Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 92.

Number 92
Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger


            If you ever sit down and read a few pages of John T. Edge’s excellent book, Hamburgers & Fries, an American Story, I’m willing to bet that by the time you finish the preface, you’ll be on the prowl for a burger. I was. After reading about hamburgers stuffed with short ribs, or onions, or bacon, or smoked Gouda cheese—after he described burgers topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms—I was more than a little burger crazy. I jumped in my car and drove until I came to the first hamburger joint I could find. I got out, and ordered whatever they were serving. I wasn’t going to be particular. I just needed a hamburger. Any hamburger—as long as it was a mound of ground beef—would do. After rewarding myself for reading the first seven pages of a book, I returned home.
            I believe I thought that if I stuffed myself with ground beef, the rest of the book would have no effect upon me. I was wrong. I do love hamburgers—there are several, for instance, in my top 100 meals—and the more I read, the more I wanted to try every recipe John put in his book. Little did I know what was coming. On page 47 Mr. Edge begins writing about cheese burgers. Well, I cannot eat a hamburger without cheese. Then he says, on the very next page: “. . . J.C. Reynolds, who operated the Dairy Bar in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1932 to 1984, is the man who popularized the pimiento burger.” A pimiento burger? I had lived some sixty years at that point, and never, ever, had I heard of a pimiento burger. How could such a thing have come to pass, and I hadn’t heard about it. I simply love pimiento cheese, and for years had made my own, eating home-made pimiento-cheese sandwiches three or four times a month. But when it came to hamburgers, I was still topping them with plain old medium cheddar cheese.
            Hell. By the time John T. Edge got to page 51, and mentioned all the joints in Columbia, South Carolina that served pimiento-cheese burgers—“Maurice’s Piggy Park. The Salty Nut. Edisto Market. Rockaway’s. Palmetto Sandwich Shop. Harper’s. The Mousetrap. What A Burger. And, of course, Eddie’s”—I was going insane. I had to have a genuine pimiento-cheese burger. I hopped in my car and drove straight through to Columbia, South Carolina, where I dragged my younger sister from her Internal Medicine doctor’s office, and accused her of treating me like a red-headed stepbrother all these years. “Why?” I asked. “Why have you never even mentioned getting a pimiento-cheese burger when I was in town?” Her answer was, “Because you never said you wanted one.”
Here's a shot of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. Don't let the size of the large serving plate fool you. That's one big hamburger. 


            You might think I’m kidding about driving to Columbia just for a pimiento-cheese burger, and I am, but only partly. I did go visit my sister about a month later. She now lives outside Columbus, in Lexington, and I did speak those exact words to her. She and my brother-in-law apologized. They didn’t realize that I’d never had one of Columbia’s famous pimiento-cheese burgers. They were so ubiquitous, my sister and brother-in-law never considered the fact that the rest of us, we non-Columbians, might be living like savages, never having the good fortune of eating a pimiento-cheese burger. For lunch, the same day I arrived, we all packed in two cars and went to Rockaway's, where I ate my first pimiento-cheese burger. It was heavenly. Nowadays, every time my wife and I visit my sister and brother-in-law, we go to Rockaway's and we all have a pimiento-cheese burger. The problem is, I cannot live on one or two pimiento-cheese burgers a year. I require more. Many more.
            Thus, I have conjured up my own recipe for the tasty, calorie-laden sandwiches. Mr. Edge gives a recipe, too, on page 54. He calls them P C Burgers. I’ve tried his recipe, and it’s good. My own recipe, however, is spectacular. I call it the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger because I wanted to make them one day and didn’t have any pimientos, usually a staple at my house. I did, however, have a jar of Mt. Olive Roasted Red Peppers. I tried them. Zowieee! Talk about making a great sandwich better—these peppers did the trick. Here’s the recipe. I advise you make one as soon as possible, or you might, like me, feel the urge to drive to South Carolina and order one already made. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing just that. But, c'mon—save yourself some money.

Ingredients:
½ jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, sliced and chopped. I use about one and a-half peppers.

One handful—about a cup’s worth or more—of shredded, medium cheddar cheese (or mild, if that’s all you have.)

¼ cup good mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s).

½ teaspoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.

1/8 teaspoon of canned chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce (I keep a bag of these in the freezer and they last a year.) Don’t use too much, unless you really like hot-
flavored foods. I find that as I get older, I still yearn for the taste of hot foods, but
can’t take the heat, so I use less than I did as a young man.

Mix ingredients well—especially if you added chilpotle peppers. Refrigerate or, if you are as antsy as me and already have your burgers ready—begin the countdown. I no longer grill my burgers for this delicacy. I fry them slowly in sesame oil in a cast-iron frying pan on the stove top, with slices of onion where I can work them in the pan. I cook them eight minutes per side. I drain them well and toast a whole-wheat hamburger bun. On the top bun I add mayo, on the bottom bun I add a little mayo and Mister Mustard Original Hot mustard, place the burger on the bottom bun, add as many fried onions as you like, and pile the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento Cheese on top. I microwave the cheese-topped burger for 20 seconds to melt the cheese, put the top bun on, and grab a good handful of napkins. Now I can start to slow down and enjoy my feast. I sit and dig in. It takes both hands, by the way. And several napkins. But, believe me, it’s worth it. Let me reiterate—zowieee!

Here are some shots of a recent construction of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. 


Here's the bowl of mixed ingredients, awaiting the burgers.


Here's the burger with fried onions piled on.


The cheese has been melted. Almost ready.



 Ta-da! Put the bun on top and dig in. Don't forget--two hands and lots of napkins. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 93 Catfish Soup (Yum!)

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 93
Catfish Soup (Yum!)

