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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pork 'n' Beans 'n' Greens

In my continuing quest for creative use of leftovers, I give you...
Pork and Beans and Greens Soup.

Y'all, this was delicious! I had two bowls.

A few weeks ago when my mom was here, we grilled pork chops and ate them with sauteed kale and red chard. (Mom and LA did not enjoy the sauteed greens nearly as much as I did.) We had some leftovers, so I diced the pork and greens and froze them. Tonight I sauteed an onion, added some chicken broth, opened a can of tomatoes and rinsed some canned white beans. I stirred in the frozen pork and greens, let it simmer for a while, and voila!

A tasty supper, perfect for the cooler weather that blew in last night.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Creamed Corn Gratin with Fried Onion Rings and Bacon

When I got on a creamed corn kick a while back, I found this recipe on and made it for supper club. It was a hit, especially for my friend Amy's husband Rob, who asked, "Who made this mac and cheese? It's delicious!"

So, since most people like both corn and mac and cheese, I figured it I couldn't go wrong with this for a Thanksgiving side dish. The exact measurements are on the website, but here's my little recap.

I doubled the recipe for a crowd. Start by cooking the bacon, and crumble it for the topping.
Saute chopped onion in melted butter and reserved bacon grease.
Add eight cups of frozen corn and saute for about five minutes.
Then add two cups of whole millk and one cup of whipping cream. (I guess you could use reduced-fat dairy products, but don't bring that low-fat stuff to my house on Thanksgiving!)
With so much liquid, you may worry it will be too soupy, but have faith and keep cooking and stirring. Add three tablespoons of quick-cook grits to help thicken it, cook a while longer, and then stir in the grated cheese and chopped green onions.

The topping is toasted bread crumbs, the crumbled bacon, more chopped green onions and fried onions. If you're into short cuts, you can use those canned fried onion rings, but I like to go whole hog.
The nice thing about making this for Thanksgiving is that you can refrigerate the corn and topping separately. So, if you make it on Wednesday, you can clean up the kitchen and just pop it into the oven on Thursday morning.
It was tasty, but next time I think I will use even fewer bread crumbs in the topping. I must also warn you this is pretty darn oniony, since it has three different kinds of them. Nevertheless, always fun to try something new for Turkey Day. And you've got to love a side dish you can make in advance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Bad Things Happen in Good Kitchens

Many people who don't cook all year long feel pressured to get in the kitchen this week. Should you be less than thrilled with your results on Thanksgiving Day, I thought I'd commiserate with a few failures of my own.

My friend Ranie and I decided in junior high to bake the "Better than Sex Cake" from our school's cookbook. We weren't sure what went wrong with the dry, flavorless cake we produced, but we decided that whole sex thing didn't seem like much to look forward to after all.

Several years ago, I cooked potato soup to feed my church study group and refrigerated it until our meeting the following night. Chatting away with my friends, I forgot to keep stirring the soup as I reheated it on our host's stove. The result: my carefully prepared soup tasted as if it had been simmered with cigarette butts. Thank heavens for the cornbread my mama made to go with it.

Reheating was also the root of a tough lesson learned as a child--and one that I unfortunately learned again last week. Wanting to help my busy grandmother prepare lunch, I removed a ceramic container of vegetable soup from the refrigerator and put it on "high" on the electric stove. In a few minutes, the heat had cracked the container all the way around the bottom. For a good 20 years, I remembered the lesson: glass will crack if exposed to sudden changes in temperature. Then a few weeks ago, I microwaved chicken broth in a Pyrex measuring cup -- a vintage '60s job inherited from my other grandmother. I emptied the hot stock into my soup and proceeded to crack the cup by filling it right back up with cold water.
My most colorful failure came recently when I bought some butternut squash, pear and gorgonzola ravioli at the farmers' market. The vendor suggested I serve it with a wine sauce. I carefully sauteed some shallots and added some red zinfandel...and ended up with this: purple pasta. Yuck.
There are some nights it's a good thing you didn't invite anybody over to eat with you -- even a relative! Nevertheless, at least you can dim the lights on purple ravioli. There's nothing you can to to camouflage scorched soup.

Whatever's on your menu, I'm sending you good kitchen karma -- with a hefty side of cornbread -- for your own experiments this week!

Simplest Butternut Squash Soup

A few weeks ago, Parade magazine published a recipe called Simplest Butternut Squash Soup. This is one of my favorite fall flavors, and the recipe is exactly what the article promised: "embarrassingly simple" but full of "rich flavors that will make any home cook proud."

