Happy Birthday to me! Today is the day of my birth and, in celebration, my gift to YOU is a brilliant, green Chilean hot sauce; bright, fresh and intense in flavor called Pebre. It is our family favorite. On weekends when I allow myself a piece of whole grain bread that I baked, I slather it on an egg white sandwich. Magnifico! James, Jimmy and I spread it liberally over grilled meats and fish. A slab of skirt steak with charred bits on the outside but rare and juicy on the inside is a beautiful thing to behold. Pebre is the condiment that throws you over the edge at a good Hispanic restaurant whether it be a four star top-grade establishment down to the back corner of a humble, backwater convenience store or even gas station covering a warm, handmade tortilla just taken out of a styrofoam cooler sitting on the floor. And easy? Easier than falling off a log. Plus it lasts refrigerated for a little over a week. Does it get any better? I think not. So try it. On grilled flank steak. Grouper, dolphin, shrimp or lobster. Pebre dances on chicken and as a dip for grilled bread? OMG. Give yourself a birthday treat and whip this up. You’ll have a healthful new favorite.
My heart has been broken and has been empty since Mama died this past November. At first we rejoiced that she was in Heaven and no longer suffering. Mama’s last few years were absolute torture for her and there was nothing we could do to help her. She is now at peace. My best friends, Dana and Andrea, came to her services and that meant the world to me.
Both girls have lost a parent. They get it. After the funeral and in between my sobs we agreed on a Girl’s Weekend in January. At Andrea’s house. Less than a mile from my house. This was a first. We’ve always gone to the Keys and Girl’s Weekend has always been in September. As the weeks following her death flew by; the holidays came and went; her absence, her permanent absence, hit me hard. I did my crying in the bathroom and in my car. Think I’m sitting in the car listening to music? Clearly, you didn’t look behind my RayBans. So when our weekend was just days away I really withdrew. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to try to laugh or have to be entertaining. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to see anyone. With a lump in my throat I explained to my little sister, Pamela, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. She soothed me with words I didn’t want to hear. “I know you don’t want to go but once you get in the car you’ll feel better. Really. What’s the weather down there supposed to do this weekend?” I choked out the words, “We’re not doing it in the Keys. We’re having it at Andrea’s.” “Wait, what?”, she exclaimed, “You’re fine! If you want to go home you’re 5 minutes away. But trust me, you’re NOT going to want to go home.” Sure enough. Dana arrived at my house and wrapped me in her long, graceful arms. More tears. She understood and reassured me that she would return me home at any time, any hour if that was my wish. And it was more of the same when we arrived at Andrea’s. A few more tears on my part, sweet hugs and then, with her arm around my waist, she showed me to my room… the Bunny Room… the room she had picked out for me well-stocked with fresh flowers in silver and crystal vases, inviting Provencal pillows that had belonged to her mother and a breakfast tray filled with bottles of designer water, writing paper and sharp pencils tucked into a pocket. In a corner and behind the door were tall, white, ceramic bunnies. It was lovely! Girly, lovely and incredibly thoughtful. After unpacking we got down to “bizness”. Large drinks were poured and I put out some spiced pecans I had made specifically for us. As the alcohol worked its magic my tense and anxious shoulders dropped, our hair was loosened and tossed and our laughter echoed across the pool and off into the the sunshine of the afternoon. That’s when Andrea’s little sister, Alyson, dropped by. With hors d’oeuvre and bottles of wine. She just wanted us to be happy. We begged her to stay and stay she did. Dana’s little sister, Dawn, is Alyson’s best friend and she was expected down to spend the weekend with Alyson. It was heading in the direction of a stellar Girl’s Weekend…booze and laughter…laughter that makes you laugh so hard you tinkle in your pants. Which I did. Dawn arrived that evening and launched a magical weekend that I think maybe only girls would understand, embrace and truly appreciate. I’ve known these women since I was 4 or 5 years old and I was astonished and so grateful for the love and compassion they showed me. We never took that tired, old walk down memory lane. No. We laughed and howled, there was a bit of crying, then back to laughing and screaming but all in the NOW. None of that “remember when…?” nonsense. The empathy mixed with a large amount of humor was so welcome and fully appreciated. Andrea kept us entertained all weekend with proclamations such as “When the rave comes I’m going with my jewelry!” and “Sistah, yo glass is lookin’ mighty low theah, lemme get cha anothuh one”. Dana knows how important it is to me to take Dad out every Saturday morning. She offered to drive across town to pick up Dad, ferry us to a farmer’s market another town away and then stop at our Greek market to make Dad’s “outing” truly enjoyable for him. And let me tell you, when you’ve been driving all week and