            I lied. Yep. Right there in the title is a big, fat lie. I’ve never made catfish soup, you see—I use cod. But in order to make this a “Mostly Southern” recipe, I lied and called it Catfish Soup. The actual name is simply, “Fish Soup.” There’s nothing wrong, however, if you prefer to use catfish in this recipe. It would probably taste even better than with cod. I use cod because of the health benefits of cold-water-salt-water fish, and because the fillets are boneless. I’m rather particular about using certain items when I cook for “health benefits.” For instance, I won’t prepare catfish at home, but will eat entire platefuls if I go out to eat, and the entrée is fried catfish. We have a great seafood buffet restaurant nearby, and my wife and I go once a year. I eat all the fried catfish, oysters, clams, and shrimp I can stuff down. I eat so much, I won’t want any more fried fish for a year. I’ve always found it quaint that in the South—in Alabama, anyway—we refer to catfish as “seafood.” The main dish at every “seafood” restaurant around here is fried catfish. I guess it’s similar to when we use the term “barbecue.” We don’t add the word “pork,” to it, because everyone here knows it means “barbecued pig product.” Everyone except for a few Texans, who pride themselves by being different from the rest of us Southerners by meaning “beef” when they say “barbecue.”
            But I’m getting off track. Making fun of Texans is fun, but this is supposed to be about Fish Soup. I wonder, though—when a Texan says “fish soup,” does he mean “beef-tongue soup?” Oh, well. Here’s my recipe, and I must explain the reason I present it at Number 93. I’d prefer placing it much higher, closer to twenty-two, or twenty-three, but cannot. My family won’t allow it. They don’t even want Fish Soup in the top 100, but some things cannot be left undone, and this is one of them.
The two chores of raising children and cooking meals are not only tied together out of necessity, they are similar in other ways, as well. You may not consider either one a chore, of course, but I’ve never met a man or a woman who didn’t consider feeding children “properly” to be anything other than a chore. By “properly,” I mean feeding them “healthy” meals.
Sure, anyone can order pizza to be delivered, or pick up fried chicken, hamburgers, or mass-produced tacos. These meals, to use the term loosely, are not what I mean when I say “feed children properly.” Getting kids to eat pizza, burgers, or tacos is no chore at all. Nor are these foods considered healthy for our children. My fish soup, on the other hand, is outstandingly healthy. And my kids—yours, too, I’ll bet—would all starve before they’d eat fish soup. This recipe, therefore, is not for your children. It’s for you. Do not even attempt to entice a child to eat it. Tell them that some things are not meant for them. They can’t watch R-rated movies, drink the same beverages you drink, wake up to a cup of hot coffee, and they damned-well can’t have any of your fish soup. Make them eat a greasy taco while you sip fish soup, going “ahh” and “ooh” every now and then, with your eyes closed, as you imagine yourself on a tropical isle, ladling exotic flavors from the sea down your throat.  Who knows? Maybe the little rascals will sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and steal a mug or two.
            I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been able to imagine how wonderful a really good fish soup would taste. I felt it would be a combination of clam chowder and oyster stew, two of my favorite meals. My problem is that over a period of twenty years, I never came across a recipe for plain old fish soup that came anywhere close to these dishes. My other problem was that I used to religiously follow the recipes I found, rather than experiment, or modify them. I was certain I’d find a recipe—one that was definitive—that I loved. Because of my bullheadedness, my children suffered. I prepared meal after meal of quite-awful fish soup.
Some of us men are lucky in life. We have wives who’ll always come to our rescue, who’ll stand beside us as we attempt to raise our kids together, no matter what we do wrong. We lucky men, though few, have an ally, a friend, a bulwark, one who comes to our aid when the children refuse to do as they’re told. Most of the time I am among these lucky, most fortunate of men. But not when I bring a huge, steaming bowl of fish soup to the dinner table.
My helpmate, my wife who promised to always adore me, crossed over to the other side and joined the children the first time I served up fish soup. Hey—I know it was awful tasting, but great cooks have to experiment, and who better to experiment on than one’s own family? Well, to make a long story short, we ordered lots of pizza back in the days when I was experimenting with my fish soup. The children, always themselves, would see and smell a big pot of fish soup on the stove and ask what we were having for supper. I’d say “fish soup,” and they’d jump up and down with joy, shouting, “Yay—it’s pizza night!”
Several years ago, after all the children had finally moved out (and, yes, we’ve had the same experience most Americans have had—entire batches of the children, with their own children, have moved in from time to time, out of economic necessity), I finally saw the error of my ways. I was never going to find a clear-cut recipe for fish soup that was like the one I had in my mind. I was leafing through some magazines and came across three recipes for fish soup, each different, and yet each similar in some respects. I decided to take only the parts of each recipe I knew I would like, add some Tony Chachere’s, and see what happened. What happened was a “Eureka!” moment. I ended up with two fish soup recipes, both of which I loved. I tried them immediately, and both were wonderful. The only problem was that my wife, inured from many years of not-so-tasty experimental fish soup, would not even try them. She still won’t. “Not for me, thanks,” is all she’ll say. I ruined her—or, as we say around here, “ruint her”—by fixing too many distasteful fish soups. Oh, well. Nowadays, when I fix fish soup, I let my wife eat leftovers. Or she orders a pizza. Not me. I place the bowl of steaming vegetables and sea creatures on the table, sit, and take in the wonderful aroma. I close my eyes, dreaming of tropical paradises, and feel blessed that there aren’t any complaining children present whom I need to scold because they aren’t eating the healthy meal I prepared. I plunge my spoon into the soup and go “ooh” and “ahh.” I take my time and enjoy every sip of my wonderful creation. It took me close to twenty years to find this soup. Now I want to enjoy it for another twenty.

Fish Soup Number 1.
Tomato-based Recipe.

Ingredients:

4 tbs. olive oil
3-5 ripe bell or banana peppers, chopped (red or yellow, not green)
2 onions, chopped.
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar of pimientos (optional), chopped
1 can green chiles (optional) chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 bottles (8 oz. each) clam juice
1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 can (11.5 oz.) V8
Lg. can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1-3 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole
1 tbs. sugar
1-2 pounds raw, shelled shrimp
1-2 lbs. cod fillets, cut into one-inch chunks (or catfish)
1 bag frozen scallops
2 packages (10 oz. each) chopped or leaf, frozen spinach
1-2 heads broccoli, chopped (optional)
1 celery root, chopped (optional)
1-3 cups water, as needed

Fish Soup Number 2
Cream-based Recipe

Follow the ingredients for Tomato-based with these exceptions and additions:

Omit:
Crushed tomatoes and V8
Add:
 1 can (10 ¾  oz.) cream-of-celery soup
1 soup-can of milk
1 soup-can of cream
1 large or two medium potatoes, chopped (leave the skin on)

Directions (for both):

Heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the fresh vegetables (the onions, garlic, peppers, potatoes, carrots, celery root, etc., depending on which recipe you are using, and which vegetables. Don’t add the canned vegetables at this time.). Sauté for five minutes.
Add all other ingredients except shrimp and scallops. Cook over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Don’t cover with lid. The soup should have a gentle roll as it slowly boils, sending sweet scents throughout the kitchen.
Order a pizza for your wife and children.
Add shrimp and scallops. Cook another 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes (on the burner is okay).
Toss all scallops that didn’t open.
As soon as pizza is delivered and paid for, suggest that the kids and your wife watch TV while they eat. Go to soup pot and ladle some soup into a sturdy bowl. Put bowl on a plate, grab a big, man-sized soup spoon, a heavy-duty napkin, and take all to table. Sit. Relax. Place both your arms on the table—no one’s watching, man. No need for Miss Manners tonight. Be yourself for a change. Smell the aroma. Close your eyes. Close out the sound of the TV. Take the first sip. Burp if you feel the need. Yep—you’re there—you’re on the tropical isle. Go on, admit it. This is the best damn soup you ever ate. Even if you have to eat it alone.