1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
3 slender or 1 1/2 larger leeks, white parts only, split lengthwise, washed and cut into 1-inch-long pieces
3 cups whole milk
3 cups water (I substituted chicken broth for more flavor)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the squash. Scoop out the seeds and string with a sharp spoon and discard. Cut the squash into 1- to 2-inch chunks. Toss into a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the leeks, milk and water (or broth); salt generously and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook 25-35 minutes, or until the squash is soft enough to mash when pressed lightly with the back of a spoon.
Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until it is very smooth. It may be thick: thin to your desired consistency with milk or water. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Reheat as necessary. (This soup is at its best when truly hot.)
Serves 6. I recommend freezing some and saving it for a day when you need an easy lunch or dinner. The recipe also says you can garnish it with chopped apples and/or hazelnuts and walnuts and a drizzle of creme fraiche or heavy cream. I didn't take the time to do any of that, and it was still very tasty.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aunt Shirley's Sweet Potato Casserole

Flipping through a recipe box is a walk through memories. Every Thanksgiving, I love making the sweet potato casserole I first had in 2000, when I ate with my boyfriend Eddie's family in Dothan, Alabama.

The rest of my family scattered that year, and my mom's mom found herself with nowhere to spend the holiday. Eddie and I drove three hours round trip on Thanksgiving to bring Grandmama to his family's feast. Her favorite dish was Eddie's Aunt Shirley's sweet potatoes. Grandmama liked them so much, she had a second helping of them for dessert.

Both Grandmama and Shirley have passed away, and Eddie is now married and a daddy, but every fall I pull out the creased, splattered copy of the recipe Eddie's mom wrote for me to keep. I boil and mash the potatoes, chop pecans for the topping, melt entirely too much butter and remember how another family made me feel right at home.

Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup oleo
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup oleo
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts

Boil and mash sweet potatoes. Add all other ingredients. Put in a casserole and top with topping. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Notes: I wanted to post the recipe in its original form, as above. Oleo is what most Southerners used to call margarine; I just use pure butter instead. Begin by peeling and cutting sweet potatoes into about two-inch chunks.

Cover with water, bring to a boil, simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender, and mash with butter until smooth.
I typically double the sweet potato mix to have about six cups of mashed potatoes. I use four eggs and 2/3 cup evaporated milk but keep the other proportions about the same. I'm not afraid of sugar and butter, but I just don't think you need quite that much. Be careful when you are filling up your casserole dish; remember this will puff up a bit while baking because of the eggs, so leave yourself some room.
This is a pretty standard Southern recipe, but I think what makes Shirley's version unique is the fact it doubles the topping, so you get lots of nutty, sugary goodness on top.
If you want to plan ahead, you can bake it and cool it, refrigerate overnight, wrap in foil and freeze it until Thanksgiving. Defrost it and bake again on the holiday. While I'm filling my big casserole, I like to spoon a little extra into a smaller dish. That gives me something to enjoy one weeknight with pork tenderloin when I want a special treat.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lynsley's Banana Pudding

I typically go with tried and true recipes. As I'm becoming a better cook, I'm getting more inventive, but I still tend like a sure thing. There aren't many creations I consider mine. This is one of them, hence the title.

Establishing the "best" banana pudding is far too subjective. Some people like their cookies soft, others like their cookies crispy. Some want lots of bananas, others just want a few. But after numerous rounds of taste testings and experimenting with friends, I will say this: My banana pudding kicks ass.

Due credit: the heart of this is the homemade vanilla cream pudding, a recipe I clipped from Southern Living in the late 90s. But the rest of it has come together through experimenting over the years and taking the best of various recipes.

Lynsley’s Banana Pudding
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 package Lorna Doone cookies
4 ripe bananas
Vanilla Cream Pudding

Begin by making the Vanilla Cream Pudding:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
3 egg yolks
3 cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine first three ingredients (sugar, cornstarch, salt) in a medium-heavy saucepan.
Separate the three egg yolks.
Whisk together egg yolks and milk (first add a little bit of milk to the eggs and completely incorporate, then add a little more, etc.).

