Oh, y’all. Taking these photos is killing me. I crank the music loud and that’s okay except if I hear loud music often I pour a drink…regardless of the time of day. This recipe liked to kill me. I had several ideas for props and one of them was to stack a few biscuit hot from the oven in the background. I baked them off and although I didn’t even use them in the photos I ate two. I’m filled with shame. I thought maybe I’d toss a few potato chips behind the photo of the shrimp po’ boy. As I walked down the chip aisle at my neighborhood Publix, my eyes fell on “Hot ‘N Spicy Pork Rinds”. Well! I’m half Puerto Rican. Pork rinds hold deep meaning for us. Into the cart they went alongside the frozen biscuit I knew I wouldn’t eat because…c’mon, they’re frozen. I don’t eat that garbage. I ‘magine that’s why I only ate two. I stopped by the bakery to pick up a few freshly baked hoagie rolls for the po’ boy photo and I can honestly say all I ate of THAT product was the tip I cut off of one roll for aesthetic purposes. People, I was like the mayor in the movie “Chocolat”, who also went crazy during Lent. He couldn’t control himself from eating chocolate and that’s how I was with all these tempting carbs while taking these photos. I didn’t touch the shrimp…I needed them and this was the fourth and last time was frying them to take some photos. No. I focused on the biscuit and pork rinds…and my cocktails…at 2:17 in the afternoon. Ugh. I keep thinking, “Can I get any fatter?”, and the answer always, always is yes. But I had a good time setting up the shoots. I danced alone in the house with the dog and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chaka Khan and Bobby Womack may have shown up. I boogied to “Love Rollercoaster” and Shalamar’s “Make The Move”. And when the shoots were over there’s a chance I indulged in a shrimp or two. (Insert shameful face emoji.) So I will share with you this recipe that, again, I have made four (4) times because my family and I kept eating all of it before I took pics. It is heavenly!
Once you fry shrimp in cornmeal you will never batter up again. It’s just a light dusting of cornmeal but its presence makes all the difference in the world. I start with good size, large shrimp, shelled and deveined. Sometimes with and sometimes without the tail, but always wild caught, never farmed. Farmed shrimp has a muddy, dull, one-dimensional taste. I’ll do without shrimp rather than eat farmed. I prefer a medium ground, white cornmeal as I find a fine ground is too processed and without flavor. If I’m ingesting these cornmeal calories, by God, I want to taste and enjoy them! I keep Tony Chachere’s in my pantry as my all time favorite but Zatarain’s is probably just as good for an all-around Creole or Cajun spice blend. I’ll admit the amount of cayenne is somewhat alarming for some readers but I find cooking with hot spices seems to tame their heat greatly. These shrimp are not as spicy as you think they’d be. That said, if they’re not spicy enough for you, lightly dust each batch with a little cayenne pepper immediately after taking them out of the hot oil and placing on some paper towels to drain. And that’s all there is to it. This shrimp recipe is perfection in a po’ boy…especially if you slip a couple of spicy pork rinds in the sammie for a little crunch. On top of slow cooked grits, alongside corn bread or standing alone, these shrimp are a phenomenal flavor bomb.
When I first tried giving James cornbread he was three years old and decidedly not a fan. I included cheese in the recipe but he was not to be fooled. All manner of changes were made to the recipe but to no avail. Then one day I asked, “Jamesy, would you like some Johnny cake?” Johnny cake is usually baked on a griddle, flat and thin. I didn’t even have to do that. I baked up the usual cornbread in my cast iron skillet and he scarfed it down. He was sold. My boy had heard the word “cake”. That’s all it took. Don’t you wish all eating problems could be solved so easily? James has since grown into a young man who is confident in the kitchen and more than happy to eat Mama’s spicier version of cornbread. This recipe is roll-your-eyes delicious. By baking it in a pre-heated iron skillet the bottom of the cornbread becomes crispy and the flavor of the cornmeal is heightened. I’m fully aware the addition of sugar in cornbread is individual and also more common up North. However, in the south it’s just not done by us old timers, at least not this one. Corn is naturally sweet…there’s no need to add sugar. But scallions and jalapenos are always welcome in cornbread. It bakes up so beautifully and pairs well with so much. Can’t have collards without cornbread. Or chili. Served with fish chowder or southern BBQ, cornbread is tradition . Both black eyed peas and tortilla soup demand a healthy wedge. Quite simply, there’s nothing like cornbread crumbled over a small bowl of cold buttermilk. Now THAT’S southern!
