Regionalism is rapidly coming to an end; we can speak of chicken and dumplings as a uniquely Southern dish, but any given Southern foodways pundit will tell you it’s now being served in dim sum with a local spin by expatriated Alabamans living in Hong Kong. It’s no longer safe to make an assumption such as I did with pound cake being a New England recipe on the basis that it just sounds so simple and practical–a pound each of flour, sugar, eggs and butter mixed and baked–but no, a friend from Texas now living in Maine said that their new neighbors considered pound cake a particularly Southern recipe, which makes me think that what I consider as simple and practical Mainers think is broke and stupid. Then again, people have been making this Ur-recipe for cake since, well, the dawn of history, so it all boils down to a matter of perspective if not a quibbling over terms. This durable recipe and slight variations thereof is an old favorite, a summery cake great with any fresh fruit, with ice cream a sin.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 (trust me, this is a crucial step). Grease, line and set aside a 10-inch loaf pan or bundt. Combine sugar and butter, beat until creamy. Add poppy seeds, buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla, mix well, add remaining ingredients and beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until thoroughly blended and moist. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the cooling oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for at least an hour before slicing.
With hash we’re discussing leftovers, a subject you often find mentioned but rarely expounded because if we are what we eat, then our leftovers are us; what you save from a full meal and how you eat it later is as essential an indication of your moral character as the literature—if any—of your lavoratory.
In practice, leftovers rarely get anything near approaching formal treatment, particularly leftover meats, which are most often shoved between two slices of bread with a slathering of mayo (and usually little more). But in theory leftover meat can become alive again in such a way that it becomes a thing of wonder, and the foremost dish for this transformation is hash.
Chicken hash is a dish you find in upscale metropolitan social clubs, corned beef hash is a standard of diner breakfasts, but America’s staple hash is roast beef, served with or without gravy any time of the day. Beard said that in the most perfect roast beef he’d ever had—somewhere the hell in Minnesota—the meat was “perfectly cubed”, which strikes me as bizarre because my roasts are so tender that the meat shreds easily; I wouldn’t consider slicing at all, I’d just rough it up a bit and set it aside while I browned my potatoes.
Sometimes I’ll use the leftover potatoes, but if I’m serving hash as a breakfast dish I’ll cut a fresh red potato into a small dice and cook in oil. Once the potatoes are browned and done through, I’ll throw in an onion and cook until clear; some people will throw a mild pepper in too, but I don’t belong to that school. Then add the meat with your seasonings, which should be basic; salt and pepper, paprika and a little dry mustard. Anyone who tries to gussy up hash really needs to relax.
Stem, seed and devein small sweet peppers. Season inside with salt, pepper, paprika and granulated garlic, and then stuff with slices of smoked Swiss or Gouda cheese wrapped in thinly-sliced ham or smoked turkey. Place in a very hot oven (I put them in mini-muffin tins) until cheese is melted through. Serve hot as a nosh or with hefty pasta such as lasagna or cannoli.
My friend Dan oozes in concentration and understanding with ease from one damn complicated subject to the other—law and biology, for an example—and in a recent brief, shining moment of insight, his brow stroked by some muse on her fifth beer comes up with a notion of unadulterated genius: Scotch pickled eggs, a pickled egg wrapped in sausage and deep-fried. And no bitch, I don’t have the recipe yet.
Pasta salads seem to come and go, but they’re always here, and the best ones are robust, the pasta providing a springboard for any number of wonders. This recipe has enough and to spare, since the rich and textured binding will embrace many types of additions. Simple elbow macaroni makes a great salad because it’s fluffier than other hollow pasta, and you can’t beat it for economy and availability. The other ingredients are just as familiar, and the combination is exceptional as well as spectacular. The recipe is also easily doubled, tripled or whatnot. For an evening meal make it in the morning, and for lunch the night before, but mind you this dish doesn’t keep well at all, not more than a day or so, less if it’s handled a lot.
16 oz. large elbow macaroni, cooked
2 cups ham diced sautéed until lightly caramelized
1 cup each finely diced raw bell pepper, white onion (half green is great, too) and celery
1 cup finely-grated carrot
1/2 cup sliced-diced black bottled olives
6 egg yolks mashed
1 cup mayonnaise,
1 cup small raw broccoli florets
2 tbs. yellow and 1 tbs. spicy brown mustard
2 tbs. dill/sweet relish (there’s a difference of opinion concerning this ingredient, so take your pick; likewise with a tablespoon of granulated garlic, which we add when we’re making it for home, but we’ve found most people don’t like it, so “It doesn’t travel well.” A few dashes of hot sauce has a similar predicament.)
