If, like me, you find sweet potatoes just a bit too sugary to accompany most meats—the exceptions being fatty roasts—then this combination of sweet potatoes with regular spuds provides a semi-savory option. You can use any waxy white potato; I use regular red (“Irish”) potatoes, though the ubiquitous Yukon Golds are often recommended. Peel and slice the potatoes on the thinner side, layer in a casserole, gratin, or skillet with sprinklings of salt and pepper, thyme and parsley, add enough whole cream to saturate but not cover. Brush with melted butter and bake at 300 until the top begins to crisp and brown.
Everyone under forty—and a great many over—know that the best pumpkin juice comes from London Pumpkins & Sons, who have been making the beverage since 1837. We also know that this company is in the London of Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, which makes it unavailable to us Muggles. However, I have it on good authority that this recipe comes from the bountiful kitchen of Molly Weasley, who passed it on to her daughter, Ginny Potter, who shared it with her Muggle buddies. Pumpkin juice is served over ice at any meal and at special events. Mix very well 2 cups pumpkin puree and 32 ounces peach nectar with a gallon of apple cider. Stir in 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ginger. A dusting of nutmeg before serving is a nice touch.
Cream a stick of softened unsalted butter with a half cup of light brown sugar, beat until fluffy, and mix well with two eggs and a half cup of sorghum molasses. Mix one and a half cups of flour with a half teaspoon of baking soda, a heaping tablespoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon each of ground cloves and allspice. Add two teaspoons pure vanilla extract and a half cup buttermilk. Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 for about an hour, until the loaf pulls from the edges. Cool before slicing.
Here’s a recipe from Linda Bolton, who for many years ran the Good Food Store when it was on Jackson Avenue in Oxford. Linda was a guru of mine, a woman of many parts who cast her bread upon the waters without reservation. Back when I was writing a food column for The Oxford Times, I published a really basic potato soup recipe, and the next day when I was walking towards the Rose, Linda yelled across the street at me: “Let me tell you what all you left out of your `tater soup recipe, Yancy!” So she did, and here’s the modified recipe:
For each serving (@ a cup and a half), take a large starchy potato, wash, peel and dice, making sure to take out all discolorations. Boil in enough water to cover, adding a vegetable bouillon cube. When almost tender through, reduce heat, sauté for each of two servings one small white onion and two cloves of garlic, both finely minced, in about two tablespoons sweet butter. To this, add liquid from the potatoes and boil until onions have broken down. Add this mixture back to the potatoes, simmer and stir until the soup has a creamy consistency with soft chunks of potato. Salt to taste and season with crushed dill seed, rosemary and pepper. You can add a little heavy cream and another tablespoon of butter to make a more substantial soup, in which case you might also want to add a little hard grated cheese. Serve hot.
Sweet potato puree blended with a fool-proof New York-style cheesecake; fun to make, sumptuous results. The cheesecake filling is 16 oz. cream cheese, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and two large eggs. The sweet potato filling is two cups of “candied” sweet potatoes pureed and mixed with 1/2 cup whole cream, 1/2 cup sugar, two eggs and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. The crust is a box of graham cracker crumbs–adding crushed pecans is a nice touch–mixed with a stick and a half of melted butter, a cup of brown sugar, packed into an 8″ spring-form pan and refrigerated until firm. Drop both filling mixtures alternately around the crust, then take a spoon and swirl it around a little bit. Be artistic; contemplate the Pre-Raphaelites. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, lower heat and cool for an hour. Refrigerate before slicing.
Dirty rice, as is the case with any dish involving what were once called variety meats but are now more often referred to as offal (it’s a hipster retro thing), is one you either love or hate, and I’ve loved it since I first had it when I was a boy. Like any staple recipe and I assure you it is a Cajun standard, dirty rice has as many variations as there are cooks, but the basic combination invariably calls for rice with chicken livers and gizzards. Some people add onions, peppers, even celery, while some others add other meats such as ground pork or chopped cooked game. The one big bone of contention when it comes to dirty rice is between those who cook the rice with the meats and vegetables and those who cook them separately and mix them with seasonings before serving. I belong to the cook-separately-and-mix faction; I do the same with jambalayas, and I’ve been called to the carpet for that more than once, but I like the texture better, and cooking the livers with the rice tends to make them rubbery.