Simple, fast and cheap, this recipe will become a family favorite. Although 1/2 cup of chopped jalapenos seems like a lot, the peppers lose quite a bit of their heat during the baking process. However, feel free to cut back on them if you’re not crazy about heat or you’re feeding little ones. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet I suggest you save this recipe until you do have one. It just won’t crisp up and will be a huge disappointment. Most importantly, don’t forget to be super careful about grasping the handle of the skillet while moving it in and out of the oven. It’ll be screaming hot so make sure you have several dry kitchens towels available to make maneuvering easy.
1 large bunch (approximately 7-8) scallions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
2 cups buttermilk, not reduced fat
2 cups medium ground cornmeal, I like white best but that’s just me
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 425°.
Place the oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet. Spread the oil all over the pan so that it coats all of the bottom and up the sides. You can use your fingers, a basting brush or simply swirl the oil all over.
Immediately place the skillet in the pre-heating oven.
In a small bowl combine the chopped jalapeno, scallions, egg and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined.
USING A HOT MITT OR DRY DISH TOWEL remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into it.
CAREFULLY return the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.
Growing up here in Fort Lauderdale I was lucky enough to attend a grade school close to home, with all my friends from kindergarten, boasting a killer baking staff. The East Side School cafeteria ladies didn’t open boxes when it came to cakes, pies and cookies for us kiddies. No ma’am. The predominantly black women who staffed the cafeteria were accomplished cooks and bakers who cranked out old school baked goods on a daily basis. They were kind to all of us students and we in turn bowed down to them with reverence and respect because they were grown ups…you watch your p’s and q’s around grown ups. These ladies were experts in the kitchen and coming from a home where Mama didn’t cook or bake I was highly appreciative and anticipated lunch every day knowing it would be far better than anything I would ever be served at home. Do you recall the peanut butter cake you had in grade school? The squares were heavy and thick in texture yet the cakes melted in your mouth leaving a certain salty sweet taste. Oh, heaven. Lately I’ve been craving that same salty sweet sensation and set about to have it. I came up with this. Alone in the house with two pans was virtual diet suicide. I took four squares over to my friend Rob’s house. He had fiddled with my father’s ancient bedside table lamp which wasn’t working. At 94 years old Daddy really depends on that lamp for the inordinate amount of reading he does. And after 5 minutes of fooling with it Rob had tightened it up, fine tuned the sockets and turned the on/off chains to a place where Dad could control the lamp with ease. Make my Daddy happy, make me happy. I made Rob take a bite of the cake and watched his reaction like a hawk. His first words after clearing his palate of the dense stuff were, “I’m sorry Miz Whitcomb, but I don’t have my math homework cuz I didn’t do it!” He was back in grade school and that’s what I wanted. Old school peanut butter cake will take you back…and in a good way.
This is a crazy simple cake recipe. It’s best served with coffee or milk. Iced water will do but coffee or milk are best. When the cake smells done it probably is done. I have light-colored baking sheets however if yours are dark keep an eye on them as they’ll bake your cake much faster. It’s a thin cake, not big and puffy and you don’t want it to burn. When preparing the icing you must stir continuously. I can’t stress that enough. Peanut butter scorches easily. But if you use a whisk and keep stirring until smooth you will be rewarded with a trip back in time. When you serve this to your children or grandchildren you can regale them with stories of how you had to walk 10 miles uphill BOTH WAYS to school. Enjoy!
