Easy Chicken Enchiladas

Poach boneless breasts of chicken in lightly salted water until tender. Shred, add green chilies (with juice; about four ounces to two cups meat), juice of one lime juice and enough sour cream to bind. You can add a little grated jack cheese to this if you like. Season with equal parts cumin, chili powder and granulated garlic, salt to taste. Keep warm, roll in 6-in. flour heated tortillas brushed with corn oil. Top with a white queso made with corn oil roux and jack cheese (pepper jack is good) seasoned with the same spice mixture. Pintos and red rice are good with these as is fresh chunky guacamole.

Banana Pudding Cookies

Banana pudding is an iconic Southern summer dessert, and these cookies are a fun alternative for a family outing. For the best flavor, you must use ripe bananas that are soft, aromatic, and with a light freckling. The vanilla wafers should just be broken up into small pieces, not reduced to crumbs. Some people top these with whipped cream and a banana slice, but that’s just over the top, and it makes them soggy.

1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ripe banana mashed
1 package banana cream instant pudding mix
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup smashed vanilla wafers

Preheat oven to 350, and line baking pans with lightly oiled parchment paper. Combine flour and baking soda, then set aside. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly, add the banana, pudding mix, and eggs. Mix until smooth and slowly stir in the dry ingredients, then blend in the chips and wafers. Use about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Bake until lightly browned, about ten minutes. Cool before transferring to a rack.

Basic Beer Bread

This recipe is breathtakingly fundamental, and the results are spectacular. The bread is light, even-textured, slightly sour, fragrant, and a bit crumbly with a nice crust. Lightly mix three cups of self-rising flour, two tablespoons of sugar and a 12-ounce can of beer (I recommend a light Pilsner, but you can experiment with any beer you like). The dough should be a little lumpy and sticky. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 in a pre-heated oven for 90 minutes. Brush with melted butter while warm.

 

Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Regionalism is kaput. If I speak of chicken and dumplings as a Southern American dish, some Southern foodways pundit—you can’t toss a rock without hitting one, and the bigger the rock the better—will tell me it’s served in dim sum by expatriated Alabamans living in Hong Kong. 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 because it’s so simple and practical. A friend from Texas—east Texas, mind you—now living in Maine said that their neighbors considered pound cake a particularly Southern recipe. Apparently, what I consider simple and practical Mainers think is broke and stupid. Balderdash; Americans have made this cake well before Burr shot Hamilton, so it all boils down to perspective if not quibbling over terms. This recipe and variations are luxurious with fruit, with ice cream a mortal sin.

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
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.

A Cherry Coke

Unless you have a home bar and know people who drink Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or Tom Collins(es), it’s unlikely that you’re going to have any maraschino cherries on hand. Oh, you’ll buy a jar during the holidays or if you’re having a kid’s birthday party, but otherwise maraschinos aren’t a standard kitchen item at all. On the other hand, bartenders have been stocking maraschino cherries next to the stuffed olives since before Prohibition, and in their heyday soda jerks routinely placed them atop sundaes and in sodas, most notably Coca-Cola. In 1985 they came out with Coca-Cola Cherry, but it’s wretched.

Don’t be sloppy and just throw a cherry in an iced Coke; that’s just trashy. First and foremost, you should use Coke from a glass bottle. You should also use crushed ice, the compelling reason for this being that you’re going to mix the ice with chopped (unstemmed) cherries to eat with a spoon after you’ve finished the soda. Dribble some of the cherry syrup over the ice before you pour in the Coca-Cola, and if you don’t serve it with a soda straw you’re going to hell sure as Sunday.

Cocktail Melon

For each quart cubed melon, add one cup sliced strawberries or pineapple, lime juice to taste), 12 ounces light rum, 1 tablespoon sugar and a light sprinkling of salt. Stir and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. No bridal luncheon should be without these.

Tomatoes Before the Bench

That the tomato came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court underscores its vital importance not only as a culinary staple and a cultural icon, but also as a commodity. This 19th century decision defines the status of the tomato in the American legal system, a ruling that brings the court at odds with science, but in concord with commerce.

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit, a berry. In 1887, tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits. Some smart lawyer (we find occasional evidence of these fabled creatures) representing commercial interests and Mother Nature Herself filed a case for the tomato as a fruit.

Alas, on May 10, 1893, in Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled–unanimously–that based use and popular perception, under customs regulations the tomato is a vegetable. The holding applies only to the legal interpretation; the justices affirmed the court’s limitations by not purporting to reclassify the tomato for other purposes.

Angels in the Saddle

We all know people who simply will not listen to argument, who will not take “no” for an answer, and my buddy Dale Harper is one of them. I love him dearly, but his opinions are unshakable, particularly when it comes to food. Dale has been cooking all his life, knows food, knows people, and will tell you in a heartbeat what will fly and what won’t. So when I told him a dish with oysters and bacon would go over like a lead zeppelin, he just laughed, patted me on the top of my head as if I were an infant and poured me another beer, which of course obliged me to listen.

“Jesse, Jesse, Jesse …” he said, shaking a jaw that boasts a red beard longer than my forearm. “Your problem is you do not think! What you have are two ingredients that are simply made for one another! Consider the oyster, a creature of the seas, and while delicious on its own, is lacking in that one essential ingredient that is dear to the palates of us Homo sapiens.”

“You’re calling me “sapiens” when you just said I can’t think?”

“Be hush,” he said, thrusting his beard forward in a gesture of authority. “Of course you think, but you don’t think enough. You have to consider things in many lights and from many angles, in this case an examination of contrasts. The oyster lacks fat!” With that he plunged his forefinger onto the bar and then pointed it at me in accentuation, a superfluous gesture, since his beard was already putting my eyes out.

That’s how Dale brushed away my conviction that angels on horseback is one of those Wayback recipes like rumaki that’s been consigned to the cholesterol woodshed. Upon some less-than-sober reflection, I thought, “Why not?” Angels on horseback have been around for a very long time, and the recipe is simple: wrap oysters seasoned with black pepper or cayenne in bacon (trim it as you like), skewer and broil (I don’t recommend grilling) until bacon is thoroughly cooked. Bring the bacon to room temperature before wrapping the oysters, which you should pat dry before skewering. Turn once for crisping. Don’t use toothpicks, but if you do soak them in water to minimize scorching.

Smoked Oyster Spread

Soften cream cheese, season with ground black pepper and blend with an equal amount of drained, minced smoked oysters. Green onions, finely chopped black olives or mild peppers are options. I always add about a tablespoon or so of the liquid from the can to kick up the smokiness. Flavor with horseradish, lemon, and cayenne; no salt! Mix until smooth. For a dip, thin with mayo and/or sour cream.

 

NOLA Barbecued Shrimp

You’ll find no simpler recipe for shrimp from the Crescent City and none with more pungency. Shrimp, butter and pepper—black pepper; lots of it mind you, and the freshest grind you can get—are the only ingredients; any additions will ruin it. Use heads-on shrimp, 16-20 count, nothing smaller. I’m not saying you can’t make this dish with peeled shrimp of a smaller count, but I’d die first and go to hell shortly thereafter if I did. This should be obvious to most people.

Pat shrimp dry and place in the bottom of a shallow baking dish, skillet or casserole. Drizzle with melted butter—one stick to one pound of shrimp—and top with generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. Place on the highest rack in your hottest oven for about 10 minutes.