Strawberry Chard Salad with Honey Poppyseed Dressing

Though like many gardeners in the Deep South I grow leaf vegetables and greens (the latter distinguished as pot vegetables) during our mild winters as much for their beauty as for their taste—the lemon-yellow spikes of bolting mustard and collard provide luminous company for spring dandelions and daffodils in this part of the world—Swiss chard, despite its bold greens and reds, rarely finds a space on the street corner, so I was delighted when my buddy D.J. Baker brought me two beautiful bunches of chard this past weekend.

“Let me know what you do with them,” he said.

Late March and early April is strawberry season here, and my salad greens are in their prime, so I took D.J.’s chard, mixed them with spinach, curly lettuce and bok choy, topped them with sliced Louisiana strawberries. The dressing is a vinegar and oil emulsion, a half cup each, with something like a quarter cup of honey, a teaspoon of dry mustard, a tablespoon of poppy seeds and salt to taste. Now, you’re going to have to use either a whip and a lot of elbow or a mixer (I can’t recommend a blender for such a small amount) because the seeds will clump. I added a dollop of red wine for color.

Hot and Sour Fried Cabbage with Bacon

Fry bacon until crisp, remove, drain and slice into small pieces. Chop or shred cabbage finely. Heat pan drippings, add cabbage and bacon with more oil (vegetable) as needed. Stir vigorously until cabbage is coated and just tender. Add hot pepper vinegar or hot sauce, ground black pepper and salt to taste. Finely sliced sweet onions–cooked or raw–are always a welcome option.

 

Valediction of the Confederate Monument at the University of Mississippi

The student government has voted unanimously to take me down, and to those good young persons, I will say thank you with all my heart. For a hundred and thirteen years, I have stood my post and watched down University Avenue without complaint. Now I am weary. The century has grown shrill, crowded, oversized, jagged with foolish contention, and I am ready to join my comrades in the cemetery, where I pray I will be left in peace at last.

Before I go, however, I would offer some thoughts for contemplation.

To the few who still feel kindly toward me, I urge you to accept the inevitability of my passing. Every age must give up its artifacts soon or late; those who surrender them must mourn, and you are chosen. Honor your ancestors, but remember that the past does not belong to you; it is the province only of those who lived it, and you would do well not to claim for yourselves that which you have not earned.

To the good young persons, be aware you are making the world you will have to live in. Take care you do not mistake smug self-righteousness for moral courage (anyone can remove a statue–it is no great victory). Keep in mind that history, unlike morality, has no absolutes; a person who views the past with no appreciation of its ambiguity is not only ignorant, but vain.

Finally, there can be no real inclusiveness. Someone always gets left out, and one day it will be you. When that day comes, what monuments will you have to mourn? Or, in your eagerness to embrace an Eternal Present, will you leave no monuments at all?

Farewell, then. I will go now and stand watch over the dead, who care nothing for the opinions of the living. Neither do they demand anything of you, save to be left alone. Deo Vindice.

Recorded by Howard Bahr,
University of Mississippi Class of 1976

Photo: Joshua House

 

The Velvet Wok

Like many of you, I own a wok—actually I have two—and I enjoy Asian cuisine, particular the many cuisines of China, but for as long as I have been cooking Chinese dishes, I’ve never been able to replicate at home the tenderness of meats I’ve found in good Chinese restaurants. Of course I’ve tried tricks like shaving the beef and marinating the chicken for hours, but the meat always seemed chewy.

Now I know why. It’s a simple technique, and while in these hurly-burly times it may be considered a little time-consuming (a half-hour or so), it’s worth it, particularly if you’ve gone to the trouble of slicing and dicing the meats and vegetables and assembling the other ingredients. The technique is called “velveting”, which I’m given to understand is a (very) rough translation of the Mandarin word/phrase for the process, which involves coating the meat (seafoods as well) with a slurry of cornstarch, egg white and soy or rice vinegar. Not much is needed, 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of corn starch to one egg white, and enough vinegar or soy to make a thin paste. Coat your meat with this mixture (add a little salt if you use rice vinegar; you can use white vinegar, but I wouldn’t recommend apple: it’s just counter-cultural). Set this mixture aside for that half-hour, then toss it into a heated oiled wok (or whatever) and stir until the meat has separated and cooked through. Remove and set aside, cook your other ingredients (garlic FIRST!) and add your velvet meat last, mixing it in well before serving.

This works VERY well with the cheap cuts of beef I use. Mind you, I still cool beef and chicken to near freezing and slice as thinly as I can before the velveting, but it does make a dramatic difference, especially with beef, pork and shrimp.

Gâteau des Rois Provençal

Sure, go ahead and buy one of those puffed-up cardboard glue-filled dyed-and-painted THINGS sold as king cakes. Hell, you’re just going to get drunk and (try to) get laid, and who eats the damn thing anyway, right? But if you were properly inspired by the carnaval spirit of Shrovetide, then you would find fuller satisfaction in serving a work of your own hands, a creation invested with your love and care, the mirror in a minor way of the sacrifice around which the season is arraigned.

Finding a recipe for a Provençal Twelfth Night couronne briochée (crown brioche) was surprisingly problematic, and here is where I thank my friends the Bucklers for their cogent translation. The recipe may seem daunting at first, but it’s nothing more than a simple light bread, sweet-“ish” and rich with a dense texture, and as with all basic breads the emphasis is on procedure rather than ingredients.

