After years of shaving and marinating meats for a stir fry with mixed results, I discovered velveting. With this tenderizing technique, you coat thinly-sliced meats with a slurry of cornstarch, white vinegar, soy, and egg white.
Not much is needed; 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of corn starch to one egg white, and enough vinegar/soy to make a thin paste for a pound or so of meat. Some people recommend adding baking soda. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and I it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Treat meats for about a half-hour, rinse, and drain well before cooking.
This method also works with shrimp and lobster but in either case I consider it superfluous.
Use cheddar of any type, Edam, Gouda, Colby, “Swiss,” or Monterey Jack. Cut into cubes of less than in inch, and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet.
Here’s where I tell you not to crowd the cheese bits, but it seems no matter how meticulous I am, I usually end up having to break them apart. Place in the upper rack of a low (250) oven until it’s thin, crisp, bubbly, and greasy. Cool completely before removing with a thin spatula to drain.
You shouldn’t have to salt these, but some people like paprika or cayenne. I don’t. Eat immediately; they’re too fragile to keep.
Regional favorites always have local trends; barbecue springs to mind, but more subtle examples are available.
Take chicken and dressing, for instance, a staple of the Mid South. Along the coast, you’ll find dressings using a dried French loaf, but as you move north, cornbread enters the picture. I’ve seen recipes in north Louisiana and central Mississippi using a mix of the two. This is a typical north Mississippi recipe.
Make cornbread the night before, stick it in a paper sack, and put it somewhere it won’t get eaten. Next day, crumble bread into a large bowl and add enough strong chicken stock to make thick slurry.
To two quarts of such a mixture, add no more than 4 eggs well-beaten and at least two cups shredded chicken. Sauté a cup (more if you like) each of finely-diced white onion and celery in a half a stick of butter, and add to the mix. Some people like diced pepper in their dressing, but I find it overpowering.
Season with salt, pepper, thyme, and sage; I like plenty of sage in mine. Pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 until the top is browned and the center firm.
This recipe is the only one you’ll ever need. Many might consider the dark rum optional, but it’s essential to the recipe. Even if you’re a teetotaler, the alcohol burns off in the cooking, and good heavens you’re bound to know someone with a bottle.
I like a mix of gold and dark raisins, and prefer salted pecans to walnuts. Like so many great cakes, this one is best made the day before.
Mix thoroughly ¾ cup vegetable oil and ¾ cup warm buttermilk with ¾ cup white and ¾ cup light brown sugar (you don’t have to pack it). Set aside. Sift together 2 ½ cups plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground ginger, and a couple dashes of nutmeg.
Add half the dry ingredients to the oil/buttermilk mixture, and the rest alternately with 4 well-beaten eggs at room temperature. Add two cups grated carrots, about ¾ cup raisins, ¾ cup chopped nuts and a cup of drained crushed pineapple. Finish off with a tablespoon of vanilla extract and a generous slug of dark rum (okay, three ounces).
Pour batter into a Bundt or two 9 in. layer pans and bake at 375 until fragrant and springy. For the frosting, mix a pound of cream cheese and ½ stick butter at room temperature with powdered sugar to texture, a teaspoon almond extract and grated orange zests. Sprinkle with nuts.
The day Jimmy went into rehab, Debby put in a garden. I kept telling her that March was too early, better to wait till Jimmy got out next month, but she wouldn’t listen. She wanted everything to look promising.
Jimmy’s commitment had been court ordered after he’d busted up the pool hall on Radley Road and sent Dennis Sprayberry to the ER with six broken ribs. Jimmy wasn’t always like this, meaning the type who’d take a cue and beat the ever-living hell out of the guy who was the best man at his wedding.
No, Jimmy was good once, and things just went bad, but before that he and Debby got married in the same church he was now exorcising his devil. Dennis couldn’t bring himself to press charges, so Jimmy wasn’t in that much trouble, but he needed to mind himself.
