AROUND THE TABLE

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise | for the love of the south

Tracing the lines down the slats of my kitchen table, sketching over the saw marks with my fingertips. This table gives life in a way, serving as a place to feed family, friends and myself; it’s a safe haven. It’s where we are restored and fortified, empowering us to face the world again.

I’m not a professional chef, but I am a professional eater, a home cook. The story of a home cook is rooted in where we come from, the lives we’ve lived, and the mouths we feed. My favorite cookbooks are written by home cooks. They are the ones that weave stories together; stories strung along about the lives of recipes, succession of meals, characters revealed around the table. My book is a story of the culture I hold dear, but more importantly, it’s a collection of what I eat every day.

Around the Table | for the love of the south

If you’ve had a marvelous tomato sandwich, then you will understand why I’m sharing this recipe from my book. Honestly, a tomato sandwich done right can be one of the most wonderful things in life. It’s simple yet deeply satisfying. Also, this is one of the handful of recipes that helped sustain me while spending countless hours writing and editing my cookbook. It never failed me, and no matter how busy I was, I knew in my kitchen I had the basics; bread, mayonnaise, Tabasco, bacon in my freezer and tomatoes on my countertop. There is such security in knowing I have everything I need to make a juicy and crispy tomato bacon sandwich.

I spent the first two years in my new house without a kitchen table. I couldn’t quite find the right one until I spotted this beautiful reclaimed wood table from Arhaus. It is elegant, sturdy, and full of character. I love how it had a life before it graced our dining room. The kitchen table is something precious to me. It’s one of those things like my skillets, silver, pearls and china I will pass on. This table will see many years of candlelit dinners ending in nights of empty bourbon glasses and caramel wrappers, brunches with antique vases spread about the table filled with blushing blooms, vanilla scented doughnuts, blackberries, chicory café au lait, and late lunches spent over bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo and spicy skillet fried okra. All the while, I’ll be engraving my own stories around the table, the heart of my home.

Tomato Bacon Sandwich from Cookbook | for the love of the south

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise

Serves 1

This recipe is a grown-up version of my childhood go-to sandwich. If done correctly, a tomato sandwich can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. Since this recipe is simple and requires few ingredients, quality is key, so try to buy the best bread, tomatoes, and bacon that you can.

2 slices thick-cut bacon

2 slices of your favorite bread (I love sourdough or a crusty baguette.)

Chipotle Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

2 slices tomato (1/2 to 3⁄4 inch thick)

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. Drain the bacon on a plate lined with a paper towel. Place the skillet back on the heat and toast up both sides of the bread in the bacon renderings until golden brown.

Spread a layer of the chipotle mayonnaise over one side of each piece of toast. Lay the slices of bacon on top of the mayonnaise. Lightly press down on the bacon, helping it adhere to the mayonnaise. Lay the tomato slices on top of the bacon. Crown the sandwich with the remaining piece of mayonnaise-slathered toast. Press down on the sandwich and cut on the diagonal. This sandwich is best enjoyed standing over the kitchen sink.

CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

Makes 1⁄4 cup

1⁄4 cup mayonnaise

Several dashes of Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce

In a measuring cup, combine the mayonnaise and chipotle pepper sauce. Any leftover mayonnaise can be stored in the refrigerator for another use.

 

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I’VE HAD MY DAY

Sauce Piquant | for the love of the south

“Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short. But when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer is like a dear familiar friend. She spends hours upon hours at my kitchen table, taking pride in the blushing peaches and grassy scent of freshly picked okra. Her knowing gaze falls on the ripe ruby tomatoes, deeply black blackberries and emerald cucumbers. She delights in the pleasures that have come out of my kitchen: a plethora of peach pies, ice-cold strawberry lemonade, and mint-flecked vanilla ice cream. But now, she stands at the back door, sunhat in hand, hugging me goodbye. I watch her leave with no regrets. I can proudly say I have eaten a bushel and a peck of ripe tomatoes, gorged myself on sweet tea, and have consumed more corn and watermelon than I would like to admit. Now, I’m ready for a new season. I’m anxiously waiting Autumn with her amber hues, enchanting leaves, and the scent of cinnamon, which always seems to follow her.

This recipe sweetly embraces the last of these summer days. Fond memories of summer rush through my head as I peel back the thin skin of tomatoes, as I slice through pods of pale jade okra, and plough through a mountain of assorted chilies. The combination of sweet, fiery and fruity chilies make this dish wonderfully refreshing. All of the ingredients mingle and meld together, making this a pot full of the essence of summer. We dig in, relishing the end of the season one last time.