Let me encourage you to make a test version some time before you plan to serve the cake to ensure a more perfect presentation. Also, instead of a plastic baby or some such nonsense, make the crowning ‘prize’ a piece of dried fruit—I use an apricot—and for goodness sakes just use a simple glaze such as a marmalade or a syrup—fig preserves are wonderful—with candied fruit for a topping instead of glitter and spray paint. Let the good times roll!

2 cups of well-sifted flour
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
Zest from 1/2 orange
1 egg
2/3 stick softened butter
1/4 cup warm orange flower water (optional) or water

Put the water and orange flower water into a bowl, add the yeast, stir until dissolved and set it to the side to bloom. In another bowl, whisk the egg with a fork. Pour the flour into a mixer bowl, making a well in the middle. Add the sugar, orange zest, the water/yeast mixture as well as the beaten egg into the well. Mix on low, adding the butter in pats and continue to mix for 5 minutes alternating between low and high speed. Scrape the dough—it should be very sticky—into a large oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave it to rise for 2 hours (no more than 3 or a crust will form). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, dust lightly with flour and turn the dough out on this surface. Then sprinkling with more flour as needed to make the dough manageable, re-form the ball on the baking sheet and push your thumbs in the middle of the ball, all the way down to the baking sheet to form a crown. Turn the dough to widen hole, then cover with a cloth and let rise for another hour and a half or thereabouts. (At this point, you can also refrigerate the covered dough overnight and bringing it to room temperature before baking in the morning.) The finished dough only takes 15-20 minutes to bake in a hot (400) oven until golden brown. Glaze, decorate and enjoy!

 

Hymn to Priapus

Cupped, cradled, ADORED—everything in one stride,
There, where you crease your form, a presence
Coiled, cuffed, MOORED—something of space, a pride
Of lions, three in hand, a rope, eternity, essence.

How once I BURNED to find, to feel to hold,
To know carnality—rampant, quaking lust—
But what where who TURNED the WHY, no boldness
Came to set me free, to make me see my fire was just.

Now throbbing in my THROAT I thrust in need
My tongue around the glans seeks musky cream
Priapus intactus! BLOAT my mouth with satyr’s seed,
Dripping on my beard, a faun am I to dream.

So now the What the Who the WHY have fled,
Make MY tongue the temple for your head.

 

Crab Tchoupitoulas

This recipe is a variation of a dish served at Pere Antoine Restaurant on the corner of Royal Street and St. Ann in the Vieux Carré, where mushroom caps are stuffed with the creamed spinach-mushroom-crab mixture then breaded and deep-fried. Here the dish is served en casserole, with a more substantial emphasis on the crab, making it much less time-consuming and more suitable for a buffet. In formal culinary parlance, this would likely be called a crab Florentine bon femme but Pere Antoine calls it Tchoupitoulas after a tribe of Native Americans who settled in the area during their Pre-Columbian wanderings along the Mississippi River.

Sauté a half pound of fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced, a 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, drained (squeeze it!), a half pound lump crab meat (picked through), a few ounces of finely julienned fresh sweet red pepper, a few tablespoons of grated onion and a finely minced clove of garlic in butter. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Make a rich white sauce with a blond roux of two tablespoons butter, three of plain flour, a cup of whole cream and a cup of whole milk. Add spinach and crab mixture to sauce along with a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or another hard-sharp cheese. You can add a ground pepper of your choice (I recommend white) for a little zip, and as with all seafood, lemon or lime is always a welcome accent. Place in a very hot oven until browned and bubbling. Serve with well-buttered toast. This dish can be made up to three days before and frozen until the occasion.

Rock Cornish Road Kill

Spatchcocked is a variant of spitcocked, a term used for grilled split eel. It’s similar to the term butterfly, though spatchcock refers only to fowl, whereas butterflying typically applies to boneless cuts (meat, poultry, fish and so on). Spatchcocked birds cook up well with crisp skin and juicy meat, but there’s always some smart ass who’s going to tell you it looks like that chicken didn’t make it across the road.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Rinse hen, pat dry, remove wing tips and backbone with shears or a knife then turn the hen breast side up, open it up like a book and then whack it a time or two with the heel of your hand (you can use your fist if you like) to crack the breastbone and flatten it out. Tuck the wings under the thighs. Oil the hen, season with salt and pepper. Place rosemary, garlic and whatever other herbs you might like in the bottom of the skillet (you can use any rimmed backing container) and cook until browned.

Olive Relish for Beginners

Olive relish in its most basic incarnation is chopped olives with oil, so most people can make it on the fly; I’d be wary of anyone who doesn’t have one of those little upright jars of green pimento olives biding time somewhere in their refrigerator, and while any vegetable oil will do in a pinch, a robust olive is optimal. The more kinds of olives the better, chopped onion and parsley are classic inclusions as are—in judicious measure, never exceeding the olive majority—artichoke hearts, pickled peppers (particularly cherries), okra or tomato (but not cucumbers, in my less-than modest opinion). You shouldn’t need to add any salt at all, and a clove of finely-minced garlic mashed with ground peppercorns will give it a good kick.