Debby just couldn’t understand how it had all gone wrong, since for a long time all Jimmy did was drink a little too much beer every now and then but bit by bit he kept drinking more, got off all by himself a lot of times and nobody could talk to him and when we did he just said nothing he had going was doing right.
And it wasn’t. He was hanging by a thread with his job, and when he almost cut his thumb off in an air-conditioner changing out the condenser and tested for alcohol for the third time he was fired. That’s the night he ended up down Radley Road and tried to kill Dennis. The sheriff told the prosecutor to throw the book at him, but things worked out so that Jimmy had to spend a month in rehab and two years under observation.
So when Jimmy went in, Debby planted a garden in the cold earth under a cool, cloudy sun. She went to the garden store in Tupelo and bought tomatoes and peppers, squash and cucumber seedlings, which she set out in a bed off the porch. She wanted her and Jimmy to be able to sit there in the afternoons and watch the sun go down over the garden. She said she was going to make Easter eggs so she and Jimmy could go looking for them the day after he got out.
I knew it was a bad idea, but I’d said all I could.
Good Friday came, and Debby got a call. Jimmy had broken out, so they had to put him in jail for violation of a court order. That night a cold wind came in and threw down a hard frost. Come morning the garden was nothing but frozen rows with withered plants. All I could do was be there.
“You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?” she said.
I just shook my head; I didn’t. I was blinded by hope, too. I loved my brother Jimmy more than she did.
A friend from Texas—east Texas, mind you—now living in Maine said their neighbors considered pound cake Southern because the ingredients are cheap.
Well, dear hearts, those are the very reasons Americans have baked this cake well before Burr shot Hamilton. 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. Cream 2 cups sugar with a cup of softened butter. Stir in two tablespoons of poppy seeds, a cup of buttermilk, 4 beaten eggs, and at least a tablespoon of vanilla extract.
Sift 3 cups of plain flour with a teaspoon each of baking powder and soda. Gradually blend with liquid mix 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.
Chances are you have a bottle of liquid smoke parked in your spice pantry, and it’s also likely that you know a grill professional—or a fanatic amateur—who’ll suggest an exorcism and ritual burning if he or she finds out.
Liquid smoke has been around since people began been making charcoal. Condensing the hot, moisture-filled smoke from low-oxygen burning charcoal produces a watery liquid (pyroligneous acid) that for centuries was called wood vinegar and was customarily used in everyday cooking–not just your occasional Renaissance barbecue–much as you would any other kind of vinegar.
Methods for making wood vinegar were refined in the 17th century. In 1895, E. H. Wright inaugurated the era of commercial manufacture and distribution of wood vinegar as liquid smoke. Batch smokehouses use regenerated atomized liquid smoke to process meat, cheese, fish, and other foods.
Liquid smoke is a fast, easy way to make good smoky foods and barbecue-style meats. Detractors—and there are many—seem to have a lot of reasons for not using liquid smoke, but most of their objections center around a negation of the “barbecue experience,” by which they mean the quasi-ritualized time and effort it takes to prepare and smoke meat.
Using liquid smoke takes practice and an understanding of the less-is-more rule. My standard is no more than a teaspoon in a cup of sauce or marinade.
Wash fresh turnips with greens well and shake dry. Peel roots and cut into chunks or wedges. Chop leaves and stems coarsely.
Toss roots and greens with coarsely minced garlic, a green onions cut into 1 inch pieces on the bias, and a plenty of kosher salt.
Let this sit for about half an hour, then sprinkle with a heaping teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or you can use chopped fresh hot peppers, enough for the pickle to pack a punch. Toss again.
Stuff this mixture into clean glass jars, topping off with liquid from the bowl. Seal jars tightly, and set them in a cool dark place. In a few days, check to see if it’s fermenting; look for bubbles.
If bubbling, open the jar very carefully over a sink to let a little bit of the gas escape; if you’re rash about opening the jar, you might just end up covered in kim chee juice. (This, children, is the the voice of experience.)
When the gas has escaped, reseal the jar, and let it sit for another day or so. Repeat the gas release procedure and refrigerate for at least another week before serving.