Earl.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 94


Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas Dip

            I live in Alabama, and though I wasn’t born here and didn’t even move here until I was in my late thirties, I have come to be All-Things-Alabamian. For those who don’t know, we attach miracle-like attributes to many of our foodstuffs here. Black-Eyed peas, for instance, are thought to bring good luck throughout the South, especially when served on New Year’s Day. Well, who needs good luck then? Good luck is most appreciated when it matters most, and when it matters most here is now—the days following Thanksgiving.
You see, we are very different from the rest of you. For instance, the holiday just passed, the one y’all call Thanksgiving, is known here as Turkey Day. It’s part of a pantheon of Holidays, or—as we prefer, using the words the way they were first spoken—The Holy Days. Each one of The Holy Days, also called the Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse because of the way every Alabamian will be talking in 48 hours, has its own name.
The Holy Days begin on Thursday with Turkey Day. Though called Thanksgiving Day throughout most of the Union, we put off our title of Thanksgiving until Sunday. Turkey Day is so named because most of the people in the state dine on turkey this day, and because the Ritual Name-Calling begins. Here’s a cleaned-up version of one of the many phrases used. “Your &%$# quarterback‘s so #^@%$# dumb he raises his $#@& face to the heavens when it’s raining—like a $#%@?’ turkey!” It must be added here that the author believes that when the young quarterback lifts his head up to the heavens, as all of them seem to do, the boy is actually praying. He’s not trying to drink the rainwater as real turkeys do. Comparing people to turkeys is a scientific specialty in Alabama. Farm-raised turkeys, for instance, are not considered real smart. If one is hunting a wild turkey, though, the fowl is considered one of the wiliest, most intelligent creatures on earth. Turkey hunting and turkey farming are big deals here. I would say the people of Alabama know more about the habits and customs of turkeys than the residents of all the other states put together, and many of us will even act like turkeys over the next few days. The quarterbacks, however, do not. Why farm-raised turkeys and wild turkeys are so different in character, I have not yet figured out. Perhaps they are like convicts. A convict in jail is considered stupid, but if a sheriff is hunting one down who is wild and free, the convict is considered wily and dangerous. But that’s something we’ll have to take up another time. Back to the Holy Days.
Following Turkey Day is Great Friday, also called the Day of Rest, because like the “rest” of the nation, most of us go shopping. Unlike those shoppers, though, we buy stuff to get us through the next Holy Day—the Big One—Game Day. My personal shopping list includes dip ingredients, chips, and plenty of beer. I’d say my fellow Alabamians have pretty much the same list as me.
After Great Friday is the Holiest Day of all—Game Day—the Day our two largest, greatest, Most Holy religious organizations go head-to-head in an effort to see which one will claim the Highest Denomination prize, an award that lasts only one year, though it often seems like a lifetime to half of us. There may be religious freedom in the rest of the United States, but not here. When one crosses the Alabama state line with the intention of living here, he or she must make a decision on which Most Holy religious organization to join. For native Alabamians, this decision is expected to be made before one’s thirteenth birthday, and one puts off this decision at the risk of being ridiculed, or, in some cases, tarred-and-feathered. History and historical mannerisms are important to Alabamians.
After Game Day, a day that sometimes seems to last far longer than it actually does, comes Sunday. Sunday is a day when many people throughout the rest of the nation take time out to slow down and relax. Not here. In Alabama this is a Holy Day that’s just as important as the other three Holidays—this is the true Thanksgiving Day, also called Gloat Day. Approximately half of the people throughout the state, even ones who haven’t been to church in months, will suddenly show up in our cathedrals wearing ties displaying the colors of their chosen religion—either red and white or orange and blue. Gloat Day, also known as We Have the Right to Look Down on You Day, is probably our favorite Holy Day of all. Our myths, jokes, and about half of all the words we’ll speak in the next 365 days, will be related to what happened on Game Day. We’ll talk about the mystic Coach Who-Walked-on-Water, the Coach who uttered, “Punt-Bama-Punt,” and the Coach who sat at the right side of the Holy Father and pleaded, “Let Bo Roll Right.” We’ll place our hand over the imprint of the High Priest Joe Namath’s hand and wonder how any mortal could hope to have such a huge finger spread; and we’ll praise the Holy Duo of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley, and wonder what Great Sin they committed to cause them to lose the Great Game of ‘71. But most of all, we’ll worship at the feet of the New Chosen One—the Coach Who Wins on Game Day. The other one—the Great Loser—The Great Turkey—will wear sackcloth, shave his head, and be paraded down the streets in chains to the chopping block. He deserves nothing less.
Thus, knowing the power of Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas, and wanting to do everything within my ability to help my own religion, I will begin the ritual. Today I will make “Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas” and stuff myself withthem. A word to the wise: if you live in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina, etc.—your religion may be involved in an upcoming, all-consuming, intra-state battle, too. Please make and eat some of this miracle food. It may not help your team, but it’s actually good for you.

Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas Dip

Ingredients:

1-2 tbs. canola oil
1 lb. ground sausage (I prefer Jimmy Dean’s Hot. Any good bulk sausage will
            do.)
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cans (15.5 oz.) black-eyed peas (I prefer Bush’s Best.) Sometimes I drain
            them, but I usually add them liquid and all. Empty one can into a bowl.
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1-2 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 tbs. chili powder
1-4 bags chips (I prefer Fritos Scoops!)

In a large frying pan or medium pot, heat oil, adding sausage, onion, and garlic. Cook until done. Pour off grease into empty pea can for responsible disposal. Please don’t pour it down the sink.
Add tomatoes, spices, and all the peas. Lower heat and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When cooled slightly, pour what you need into a bowl, dip a chip, and pray for a win.

And I cannot leave without some final words—some shout-outs for some of the sects of my religion in their rivalries in other parts of the South on Game Day.

My religion requires it.

I apologize ahead of time if I anger half of the Deep South. Please remember,
“It’s better to get mad than to get even.”

Go, Gamecocks!
Beat ‘em, Dawgs!
Whip ‘em, Blue Devils!
Roll ‘Noles!
Stick it to ‘em, Bulldogs!

But most of all:
WAR-DAMN-EAGLE!!!!!


Earl Fisher. From his blog 500opinions.blogspot.com

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 95 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time

Fantastic Meals. Number 95 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 95

A-Plus Soup

            If you were to ask me if I considered myself a soup lover, I would tell you “No” without even thinking about it. Isn’t it strange how I can tell a lie so easily; how I can fool myself into thinking things about the way I act that have no bearing on reality? I mean—I must be the Grand Marshall of Liars, for why else would I tell people—those both close to me and strangers—that I detest soups, stews, and their ilk? All one has to do to prove I'm a liar is take a peek at my final list of Top 100 Meals and Side Dishes. Not only are sixteen of the meals soups or stews, my Number One is a stew. In fact, the Top three out of five are soups or stews. I am living a lie. And, worse, I’ve lived this lie about soups my entire life.
            A case in point.
            When Linda and I married, about 25 years ago, we both had two children, and cooking meals was going to be a chore for someone in our new family—a big one. Well, like most men, I was not eager to take on this chore. It would interrupt my down time after work, my beer time, my watch-the-news-and-get-angry time. Plus, I’d been cooking meals for myself and my two sons for several years, and knew well the pitfalls of being the Head Family Chef. No matter what the Head Chef prepared, there would always be at least one in the family who detested it. And it was a known Law of Families, that if the Chef tried to put together a so-called Healthy Meal, all would detest it—perhaps even the Chef, himself.
            Linda, anxious to be the Best Mother and Homemaker she could, even though she had a more-than-full-time-job as a teacher, was crazy enough to volunteer as our Head Chef. Hell. I let her. Sure, I enjoyed cooking; in fact, I used my cooking skills as a way to woo her into marriage. A single mom with two kids who doesn’t have to cook every night because the guy she’s dating does it for her once or twice a week is an easy mark. Pay attention, all you guys out there looking for a wife.
            So . . . we anointed Linda as the family’s Head Cook. And now things became a bit sticky-wickity, to borrow and corrupt an Englishman’s phraseology. We had stews. Mostly, I think, beef stews. Looking back, it seemed as if all we ever had were beef stews—beef stews and cornbread; for my new wife was a cornbread lover, and her former husband was a cornbread lover, too. So, naturally, Linda expected all Southern Men to love cornbread. After what seemed like several weeks of endless stews and cornbread, I could take no more. I told Linda I didn’t really like cornbread—I preferred rolls, and didn’t really want rolls more than once or twice a year. I didn’t require bread with my meals. I still don’t, though I do love sandwiches. I also mentioned how I didn’t like soups or stews. I didn’t use the word hate, but did consider it. I explained to her that I preferred my meat and vegetables separate, because I liked to eat them one at a time. And, in truth, this is the way I like to eat most of the time. If you watch me, you’ll see that I attack one food type on my plate at a time. I tell myself it’s because I love vegetables so much that I wish to savor their individual tastes, and this is a fact. I do love all vegetables, and I do love to savor their tastes one at a time. But this is only part of the truth, because I also, unbeknown to myself, love their tastes when mixed.
            To make a long story short (I’ll continue this story later. I call it, “How to Make Your Wife so Mad She . . .”), I became the Head Cook. I realized that unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life eating beef stew and cornbread, I would have to shoulder the responsibility of being the family cook. It wasn’t easy, but I thoroughly loved it. Linda says—although she may only say it to make me feel good—that she was happy and relieved for me to take over as our family cook. And, whether she was lying or not, I immersed myself into one of my life’s passions—cooking. Even cooking soups.
            So here is one of my favorite meals—A-Plus Soup. I call it this because of all the vitamin A in it. I have to admit that the base for the soup came from a Mark Bittman recipe, “Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Apricots,” a splendid recipe if there ever was one. I encourage you to try his version, as well as mine.
A-Plus Soup.

1 tbs. butter
2 tbs. cooking oil (I use a canola-olive-grapeseed blend)
2 tsp. - 1 tbs. Hot Madras curry powder (Be careful. The tbs. amount will be HOT)
1 tsp turmeric (This is an ingredient in curry—an ingredient that’s supposed to be
            good for us. As you’ll see, this is a recipe where I’m going for “healthy.”)
1 sweet potato—cut up, but unpeeled. (I don’t peel any of my potatoes—sweet or
            white. I believe, as we’ve been told, that the peels have most of the vitamins,
            etc.)
2 carrots, cut up
1 bag apricots (6 oz.)
2 tsp. – 1 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (Once again—be careful.
            The larger amount may be too hot for some people.)
1 large container chicken broth (32 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
2 cups (more or less) water
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth

            Still living with the lie that I don’t like soups, I tell myself that if I’m going to make and eat a soup, I’m going to make it a health food. Hey—I love this soup. I even drink it cold.

