Named for a Brazilian politico, brigadeiros are a very easy, simple chocolate candy; three ingredients, less than a half-hour cooking time, one pan, no thermometer, and crazy good.
Stir together a 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk, a half cup cocoa, a dash of salt and two tablespoons butter in a sauce pan over a medium/low heat. Stir constantly, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula until very thick. When you can form a cooled spoonful, grease your hands with butter and make balls no larger than a walnut. Roll the balls in sprinkles (chocolate is traditional) crushed nuts, coconut, cocoa, or a coating of your own device. Brigadeiros are usually served in those little crinkly-edged paper cups, but I never seem to have any.
In the mid-80s, I moved from north Mississippi, where I’d spent my entire life, to north Florida, where nobody spends an entire life. I caught total hell. I mean, I caught hell from people who didn’t even know where their grandparents were buried.
Part of the problem, of course, was the fact that I attached some degree of importance to such things as knowing where your grandparents—and ancestors beyond—had been laid to rest. I also suffered by being the only Rebel fan in a swamp full of Florida Gators. Believe it or not, most of these people didn’t even know what I meant when I said “Ole Miss.” Instead, they referred to it as “Mississippi.” That’s within bounds, of course, but it just doesn’t have the same cachet.
For another thing, I was a pacifist liberal in an area largely supported by military funding during the middle of the Reagan Era. My Dukakis campaign button brought down a rain of derision upon me, but I wore it defiantly. Finally, to add insult to injury, I’d only been there a little over a year when Alan Parker comes out with this damnatory film about one the darkest chapters of my home state’s history, Mississippi Burning. The impression these people got from the film was that everybody in Mississippi is an ignorant racist just itching to get their hands on some out-of-staters to help shore up our levees.
This conception was reinforced on at least one occasion that I can remember. At the restaurant I worked in, we offered a fish of the day. The offering varied, depending upon what the fleet from Destin brought in and what they charged for their catch. More often than not, however, the fish of the day was amberjack. Now, amberjack is a perfectly good fish, but large amberjack—those over 15 pounds or so—are heavily parasitized by a tapeworm, Poecilancistrium caryophyllum, more commonly known as spaghetti worms. The worms have bulbous heads and long, skinny bodies and they’re all coiled up in the flesh and you have to . . . well, I’ll leave it at that. It’s pretty disgusting. We were always careful to clean the fish fastidiously before we served it. But some people won’t eat amberjack—or speckled trout, which sometimes have the same problem—for that reason.
Well, I was working in the kitchen one morning with a waitress with whom I had what you could only call a difficult relationship. She was a world-class bitch, and I grew to love her dearly, but at this point I was still coming to appreciate her derisive wit. So when she stormed in, marched up to me and said, “Let me tell you what I think about you damned Mississippians!” I knew I was in for it through no fault of my own, so I just stood there while she let me have it. She had just waited on a table composed of a man from the Mississippi Coast and his wife. He asked her about the fish of the day, and when she told him it was amberjack, he said, “Amberjack! Why, only niggers eat amberjack!”
She was pissed, and rightly so. Oddly enough, though, this incident proved to be a turning point in our relationship, because I assured her that I was just as appalled as she was and dismayed to boot that she had to put up with such a display of rudeness and bigotry. I like to believe that despite my abundant flaws as a human being I was a good ambassador for my home state during my tenure on the Redneck Riviera. I made some good friends there, and though we’ve long since gone our separate ways, I still remember my time in Florida with varying degrees of fondness.
During the 50s and well into the 60s tiki parties were a popular spin on patio barbecues. These events invariably featured smelly torches, rickety furniture, neon paper leis, and mai tais with teeny-tiny umbrellas. Rumaki were also usually on the menu. These “mock Polynesian” appetizers were so popular that they inspired parodist references in dozens of television serials and films.
Rumaki are easy to make, but instead of using raw ginger root or (worse) ginger powder, I urge you to use ginger oil for a marinade with the soy, which should be lite soy. To make ginger oil, grate about a half cup of raw ginger, place in a cup of vegetable oil, and heat until the ginger just begins to bubble. Heat for about five minutes, cool thoroughly, drain and save the oil and discard the ginger. Use the oil, mixed with soy 1:2 and brown sugar to taste for the marinade. Slice the livers, depending on size, into thirds; remember that the livers will have a tough connective membrane that must be removed. Slice small whole water chestnuts into halves add them to the marinade. Marinate both for at least an hour. Skewer livers and chestnuts in bacon sliced to size and place in a hot oven (425) until bacon has crisped.
This is a cool way to pack individual salad servings for picnics or cookouts. You don’t have to use a Mason jar; any wide-mouthed lidded container will do, but the iconic Mason makes for a (somewhat) classier presentation. Blend textures and flavors, use your imagination, consider who you’re feeding, and (above all) make it pretty. If you’re using tomatoes, cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juices before dicing/slicing for the salad, and I’ll advise against including cheese because it will sweat.