Gradually add egg and milk mixture to sugar mixture in the same fashion (add a little bit of liquid and completely incorporate, add a little more, etc.). Whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly (should take about 10 minutes). Boil, whisking constantly, one minute. (Do not boil longer than one minute or the cornstarch will begin to break down.)
Remove from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla.
Pour into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly over the surface of warm pudding so it won't form a skin. Cool 30 minutes. (If just eating as pudding, then refrigerate for two hours. If making banana pudding, follow instructions to layer after pudding cools for at least 30-45 minutes. If you layer the hot pudding, it will melt your whipped cream. Do not stir the cooled cooked pudding; gently fold it from your bowl to the dish when you make the layers.)
Whip one pint of heavy whipping cream with beaters in a bowl. (Cream whips best if beaters and bowl are very cold.) Layer Lorna Doone cookies in bottom of trifle dish. Top with sliced bananas.
Spread layer of vanilla pudding on top. Add layer of whipped cream. Repeat layers as desired.
Chill for several hours, and enjoy!  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Early Morning, Late Lesson

There I was, standing outside the YMCA at 4:55 for a 5:05 a.m. spinning class. I wasn't alone. A small crowd waited for the door to be unlocked.

On a bike ten minutes later, I couldn't help but laugh at the irony. Me? At the gym? At this hour? On purpose? I thought of someone who'd laugh even more: the woman who coached me through a decade of physical education, Susie Morris.

As a student, I used any excuse to get out of P.E. I'd offer to give Coach Morris shoulder rubs on the sidelines, clean her desk, organize uniforms, take inventory of equipment. Anything to avoid having to participate.

Most of my elementary school classmates couldn't wait for the annual Field Day each May, when we'd compete in events like a softball throw, 50-yard dash or tug-of-war. I hated it. I was hopelessly bad at everything. Others would collect an assortment of blue ribbons, and I'd just feel like a big loser.

In a way, it was a useful sort of inversion. I was used to winning in the classroom; I should have realized Field Day proved no one is the best at everything. But I was too young to be gracious about my athletic incompetence, so I hammed it up. One year, I actually brought a battery-powered fan to use as I sat on the sidelines, playing the part of the Southern belle who didn't want to get sweaty. I celebrated the Field Day my fractured arm was in a cast. It wasn't that I didn't want to participate, I just couldn't, see?

My mom tried to get me to sign up for team sports, encouraging me to join my friends on the softball or tennis teams in middle school. I did, and I resigned myself to being the weakest link. I was quick to make fun of myself before others could. All my friends played basketball in high school, so I kept stats. I'd count their lay-ups and free-throws, enjoying the camraderie and accepting the fact I belonged on the bench.

"I only run when chased by a large man with a heavy object," said one of my college friends. I made it my mantra.

Then I graduated. A colleague at my first job encouraged me to jog a few blocks with her on our morning walks. I tried it and found it strangely exhilarating. I got better. One day I ran for 50 minutes without stopping. Holy cow! I began to look forward to my jogs.
In 2004, I entered my first race, Charleston's annual 10K Cooper River Bridge Run. Crowded in a sea of people, I held my own and noticed there were lots of joggers who were faster than I was. There were also plenty who were slower. It was a revelation: there are thousands of people who aren't the best at things, but that doesn't stop them from trying. As one of my youth leaders wrote on a note in junior high before exams,  "Being best doesn't mean being better than anybody else. It means being the best you can be." Too bad it took me so long to get it.

On my bike at the gym that morning, panting to keep up with the instructor, I thought about my friend Blaine. He was eager to join me in the coaches' office on those cleaning days long ago...and has now completed more marathons than any of our high school classmates. And it rolls both ways: I remembered others who weren't particularly stellar students but have found great success in the real world.

When I'm home for the holidays, I get a kick out of waving to Coach Morris as I jog by her house. It's fun to think we can do things in life that surprise people who knew us as teenagers. It's better when we surprise even ourselves.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sausage, Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

It's great to return from a weekend out of town and know you don't have to go to the grocery store. Two weeks ago, I'd purchased the ingredients to make a corn, sausage and sweet potato chowder, inspired by this recipe on the Foster's Market website.

I made a few adjustments based on my preferences and what I had available. First, I diced and sauteed an onion, three stalks of celery and two bell peppers. I had a little reserved bacon grease left, and since I liked that flavor so much in my last chowder, I used it again to sautee the vegetables over medium heat.
Once the vegetables were soft, I added some cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes and tarragon. (OK, the tarragon was kind of random, but I was out of thyme and thought I'd just give it a whirl.)
Then I also added some chopped garlic and sauteed it for a few seconds before adding the chicken broth (about 8 cups), two chopped sweet potatoes, 2 cups of frozen corn and a pound of sauteed sausage.