Melt butter in a large pot and add oil, curry, turmeric, sweet potato, and carrots. Keep the heat medium-high. Push the veggies around in the mixture for about a minute, letting them get coated with the spices, turning slightly gummy. Isn’t this fun? The scent is divine. To me. I love Indian-curry-scented foods.
Add the apricots, Tony C., and large container of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Cook 30 minutes. Add pumpkin and two cups water and extra can of chicken broth (you may use any mixture of water or broth you wish. It’s up to you. I really like three cans of broth, but usually don’t have that much on hand. Plus, I don’t buy “Less Salt” broth, so sometimes it’s a bit too salty for me.)
Mixture should be cool enough (if not, wait) to put in blender, a third at a time, and thoroughly blend.
Pour back into pot, warm if too cool, and enjoy. For me, it’s at just the right temperature when it comes out of the blender. For Linda, it needs heating up. Linda not only loves soups, she loves them hot, temperature-wise. Me—hell—I detest soups whether they’re hot or cold. Just ask me. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 96 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time



Number 96

Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops

            I’ve been trying—for two months—to write about recipe Number 96—Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops (Ron is not his real name). It’s been one difficult affair. There are two reasons. The first is because I became (perhaps, I still am) addicted to eBay. I’d never fooled with eBay before, and on September 15th, once I stuck my foot in the door, I couldn’t pull it back. I mean—the thrill of selling something and making five dollars. Wow. You may ask how in the hell can making five bucks be enjoyable? You know why? Because it’s more than I’d have made selling the same article at a Yard Sale, that’s why. I detest Yard Selling. No one at a Yard Sale wants to pay more than a dollar for anything. So when I found out I could make five bucks selling the same item on eBay—I was addicted in about ten seconds. And this will tell you more about me than you want to know—once I try something and really enjoy it, that’s all I want to do. I’m an A-B-C type of person, which to my wife means I go rigidly from one step to another. I don’t like to skip around, I don't enjoy doing several things at the same time, and I despise having to put item C in front of item B. Because of my personality defect, I wrote nothing when I was getting up at three in the morning to see what I sold the night before. But I have reformed. Thus, with a hope that you’ll forgive my lapse, I shall try to be an A-B-c type of person, the “A” standing for my twin careers of Remodeling and Writing, the “B” for Blogging, and the little “c” standing for my time on eBay. It’ll be tough, but my dad was a Marine. I can do it.
The second reason I haven’t tended to my Blogs, especially "500 Reasons," is more serious, a bit darker. It’s because I can find no way to put a light spin on this recipe’s background, no way to tell the story behind the meal without unloading a downer on you. It’s a sad story, and I don’t like sad stories. I refuse to watch sad movies—more than once, anyway. I’ve seen the films Love Story, The Titanic, and Griffin and Phoenix (I cried for thirty minutes when this film hit me with its ending. Good Lord, what a surprise downer.). But I’ve never seen any of these movies a second time. I mean—Love Story is dated, I didn’t like The Titanic, and I simply don’t have the courage to go through Griffin and Phoenix again. The damn movie pulls at me, but—so far—I’ve resisted it. When I finish with 100 Meals and start on 100 Movies, we’ll see what I do when I get to Griffin and Phoenix. The easiest thing will be to leave it out of my Top 100. Can I?
            I do agree that sad movies and books (but not meals!) have a place in our lives. Identifying with the pain of unrequited love, the loneliness of being spurned, or the void left in our hearts after a loved one dies, is meant to show us the reality of life. These sad moments are supposed to inure us to the fact that life is not all happiness. I say, “Nuts!”
            The reality of life is that there isn’t enough laughter, enough slapstick, enough singing-out-loud joy in the world. I believe we should do all we can to add to the small kettle of happiness we have, every moment we’re alive. To not do so will only make us sadder. And, dammit, I hate being sad. Relating the following events makes me sad, however, and that's why I stopped halfway through it. I shall continue. Now. Right now.
            To tell you about Ron’s pork chop recipe, I must begin the day before I hired him, more than twenty years ago. A company I owned was building an addition to a house in Montgomery. Under a huge canopy of magnificent live oaks and magnolias, we were installing the roof decking and the shingles. I had subcontracted this work out to the roofers Ron was working for. They had sent one carpenter and three roofers to accomplish the work, and I could see no way the reedy, long-haired, Vietnamese carpenter could stay ahead of the roofers. I was a carpenter myself, and knew how difficult it was to install decking, but by-golly, the young Vietnamese was a whirlwind, a dynamo. He tossed around full sheets of 5/8” plywood like they were sacks of stone-ground grits. Let me tell you—5/8” plywood is not for the weak. It’s heavy and cumbersome. Ron was so strong and so well-versed in what he needed to do, he ran far ahead of the three roofers. I was impressed.
            The night after the roof was finished, I got a phone call from Ron’s wife. She asked me if I’d noticed the Vietnamese carpenter on the roofing job, and I told her I had. She then asked me if I could hire the man, as he was her husband, and she was speaking for him because his English wasn’t very good. The roofing job was part-time, and he needed a full-time job. The roofers were her brothers, and they only used him occasionally, so I wouldn’t be hiring him away from them. I told her that if he showed up at my office at seven in the morning, he was hired. He was there at 6:30. I never regretted hiring Ron. He was one of the best workers I’ve ever had.
            Ron worked hard, learned what he didn’t know fast, and always showed up. On time.
Back then, being typical construction workers, we were in the habit of having a company party whenever an occasion arose, such as any type of holiday, or sometimes, just because it was Friday. We couldn’t afford to take off from work, but we could throw a company party afterwards, meaning, “drink a bunch of beer.” When we’d have these parties, Ron always attended, but he did it his way. He’d go home first, grab a dish of food he’d cooked up the night before, and bring it to us. Then he’d ask for permission to leave. Ron, unlike the rest of us, was more interested in going home to tend to his children than he was in drinking beer. We had no desire to force him to stay because he’d tell us his kids (five of them) needed him, especially his crippled daughter. He’d leave us a huge platter of food and depart. We were always amazed that he never even drank a beer—not one.
Ron always brought one of two dishes—either Chicken & Noodles or Fried Pork Chops. They were both wonderful, with exotic flavors I’d never tried. I made sure to get the recipes, of course, because cooking them, myself, was important to me. I wanted to share these delights with my entire family. In fact, my kids grew up calling one of our favorite dinners, “Ron’s Chicken.” 
            The reason I’m sad while relating this dish to you is because Ron is in prison. He’s there for the rest of his life. For about twenty years now, I’ve sent Ron a $25.00 money order every month of my life. It’s not much, though there have been times I could barely afford it. It’s more than giving charity, or giving aid to a former employee, though it is both of those. It’s also a payback for the recipes Ron gave me. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not doubt for a minute that my ex-employee deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. But the circumstances—the events leading up to why he’s in jail—are not only vastly interesting, they’d require at least 30 pages to properly tell in the manner needed. I don’t have space for that here. So, without further adieu, and without going into the reason my employee/friend/fellow cook is in prison, here is “Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops.” Since Ron was from South Vietnam, I can legitimately call them “Southern-Fried.”

      Note that some ingredients must marinate for ½-2 hours. You will need a stir-fry pan or large frying pan to cook this meal. Also, keep in mind that when you cook using fish sauce, the kitchen will stink. I mean, really stink. The food, however, will taste much better than the air smells, so don't give up when the odor hits you. It's similar to cooking chitlin's. Ha-ha. Who cooks chitlin's any more? Who, besides me, has ever dared cook chitlin's in their own kitchen? But that's another story.