Summer in the South seems endless. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain of a Southern summer being short. But I can say I’ve had my fair share of heat and have been full of summer’s offerings. I’ve had my day.

Summer Produce | for the love of the south

Sauce Piquant:

Serves 6, plus leftovers

Note: This is a comforting dish that warms you up on a chilly autumn night, so make as many batches of this recipe as you can at the end of the summer, label, stash in freezer bags and store in the freezer. Thaw and serve with perfectly steamed rice. It’s a lovely way to hold onto the season just a little while longer!

¾ cup canola oil

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups assorted sweet and spicy finely chopped peppers, deseeded (I use a combination of Serrano peppers, red bell pepper, banana pepper, whole cayenne peppers, and habanero peppers.)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon sweet, smoked paprika

4 cups peeled, roughly chopped tomatoes

Handful of okra, cut into ¼-inch rounds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

5 cups chicken broth (or recently boiled water)

4 teaspoons pepper sauce or Tabasco, plus more for serving

Salt and pepper, to taste

Steamed rice, for serving

In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken, seasoning with salt and pepper on each side. Panfry until golden on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the flour to the oil and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes until medium brown in color. (It should resemble the color of peanut butter.) Add onion, garlic, peppers, cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, okra, dried oregano, and broth (or water). Add the chicken back to the pot along with the pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer with the lid cockeyed for 45 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot, debone and shred the chicken with two forks. Add the chicken back to the pot. Serve with rice.

Sauce Piquant | for the love of the south

 

 

 

 

 

 

OKRA WHEN IT SIZZLES

Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra | for the love of the south

Sometimes sweet summer pleasures come early in the South. As Michael and I walked toward our local farmers market last week, Michael looked at me and said, “Maybe they will have okra!” I sweetly stated it was probably too early in the season for okra. Honestly, I didn’t want to be disappointed but secretly hoped there would be some too.

Fresh Okra | for the love of the south

As we got closer to the market, the first thing to catch my eye was a wooden crate filled to the brim with pinky-sized okra pods. My heart skipped a beat. The first okra of the season! I quickly grabbed a bag and began picking through the precious pods. Almost immediately my hands started to sting a little. The lady tending the market noticed I began itching the back of my hands. “It’s from the okra, isn’t it?” I nodded that indeed it was, but this little bother was about to be well worth it.

Fried Okra Ingredients | for the love of the south

Whenever I returned home, I laid the emerald beauties on white marble and gently began smashing the ends of the okra with a wooden pestle. As soon as I inhaled the grassy scent of fresh okra and listened to the symphony of sizzle as the cornmeal batter hit the hot oil, I knew I was right. In life, the good far outweighs the bad, and in the end, there’s fried okra.

Smashed Okra | for the love of the south

There are some ingredients that beg to be transfigured and transformed like a strawberry pleading to be roasted and paired with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or sweet white corn steeped in cream, creating a lovely base for a summertime ice cream. But then there are those ingredients I can’t help but prepare the same way, time after time. I have yet to find a more comforting use of okra as being bathed in buttermilk and tossed in cayenne and cornmeal and quickly fried. I believe frying okra is the way nature intended it to be prepared. Why else would it endure and thrive in the Southern summer so much if it didn’t love to sizzle?

Cornmeal Crusted Smashed Okra | for the love of the south

Recipe: Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra

Adapted from Southern Living | June 2014

Makes 4-6 Servings

Note: The original recipe leaves the entire okra pod whole, without cutting off the tops. Personally, I eat the pod whole, but after serving these whole, I found the fried tops left on the platter. So, I decided to take that extra step and cut the tops off since most people don’t like eating the entire pod, but it’s completely optional!

1 pound of fresh okra, washed and dried

1 ½ cups of buttermilk

2 cups of fine yellow cornmeal

½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil, for frying

Using a flat kitchen utensil like a pestle, meat mallet or even the bottom of a Mason jar, gently smash the okra, starting at the fattest part of the pod, working your way down to the skinny tip of the pod.

Optional Step (see note): Once the pods are smashed, cut off the woody top (or the “head”) of the okra pod. (I acted like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland yelling, “Off with your head,” at this step to keep myself entertained, you may do the same!)

Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish, and place the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in another shallow dish. Season both the cornmeal and buttermilk with desired amount of salt and pepper.

Dip the smashed okra into the buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal, shaking off the excess.

Pour oil to a depth of 2-inches in a large cast-iron skillet. Heat to 350o. Fry the okra in batches, 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy, turning once. Remove the okra and drain on paper towels and season lightly with kosher salt. Devour immediately!

Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra | for the love of the south