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!
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!
I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep when my body rebelled and I awoke at 4:00 Sunday morning. I lay in bed wondering what the day would bring…would I go to church or work out? Would it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I watched the silent paddles of the ceiling fan slowly rotate in giant sweeps, appreciating the cool, early morning darkness. When early morning sleep eludes me, I typically reach for my cell phone and peruse my favorite news outlets, NYT, BBC and CNN. This Sunday was no different until I glanced at all the screaming banners across the face of the phone. Now we know all the horrific details of the Orlando shootings. And my heart aches for all the friends and families of those whose lives were so brutally ended. As I write this I can’t get past the thought that those kids, and they were kids, weren’t hurting anyone. And now their loved ones are suffering indescribably and they weren’t hurting anyone either. Life for them, those left behind, will never, EVER be the same. When I want to give comfort or take away someones pain and helplessly can’t, I turn to food. Many an almost-strangers door I’ve knocked on with a pan of hot, buttermilk biscuit, a gentle and calming pound cake or a warm, reassuring casserole in hand. Whether my offering is for a close friend or neighbor or someone I’ve never met, food is always my contribution…my way of wrapping my arms around someone I may or may not know. So this is what I wish I could take to all those in pain. I’m not foolish enough to think it would ease their agony but it is all I have to give. That and my sincere and earnest prayers.
This recipe is incredibly forgiving. If you’re a little low on ingredients it rolls with it. Really the only part that can’t be played with is the broth/rice ratio. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables or any combination you prefer. The final baking in the oven ensures the rice will be beautifully cooked. There’s enough for your family and another family. It always seems to be what a loved one with a cold wants. If you plan to take it to another household don’t bake it just include the baking instructions. That way it can be frozen and pulled out to bake when needed. It really should be served soon after baking.
Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
I don’t often make pies because I’m not crazy about them. But every now and again I get a hankering for a taste and recently that resulted in not one but TWO pies. And both from Bill Neal’s “Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie”. That cookbook is a baking treasure trove. It’s out of print but I’m fairly certain you can still get it. Anyway, chocolate chess and lemon chess were the pies I baked. Which one’s best? Well, you can’t compare the two…you just can’t. It would be like comparing two children and we all know how wrong that is. Chess pie is a Southern classic, rich, sweet and intense. Vanilla and/or nutmeg is the traditional choice, chocolate the rich choice and lemon, oh lemon, probably the South’s favorite. Lemon is my pet, my treasured pie if I have to pick; the juice and zest adding such depth to the soul of the custard. It makes me moan. But don’t despair. Chocolate is sinful, too. A small amount of bourbon or rum flavors the custard and raises the desire for another bite to scandalous proportions. Chess pies improve with a day or two in the refrigerator before serving. Lemon and vanilla chess pies always includes cornmeal in the recipe, however, it is never found in chocolate. I always serve these pies cold, with or without whipped cream, but always cold. Of course, a store-bought crust may be used but if you have a favored recipe these pies will make the pie shell positively sing. Possibly because it’s such a simple pie but you’ll take note and appreciate everything that makes a crust made by hand special. I know none who don’t love chess pie. And this pie is worthy of being a hostess gift, (she can tuck it into the back of the refrigerator and enjoy it the next day while having a post-party chat on the phone with you), or is perfect to take to the house of a friend who’s lost a loved one. Chess pie says “I love you”, “I’m so sorry for your loss” even “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”. But whatever the reason you prepare this, that pie will make everyone happy!
STIR in the salt, buttermilk, cornmeal and melted butter until smooth. Flavor with lemon zest and juice, and nutmeg.
Pour the custard into the partially baked pie shell. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325° and bake until the custard is just set, but not puffed-about 35 minutes. (Mine takes about 10 minutes more.)