This is island comfort food. Served with red beans and rice, Sweet sliced avocado and juicy rounds of tomato, this stew will feed crowds and satisfy all. Pollo en fricase was served to my older sister and me at least once a week during summers spent in Puerto Rico. We couldn’t get enough of it. Having a mother who didn’t know how to cook and didn’t care to learn pretty much guaranteed bland at best, off-putting and unpalatable at worst, dinners at home in Fort Lauderdale. For Cynthia and me, Puerto Rico was a richness of flavors, a panoply of scents rolling out of the kitchen of our grandparents’ home, heady and overwhelming in their mystery and perfume. All sorts of rules were broken. As little girls we were served strong Puerto Rican coffee with steamed milk sweetened with all the sugar a child could want every morning with breakfast. I knew of no child in Fort Lauderdale given coffee with breakfast. In Puerto Rico it was unheard of to have a sandwich for lunch, something almost expected at home. Our midday meal was invariably the largest meal of the day with dinner being a much smaller serving of what had been prepared for lunch or we could choose to have soda crackers with butter and Quick, chocolate milk. Chocolate milk for dinner? Another rule broken. At our home in Fort Lauderdale chocolate milk was not allowed…ever. It was understood between my parents and Cynthia and me that our summer indulgences were allowed unrestricted. We weren’t aware at the time but it turns out whatever happened in Puerto Rico stayed in Puerto Rico. Buen provecho!
This stew could be served alone it is that hearty. With the addition of potatoes and/or pumpkin it is a complete meal. Both white meat and dark meat work well in this dish, however, if white meat is used make certain the stew never heats up to more than a simmer. A healthy, boiling pot will guarantee dry, tough meat. I take the skin off of all the pieces of chicken because the skin becomes incredibly unappealing after having been simmered in the sauce. I usually prepare boneless chicken as it can be difficult to maneuver around a slippery bone with a fork and knife. The cup of sofrito called for in the recipe is necessary for a spectacular result so make sure you don’t leave it out. It can be bought in the international section of your grocery store but better would be home-made. That recipe can be found at http://wp.me/s264J2-sofrito and is easy as can be. If your family isn’t wild about olives they may be left out. I try to find green olives with the pits still in as I think they add more flavor to the recipe. Please don’t feel you have to use your best bottle of wine, either. Jimmy went out and $7.00 on a bottle of Pinot Grigio, it was perfect and didn’t break the bank.
2 tablespoons adobo seasoning or the seasoning blend of your choice. Adobo is an all-purpose blend of salt, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper and turmeric.
3 tablespoons achiote oil (optional) This may also be found at the grocery store on the international aisle or on the blog at http://wp.me/p264J2-EB.
1 cup of sofrito
2 1/2 cups of onion, chopped
2 large cubanelle peppers, cleaned of seeds and inner white ribbing, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, washed, dried and leaves chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
1 standard 750-ml bottle inexpensive Pinot Grigio or dry white wine
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ rounds
2 pounds calabasa or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
3/4 cup small green olives
1/3 cup capers, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl combine the chicken, lime juice and adobo and mix well making certain all surfaces of the meat have been competely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for an hour if you have the time. An afternoon or overnight is ideal for the best flavor.
In your largest saucepan heat the achiote oil over medium, add the chicken with the surface that would have had skin facing down, and brown for 5-6 minutes.
Add the sofrito, onion, cubanelle pepper, garlic, oregano and cilantro and cook until softened stirring all the while.
Raise the heat to medium high and pour into the pot the bottle of wine. Continue to stir and scrape the cooked bits from the pan as the wine evaporates, 4-5 minutes.
Add the carrots, pumpkin, if using potatoes add them now, tomato sauce, olives and capers. Stir well to combine all the flavors.
Taste for any needed salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
As soon as the stew begins to boil, cover and drop the heat to simmer. Cook for 1-1 1/2 hours or until chicken is tender to the fork.
