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


1-2 tbs. canola oil
1 lb. ground sausage (I prefer Jimmy Dean’s Hot. Any good bulk sausage will
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:

Earl Fisher. From his blog

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,
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.


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.


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.

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.