The Last Mississippi Spa

Almost twenty years after Allison’s Wells burned in 1963, O.C. McDavid, former managing editor of the Jackson Daily News and a noted sculpture artist, was approached by Hosford Fontaine to assist in a book with recipes. In turn, McDavid enlisted Marilyn Bonney, who owned Press & Palette in Canton Mart, to print the 68-page book. According to Marilyn, “I printed it using paper plates which were a one-time use. I don’t remember the exact number printed, but it was probably1,000. The plan was not to sell it, but O.C. and Hosford gave it to people they knew, and I did the same.” In a similar spirit, with hopes of perpetuating Hosford’s wonderful work, here’s Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa by Hosford Latimer Fontaine.

The Last Mississippi Spa

A Savory Dutch Baby

More often served as a sweet breakfast dish, a Dutch baby/German pancake can easily provide a savory platform for any number of toppings any time of the day. This version is seasoned with salt and pepper mixed with a scattering of onion, topped with more onion, peppered ham and served with a grated hard cheese. Whip two large eggs and a half cup each flour and whole milk into a froth. Pour into a heated, well-buttered skillet and cook in a very hot oven until puffed and browned. Serve with grated hard cheese and sour cream.

 

Spanakopita

This wonderful recipe works well for many occasions. Yes, it is labor-intensive, but that’s all the more reason to make for a large gathering, when you can commandeer others to help.

For the filling use about a pound of frozen, thawed spinach, squeezed to remove liquid. You can use fresh if you like, in which case use two pounds washed, trimmed, blanched and drained. Sauté in olive oil with one large finely chopped white onion, a cup of chopped scallions and a half-cup chopped parsley. Season with dill, nutmeg and lemon juice. Add a cup of crumbled feta and a half cup of a hard grated cheese such as Parmesan. Salt to taste. Mix thoroughly with four well-beaten eggs, and set aside.

This is enough filling for about 8 sheets phyllo. Place sheets between slightly damp paper towels before use. Lay phyllo across a large oiled baking pan, brush with oil, fold in half, oil and fold again. Have you ever folded a flag? The procedure here is the same. Fold a corner over about 1/4 cup of filling, flip, brush with oil, and repeat.  Refrigerate pastries before cooking or freeze for another day. Bake in a medium oven (350) until nicely browned.

Poppy Seed Pound Cake

If I speak of chicken and dumplings as a Southern dish, soon enough some foodways pundit—you can’t throw a rock without hitting one, and if you ask me, the bigger the rock the better—will declare it’s served as dim sum by expatriated Alabamans living in Hong Kong. Even on a national scale (not that nationalism exists, of course) it’s no longer safe for me to assume that pound cake is a New England recipe. A friend from Texas—east Texas, mind you—now living in Maine said that their neighbors considered pound cake Southern because it’s so simple and practical. Well, dear hearts, those are the very reasons Americans have baked this cake well before Burr shot Hamilton, so quit sequesterizing recipes that have been on the tables of our country even before it became a country. Read Beard. This recipe is a felony with fruit, a mortal sin with ice cream.

Preheat oven to 350 (a crucial step). Grease, line and set aside a 10-inch loaf pan or Bundt. Combine 2 cups sugar with a cup of softened butter and beat until creamy. Stir in two tablespoons of poppy seeds, a cup of buttermilk, 4 beaten eggs, and at least a tablespoon of vanilla extract. Gradually mix in 3 cups of plain flour sifted with a teaspoon each of baking powder and soda. Blend until smooth. Bake for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave the cake in until the oven has cooled. Rest on a rack an hour before slicing.

 

Deviled Ham

Modern recipes for meat spreads use cream cheese or mayonnaise as a binder, and the results are bland and milky. Lard is the original meld for this recipe, but Brits have been using clarified butter since the Raj, and it’s perfect.

Clarify a stick of butter; cool and mix with a pound of minced ham and a heaping tablespoon of dry mustard and black pepper. A dash or two or three of nutmeg is essential. Do not salt. Blend very well and refrigerate, the longer the better. Serve at room temperature with toast.