drinking all night the last thing you want to do is get up early and get behind the wheel! But she did…happily and with grace. Back at Andrea’s house, Dawn stayed 2 steps ahead of the bar and before we ran out of champagne she was walking back through the door with another case of bubbly plus “4 bottles of red and 3 bottles of white, just in case, and some snacks”. Her snacks consisted of crispy, warm French bread, pate, three or four cheeses, strawberries and red grapes. Oh, wait! And an olive tapenade. Her generosity is boundless. And then, what truly pushed me over the edge, I somewhat self-consciously asked Alyson if she would show me how to do my makeup. Alyson is gorgeous, a real stunner, and knows like no other how to apply makeup. Mama never was into makeup so none of us really were shown what to do or how to make the most of what we had. Al sprang into action. She said, “Sure! Go wash your face, brush your teeth and grab your makeup bag. I’LL go refill our glasses and meet you by the pool.” That girl spent the next hour, hour and a half, transforming me from a 58 soon-to-be 59 year old Sea Hag from Popeye to a drop-dead, gorgeous, stop-traffic woman who could not keep her eyes off her reflection in ANY mirror in the house! AND, let me add, she casually asked, “You wanna blow-out?” Do I want a blow-out?? Oh, hell yes! I came out of my makeover jaw-dropping. Not only did she teach me how to use the products I had but she also told me exactly which products I needed to buy in order to uphold and maintain this level of beauty. I felt loved. And valued. And appreciated. So I thank my Las Olas girls for wiping my tears, giving me a hug and gently making me pull up my “big girl pants”. To Girl’s Weekend!
I made Sweet Cinnamon Pecans for Girl’s Weekend but today I bring you Sweet Heat Sriracha Pecans straight from a wonderful little cookbook entitled “Pecans” by Kathleen Purvis. It’s a Savor the South cookbook put out by The University of North Carolina Press and is a jewel of a book. These are fabulous with cocktails, travel well and everyone seems to love them. Enjoy!
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce (more if you want a bigger kick)
2 cups pecans halves
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325°. Spread out a sheet of tin foil.
Combine the honey and Sriracha in a small saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until liquified and well mixed.
Remove from the heat and add the pecans. Stir well with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the pecans are lightly coated and the honey mixture is used up.
Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes.
While the pecans are baking, combine the sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl. When the pecans are done scrape them into the bowl with the sugar/salt mixture. Stir until the pecans are completely coated and the sugar mixture is used up.
The first dish I can remember wanting to prepare came about when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. I don’t recall what spurred on this desire to cook, but I do remember taking some of my meager savings out of my piggy bank and asking Mama if she would please take me to the grocery store. Mama had one cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, and, while perusing it, I had found a recipe which caught my fancy. We went to our grocery store, Food Fair, it was called. It sat on the property next to where Stranahan House is today, on Las Olas Boulevard. It was bright and open and oh, so cool with conditioned air. I went to the seafood counter, Mama just seemed to melt away, while I pondered my wisest purchase. I didn’t know seafood was so expensive. I didn’t even LIKE seafood! I stood in front of that case waiting for something to jump out and say “Take ME home. Everyone loves ME. Cook me and you’ll be Mama and Daddy’s favorite!”. It didn’t happen. Plus, I barely had any money. Why, I don’t know, but I finally decided on oysters. OYSTERS! I had never eaten them but they were cheap and it looked as though you got quite a bit for your money. (Hint: they’re AAAALLL shell.) The fish monger must have known what a novice I was because he shucked them for me without my asking, I didn’t even know the word “shuck” nor did I know of the process. I paid, thanked the man, grabbed my bag and ran off giddy with the excitement of knowing I was going to absolutely dazzle, astonish, wow my parents. I think I may have felt rather unremarkable at that stage of my life. Back in our kitchen, I pulled out Mama’s electric frying pan. The same pan she used to make spaghetti. Here’s her recipe, boil 1 pound of spaghetti noodles and put the drained noodles into the electric skillet. Add one small can of the leading brand canned spaghetti, mix well, cover and simmer for and hour or so. Spaghetti. We LOVED it because it had salt in it and salt = flavor, of which we had none. Well, that afternoon I unknowingly retaliated on a culinary level at my poor mother. I must have bought some kind of oil at the store because that’s just NOT the kind of thing we would have had in our house. The recipe in the Joy of Cooking called for an oyster bath of 1 part egg, 2 parts water. I dismissed that as unnecessary and one more step keeping me from the glories of culinary fame. The recipe also called for fine breadcrumbs, and, again, I dismissed that, flour would be just fine. I filled