Ingredients:

2-4 pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces or whole.
1/3 cup fish sauce (made from anchovies—found in Asian section of food stores).
1 and 3/4 cups water.
2 onions, chopped.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons canola oil.
Small head of cabbage, chopped.
1 tablespoon sugar.
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.
Extra water, if needed.
1-4 tablespoons soy sauce.


Directions:

Place pork chops (I cut mine up; Ron left his whole), one cup of the water, the fish sauce, and onions in a glass container and marinate ½-2 hours, shaking or stirring now and then. Drain.

When meat and onions have marinated, put sesame and canola oils in large frying pan and turn heat to high; just before oil reaches spattering stage, add drained pork
and onions.

Add remaining ingredients and the other 3/4 cup of water, mix, and stir fry for five-to-seven minutes (if using whole chops, turn at this point); cook for 10 more minutes, stirring, or moving chops around. If pan becomes too dry, add extra water.

Remove from heat; drain if soggy; place in bowl and add soy sauce.

Enjoy.
And pray for Ron. Pray for me, too. Lord knows, I don’t need your prayers as much as Ron does, but I do need them.


Earl. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Change in Plans for this Blog.

    As usual, I have bitten off more than I can chew. Trying to write up all of my "opinions" on the top 100 meals, books, movies, TV shows, etc., at one time, is beyond my abilities. Especially, while I'm working in remodeling at the same time. The books are the hardest. In the first place, my lists aren't definitive, except for the movies list, which I've kept for years. And as I try to winnow out my 100 books, I find I really need to reread many of them before I can say they belong in the top 100. Actually, this was part of my goal--making the lists was a way to force me to reread many of the books I've loved during my lifetime. It's also a tremendous time eater. I've spent a lot of money, too. I don't feel I can honestly say a book belongs on my list if I no longer own a copy, so I've been ordering five-six books a week, to put my money where my mouth is. Now, of course, I must reread those books.
    With that said, I'm changing my plans. I shall write up one list at a time, starting with "Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Sides of all Time." The obvious reason for doing this is to make my life easier. The second is because the folks at likethedew.com have been gracious enough to print all of the articles I've sent to them in their national blog, and since they seem to have and want a Southern slant, this works out well for my "Meals" blogs. This will also give me time to reread and to sort out my books. I now have about 150 of them that I  feel belong on my list--50 too many. If you know me well, you must realize that it's difficult for me to cast a good book aside, saying it's not worthy of belonging on my list. At present, books by Anne McCaffrey, Sebastian Junger, Frank Yerby, Euell Gibbons, Jules Verne, and Madhur Jaffrey are just outside the top 100. This is heresy, is it not? Then, again, should any one of these supplant Leon Uris, Jennifer Crusie, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, or Hal Clement? I think not. Do you see my dilemma?
    Thus--onward--with "Fantastic Meals." I hope you understand.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 97 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time.

Number 97
Fried Calf’s Liver and Onions

            Before I try to convince you that calf’s liver really does deserve to be in the Top 100 Best Meals, I need to give you some insight into how my list is going. I had a setback, of sorts.
            Yesterday, I was fooling around with my Top Twenty, pulling some out, adding some in, but Number One and Number Two, as far as I was concerned, were chosen. They were sacrosanct. My Number Two was potato salad—my mom’s potato salad, to be exact, and there was no way in hell I was moving it, unless it went up. Then it struck me—many people—those other than my sister and me, for example—might not consider potato salad a complete meal. Gosh. I was . . . nonplussed, and felt as if I’d been struck by something. Not only was I listing potato salad as a complete meal, I also included macaroni salad, cole slaw, and lemon pudding. What had I done? I made an executive decision. I decided that since many would protest, I should move these “side dishes” off to the flank, where they belonged. I’d write about them all the same, but they wouldn’t be listed in any particular order with the “main meals.” I pulled them off the board I was displaying them on and filled in the gaps. Mom’s potato salad was no longer Number Two.
            I was struck by writing fever, though, and began writing about potato salad, the potato salad I grew up with. I wrote for five pages. I couldn’t stop. I’d have to break the article in half to make it the same length as the others. I was struck again, as if some Greek deity was shooting little “Hey, you” arrows at me. If potato salad was so important to me, it deserved to be on the list—it deserved to be Number Two, in fact. So I made another executive decision—I’d re-name the blasted blog. I would now call it, “The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time.” And, thus it shall be. Mom’s potato salad is back where it belongs, and I can breathe better and get on with my life again.
            So, here we are—Fried Calf’s Liver and Onions. Yum! My only complaint is I want to write it as “calves’ liver,” but everywhere I look, it’s “calf’s”—in James Beard, as well as on the package from the store. Where is William Safire when I need him?
 I actually do love the taste of calf’s liver, in spite of how it’s spelled, or in spite of how my wife and children feel about it. My wife will no longer let me force the dish on our children, now that they’ve all flown the coop, and she claims she will fly away, too, if she must eat Brussels’ sprouts and calf’s liver. Well, I feel she’s missing out, but she’s sticking to her guns.
            There’s actually a strong psychological reason I love not only calf’s liver, but other food products not readily eaten by the masses—raw oysters, scrapple, liver pudding, and fried chicken livers, for instance. I love them because my dad loved them. He was my step-dad, actually, and since my real dad died when I was one, he was also the only dad I ever knew. He didn’t tell me much about my childhood, but after Dad passed on, Mom would tell me stories about how he used to love taking me out to eat when I was five or six years old. He’d take me to the Marine Corps Officer’s Club, set me on a barstool, and order me a dozen raw oysters. I was nobody’s fool. I ate the devil out of those rascals, slurping them down with joy. There would soon be a group of battle-hardened Marines around us, cheering the “little kid who loves raw oysters” on and on. Mom says I’d eat as many as they’d bring me. My step-dad was famous. This eating of strange meats, these delicacies, as Dad and I referred to them, was one of the few bonds we ever had, and it lasted right up until he died. Every time I’d go home, he’d have some strange food no one else in the family would even try—a new variety of scrapple, or a liver pudding he’d found down close to the Georgia-South Carolina border. I was always game for it. Always. Our strange, two-person hobby was one I really enjoyed.
            Thus, it was early on in my life I was exposed to calf’s liver. Dad knew that out of the five of us, he and I would eat whatever he brought home for Mom to cook up. Neither Dad nor I ever had a yen for pork or beef liver. We didn’t trust either one as being safe to eat. We weren’t fools, just liver-lovers.
            Mom was usually the cook while I was growing up—no self-respecting Marine was the family cook. Not back then. And later on in life, as I started making my own fried liver, I had no idea whether it was similar to the way Mom made it. I did learn a tidbit from James Beard. In his American Cookery, he insists that calf’s liver should be “served on the pink side or, in the case of the steaks, quite rare.” I come close to agreeing. I learned from Beard to not overcook my calf’s liver, as I had done for years, trying to get the dish just right. I think my mom overcooked it, too. I often wonder how Dad would have loved a tender piece of my undercooked calf’s liver. I think he’d have been overjoyed. When the dish is overcooked, it’s tough as shoe leather.
            So, here it is—my recipe for calf’s liver and onions. Use Vidalias if you’ve got ‘em.

4 tablespoons canola oil (I don’t use butter like Beard did, and I’m not a huge fan of
            cooking everything in EVOO, like Rachael Ray, either. Canola’s good for you,
and I’ve got to get something healthy in this meal.
2-3 Vidalia onions, sliced ¼” thick. Don’t bother separating the rings. They cook better
            and easier if you leave them together as long as possible.
1-4 pieces of thawed calf’s liver.