 

Alice’s Salmon Mousse

In my book (which got another rejection this week: “Your approach to Southern cooking is disturbingly pugnacious.”) Alice Brock is a bazillion times cooler than Alice Waters. Brock’s humor and ill regard for bullshit establishes her biography, My Life as a Restaurant, as the hands-on-hips precursor to Bourdain’s somewhat more cantankerous Kitchen Confidential. Not only that, but Waters never had a decent song written about her, much less an anthem.

Alice Brock and her staff up in Massachusetts had a thing with mousses/mooses. The drawing with this recipe has antlers, and they include a story of a moose falling into a vat of cocoa for the chocolate version. This fixation seems to be prevalent in New England where mooses live, but in this culinary reference, the homonym proves emphatic. This salmon mousse is great hot weather nosh and can be served either from your great-grandmother’s fish mold or if you’re just totally white trash as a dip.

Put a quarter cup diced onion and lemon juice in a blender with an envelope of gelatin and a half cup hot water. Blend at high speed for one minute, then add a half cup of mayonnaise and 16 ounces of canned salmon. (Red is best, leftover homecooked is wonderful, and pink will do.) Blend/pulse this mixture until smooth. Add a tablespoon paprika and a cup of heavy cream. Blend for about a half minute, and cool for at least 6 hours before serving.

Shrimp Creole: Back to Basics

Without a doubt, the most maltreated recipe to come out of New Orleans cookery is shrimp Creole. The reason for this is that most people simply don’t have an understanding of how the roux functions as a basis for such a complex dish. Much more often than not the roux is simply disregarded as a component altogether, and what you’ll find served as shrimp Creole is little more than a handful of mealy shrimp drenched in a cayenne-infused Italian-style tomato sauce loaded with bell peppers and ladled over a pile of gummy Minute rice. Yes, tomatoes are an essential component to a shrimp Creole, but not a tomato sauce as such. The tomatoes give flavor to a much more complex stew that includes (of course) onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic and liquids. And sure, à la Creole to most people means piquant, but this does not mean hot; spicy, perhaps, but not hot.

Shrimp Creole is not a difficult dish to make; as with any recipe, you simply have to follow the proper procedure and proceed apace. First make a roux with a quarter cup each of flour and oil—not butter, not olive oil, just a light vegetable oil will do fine—cooking it to a rusty brown; some people will tell you to use a very dark roux for a Creole, but I prefer one a bit lighter (sue me). To this, while still hot, add two cups finely chopped white onion, one cup finely chopped celery and a half cup finely diced bell pepper. Do not over-do the bell pepper! I firmly concur with Justin Wilson who said time and time again that bell pepper is “a taste killah”, and we both agree that you can never use too much onion. y of  you will recognize this combination as a platform for many Creole/Cajun dishes.

For a basic shrimp Creole to feed six people, sauté two pounds peeled shrimp–I recommend a 26-30 count–in a light oil with plenty of garlic, about four cloves crushed and minced, and a little pepper (do not salt). Add the shrimp (with the liquid) to the roux/vegetable mix, then immediately add two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with juice. (In a perfect world, you’d use four cups of home-canned tomatoes, but I do not live in a perfect world, and chances are you don’t, either.) Add a little water to this if needed to give it the consistency of a thick soup, season with a two tablespoons dried basil, two teaspoons thyme and a teaspoon each of oregano and ground cumin. Understand please that these are relative ratios that you can adjust with neither guilt nor effort. As to pepper, some cayenne, yes, and yes to some black pepper, too, but when it comes to pepper, the best rule of thumb is to add just enough to make a statement and provide a good Louisiana hot sauce on the table. Let this stew for at least an hour (I put it in the oven uncovered and stir it two or three times), then adjust your seasonings, particularly the salt and pepper. Serve over cooked long-grain rice; let me recommend Zatarain’s, and no, I’m not getting paid for that.