In preparation, sequence is paramount. First in goes your dressing. Make different salads with different dressings for a crowd: a Caesar, a Cobb with blue cheese, an antipasto with vinegar and oil, etc. The next layer should include chunky items: beans, cucumber, carrots, celery, chick peas, green beans, pepper strips, broccoli/cauliflower, sliced radishes, olives, pickled vegetables, and such things. Then diced chicken, sliced eggs, diced (drained) tomatoes, sprouts, diced onions, peas, sliced mushrooms, and nuts. Finally, your leaf vegetables, and this layer should comprise about the top third of the container. Make sure the jars are water-tight before packing in an ice chest.
Angelo Mistilis opened his restaurant on College Hill Road in May, 1962 and closed in 1988. The menu featured dozens of items over those many years, but first and foremost was the hamburger steak with potatoes.
“You could have it regular, you could have it with onions, you could have it with just cheese, or you could have it all the way, Angelo said. “The hamburger steak was on the original menu, the hamburger steak with cheese and onions came in a little later, in the mid to late 60s. We used about nine tons of fresh ground beef a year. I had a butcher that got my hamburger meat with all the trimmings, and I got some from James’ Food Center. We always served it with hand-cut home fries. We’d use around 1200 lbs. of potatoes a week and two fifty-pound sacks of onions. The cheese was always sliced American, and we served it on a paper plate in a wicker basket.”
Most recipes for this old buffet dish involve pepperoncini, though there’s no reason not to use pickled cherry peppers, banana peppers or another pickled vegetable such as okra or green tomatoes, but not cucumbers. I mean, think about it.
Marinate a lean cut of beef in the pickling solution or vinegar and water (2:1) overnight or longer if you like, place meat in a covered baking dish with the pickled vegetables, plenty of garlic, freshly-ground black pepper and enough water to cover half the meat; you shouldn’t have to add any salt to this at all. Cook in a slow oven (300) until the beef is quite tender, chop or shred, add reduced liquid and serve warm or cold with hard rolls, a mild horseradish sauce and/or a good mustard of your choice. It should go without saying that this is one of those dishes that’s better the next day, but I’ll mention it.
Later in the season, when the cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes have almost petered out, you can put up those special pickles for the holiday table, but peak summer vegetables make great quick pickles to have with your fresh vegetables. Do not–I repeat NOT–attempt this with vegetables you’ll find in a supermarket. The vegetables should be young and very firm. Slice or cube cucumbers, small okra, green tomatoes or squash. For every two cups of vegetables, add about a half cup of finely sliced white or yellow onion (red will bleed). Pack into a quart jar. In a bowl, mix a cup of water, about a third a cup of vinegar (apple cider, white, and rice wine are all good), 2 tablespoons sugar (optional), and 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and stir until dissolved. You can include a clove or so of slivered garlic, if you please. Let these sit for at least three hours before serving, overnight is better. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week, but they rarely last that long.
Making quick breads is such a basic culinary skill that at one time those persistent legions of people who spend their time minding other people’s business sniffed their disapproval of a newly-wed husband’s wife by saying, “He married a woman who can’t even make biscuits.” Those were more genteel times. Nowadays, of course, those same people would just say he hooked up with a tramp and be done with it.
Like many short bread recipes, the one for biscuits is more technique than ingredients. Getting the biscuits to rise well is the key, and if you don’t follow a reasonable procedure, you’re going to end up throwing away a pan of hockey pucks. Your ingredients work best if chilled. Biscuits shouldn’t be worked a lot; excess kneading makes the dough so dense that it won’t rise. Biscuits should also be cut out quickly while the dough is cool, and with a clean, sharp edge that will not pinch. Crowding the biscuits a bit also helps them to rise, but if you get them too close together the centers won’t bake through. Also make sure the oven is hot (450/475) before you put them on a rack in the upper third of the oven. So for all you floozies out there who need a bonus the morning after, here’s how to make biscuits. And if you don’t carry a skillet with you, well, you’re on your own.
Take two cups of self-rising flour (I use Martha White) and sift in dry a scant teaspoon of baking soda; activated by the buttermilk, this helps the rise. Work thoroughly into this about 1/3 a cup of cold vegetable shortening or butter. Mix with the fingers until it has an almost granular texture. Then, working quickly, stir in enough cold buttermilk to make a sticky dough, about 3/4 cup. Throw this dough out on a generously-floured surface, sprinkle with a scant more flour and knead a couple of times, enough to coat the dough with flour. Then roll out the dough very thick, about a half-inch, and cut into rounds. You can make them as big or small as you like, just be sure to cut them with a sharp edge: a Mason jar just won’t work. Again, work quickly so that the dough doesn’t get warm. Place biscuits just touching in a lightly greased skillet and pop them into a hot oven for about a quarter an hour. You want them golden-brown and fragrant; brush lightly with butter while hot right before serving.