That’s it. I don’t add salt or pepper to mine. I don’t dredge them in flour, either, like Beard does. Why cover them in flour? I see no gain in taste, and the fried white-flour texture isn’t worth the trouble or the mess.
            Pour the oil in a frying pan and turn the heat to high. Add the onions and cook about 4-5 minutes, turning the heat down to medium high after the first minute. Flip the onions and add the liver. It cooks fast! Cook, moving it from side to side so it won’t stick, for only one minute, or one minute and fifteen seconds—then flip it over. Once again, cook it for 60-75 seconds. Pull it out of the pan and place on paper towels. I always cut mine to be sure it isn’t too rare. I want it pink, not bleeding. Put it back in the pan for another minute if it doesn’t look appetizing to you. But no longer. Pull out the onions and let them drain a few seconds, grab a fork and knife, and dig in.
            If I have some leftover vegetables, or rice, or chow-mein-like mixture, I’ll dump them in the frying pan after I cook the liver to heat them up. They pick up the onion-liver flavor, too. Oh, golly, leftovers are good this way.
            Now I’m not going to tell you this is a healthy meal, although it does have all the B-12, vitamin A, riboflavin, and folate anyone needs for the day. The problem is, of course, it also has a bunch of calories, too much iron for an adult man, and more cholesterol than one is allowed on a daily basis. As I eat this wonderful delicacy—called thus by James Beard, himself—I think about my dad. I can picture him, in “Gyrene Heaven,” pointing down to me, and saying, “You should have seen that rascal when he was a kid. He’d slurp down three dozen raw oysters without batting an eye.” Thanks, Dad. Thanks for the memories.

            So now . . . if you haven’t eaten any fried liver and onions in a while, try some, and I hope you enjoy the dish as much as I do, whether it’s calf’s or calves.’

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 100 Books Ever Written. Number 99--"The Bridges of Madison County."



Top 100 Books

Number 99
The Bridges of Madison County
By Robert James Waller

            Those who know me well will think this choice for my 99th top book is a joke. It’s not. Nor did I like this book. And I said earlier that “liking a book” was to be one of the main criteria in my selection process. Why, then, is Bridges on my list at number 99?
            First, some background. When I began making my list of the top 100 books of all time, I thought the first ten and the last ten would be easy. I made a list of about 200 books I felt I should consider and then began whittling them down.
            I did my Top Twenty first. I had 55 in no time at all. After several days of juggling books, I finally felt I had a number close to 100. I had 119. I still do. Plus I’ve added a few more books that I’d forgotten about—twenty-two to be exact. So I now have 41 books too many. Forty-one books that might supplant the forty-one I chose earlier. And I really like all 41 of them. The problem is I don’t like number 99—The Bridges of Madison County. The reason this book’s on my list is because of one of the other criteria I have—if I’ve read a book many times, it should qualify. I’ve read Bridges five times. Yes. I read a book I didn’t like five times. Why, you may ask? It was because I wanted to study it. The book was a best seller—in fact, it’s one of the bestselling books of the 20th century, with 50 million copies out there floating around. I have only one copy.
I studied this text because women loved the book. They also loved the film, produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood. I disliked the book so much I didn’t give the movie a fair look. I don’t plan to, either. It’s not my kind of movie. I do feel Clint Eastwood was the perfect man to play the role of perfect Robert Kincaid, however. Both men give high praise to themselves.
            When the book became so popular, and I finally read it, I asked myself over and over, “Why do women love this book so much?” I came up with two reasons. Number one: Francesca is plain, forty-five, and has lines on her face—but Robert Kincaid loves her, takes her photograph, and adores the hell out of her. He worships Francesca. She is worshipped by a guy who is described as being “lithe . . . tall . . . hard . . . a magician of sorts . . . all lean muscle . . . full of power and intensity . . . a man who missed little.” This Kincaid guy is God’s Gift to Women. And he loves—not young, pretty girls—oh, no—he loves Francesca! He is looking for “intelligence” and “passion born of living,” and he “finds most young women unattractive” because “they had not lived long enough, or hard enough to possess those qualities that interested him.” Oh, come on. This plain-looking, Italian immigrant, Iowan house-wife, farm-working woman is what he’s been searching for all his life?
            When I finished reading this book I was in shock. I hated it. I thought it was poorly written and difficult to believe, and I grew so tired of Robert Kincaid’s stellar qualities I wanted to throw up. Actually, what I wanted to do was beat the guy up. I wanted to kick his ass. He was a blowhard. I wanted to beat him over the head with one of his three Nikon cameras. I wanted to blacken one of his “photographer’s eyes that missed nothing.” I wanted to yank off his “well-used Red Wing field boots” and smash him over the head as he quoted W. B. Yeats—and Francesca, bless her soul, knew both the poem and the author. Good grief—do you know any Yeats’ poems you can rattle off? Would you know one if you heard it? I wouldn’t. Then again, I’m not Robert Kincaid, the best damned writer-photographer National Geographic ever had.
            But . . . then I realized that Robert James Waller had done something I had never done—he had written a book exclusively to and for women. If I’d been a woman when the book came out, in the thirty to fifty-year-old range, I’d have read the book twenty times. But I wasn’t a woman. Not then, nor now. And I really got upset when the writer told the media there were strong similarities between the main character and himself.
            The other reason I believe the book was a hit is because of what I call the “unresolved ending,” or the “lovers-meet-and-are-kept-apart-ever-after” ending. Think Romeo and Juliet, The Titanic, Love Story, and, of course, The Bridges of Madison County. I don’t like this type of ending. I prefer happy endings. I would never go, willingly, to see a version of Romeo and Juliet, for example. And I prefer My Fair Lady to Shaw’s original, Pygmalion. I do see a purpose in such movies and books, however—it’s the money. Tons and tons of it. Women (and some men, I’m sure) will pay anything to watch a movie or read a book about a “love that cannot be.” Waller, Eastwood, Shakespeare, Shaw, Segal, and Cameron made millions off their sad-ending stories. There is one movie I sort-of liked that had a sad ending—Griffin Loves Phoenix. The ending caught me by surprise. I cried and cried. The movie affected me tremendously, but would I call it great? Nope. I’ve also never watched it again. It’s too damn sad. I feel the same way about Love Story. I watched it once—that was enough. Life’s too short for me to watch a movie or read a book to make myself unhappy.
            I do, however, wish I could be “the man” that Robert Kincaid was. What a dude! What a lover! He “was an animal,” he was “shamanlike,” he was from “haunted places,” and even though he was fifty-two, he could make love all night long! What a stud!
            I can’t go on. You get the idea. I hated the book. It’s Number 99 because I studied it, hoping to learn how to become a better writer. I did learn what to do—write a sad-ending book. The problem is I can’t.
And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the book. You tell me if it was worth my time to read this book five times. “There was no breeze, and the corn was growing.” What the hell? What’s he trying to say? Of course the damn corn was growing—they were in Iowa. And according to Robert James Waller (maybe I should start using my middle name, too) there are only two things to do in Iowa—watch the corn grow and make love to someone else’s wife.

Did I mention how I wanted to grab the Camel cigarettes out of Kincaid’s pocket and smash them into his mouth? Did I say how I wanted to do this just before he did his morning routine of jogging for forty minutes, pumping out fifty pushups, and lifting his cameras as if they were weights? I also wanted to call up Francesca’s husband and tell him to come join me, and we’d beat the crap out of all three of ‘em—Kincaid, Waller, and Eastwood. Yes—this book infuriates me! I read it those five times, and never again. I make it number 99 on my list because I want everyone who reads this to know that I am capable of reading a book I hate. You should also admire my self control. I never did seek out Kincaid and beat him to a pulp. And I never squealed on Francesca, either. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 98 of The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of all Time.



Number 98
Greens-stuffed Meatloaf.

