Slugburgers

Before you think that my organic gardening has gotten way out of hand, consider that “slugs” are what a lot of people call counterfeit coins, and this sandwich filling is a culinary imposter only posing as a burger. During the Great Depression, a lot of diners in the American South stretched patties of ground beef or pork with potato flour. These were deep-fried, giving them crispy exteriors and juicy insides, topped with mustard, slid between buns, and sold for a nickel, which were also called “slugs.” Corinth, Mississippi, claims the slugburger as its own. John Weeks brought this hamburger recipe from Chicago to Corinth in 1917. Weeks had his hamburger meat ground to specification by local butchers, which included potato flakes and flour. Originally called Weeksburgers, in the Fifties,soy grits replaced the potato and flour. The slugburger is made into small patties, which are fried in canola oil and served topped with mustard, dill pickles, and onions on a slider  bun.

Slugburgers are still popular there and in surrounding north Mississippi and north Alabama. Each year the citizens of Corinth as well as those who travel from miles around descend on the town to pay tribute to this local culinary specialty at the annual Slugburger Festival, started in 1988. In 2012, the first World Slugburger Eating Championship was held there, and the winners have come exclusively from Northern California, as professional Major League Eating eaters have dominated. Matt Stonie from San Jose, California won the first three, the last of which in 2014 he set the world record with 43 slugburgers eaten in 10 minutes. In 2015, Chestnut made amends just days after the eight-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was defeated by Stonie, who did not compete in Mississippi, by taking Stonie’s slugburger crown with 33 eaten. He repeated the feat with 41 in 2016, after he had reclaimed the Nathan’s title days earlier.

Slugburger Festival World Slugburger Eating Championship
Year    Winner                   Burgers           Runner up
2012    Matt Stonie        30 ‡                   Adrian Morgan (24.5)
2013    “                                31 ‡                   Joey Chestnut (30)
2014    “                                43 ‡                  Joey Chestnut (42)
2015    Joey Chestnut   33                     Juan Rodriguez (23)
2016    “                                 41                     Geoffrey Esper (32)
‡ World record set

For slugburgers, add two cups potato flakes and a cup of flour to one pound of ground beef, add a tablespoon each salt and pepper. Use your hands and mix very, very well. Form into patties, on the thin side. Some people—me included—dust the patties with flour before deep-frying in canola oil. Serve on a bun with mustard, pickles, onion, and a side of French fries or onion rings. This makes about 8 burgers.

 

Skillet Flip Cake

The first recipes for flip cakes used apples and pears. My favorite is peach, but most people are familiar with this old pineapple version. The batter is a simple sponge cake—no more trouble to make than any mix—and while some will tell you the ingredients must be at room temperature, I’ve made it in a hurry with the eggs and milk right out of the refrigerator, and it turned out just fine. I did use melted butter, but that can’t have made that much of a difference.

Whip 4 large eggs into a cup of whole milk and add by degrees 2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 cups sugar,  and a dash of salt. Blend in a half cup melted—but not hot!—butter. Pour batter into an oiled 9-inch skillet lined with (oiled) parchment paper. Top with a layer of drained pineapple slices centered with maraschino cherries (red or green or both) and drizzle with a butter/ brown sugar syrup. Bake on the middle rack at 350 about an hour or until the cake begins to pull away from the edges. Cool thoroughly before inverting to serve.

 

Bruin Cheese Grits

If there’s any mandatory dish for Southern breakfast buffets, it’s cheese grits, but there’s no definitive recipe, just endless variations of cheese and cooked grits baked in whatever oven-proof container someone might deign to call a casserole. This recipe comes from Arkansas, where they know about grits, and is from the châtelaine of an old plantation house, which in my world gives it some distinction. Note please that it is made with grits, not quick grits, but the latter will do in a pinch. It also features dry cheeses instead of gooey cheddars and runny Velveetas.

Bring 1 quart milk to a boil. Add a half cup butter and a cup of grits. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is the consistency of oatmeal, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper, and beat the mixture well with an eggbeater (a hand mixer works just fine). Add 3 tablespoons butter, stir in a half cup grated Gruyère, and pour into a greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and bake at 350 for an hour. This dish can be made the day before, serves 10, very good with game.