Marinaded Mushrooms

You don’t have to pay $5 a cup for good pickled mushrooms, and in time you can come up with specific recipes to use for any given occasion. In the meantime, here’s a good general-purpose recipe from an old friend of mine who ran a catering business in Oxford. He looked like a red-headed Rick Astley and used a cigarette holder.

Sauté in olive oil 1 pound of mushrooms, sliced or cut in quarters, with 1 large red pepper, cut into strips, one a large red onion, sliced, and 3 cloves garlic, minced. Cool, add balsamic vinegar, thyme, and fresh ground pepper. Salt to taste. Refrigerate before serving.

How to Write a Cookbook

I do not hold with people who will not share recipes; that’s just mean. Most all of the good cooks I know are friendly and generous with their expertise. If you find yourself in the kitchen a lot, you should keep a cookbook of your own. Sooner or later, you’re bound to do something different and wonderful and you owe it to yourself to write it down and pass it on to others. Once you’ve got a dish down pat the way you want and like, it becomes your own exclusive property anyway. You’ll probably find that no one will be able to replicate the dish to yours or even their satisfaction. The secret to your dish might very well prove to be your cooking container (especially if it’s seasoned; woks are said to have their own signature) a particular cooking method you consider unimportant enough not to write down or even something as ineffable as your own special touch. At least give other people a base opportunity by listing your ingredients and procedures.

Include information aside from just the basics, too. For instance, mention if the dish was a favorite of a family member.  If you serve it every year on a particular holiday, garnish your recipe with what other components were elemental, especially those involving heirlooms (your Uncle Earl’s china platter, or the centerpiece Millie made out of sewing scraps and pine cones), activities like having a breakfast on the morning presents were opened or memorable incidents (“Earl pulled a gun when Judy dropped that teacup . . . “). Such documentation not only enriches the book itself, but it also provides fodder for other stories, perhaps even novels or off-Broadway plays.

Let me also encourage you to write recipes by hand. While this exercise might serve as an irritating reminder of how bad your handwriting actually is, it gives the recipe verisimilitude. Handwritten pages also aspire to art when splattered with slopped liquids; it’s so Pollock. You just don’t get that with a laptop. Writing recipes by hand does require some precision, but don’t let getting caught up in the heat of the moment stop you. Later you can find another pen, more red wine or chocolate syrup, and amend the entry.

As to what recipes to include, for once in your life, don’t worry about diversity. Put your best foot forward. If your forte is cakes, casseroles or seafood, concentrate on those and don’t make any spurious attempt to fill in with recipes you simply copy from another place unless you actually try them out first. Bear in mind that this book should be as personal as you can make it, as reflective as possible of your personality and idiosyncrasies. By all means, include recipes from friends and relatives as well, since those enrich your work by leaps and bounds, but always identify your contributor and provide details of them as well as a genealogy of the recipe itself. For instance, an entry in my book reveals that a recipe for chicken soup with corn and rivels came from a lady from Lancaster, Pa. who was 6’2”, a psychologist with a unibrow who got the recipe from her Quaker grandmother, the wife of a Lithuanian stockbroker. Such seemingly irrelevant details make for richer reading than a dry recitation of ingredients.

Marchand de Vin

A smart-ass from New Orleans—they’re all over the place down there, trust me—once asked (in a job interview, no less) if I knew how to make marchand, and when I said no, the bastard actually curled his upper lip a definitively unctuous, condescending sneer. If I had heat vision, he’d have been char. I got the job anyway because the guy who asked me to apply owned the joint. The smart-ass from New Orleans got fired four months later for stealing and selling coke under the bar. We never did get eggs Hussard on the menu, but here’s how to make marchand de vin sauce This version of Brennan’s batch recipe makes about a quart and refrigerates well.

In a stick of butter, brown a half-cup flour. Add a clove of garlic smashed and minced, three or four chopped green onions, and a cup of diced fresh mushrooms. Working quickly, whisk in two cups of beef stock mixed with a cup of good red wine. Reduce heat and cook until smooth. The sauce should be somewhat on the thin side, and the wine shouldn’t be overpowering. Season with thyme, parsley, salt, and fresh black pepper.