            A meatloaf in my Top 100 Meals? Yes—meatloaf. And, yes, greens-stuffed. First, let’s look at what we have so far. Number 100 in the Top 100 Meals was leftover Shrimp & Eggplant Casserole, and number 99 was the Southern-Style (Chicago) Hot Dog. Yum. Can a measly meatloaf rise to such heights as to be named Number 98? Well, if it’s Greens-stuffed Meatloaf, indeed it can.
When you’re feeding a large family, as I had to do for many years (Our family consisted of two adults and four kids, aged 5, 10, 14, & 15 when my wife and I married and I was named head cook—a story unto itself), finding ground-beef-based recipes that are liked and will be eaten by everyone involved is a necessity. It can also be a chore. As a rule, everyone loves “The Big-Four Beefy Dinners”—tacos, lasagna, spaghetti, and California. (I’ll explain California later. It’s higher on the list. It’ll also be one of your Big-Four Beefy Dinners) Those four are obvious winners, loved by one and all, but meatloaf? Stuffed with greens? It’s difficult enough to get kids to eat greens, no matter how you fix them, but to “ruin a good meatloaf,” as my kids liked to say, is “heresy.” Actually, the greens in this dish are almost tasteless. The hard part is getting kids to try it. That’s why the greens are hidden.
            Ingredients:
2 cups frozen greens (turnips, mustard, or spinach—2 -10oz. pkgs.). Cooked!
1 onion, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ lbs. ground chuck
1 ½ lbs. Italian sausage (ground, or removed from casings)
4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 eggs
1 jar good salsa (I prefer Jardine’s—expensive, but oh-so-good)
Spray oil. I like canola.

            Cook the greens first. Actually, choose the greens first. Even I wasn’t brave enough to try turnip or mustard greens on our kids. I used spinach. It’s milder in taste and well-known. Ask a kid what mustard greens are, and he’ll most likely shrug his shoulders and pretend you’re from outer space. My advice is—especially, if this meal involves children—use spinach. Once the kids have flown the coop—or have been pushed out of the nest, as must often be done—you can get a little crazy and try the stronger greens. In fact, I’ve never tried collards. I love collards, but I’m afraid they’re too strong for this dish. My advice, therefore, is use spinach the first time you attempt this dish.
My main point is, if you’re trying to plan ahead, and you’re on a schedule, don’t forget this step. Cook the greens. Cook ‘em and drain ‘em. Then preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When I cook, I like to plan the meal so everything comes together just before we plan to eat, and with kids, if you don’t plan to eat at a certain time every night, you’ll be sitting at the table with your mate, and that’ll be it—especially, if the kids find out you’re experimenting with them again. I have a bad habit of scanning a recipe like this one, and missing the precooking part. For instance, I’ll say, “Okay—fifteen minutes prep and one hour to cook. Let it sit five. Giving myself a ten-minute margin of error, I come up with a total of 80-90 minutes.” If I forget the pre-cooking, not only will my “margin of error” disappear, I’ll most likely be ten to fifteen minutes late with the meal. Maybe your kids don’t grumble—mine sure did. Hell. They still do.
            So . . . after you’ve precooked the greens, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft—about five minutes. Add the cooked greens. Cook three more minutes. The oil will be taken up by the greens so keep an eye on them and don’t let them burn.
            Wash your hands. Wash ‘em good. Combine chuck, sausage, toast, Tony C’s, eggs, and salsa in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Yes—you must plunge your hands into the gooey mess. Be brave. Don’t over-mix but be sure all are well combined.
            Next comes what I call the “cater-to-my-wife” part. You see, my wife, Linda, won’t eat greens. Not now. Not a one. When we had kids in the house, though, she did. I can’t recall her ever complaining when I prepared greens. She now claims it was her “solidarity plan.” She was gonna back me, no matter what I fixed. Well, this isn’t entirely true. Linda was right beside the kids when they mutinied over my many attempts at fish soup. And calves’ liver. I’m sure there were more, but they don’t come to mind right now.
Anyway, Linda’s a native Southerner, born in Montgomery, Alabama, and was raised by a Southern father who grew greens in his garden, loved to eat greens, and tried to feed greens to his children. Yet, I have never seen a collard, mustard, or turnip-green pass my wife’s beautiful lips. She pretty-much bypasses the mustard family. Linda will eat cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, but hides when I fix kale, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi. I’ve never seen my wife try horseradish, one of my favorite condiments. In fact, I’m not sure she likes the condiment, mustard. She’s a ketchup woman. She’ll eat spinach, but only as a last resort. And spinach, as any good Southerner knows, is not Southern. Did Popeye have a Southern accent? Have you ever seen what happens to little spinach plants when the first hot day in Alabama in April hits them? They bolt. They bolt like Linda when I fix collard greens. And, most of all, spinach isn’t in the mustard family—it’s a durned old goosefoot. That’s right—spinach is in the goosefoot family. Why would anyone eat goosefoot plants when they could devour mustards?
Therefore, and anyhow, when I make this dish, now that the children are gone and my wife doesn’t feel she needs to set a good example for them by showing “solidarity,” I leave all hint of greens out of her portion of the meatloaf. Even the goosefeet greens. Or is it geesefeet? And back in the days when we were feeding a horde of children, I used spinach, knowing I’d have a war on my hands if I tried to make my wife eat real, as-good-for-you-as-they-taste, Southern greens. Dutifully, my wife ate the meatloaf stuffed with spinach. Nowadays, when I make the dish, I suit myself—I use mustard or turnip greens, or whatever I have in the freezer—for my portion, and I make another pan just for my wife that’s all meat. It gives us fodder for dinnertime conversation. “Feeling a bit superior, are we?” Linda will say. “A bit,” I answer, chewing my greens as distinctly as I can. Let’s face it—ground beef takes little chewing. I prefer the turnip greens with chopped turnips in them—they resemble little potatoes—and I can hoist them up on my fork, waving them about in the air before I shove them into my mouth. I know she can see the little “taters.” And, yes, when I eat my meatloaf with greens in front of my wife, I do act and feel superior. I must. You see, this is the same woman who can work the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle in the same time it takes me to finish the Tuesday one. She’ll hold it up for me to see. I cheer. I praise her. And I take my own boasts when and how I can.
            So . . . since I must make two different dishes, I divide the meat portions in half. Using two disposable aluminum pans (8”x 3 ¾”x 2 ½” deep), I spray them both with canola oil and put half of the meat from my portion in one pan, and all of the other portion in my wife’s pan. Hers is ready to cook. It is also oh, so plain, so pedestrian. Oh, well.
In my pan—the portion that will taste oh-so-much-better—I add the cooked onion and greens mixture on top of the first layer of meat, then add the rest of the meat. Back when I was cooking for a crowd, knowing they were going to eat the spinach, whether they liked it or not, I used a larger pan—an 11 ¾” by 9 ¼” by 1 ½” deep, or a 9” square pan—for the entire batch. If you are so lucky, so fortunate, as to be able to make a single meatloaf, rather then two smaller ones, use the larger, single pan. 
In mine, I don’t care whether it looks like a traditional meatloaf or not, but in the larger version, you should. In yours, place the greens in the center of the meat, keeping them away from the sides a tad, and place the second batch of meat on top. Once again, stick your hands into it, forming a sidewall and seaming the edges together, so that when you un-pan it, the result looks like it’s an all-meat meatloaf. It’s much more fun this way. Imagine yourself sitting there, watching an unsuspecting child who thinks he’s about to dig into an all-meat meatloaf. He slathers it in ketchup, cuts off a huge bite bigger than his mouth when it’s wide open, and his fork freezes, an inch from being devoured. Oh, the joy. Oh, the laughs. Oh, what a liar I can be. I only wish that you, too, will have as much fun as Linda and I had convincing our children there was nothing else in the house to eat and all the pizza places were closed for the night. Greens-stuffed Meatloaf is not a dish for the timid to prepare.
            Onward! Cook for one hour. Have a beer. Have two or three. You deserve it. Plus, you’ll need the courage beer will give you. The hard part—getting the kids to eat your creation—is just beginning. Take the pan or pans from the oven and let it or them sit five minutes. Using gloves or hot pads (I use a wad of paper towels because my wife gets upset when she has to wash the hot pads, and they’re about to get greasy), pour off accumulated grease. Please don’t pour it down the sink. I save glass jars and tops just for this purpose. Then—over the sink—if you used the small pan, take a wad of paper towels, about four plies thick, enough to cover your entire palm, and holding the paper towels against the top of the meatloaf, flip the pan and shake the loaf loose. If you used a large pan to cook the loaf in, cover a plate with two plies of paper towels and use the plate, not your palm. Holding the loaf in your palm, minus the pan, put a serving plate on top (the bottom of the meatloaf) of the loaf, and flip it back over. If you’ve poured off most of the hot grease, you’ll be okay. If not, and you burn yourself, consider it a part of cooking. Without battle scars and wounds, how can we truly say our job is worthwhile? Knife cuts, hot-pan singes, and stupid hot-grease burns, are the merit badges we proudly wear to show our dedication to the Crazy Cook’s Club—we who slave away for little praise, living in the belief that we are preparing good-tasting meals that are inherently healthy, to boot. We deserve to act superior.
            Okay—it’s time to enjoy the meal. I would place a huge bottle of cheap ketchup on the table for the kids and the wife. On my end I’d have a smaller bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce. I didn’t share the good (expensive) stuff with the kids. Still don’t. The wife? Sure. But only if she asks. They all prefer plain ketchup, anyway. And now the hard part—getting the “others” to try your creation. I mean, seriously, when covered with either ketchup or chili sauce, the greens can’t be tasted. Go ahead, dig in. You can eat while all the others sit and fume, wondering why you’re so mean to them. If I’ve heard “Can’t we just order a pizza? We’ll pay for it ourselves,” once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.
            This dish reminds me of a story. In our house, where I was the cook, our kids were told that they could invite their friends over to eat whenever they wanted, as long as we had a little advance notice. Kids don’t think these things through. Not many kids visited us at suppertime more than once. For one thing we had rules. The first and foremost rule was no telephone calls during the meal. Not even I could rise to answer the phone. I’d turn the ringer down or off, so we wouldn’t be tempted. Nowadays, with hand-held devices, it’s much harder, but we still enforce the rule when the kids visit—we’re having dinner, not a gabfest with strangers. The second rule was that everyone—everyone, even the guests—had to read a newspaper article before we ate. I’ll go deeper into this one at another time, saying only that this rule saved Linda and me from strangling our kids through their teenage years. Well—to continue the story—after three or four of their friends joined us at various times and sat—with a recently read newspaper article in their heads, and the prospect of eating an entire meal without even one phone call, and staring mystified at a mound of greens-stuffed meatloaf, or a pile of braised Brussels sprouts, or a steaming bowl of hot fish soup—we spent most of our meals without the presence of strangers at our table. To tell you the truth, not having strange, unruly teenagers eating with you isn’t so bad—especially when they’re smarmy young boys who are there only because you have a pretty daughter for them to gawk at. Hey—try serving up some Greens-stuffed Meatloaf and see if you don’t feel the same way.