For dirty rice, first cook your gizzards. You can go to the trouble of trimming the membranes if you want, but I’ve found that if you stew gizzards for a very long time they’re going to end up as tender as can be and the resulting broth is a thing of beauty, rich and gelatinous. You will have to trim the livers, since those membranes will not break down. Sauté the livers with a little garlic and minced white onion until just done through; don’t overcook, or they’ll be tough and tasteless. Chop and add the meats to cooked rice with whatever sautéed vegetables you like and a little oil to moisten. Season, keep warm in a covered container and add chopped green onion before plating.
Here’s a great get-together recipe; the variations are endless. Some people use canned biscuit dough (most often the flaky variety) and some people use canned pizza dough. I prefer the biscuits because you don’t have to roll them into balls like the pizza dough, you just cut each biscuit into quarters. You can make this in a casserole, but a tube pan makes for a better presentation.
Preheat your oven as directed (usually 350), separate and cut (or roll) your dough, toss with melted butter and seasonings (granulated garlic, “Italian seasonings”, salt and pepper), then roll the pieces of dough in grated cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella, what have you) and sesame or poppy seeds, finely diced ham, pepperoni or bacon bits, and pack them into a well-greased tube pan. Bake until the “loaf” is golden and sounds hollow when you thump it. Turn out on a pretty plate, and serve with a marinara sauce for dipping.
After noting (somewhat suggestively, I thought) that Mexico is shaped like an on-end cornucopia, one authority I consulted for a reasonable analysis of cultural diffusion with the U.S. degenerated into a diatribe against the North American Free Trade Agreement, but even without his analysis, perhaps even despite of, it’s safe even for a rube like me to say that the influences are profound, that of Mexico on the U.S. embracing such diverse areas as art and architecture, music and literature, not to mention food, a far more significant contribution than that our northern neighbor Canada, which as far as I can tell seems to be restricted to ice hockey and fried potatoes with gravy.
Tomes have been written about Mexican food in the U.S., but with the obvious exception of Texas the discussion of Mexican foods in the American South has just begun. In Mississippi, Delta tamales are certainly the most notable culinary import from south of the border, Mexican cornbread is one you’ll find throughout the state if not most parts of the South. This bread, while Mexican in name, does not like the tamal have its origins in Old Mexico; instead, what we know as Mexican cornbread is almost certainly though not verifiably a Tex-Mex recipe that has been around long enough to become a standard not only in our homes but also in supermarket delis, a certain sign of culinary degeneration.
Though Southerners claim cornbread as our definitive staff of life, Mexico is the home of this ancient staple, though certainly not as we know it now. While researching the history of Mexican cornbread (the U.S. version,), it was somewhat of a discovery to stumble upon our “Southern” cornbread in Mexican cookbooks, unsurprisingly called pan de maiz, which seems to be a recent addition to Central American tables, largely at home in southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. One recipe I found on a Mexican website claims to have come by way of Maine and even employs buttermilk. While such things aren’t inconceivable, I suddenly felt as if the Culinary Improbability Drive had been activated, and I was on the verge of turning into an enormous jalapeno hushpuppy and plunging into a roiling intergalactic catfish pond. I felt much the same way about Malaysian grits.
The origins of what passes as Mexican cornbread in the U.S. are obscured in a cloud of “women’s magazine” articles and speculation. While the dish has all sorts of atrocious variations, the most rudimentary type employs corn, peppers and some sort of cheese. Extreme examples include any number of beans and meats, cacti, seeds and flowers, not to mention that California aberration with blue tofu. For my part, I’ve devised a recipe that is a departure from the customary pan of bread, one that is lighter and at least in spirit closer to the flatbreads more often served on Mexican tables. It reminds me of an early Southern cornmeal staple many consider the ancestor of the cornbread most often made for our tables.
Make cornbread batter, add whole kernel corn, peppers and your choice of cheese in equal proportions. I prefer to use thin-walled mild peppers for the most part with a thinly-sliced jalapeno for kick. Drop batter by spoonfuls into a well-oiled skillet, brown on both sides and place in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a medium oven until done through. You want them crusty, top with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, refried beans, etc. as you would a sope.
1 (16-ounce) jar of pineapple preserves, 1 (12-ounce) jar apple jelly, 6 ounces Creole brown mustard, 1 (5-ounce) jar horseradish, 1 teaspoon Coleman’s Mustard, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Blend all ingredients well with a fork or whip. This sauce keeps well for weeks refrigerated in a sealed container.