The base of all the best Puerto Rican dishes is sofrito, a brilliant blend of onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro and culantro. I can’t believe in the five years I’ve been writing this blog I haven’t posted it yet. I’ve searched high and low for the post but it ain’t there so here goes. Sofrito is what makes Puerto Rican food dance in your mouth. Simple and inexpensive to make, this is a Hispanic kitchen staple and should always be in your kitchen as well. Typically it’s prepared in large amounts then frozen in individual portions to be taken out of the freezer and used as needed. You will taste sofrito in almost all of our chicken, bean and rice dishes. Oh, and in soups and stews. It is loved and used in Latin American, Spanish, Italian and Portugese cooking. Every country, every town and every household has its own recipe. Some use tomatoes, some don’t. Some use bell peppers and cubanelles in addition to local sweet peppers. In Puerto Rico a small sweet pepper called “aji dulce” is always used but as I’m unable to find them here in Fort Lauderdale I just stick with the cubanelles.
Sofrito to Puerto Ricans is like oxygen to human beings. The minute it hits the hot oil the onions, garlic and herbs open up. There is always a head jerk reaction when a Hispanic smells this blend cooking! It will perfume your home like nothing else. As with most recipes this fragrant condiment is best homemade although it can be found jarred in most grocery stores in the international section. If you try this recipe I’m pretty sure you’ll be adding it to many of your dishes. Enjoy!
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
This is the cake of your childhood. This is the cake the sweet cafeteria ladies served you in grade school. I went to East Side School, as did all my childhood friends, and I positively loved it. Five minutes away from our house, East Side was our neighborhood public school. Mint green in color, the stucco two-storied building was connected by open air hallways so, although we didn’t have air conditioning, we could always enjoy our tropical breezes. Our playground was carpeted by thick, emerald-green grass and seemed immense to us. Dotted through the campus were mammoth ficus and banyan trees, perfect for shady rests after rousing games of “dodge ball” and “red rover”. The cafeteria was set away from the school connected by a lengthy open-air breezeway. I remember walking single-file in the heat of the day for lunch. Everyone bought. I don’t think I know of one child who brought his lunch. And we ALL had our favorite lunches. My older sister, Cynthia, loved fish sticks, always served on Fridays. I enjoyed them as well except the cafeteria ladies only gave you two and I was always left hungry. She also mentioned, as all the food was made from scratch and hand-made, they made a mean meatloaf and their mashed potatoes were the stuff dreams are made of. I called my best friends, Dana and Andrea, to find out what their best-loved meals were at East Side. Dana and Andrea both called me right back and it turns out we all have the same fave…spaghetti! It had such flavor; something we never, ever had at home. Dana’s little sister, Dawn, LOVED the tater tots. She also reminded me the absolute worst to eat was the spinach and pointed out we always seemed to have it after the grass was cut. To quote her, “Yuck!” But what we all agreed was the best was the selection of desserts, again all made from scratch and by hand. Thick, creamy chocolate pudding was scooped out of enormous bowls. Generous wedges of apple pie were cut. But the best had to be the chocolate cake squares with peanut butter on top. Oh man. The icing and peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth while the cake melted in your mouth, all washed down with a healthy gulp of cold milk. Heaven on earth and all for a whopping 35¢!
This is the Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake of your childhood. It is beyond sublime and puts all those fancy-dancy, beet for color, salted, chocolate with ancho chile, corn flake and beer creations to shame! This cake is simple, straightforward and ain’t nothin’ hoity-toity about it. I suggest using only regular, store-bought peanut butter like Skippy or Jiffy. A more “natural” or organic, grind your own butter is flat and bland tasting. The only change I made is I added two teaspoons of vanilla extract to the cake instead of one and also to the chocolate icing but only because I love vanilla. This recipe comes directly from a pulled out page of an old Southern Living magazine. The paper is stained and water marked. The article is titled “Make Mine Chocolate” and I treasure this recipe in the short collection. So thanks, Marian T. Talley from Huntsville, Alabama who contributed the recipe for this cake. You have a fan in Fort Lauderdale.
Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, stir in cocoa. Add water, buttermilk and eggs, stirring well.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils. Remove from heat; add to flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13X9-inch baking pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Carefully spread peanut butter over warm cake. Cool completely.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring first three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pour over powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Yield: 2 1/2 cups