   Here’s good cookin’ comin’ at ya. Earl. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

likethedew.com

Hey, guys--They posted another of my blogs on likethedew.com. The one below, on the "Southern" Chicago hot dog. Read all about it and let me know what you think. Earl.

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of All Time. Number 99.

Fantastic Meals
Number 99 in the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of All Time.

The Southern-Style (Chicago) Hotdog.

            I have changed the name of my Top 100 Meals of All Time to what you see above. It makes more sense to me. Number 100 was Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole, and Number 99 is—The Southern-Style (Chicago) Hotdog! And we do need to get something straight right away—it’s way more Southern than Chicagoan. I use the city’s name because that’s what this hotdog was called when and where I found the basic recipe, in the June 2008 issue of Men’s Health magazine.
            First of all, to be a Chicago style hotdog, it must be beef. Beef hotdogs are okay, but I’ve been too many times to the Alabama State Fair and the Montgomery Biscuits’ baseball games—I’ve been ruint. If I fix a dog, and it isn’t a big ol’ Southern sausage-dog, made mostly of pork, then I don’t want it in my hotdog bun. It’s like the difference between real Southern barbecue and Texas barbecue—real Southerners prefer pig barbecue. Pretend Southerners—the Texans, for instance—prefer beef barbecue. I’ll be the first real Southerner to admit that beef barbecue is not bad. It’s also not great, unlike real Southern barbecue. Of course, real Southern barbecue, like most Southern foods, would never be considered a health food. Eat it in moderation! If you can.
            So . . . you must start this hotdog with the correct ingredients—and the first is a quality chunk of Southern sausage. You can pick and choose among thousands and still end up with a great dog. I prefer Hillshire Farm sausage, the ones that are hotdog-sized, but Sam’s Fireside Gourmet and Johnsonville are good, too. Just don’t look for cheap sausage dogs. This isn’t a mess-hall-feed-‘em-all-cheap-junk-food recipe we’re talking about here.
Unpack your dog or dogs, boil them for ten minutes, then sauté in a half-tablespoon of butter (the tablespoon amount is marked on the side of the butter wrapper). Cut a slice and begin sautéing the dog in a frying pan until crispy, about two-three minutes.
            The second ingredient is just as important—a whole wheat hotdog bun. Don’t you dare purchase a soggy white-bread hotdog bun! Never! I find it difficult to believe that everywhere I go, people still purchase and consume, for God’s sake, white bread. Don’t do it. The stuff is tasteless and bad for you. If you’re going to buy white hotdog buns, you may as well go ahead and just fill them with cheap, chicken-filled hotdogs. My favorite buns are Nature’s Own. I think you can buy them everywhere. Take a bun, spread it apart, and drop it in the toaster. This step is crucial! The bun must be toasted. But be careful—they’re easy to burn in a toaster. Watch the bun closely. I always have to hit the cancel button on my toaster to keep the buns from burning. It’s all part of cooking. Cooking isn’t an easy-going pastime where you can toss a bunch of stuff in a pot and forget about it. If you do burn your buns, toss ‘em. They can’t be saved. The burnt taste will come through no matter how much of the crusty black stuff you shave off. Steel yourself and start over, this time paying attention.
            Okay. You should be ready—one chunk of sautéed sausage, and one tanned whole-wheat bun. Don’t forget the “eat it in moderation” phrase a paragraph or two above. Next: using real mayonnaise, which to me means Hellmann’s or Kraft, in that order exactly, apply at least a tablespoon to both leaves of the bun. Add some mustard—and not any silly gourmet mustard either—use plain French’s Classic Yellow Mustard or Mister Mustard Hot Original—and a tablespoon of each of the following: sweet relish, dill relish, drained Ro-Tel Chunky Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles, and banana pepper rings (mild, hot—your choice). Sprinkle celery salt on it and dig in.
    Now—pretend you’re in Chicago, the wind is blowing icy cold off whichever Great Lake that fair city sits beside, and some Al Capone lookalike is shooting his sub-machine gun in the next block. But you don’t care, because you’ve got something no one else in the Windy City has—a genuine (sure—go ahead—pronounce it like we do—gen-you-wine), Southern-Style Chicagoan hotdog. Ahh. Life is good. It’ll be difficult to limit yourself to only one.
            The Ingredients: Per One Dog:
1. Good quality sausage dog.
2. Whole wheat bun.
3. One tablespoon butter.
4. One tablespoon each: mayo, mustard, sweet relish, dill relish, chunky tomatoes, and banana pepper rings.
5. One teaspoon or less, celery salt.

That’s it. Gobble it down as slowly as you can. Eat another.


    P.S. A note on Mister Mustard. This mustard is my favorite, but it’s difficult to find in any of the local grocery stores. I order it online. It’s well worth it. It’s made by Woeber’s, in Springfield, Ohio, where the founder, Carl Woeber settled when he arrived from Germany. It’s the only mustard I’ve ever found that has a kick to it, yet still retains a decidedly mustard taste. I prefer the Hot Original, not the Sweet. Scott Raab, in Esquire magazine in 2007, said that for him, finding Mister Mustard was like meeting “the true love of mi vida loca con condimentos,” and it was “a blessing upon every cold cut known to humankind.” Scott prefers the sweet. I think he’s from Cleveland. I don’t think he’s a Southerner. Stick with the Original.