powdered sugar and melted chocolate!

200g of slightly toasted pecan halves

1 cup of heavy whipping cream, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons of cane sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of recently brewed chicory coffee

Pinch of salt

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the cream so it doesn’t boil over. Take off the heat and place in a blender and blend until smooth, adding more whipping cream if needed. The texture you are looking for is a smooth paste. The pecan cream should have grain but it should be spreadable. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Recipe: The Perfect Dutch Baby

Serves 2

Note: You can also make the batter ahead of time for a speedy breakfast. Just blend the ingredients together and stash the batter in the fridge overnight. Continue with the rest of the recipe as follows.

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

¼ cup of half-n-half

2 eggs

2 tablespoons of sugar

Splash of vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Combine all of the ingredients with the exception of butter in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Once the oven has preheated, place the butter in a 10-inch skillet and place in the oven until all the butter has completely melted (this will only take a few mintues.) Take the skillet out of the oven and brush the melted butter up the sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the buttered skillet and immediately return it to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are golden. Enjoy!

 

 

From Boudin & Crawfish Ponds to BBQ & Cotton Fields

Louisiana Landscape

Imagine a map of the United States. Now, based on that map draw a mental circle around what you would consider to be “The South.” If I asked 10 different people to describe their circle, I would have 10 different answers, especially if those 10 people were all from the south. Does geographical landscape, culture, food or accents form our opinion about the south? Did you include Texas? Florida? Where do you draw your boundaries? And what makes the south “The South?” Until I moved from my thick roots of Louisiana to the knee-deep culture of Alabama, I really didn’t appreciate the differences myself.

Cottage Path

I didn’t travel much whenever I was young. I lived in a circle that reached as far as Houston is to New Orleans. You should have seen my reaction whenever I found out that the whole country did not partake in Mardi Gras or eat boudin from their local gas stations. I lived in a world where French was many peoples’ first language and taking your curlers out of your hair in the morning was an option, not a necessity. There were not many conversations you could have with someone you just met without asking them, “Who is yo’ mama?” Almost everyone was Catholic and making a roux was in your blood. Dinners were excuses for everyone to get together. Men spent their pre-dinner time around the trucks, knees against the mud flaps, talking about LSU football. Women gathered like hens in the kitchen, quickly prepping the fixings while “catching up.”

The Yard

The food is humble, reflecting its people. Louisiana food, like almost all Southern food, imitated what was on the land. Crawfish, rice and roux showed up on nearly every table of my childhood. No one had much, but they appreciated what they did have. Everyone’s lot looked about the same, and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about it. Good food and family remained consistent in my life. As far as I knew, those were the only two things you needed to be happy.

Going from crawfish ponds to cotton fields was a completely different Southern experience. I went from ever-flat terrain to hills. Actual hills! North Alabama landscape changes with the seasons. Many people take this for granted, but for me, this was a first. In Louisiana, a lot of the trees are evergreen, so watching the majestic ridge by our house transform from grassy green, to soft amber, then to a fiery red was magical. I felt myself get as giddy as a schoolgirl at the turn of the seasons.

Cotton Field

On the subject of fare, there is one thing that I was made aware of very quickly: pig is king. Barbecue is a way of life in Alabama. Whether the inspiration is Cherokee, Floridian, Appalachian, Mississippian, Georgian, Texan, Tennessean, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue can be found all over the state with significant distinctions. And these Alabamians have it down to a science: to the kind of wood to smoke with, kind of sauce to baste with, and how long to cook it.

History still peeks its head around the corners of the old homes in the Alabama country. Silverware that was buried during the Civil War remains in drawers lined with black velvet. Rocking chairs and tables are passed down from generation to generation. Great wealth was not part of my culture. It was unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of a great European family, where things are not bought, they are inherited. Therefore, pieces of history are kept close to the heart and the mantle like treasures. One of those treasures came in a frame: a photo of a sweet, elder black woman who was a member of the family.

Southern Spread

I gathered around the pimento cheese and pickles one afternoon and listened to native Alabamians pour over these black women that served as guideposts in their lives. There seemed to be a deep respect and love that each one had for the other. These women were considered as part of the family. It was as if they were second mothers to many. This relationship, again, was unfamiliar. Growing up, I never heard stories of anyone having servants or any kind of help other then relatives or friends. Sure, there were racial tensions that I witnessed, but I never had that deep, emotional experience that these women underwent. It was like a different world. A world somewhat tinged with guilt but great pride for these women.