Shrimp usually come to my table with plenty of pepper—red, black and depending on the dish often white as well—but in the sodden, smothering heat of a Mississippi summer, a cooler alternative is refreshing. In Scandinavia, where fish and shellfish of all types are staves of life, shrimp is often seasoned with dill, usually in combination with horseradish. In Sweden, shrimp is boiled in a bouillon of water, vinegar, beer and sugar before saucing, but boiling in lightly salted water with lemons and bay leaves works just as well if—as I do—you really don’t feel like wasting a beer. Devein if you’re the squeamish sort, then serve in a simple sauce of one part mayonnaise to one part sour cream (or cream fraiche, if you happen to have some on hand…) with plenty of dill, a hint of horseradish and salt to taste. Capers and/or finely diced cornichons make a nice addition. You can throw in a little white pepper for a bit of bite, and serve over lettuce with onion, toasted rye (go whole hog and use pumpernickel) , boiled eggs (preferably pickled) and thinly–sliced cucumber (firm and fresh, not those bloated watery things you find in the grocery store). Lime wedges make a really pretty garnish, but lemons work, too.
You’ll find recipes similar to this throughout the coastal South. It’s used for most fish—stuffed flounder is a favorite along the central Gulf—as well as for shrimp, and by increasing the amount of seafood, it can be cooked in an au gratin as a stand-alone dish. Notice that the Cajun/Creole ‘trinity’ of peppers, onions and celery is used along with a mix of two breads. Minced cooked shrimp and/or oysters can be substituted for the crabmeat. This recipe makes about six cups of stuffing. Cooking times vary according to the seafood used, but brush while hot with melted butter and good sherry before serving. This is best made well beforehand, and it freezes beautifully.
2 cups cornbread crumbs
2 cups French bread crumbs
1 small finely minced white onion
1 small finely minced bell pepper
1/2 cup finely minced celery
1 cup minced cooked shrimp or lump crabmeat
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon Creole-style mustard
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and black pepper to taste
Rick Louvin is a “chawmer from New-awlens” and puts on more airs than a mountain range. He loves going to little urban supermarkets “to see what the Great Unwashed are consuming” and insists on dragging me to my little neighborhood store for systematic abuse.
After finding the produce aisle nothing more than a compost pile, his withering assessment of the floral department brought the guy in charge around the corner clicking his nails like a scorpion. Rick bought a rose and gave it to him, and after declaring every can in the store a ptomaine grenade, we hit the meat section. I was jittery because the butcher on duty was Charlie, who has the build of a Sumo wrestler but is one of the sweetest guys in the world, and he was stocking the discount cooler. After Rick giving a vivid (Rick knows every shade of red in the spectrum) pathological analysis of the pork, chicken and beef, we came to the discount section, and he grabbed a flat pack of cubed steak for two bucks and grinned. Big ole Charlie was right next to him, humming to himself and marking down hamburger. Rick slapped Charlie on the shoulder. “Hey! Is this round steak?” I tried to die three times.
“It surely is,” Charlie said with the most bountiful smile in the known universe. “We’ll tenderize anything you want, just pick it out.”
“Great!” Rick said. “Give me three pounds round. We’re gonna get some stuff in the deli, we’ll be back in a couple of minutes.” Charlie winked at me when we got the meat, and I think he was thanking me for the customer, but I’m not sure. Once out of the store, Rick said, “We’re going to make grillades. This is what my gammy uses. She breads it, fries it, makes a roux in that, throws in some garlic and onion, bell pepper and celery, diced tomato, cooks it down in a casserole in the oven, and she makes rice with it. Food of the gods and you’re cooking.”
“You never let up on me, do you, Rick? I’m gonna die in your traces.”
“You’re one lucky hoss, Jess.”
Within living memory was a time when ladies of a certain age and leisure would assemble on hot summer afternoons ostensibly to play bridge, but in fact these assemblies were for talking about anything they wanted and everyone who wasn’t there. The food served at such klatches was usually fussy and the sorts of things you associate with a ladies’ luncheon—tomato aspic springs to mind, as do “tea” sandwiches with nary a crust—and one of the standards was a stuffed tomato.
Nowadays when you mention a stuffed tomato, what springs to most people’s minds are baked stuffed tomatoes, which are in my opinion not a very good idea, since a tomato once baked is simply not going to hold up well at all, but a luscious, ripe summer tomato stuffed with a savory chicken salad—here with a chicken salad containing black olives, celery and boiled egg—is a wonderful nosh on a hot, muggy summer afternoon. Slice off the top quarter of the tomato, score the flesh, scoop it out and save it for a tossed salad, drain and dust the lining of the tomato with salt and pepper, stuff with tuna or chicken salad. Serve with pita wedges and pickles or stuffed olives.