Watergate Cake

In 1922, Helen Keller (of all people) published a recipe with canned diced pineapple, nuts, marshmallows, and whipped cream. “I ate it first in California,” she said, “So I call it Golden Gate Salad”. When Kraft published a similar recipe in 1975, some politically-savvy food editor renamed it Watergate Salad. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before some genius looking for something to cook for the Methodist pot-luck supper dumped a Watergate Salad into a batch of white cake mix, and voila! the Watergate Cake was born. While those of an age should remember Watergate as a by-word for illicit, illegal political intrigue and machinations, those younger will simply find this amalgamation of pistachio, coconut and pudding a pretty cake for the spring table. Such is the transitory knowledge of history.

BATTER
1 box white cake mix
1 cup oil
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1 cup lemon-lime soda
3 eggs
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

FROSTING
2 (3 oz.) envelopes Dream Whip
1 1/2 cups milk
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

Pour cake mixture into two greased and dusted 9-inch round baking pans, bake and cool completely. Whip Dream Whip and milk into peaks, gradually add pudding mix and keep beating into a fluff. Assemble cake, frosting between layers then frost completely, sprinkle with crushed pistachios and grated coconut. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

 

About Dried Beans

Rombauer writes that dried beans are “on the dull side and much like dull people respond readily to the right contacts.” In my experience, dull people rarely respond to anything with any degree of alacrity and never seem to benefit as a result. Once a schmuck, always a schmuck, I say. Dried legumes, however, respond beautifully to moisture and heat, and with the addition of other ingredients, these wallflowers in the pantry dance on the table.

Dried beans are cheap and can be stored for a long time, but after a year they aren’t able to absorb enough moisture to be palatable. You can probably plant them, but not eat them. Dried beans are also easy to cook, but like most cooking, it’s a matter of procedure. First the beans must be cleaned. On every bag of dried beans, you should find a warning stating something like, “Beans are a natural agricultural product. Despite use of modern cleaning equipment, it is not always possible to remove all foreign material. Sort and rinse beans before cooking.” I cannot stress how important it is to sort and pick through dried beans before washing. Spread the beans in a single layer on a cookie sheet and pick out everything that isn’t a bean. You’re likely to find pebbles, little clods of dirt, sticks, and stems, none of which should find your way into your mouth. Put the sorted beans in a colander and rinse them twice, then pour into a container and cover with water. Remove any beans that float. Pour the cleaned, sorted beans back into the colander to drain.

While most people hydrate beans by soaking them overnight, you can simply dump dried beans in twice the amount of water and cook them for three or four hours on a moderate heat, adding water as necessary. It takes much less time if you cover beans with water, 2:1, bring to a hard boil for five minutes then shut off and soak for an hour. Again, cook beans in twice the amount water, but you may find you need to add more as they cook. Do not add salt. If you add salt in the cooking water before the beans are cooked, the skins will be tough. Salt when the beans are cooked through. This might not seem a big deal, but it is. Also do not add tomatoes or tomato sauce until the beans are done; some people will tell you that if you soak the beans, you can add tomatoes, but I’ve found it takes much longer for the beans to cook if you do. I always add one cup chopped onion and a couple of smashed chopped cloves of garlic per two cups (1 pound) dried beans.

I always use a flame-buster and a moderate heat when cooking beans. If you scorch a pot of beans, I don’t care who says you can save them and how, trust me when I tell you to throw them away and start over. Different types of beans cook differently, but generally speaking, a cup of dried peas or beans will make two to two and a half cups cooked.

Easy Ice Cream Bread

Versions of this recipe have been bouncing around a lot recently, most of them praising its fool-proof simplicity, but as with such recipes—and one with two ingredients is about as basic as they come—the devil is in the details. Most versions call for 1 ½ cups of self-rising (“hot rise”) flour and a pint of melted ice cream—which make make a soft, sticky dough rather than a batter—baked in a standard 8×5 loaf pan at 350 for 45 minutes, but I’ve found that the recipe makes a much better presentation when baked in a 5×3 (16 oz.) loaf or a similarly-sized spring-form baker at 350 for only 35 minutes. I’ve also found that you must use a very rich ice cream such as a French vanilla or (as in this case) a butter pecan and that LuVel works just as well if not better than Ben & Jerry’s, but you must let the ice cream melt slowly on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator overnight; don’t put it in the microwave or it will be “flat”. These cute little loaves serve six adults easily, slice into eighths for kids, and while a dollop of whipped cream might seem more appropriate, I don’t think a scoop of vanilla ice cream is redundant at all.