Through the South’s many differences, the two bonds that seem utterly Southern are food and family. No matter what the food or family looks like, these are the bonds that seem to tie us together in the beautiful, broken, hospitable, proud place we call “The South.”

Spanish Moss

*Photo Credits: Louisiana Landscape (author’s own), Cottage Path (etsy.com),The Yard (Jesse Harding), Cotton Field (auntpeaches.com), Spanish Moss (gardenandgun.com), Southern Spread (southernliving.com)

True Grits

 

Grits SouffléLocated in Five Points South, Highlands Bar & Grill inhabits a tile-topped Spanish Revival building of stucco accentuated with stone around the door and windows. Built by the Munger family during the late 1920’s, the structure served as a tearoom during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Chef Frank Stitt chose this building to house his restaurant, which opened in 1982. The décor is a mixture of Stitt himself, a combination of Southern and French accents. The butter-colored walls, glittering mirrors, and vintage French posters add warmth to the relaxed atmosphere.

My intentions were pure. I traipsed into the bar, plopped myself on a stool and glazed over the menu. The second my eyes scanned the stone-ground grits soufflé the decision was made. In a matter of moments, the smell of butter, ham, and chanterelle mushrooms filled the air as I laid my eyes on the cloud-like grits soufflé. There, like a lone reed, stood a pale disk of grits in a pool of creamy white sauce accompanied with drowning bits of ham and chanterelles. Fresh thyme was strewn across the top of the dish and the warmth of the sauce created a lovely, almost grassy perfume.

My fork teetered into the soufflé and I soaked the morsel in the buttery sauce. After taking my first bite, I was overwhelmed by the thought that this was the best morsel that has ever crossed my lips EVER. I tried my hardest to savor the complex flavors of the dish, but, alas, my greed and appetite won me over and the dish disappeared in shear minutes. I sat back at the bar and relaxed for just one moment, one bittersweet moment. I was in pure heaven from the dish but deeply saddened that I had eaten it all. So I made one wise and gluttonous decision, I looked at the waiter and said,”un autre, s’il vous plait.” Yes, I ate two.

This is my version of the complex and knee-bending dish with an easy-to-make-at-home twist.

Recipe: Inspired by Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill and Adapted from John Currence’s Grits Soufflé featured in the November 2011 Issue of Bon Appétit

Serves 8-10

For the Grits:

1 cup of coarse stone-ground grits

1 cup of chopped bacon, cooked and drained, reserving 2 tablespoons of bacon fat

6 eggs

½ cup of heavy whipping cream

2 cups of grated cheddar

2 tablespoons of chives (optional)

Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Butter a 2-quart baking dish or 10 ramekins

Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Slowly, whisk in grits. Reduce the heat to low. Continuously stir the grits for about 1 hour, while adding water to the grits as they thicken (about ¼ cup at a time.) Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the eggs and cream together. Whisk the egg mixture into the grits in 3 additions. Add cheddar cheese (reserving ¼ cup for the top of the grits), chives (if using), and bacon. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

Transfer grits to baking dish or individual ramekins and sprinkle on remaining cheese. Cook the grits in a 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes in the baking dish and 40 minutes for the ramekins. You want to make sure that the center of the soufflé is set and the top gets nice and brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Garlic Confit:

6 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

3 sprigs of thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon of black pepper

¼ pound of country ham, hand torn

Juice of ¼ lemon

Melt butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Add bacon fat, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes and black pepper and country ham. Let the ingredients simmer for 5-10 minutes, the butter will have turned slightly brown. Take off the heat and add lemon juice. Let cool slightly.

To assemble:

If you cooked the grits in a baking dish, just serve the confit on the side and drizzle a small amount onto of the grits. If using a ramekin, invert the grits onto a small dish and spoon the confit around the grits soufflé and garnish with more thyme leaves. Enjoy!

Grown Up Christmas Wish

Candy Cane Ice Cream and Hot Chocolate

There is something both sensational and devastatingly sad about letting go of childhood holiday traditions and creating new ones to take their place. It feels like a child leaving the nest or the loss of a loved one, there is a special place in our hearts and minds of these traditions, but, alas, this is an ever-changing life we are living. We must adapt and succumb to change, even change in the holiday season.