the electric skillet with oil and turned the setting to high. Into a bowl of all-purpose flour I dumped the oysters, all together, not drained. Then I mixed them around with, probably, dirty hands. I was something of a tom-boy at that age, I LOVED drippy, dangley jewelry but I wouldn’t walk away from a good neighborhood fight, either. No need to wash hands, it was just another time waster and they looked fine. I poured the bottle of oil into the skillet, and one by one, dumped the oysters into the barely warmed oil. The oil eventually heated up and the oysters were fried to a dark, golden color, but I remember being unsure as to how they were supposed to look and ended up cooking them for at least half an hour. Can you imagine? On to a plate they went and straight I flew to my mother. Unbeknownst to me, the week or so prior my paternal grandfather had just grossed my mother totally out by inviting her to sample raw, chopped clams suspended in lemon jello, a new recipe he had made up. And Grandpa was one strong willed man who never accepted “No” for an answer. So she wasn’t feeling too much love for bi-valves. I remember literally holding my breath waiting for her to swoon in ecstasy over these morsels from the sea. I watched her with the eyes of a chicken hawk anticipating her slightest reaction. And just like every dream mother, she passed with flying colors. She looked at me with such love and wonderment and told me she had NEVER had ANYTHING like that before in her entire life! She told me with such kindness that those oysters were unlike anything in her imagination. I was thrilled. Looking back, they HAD to have been nuggets of greasy, hard rubber. I don’t know how she did it… but she did. As Pamela and I were talking about the other day, there is no one, NO ONE on this planet who will ever, EVER be of the opinion that you are splendid and special, better than all the other children in the world, than your mother. She is the one who truly believes in you. SHE is the one who looks at you and sees only perfection. And I say, I’m wit’ cha, Mama!!
Today I have for you my recipe for fried fish, which most people really like even if they don’t particularly care for fish. James and Jimmy love it, I always have plenty left over to take to Dad’s house and for breakfast, lunches or snacks the following day. I absolutely adore fried fish for breakfast especially if it’s on my plate sitting next to soft, scrambled eggs. Typically I serve it with collards and biscuit or collards and cornbread and there is always, ALWAYS a big ol’ bottle of Crystal Lousiana Hot Sauce. It is most definitely an “everybody’s home for dinner” dinner!
2-3 pounds filleted fish, dolphin, snapper, catfish, pompano or any mild white fish
2 cups cornmeal
2 cups all-purpose flour, to be divided
2 tablespoons your favorite house seasoning, I use Goya brand Adobo
freshly cracked black pepper
1 egg or egg white equivalent plus 2 tablespoons water beaten in
canola or vegetable oil
Hot sauce, optional
Cut fish into desired serving size pieces. If using dolphin, also known as mahi, cut out the bloodline running down the middle.
Set three bowls on your counter, 2 medium one large. To the first medium bowl add 1 cup all-purpose flour. The second medium bowl is to hold the egg mixture. And to the large bowl mix the remaining flour, cornmeal, seasoning and pepper.
Cover a large cookie sheet with tin foil and place cooling racks on the cookie sheet. Yes, the same cooling racks you would use for a hot dish or to cool baked goods. That way air will circulate around your fish and keep the cornmeal from getting wet and soggy.
Lightly dredge a piece of fish in the flour, dip into the egg mixture then roll in cornmeal mixture. Place on cooling rack over foil lined cookie sheet to keep dry. Continue to the next piece until all fish has been coated in cornmeal flour mixture.
Into your largest skillet add 2 inches of oil and heat oil to 350°. When temperature has been reached, and ONLY then, add 4 or 5 fish fillets to the pan but don’t overcrowd!! Make sure there’s space between each fillet so they don’t steam.
When bottom of fish is golden turn each fillet over. The whole process takes only a few minutes.
Today, being Sunday, most homes here in the States, especially in the South, will have at least one game on and our home will be no exception. The Patriots of New England will be meeting the Ravens of Baltimore on the gridiron of Foxboro, note native spelling…no -ugh in Foxboro. Anyway, most of y’all know that my husband, Jimmy, was born and raised in Boston. We watch all the games and this one certainly will not be missed. So, yeah, football, you need food. And wings are perfect. Perfect and easy. Buy however many you want and, if you can’t find the drummettes at the store and they DO sell out really fast on Game Day, just grab regular wings and have the meat man cut them. Tell him you don’t want the tips. They’re not good for stock because they’re too fatty. At least I think they are. And these are baked not fried so you lose a little fat there as well. Just don’t think you’re doing your body a favor by having these…wings are wings. Taste so good but hurt so bad. Or as my father always said when he caught us eating something fattening or even looking in the refrigerator (as if there was ever anything in there), “a moment of pleasure, a lifetime of sorrow”. Thanks, Dad. And Go Patriots!