Ouch. My stomach hurts. It's the result of the last several days of heroic kitchen duty. We were in a small town outside of Nashville, and I couldn't insult our hosts by not enthusiastically eating their food.
Put another way, I stuffed myself silly on Southern food. And it was awesome. Here's a quick recap of what we ate:
We flew in Friday evening, and ate dinner at the house:
- Boiled ham // Calling this out to differentiate it from country ham
- Turnip greens
- White beans
- Cracklin' bread (cornbread + cracklins)
Saturday breakfast at the Cracker Barrel
- A meat sampler of country ham, sausage, and bacon
I was stuffed from breakfast, so didn't really eat again until dinner at The Catfish House
- Fried catfish
- Coleslaw (two styles, mayo and vinegar)
- Hush puppies
- Fried okra
- Fried corn on the cob. (Yes, fried corn on the cob. And it was awesome.)
- Sweet tea
The next morning, we went to the Beacon Light Tea Room
(first opened in 1936) for their specialty, country ham.
- Country ham and eggs
We skipped lunch again Sunday, and then had leftovers for dinner.
- Country and boiled ham
- Cracklin' bread
Monday morning, Katie I picked up some bagels, as a break from the cholesterol. It was a short break. Monday dinner was Christmas Eve, and it was back to the trenches:
- Chicken and dumplings
- Dressing (aka stuffing)
- Mashed potatoes
- Cranberry sauce
- And coconut cake, chocolate cake, scotcharoos**, and date balls for dessert.
Tuesday morning was more leftovers. Knowing that my Southern-fried vacation was coming to an end, I piled my plate high with ham, chicken and dumplings, and dressing.
That may not have been the best strategy, as we soon went to someone's house for Christmas dinner (aka lunch). I wasn't at all hungry, but we had to be at the airport by 3 pm, and I didn't want to insult my hosts by not enjoying their food.
- Mac and cheese
- Creamed corn
- Mashed potatoes
- Fried rice
- Green beans
- Sweet tea
- And a plate of coconut cake and carrot cake for the wait at the airport
Over Christmas Dinner, a kindly octagenarian with failing eyesight told me stories about the pistol she keeps at home, and gave me her recipe for chicken and dumplings:
- Cook your chicken ("the bone parts"), and separate from the bones (ie, shred)
- Combine flour, lard, and buttermilk ("I don't measure")
- Pat it down (ie, rolled it out) and cut it into strips
- Bring your chicken stock to a boil, and add the strips
- Stir with a wooden spoon ("not a metal spoon!" .. something about it giving the dumplings a metallic taste)
- When they float, they're done
- Add the chicken, and serve
I was curious about the amounts, so I took a quick look online. I was surprised to see that this is very similar to Alton Brown's recipe:
Katie doesn't let me bring tuna salad to work. She doesn't want me to be the stinky guy, whose lunch smells up the office. She says I need to be there a few months first, and prove that I add value to the company, before I can start ignoring cube farm etiquette.
Along the same line, you may not want to bring this pasta dish to work for lunch. Or, for that matter, eat it before talking to someone who you're trying to impress, at any time of day.
I first came across this Heaven and Hell pasta
recipe a couple years ago, but never proposed it for dinner since I was pretty sure Katie would exercise her veto. You know, because of the anchovies. The _raw_ anchovies.* But the Amateur Gourmet
does such a great job selling this dish, I made Katie read the blog post before making her decision. And, surprisingly, it worked.
Check that out.. a tin of anchovies, a couple cloves of garlic, a pile of whole fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. This is not for the faint of heart. But all the parts work really well together. You should try it. Really, try it tonight. Okay, if you don't have any anchovies in the house, stop at the store on the way home tomorrow night, and make it then. It's that good.
* a box of penne (or similarly-shaped) pasta
* a head of cauliflower (although I bet this would also work with broccoli, but I feel like cauliflower is _in_ right now, so this is your chance to be one of the cool kids)
* a tin of anchovies
* a head of garlic
* some crushed red pepper or a jalapeno pepper
* whole fennel seeds
1. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces (Err on the side of smaller pieces.. these won't shrink that much, and this will make it easier to eat.)
2. Prep your flavor bowl: Chop and combine garlic, anchovies, fennel, and crushed red pepper
3. Start the pasta water (I always under-estimate how long it takes a large pot of water to come to a boil.. get this started now, and you can always let it boil until you're ready).