 This is one of the first times in a long time I will waking up on Christmas morning in my own home, smelling chicory coffee from my own brew and possibly seeing the frost on my window. Packages will be lined up like tin soldiers, stockings bloated with goodies will be sitting patiently on the hearth, and Amy Grant will be singing about a Tennessee Christmas in the background.  New traditions will be created, like brush strokes on a blank canvas, but, still, I must look back to my fondest memories and tip my hat to them. I have forever spent every Christmas season in southeast Louisiana where the weather was always warm for the holidays. So, for this Christmas, I have started a new tradition. Hot desserts and beverages were out of the question in 70-degree weather, therefore my nod comes in the form of candy cane ice cream (for those who live in cooler areas, a scoop of this in hot chocolate is utterly delicious.)

My prayer is that each and every one of you feels the love and support from those around you this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Recipe: Makes 1 Quart

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean split in half lengthwise

1 cup of crushed candy cane candies, divided, plus more for garnish

6 egg yolks

½ cup of sugar

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream, vanilla, and ½ cup of crushed candy cane pieces until the mixture begins to simmer. Let steep for at least 5 minutes. Strain the mixture, discarding the crushed peppermints.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow in color. Slowly add the cream mixture to the yolk mixture in a steady stream with the mixer on low. Once all of the cream is incorporated, transfer the mixture to a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot of simmering water) and stir continuously until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 8 minutes.) Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator until fully chilled. Transfer the base to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the cream begins to thicken in the ice cream machine, add the remaining ½ cup of crushed candy cane candies. Transfer to a container and let ice cream set completely for at least 2 more hours in the freezer. Serve with hot chocolate and more crushed candy cane pieces!

A Christmas Candy

Peanut Butter Cups

As soon as we pulled up to the small, humble abode of my great grandmother’s house in Lacassine, Louisiana for Christmastime, I leaped out of my parent’s car and onto the gravel driveway. I imagined the crunch sound that the rocks made underfoot was the sound snow. Crunch, crunch, crunch, all the way to the front door.

Opening the screen door to the covered patio, I immediately and unsuccessfully bobbed and weaved to avoid terrifying chitchat and fuchsia lipstick “kisses” on my cheek. Let me tell you these “kisses” could not be erased even with the application of paint thinner. Smiling politely and enduring what seemed like cruel and unusual punishment to a seven year old, I slowly made my way to the threshold of her kitchen.

The smell of mothballs and yeast invited me into the room where chipped countertops, worn linoleum, and shiny cast iron skillets sang the praises of many memories made in this home. To the left of the kitchen was a wee room, and in this room were a deep freezer and a tiny, white refrigerator, which stood about the same height as my great grandmother. If you were to jump on top of said deep freezer onto the fridge, you would find a stash, a stash of Great Grandma Domingue’s coveted peanut butter rolls. These candies were about the size of a slightly squished silver dollar and had the texture and taste of the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Mmmmmm….

I grabbed as many peanut butter rolls as my fists would allow and slunk to the back of the house with my loot. There was only a slight tinge of fear and guilt for my swipe, but this was only because I failed to mention in the back room of my great grandmother’s house was a giant rug with a weaving of Jesus’s intense gaze penetrating my very being. Reverently, I finished my heap of treats and skipped away to the rest of the festivities with traces of peanut butter on my palms, fuchsia stains on my cheeks, the knowledge that when it comes to how many peanut butter rolls I ate during Christmas, well, that’s between me and the Lord.

As homage to my great grandmother’s memory and her beloved peanut butter rolls, these peanut butter cups reveal themselves for the holidays donning milk chocolate and are meticulously made by hand.

Peanut Butter Cups

Recipe: Adapted from One Good Thing by Jillee

Makes about 50 mini peanut butter cups

1 2-pound bag of milk chocolate chips

1 16-ounce jar of Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

1 ½ cups of powdered sugar

4 tablespoons of butter, melted

Cooking Spray

Coat mini cupcake papers evenly with cooking spray.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between intervals, until the chocolate has completely melted. Spoon 1 teaspoon of chocolate in the bottom of each cupcake paper. Coax the chocolate up the sides with your finger, making sure all of the sides are coated. Place the chocolate filled cupcake liners in the fridge to set for about 5-10 minutes.

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until thoroughly combined. Place the filling in a gallon Ziploc bag, pushing the filling to one side of the bag and snipping the end of the bag.