Kids in the Kitchen

When I was a boy, mom gave me a “boys and girls” cookbook. Okay, actually, she gave it to my sister, and I stole it. I did not grow up to write Other Voices, Other Rooms, nor do Cher’s hair, but I did learn how to make frosting. Some people consider this insignificant, but sugar is tricky.

Cooking is an important skill. Speaking strictly for myself, I don’t trust anyone who can’t boil water. Teaching your kids how to cook is an important, multi-faceted experience for both children and parents. You might remember cooking with your parents. Simply being together, doing something together, strengthens family bonds, gives everyone a chance to relax and open up, to talk about what’s going on. Preparing food themselves teaches kids to appreciate the effort others put into cooking for them. It’s also a confidence-booster, as anyone who has pulled a beautifully-baked cake out of the oven can attest. You’ll feel yourself smile when your kid says, “I made it myself!”  Reading and interpreting a recipe boosts reading comprehension and math skills, of course, but it’s also the best introduction to chemistry to be found in the home. Learning how to cook also helps make kids curious about foods in general, having the potential to expand the palate of a picky child.

You can teach your children how to make many things, and in turn you may well learn yourself. In case you don’t know how to make oven fries, here’s how. Take a large baking potato and cut it into thick wedges or strips. Brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place in an oiled pan, and bake in a very hot oven, tossing at least twice until browned and crisp. There you go; so simple even a kid can do it.

Easy Potato Pancakes

Take two cups potato mush, from potatoes, flakes or frozen tater tots /fries thawed and mashed. Add two beaten eggs, a half cup freshly grated onion and enough flour to make a loose dough. Season with salt and pepper, drop by spoonfuls into a hot oiled skillet and cook until browned.

 

Guinness Stout Brownies

You’ll often find recipes using an alcoholic beverage, particularly wine, of course, but also rum, bourbon, and beer. While some teetotalers recoil at making such recipes, if the dish is heated to anywhere near the boiling point, the alcohol evaporates, leaving only the flavor of the beverage. To concentrate the flavor of the beer in this recipe, some people will actually take an entire bottle of Guinness and boil it down to the 12 ounces called for here for more intensity, but that’s just an option.

4 eggs
3⁄4 cup superfine sugar
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup cocoa
1 1⁄4 cups Guinness stout

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8-inch-square pan. Combine the eggs and sugar, beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Melt the bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. I do this is in a glass bowl the microwave. Beat into the egg mixture. Sift the flour and cocoa together and beat into the chocolate mixture. Whisk in the Guinness, which should be at room temperature. Pour into the pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool on a wire rack before slicing. You can dust this with confectioner’s sugar, if you like, and you can also add a half cup chopped nuts; pistachios would be appropriate.

Colcannon

To many of us, kale seems to have suddenly appeared in markets mere decades ago, when in fact kale has been cultivated as long as cabbage. They’re certainly in the same family, and what we know as collards are simply a type of kale. The Irish—and more notably the Scots—have been eating kale in enormous quantities for centuries and consequently know how to cook it. Colcannon (note the first syllable is practically synonymous with that of another cabbage dish, cole slaw) is from cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”, and the recipe is as simple as the dish is hearty.

Use one large starchy potato (russet) to, say, a packed cup of raw, chopped kale for each serving. Cut potatoes into chunks and boil vigorously until very soft and whip with milk or cream and butter. These don’t have to be perfectly smooth; in fact, they’re better a little lumpy, if you ask me. Boil the kale until quite done—this is one recipe for which you don’t want to use blanched kale—drain and while still hot toss with a little butter. Mix the potatoes and kale together, season with salt and white pepper. Some people cook green onions with the kale, but I prefer them raw as a garnish. You can thin this basic recipe with milk or broth to make a soup or you can spoon it into a casserole and bake it topped with a semi-hard cheese. It is a traditional side dish with ham, though I’m certain it goes just as well with anything, anytime.

colcannon 2