4. Heat a large pan, add some olive oil, and brown half the cauliflower (I fit half the head in one pan; if your pan is smaller, you may need to do it in three batches. That's okay- you want it to brown, not steam).
5. When the cauliflower is browned, remove it to a bowl and do the second half.
<Ideally, you want the water to come to a boil right when you finish browning the second batch of cauliflower. Pause here until the cauliflower and water are both ready>
6. Return the first half of cauliflower to the pan, and add half of the flavor bowl -- toss and cook for 30 seconds.
7. Add pasta to the pot.
8. Ladle one scoop of the pasta water into the pan and toss (if the water sputters and spurts when you add it, lower the heat.)
9. Cook until water is gone
10. Continue adding a scoop of pasta water and cooking it down until the pasta is cooked.
11. When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the pan with a spider or big slotted spoon (Don't worry about shaking off all the water off the pasta- you want to bring some water with it).
12. Cook the cauliflower and pasta until most of the water is gone.
13. Turn off heat, and add a splash of olive oil, the rest of the flavor bowl, and grated cheese (I never have any cheese on hand, so I skip that step)
Eat. And then think about brushing your teeth. Because in case I was too subtle in the intro, you're gonna have bad breath after eating this. But it's worth it. Besides, I barely know any single people anymore, so it's not like any of you have anyone to impress.
Katie has told me before that I can't multi-task, and making this dish did nothing to change her mind. For some reason, the way the directions are written in the original blog post didn't stick in my head, and I had a lot of trouble thinking through each step in advance. I won't lie- there may have been some chaos in the kitchen for a little while.
But now that I've made this, I can easily make it again. (From start to finish, you can do this in a solid 30 minutes.) The experience also called out how much I appreciate FoodWishes' video blogging approach, since I can see exactly what he means, if he says 'caramelize the cauliflower until they're golden brown'. Golden brown, really? This is cauliflower. It goes from white to pale to spotty brown. There's no golden there, that I've ever seen.
Prepping the anchovies
Ready to go. (I used egg noodles since I didn't have any penne on hand).
* Okay, they're not actually raw. They're from a can, and like tuna fish from a can, they're already cooked. But since you add half the can of anchovies at the end, and they're only warmed through .. but 'raw' reads better than writing out all of this.
Besides, this was my first time cooking with anchovies, and they've won me over. I think anchovies get a bad rap. You should give them a chance.
Growing up, my favorite ice cream flavor was peppermint stick. (If I was a better writer- or had a better memory- I would now speak poetically about its unnatural pink and red swirls, but that's not how I roll.)
But Big Ice Cream (too often crowded from the headlines by the likes of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma) long ago decided that peppermint stick ice cream would be available only once a year- an injustice that ranks with vending machines that take your money but don't give you any candy. And so I was reduced to an annual half-gallon, typically devoured in just a couple of standings.*
For whatever reason, I haven't found a recipe for peppermint stick ice cream that appealed to me. I've made fresh mint (from the mint plant on our balcony) a couple of times, and that's come out great. But I once tried adding mint extract to my basic vanilla, and it came out tasting as you would expect (full of fake mint flavor) and that pretty much turned me off to the idea.
But a few weeks ago, Katie came home from work with a surprise- she had stopped at Walgreens and bought a box of 65 mini-candy canes
Picture this box, but full of candy canes.
The box sat on the counter for a week or two, and raided for the occasional 'cane, until I overcame my laziness and used it in ice cream. It's really easy: I made my standard base, added a little mint extract, and then when it was almost done churning, a TON of crushed candy canes. (A 'ton' is a technical term, and is defined roughly as 65 mini candy canes less however many were still in the box, in the picture above.)
Admittedly, crushed may be the wrong word here. I ground some of them in my mini-food processor, but then a couple got underneath the blade and I couldn't get it to work right. Finally, I got impatient and dumped in the rest without really breaking them up enough. But it still tasted good.
And check it out- the candy canes melted and turned the ice cream pink!
Also, and I think it's because of all the sugar, the ice cream is still really soft, so you don't have to worry about waiting around for it to soften. You can come home from work, grab a spoon, and go straight to the freezer for a quick bite (or so I've heard).
Now I can make my favorite flavor anytime I want. Unless Big Candy decides to create an artificial candy cane shortage, and stops selling them the rest of the year.
*A standing is similar to a sitting except the food is consumed standing up, usually in front of the regridgerator or freezer, straight from the container.