Take the set chocolate covered liners out the fridge and fill each cupcake liner with a teaspoon of the peanut butter filling. Dip your finger in water and gently push the filling down into the chocolate lined cupcake papers. Fill the liners with the rest of the melted chocolate until each mini cupcake liner is completely covered. Set in the fridge for 30 minutes to set completely. Enjoy!

A Turtle Named Bacon

Turtle Soup

On a frigid Louisiana day, there are few dishes that can warm the soul like turtle soup. I don’t mind eating turtle. The meat is lovely in texture and taste. For those who feel terrible about eating the slowest reptile alive, I have a story for you. Traipsing through my grandmother’s flooded backyard one day, I found a poor, diminutive turtle. My heart broke watching the reptile struggle through the cold mud. I knew the tike needed my help. As I stepped closer, I realized that it was a snapping turtle. Against my better judgment and my parent’s warnings against touching snapping turtles, I picked up the trooper and nestled it on the porch for safety and warmth. Carefully picking the creature up by the underbelly, I observed his facial features. The one attribute that stood out the most was his nose, which was shaped like a snout on a pig. Accordingly and appropriately, I named him Bacon. I was beyond thrilled with my new best friend.

Greens were Bacon’s favorite. I watched him chew on a piece of iceberg for hours, and we both seemed quite content. Then, on that fateful day, Bacon got greedy. Tired of greens, he slinked into his shell, refusing to make an appearance. As I went to brush mud off his shell and entice him to reconcile, his head plunged forward and he attempted to nip the end of my pointer finger! I sat on the porch yelling, “Bacon, I am not a vegetable!” He didn’t seem remorseful so I allowed the unrepentant beast to escape in a ditch behind my grandmother’s house. That was the last time I harbored a turtle. So, now you may be able to understand why I am untouched by the idea of ladling into a bowl of turtle soup, and slowly, purposefully biting into the delectable turtle meat with a smile. This bowl is in remembrance of Bacon.

Turtle Soup

Recipe: Serves 6

6 tablespoons of butter

1 pound of diced turtle meat, or ground sirloin if you can’t find turtle meat

1 onion, diced

3 stalk of celery, diced

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 ½ bell peppers, chopped

1 teaspoon of ground oregano

1 teaspoon of thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

8 cups of veal or beef stock

½ cup of flour

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 lemon, juiced

1 ½ cups of whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

6 ounces of fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped

3 eggs, hard-boiled and roughly chopped

Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add meat to the pot and cook with butter until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Season meat with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add vegetables, oregano, thyme and bay leaves to the pot and cook until the vegetables brown, about 25 minutes. Add the stock to the pot, season and bring to boil then reduce to simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the stock is simmering, make the roux in a separate saucepan. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter on low heat. Slowly add the flour until all of the flour has been added. Cook the roux until it smells nutty and is pale in color. This should just take a few minutes. Set aside.

Once the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the roux slowly into the soup with a whisk to prevent lumping. Let the soup simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom of the pot. Add the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, tomatoes, spinach and eggs. Bring to simmer and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve with a good Sherry on the side if desired!

Those Lazy Crazy Hazy Days of Autumn

As the fog clings to the ridge of autumnal foliage, so do I cling to the plaid wool covers that rest on my lap. These are the days when reading a book by the fireplace is about all I can muster. I want to enjoy the soggy, foggiest of days of fall as much as the past summer days spent in the sun. I want to soak in, dig deep and fall asleep surrounded by a clouded mountain. And it’s also on these days when I want something warm and comforting that requires the slightest amount of effort. Braised pork simmering and shimmering slowly in the oven, marrying with apples, sweet onions and garlic is what I want. It’s blanketed in its own cloud of steaming pressed apple cider as it tenderly breaks down the meat for hours and hours on end while I doddle the day away. All the flavors of fall without the fuss, that’s what I prescribe on a blustery, foggy, lazy, lovely day.

Recipe: Adapted from Bon Appétit/October 2012

Serves 6-8

1 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder

1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered

1 head of garlic

2 apples, peeled, cored and quartered

3 cups of chicken stock

2 cups of apple cider

12 ounces of ginger ale

3 sprigs of rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Tie pork together with kitchen twine to create a cylinder, tying ½ inch interval knots. Place the pork in a heavy-bottomed pot, uncovered, at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 300o

Place onion, garlic, chicken stock, apple cider and ginger ale in the pot with the pork. On a high flame, bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture has come to a boil, place a lid on the pot and leave in oven to cook for 4-5 hours. Allow pork to cool and place in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 350o

Place the pork on a cutting board and cut the strings from the meat and discard. Slice the pork into ½ -1-inch medallions and place in a shallow roasting tray. Strain the sauce and add half of the liquid to the pork (discard remaining liquid.) Place sprigs of rosemary around the pork. Cover tightly with foil. Place in oven for 20 minutes, just to heat the pork through. Discard the rosemary springs. Serve with roasted vegetables of your choice. Enjoy!

The Case of the Missing Pecans

Holidays without pecan pie is a sin, but holidays in Louisiana without pecan pie… you might as well slap yo grandma! Well, to be more accurate, my grannie would probably give me a quick slap on the behind if her beloved dessert were to be forgotten. Whether she is aware or not, Grannie is a nibbler. Complaining of being too full at meals, she wonders why she is never hungry. One holiday evening while making pecan pies, I solved the mystery.  After toasting the pecans in the oven, I allowed them to cool on a cookie sheet on the counter. I created the batter and went to add the final ingredient, toasted pecans. Just as I turned around, I realized that many of the pecans were missing! I was left with one clue, a bouncing head of white hair scurrying out of the kitchen! It was Grannie! This didn’t surprise me a bit because pecan pie was always one of her favorite desserts. Now at meals whenever Grannie says she feels too full to take another bite, I just sit and smile while knowing full well that she nibbled right through her appetite. I’ve allowed the charade to continue for many years. Nowadays when I make pecan pies, I have two piles of pecans, one for the actual dessert and the other for the bouncing nibbler I affectionately refer to as Grannie.

Recipe: Makes 1 11-inch tart

Pie Crust:

2 ½ cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 stick of butter, cold and cut up into cubes

½ cup of shortening, cut up in small pieces

6-12 tablespoons of ice cold water

1 egg, slightly beaten

In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and shortening to the flour mixture. Pulse to combine all of the ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the cold water, tablespoon-by-tablespoon, pulsing in between tablespoons. Add water until the dough comes together. The dough should not be sticky or crumbly. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

*Note: This recipe only uses 1 disk of pie dough. You can freeze the other for later use.

Filling:

3 eggs

½ cup of brown sugar

¾ sup of light corn syrup

3 tablespoons of butter, melted

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 cups of toasted pecan halves

Combine eggs and brown sugar in a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Once the ingredients are incorporated. Beat in corn syrup and slowly add the butter and vanilla extract. Beat until all of the ingredients are well blended. Stir in the toasted pecans.

To Assemble:

Preheat oven to 350o

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 12-inches in diameter. Gently place the dough into the tart pan. Cut off the excess dough. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place the filling into prepared tart shell. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the crust has become golden brown and the filling has set (if the crust gets too brown, tent the tart with foil.) Let cool for at least an hour before unmolding from tart pan.

Giving Thanks

Photo Credit: Bon Appétit November 2011 Issue: Friends, Family and Tradition Way Down South

Thanksgiving. It’s a moment to take a step back and to be grateful for what we have, to focus on our closest friends and family, far and nearby, but always near and dear to our hearts. This moment is not about making the perfect turkey or the ideal piecrust, but our grandmother’s recipe of smoked bird, our aunt’s red velvet cake and our sister’s candied yams and green bean casserole. It’s about the tradition. For everything that is unsure in life, you know without a single doubt in your mind that your favored pumpkin pie, the same pumpkin pie that comforted you as a child, will be waiting for you at the dessert table. Your mother’s cornbread dressing will greet your smiling face as the aromatics waft past your nose. And the crispy onions atop the green bean casserole will be missing, yet again, and you grin knowing full well you are the culprit.   This meal reflects childhood memories and Southern reassurances. In this world where nothing seems to be a sure thing, on Thanksgiving Day, these dishes are always there for us, acting as thread to a quilt, lovingly binding us together for this holiday season and keeping us warm for the season ahead.

In this nation, today is the one moment that perfection seems to be expected from our kitchen. What we end up with at the conclusion of the meal is a moment, a snapshot in time, of laughter, love and happy tummies. Perfection may or may not have been reached, but a memory will be forever etched into the hearts of those you shared this day with. Our Southern passion for food and family will be the gift that will be remembered. So, here is to carrying on old traditions and to making new ones. Here is to focusing on what truly matters in life and forgetting the rest exists. And, here is to giving thanks for what we have. Cheers.