I brought it to a boil and then simmered it for about 20-25 minutes until the potatoes were tender. It was delicious! I swirled in a little cream before I ate it.  
A note on chicken broth: I bought one of those small jars of concentrated stock a few weeks ago. You keep it in the fridge and add it to boiling water in the quantity you need. I think it's pretty handy for making soups. It's extremely salty, but if you use it in a soup, you can just leave out any additional salt. Happy eating!

Friday, November 5, 2010

"My sister says..."

When I started working at the bank six years ago, my manager Mona teased me for my tendency to begin sentences with, "My sister says..."

I couldn't help it! Leigh Ann knew Charlotte and the ins and outs of the company so much better than I did. Her helpful hints were a hit with all of my new colleagues. I now joke my sister has an accuracy rate of approximately 95%.

Anyway, for the past few weeks, my sister has said I need a new blog name. It's not that she dislikes Popcorn and M&Ms, just that it's hard to type into a browser because of all the dashes. "It's too complicated! You need to make it easier for people to find you," she said. "Look at Elyse. I saw the name of her blog, Pretty Happy Busy, one time, and I already remember it."

I think she's right. I love the reason why I called this blog Popcorn and M&Ms, and I do indeed savor the sweet and salty bits of life. Neverthless, I have come up with a few new names:
  1. Traveling Tomato -- captures my love of adventure and my rural roots (non-Quincy readers may not know my dad was a tomato farmer)
  2. Maps and Cheese -- get it? I really amused myself with this one.
  3. Passport Pork Chop -- these are a few of my favorite things...
  4. Pimento Postcard -- another nod to traveling and my Southern roots
Post a comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mustard Pork Chops and White Caramel Pears

My friend Hilary was in Charlotte for work this week, so I wanted to make her a special dinner. I picked one of my favorite fall recipes from the Nigella Express cookbook. One of the reasons I'm so fond of this is that the book came out during my London stint three years ago, and I caught a few evening TV episodes of Nigella preparing some of the recipes. I cooked this for the first time in my tiny little flat in Canary Wharf. I love dishes that bring back fond memories! 
Mustard Pork Chops by Nigella Lawson in Nigella Express

2 pork chops, about 1 lb. total weight (you can use boneless or bone-in)
2 teaspoons garlic oil
1/2 cup hard cider
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Cut the fat off the chops, and then bash them briefly but brutally with a rolling pin between two pieces of plastic wrap to make them thinner.
2. Heat the oil in a pan, and then cook the chops over a moderately high heat for about 5 minutes per side. Remove them to a warmed plate.
3. Pour the cider into the pan, still over the heat, to deglaze the pan. Let it bubble away for a minute or so, then add the mustard and stir in the cream.
4. Let the sauce continue cooking for a few minutes before pouring over each plated pork chop. If you're having gnocchi with, make sure you turn them in the pan to absorb any spare juices before adding them to your plate.

Serves 2
A few notes: I often skip Step 1 and just cook the thicker chops a bit longer. Since I didn't have any garlic oil, I used olive oil and then added some garlic to the pan for a few seconds after I removed the chops and before I deglazed the hot pan with the cider. Buying the proper cider is a bit tricky. I've always used hard cider, though it might work just as well with the alcohol-free kind. The most readily available brands of hard cider are Harpoon and Wood Chuck, but they are too diluted for this. So, I will use an entire 12 oz. bottle and boil it long enough to reduce it to 1/2 cup to concentrate the flavor. You will probably have to buy a six-pack, but then you have something to drink with your dinner!

If you keep the cider in your fridge and the gnocchi in your pantry, this is an easy staple for your weeknight dinner rotation. I purchased a four-pack of chops and thought it easily served four.

For a side, I served the roasted butternut squash salad I posted a few weeks ago.

Dessert was baked pears with White Caramel Sauce, a recipe I have saved from Southern Living since 1999 because it is that good! As the magazine said: After every bite of Poached Pears with White Caramel Sauce is devoured, you'll secretly wish to lick the plate.
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter or margarine

Cook sugar and 1/3 cup water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, about 15 minutes or until reduced to 6 tablespoons.

Add whipping cream and vanilla. (Mixture will be lumpy.) Cook over medium heat, stirring often, 15 minutes or until reduced to 1 cup. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Cover.
Notes: You must have a very heavy small saucepan for this to work. The sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Pears can either be poached or baked; the point is just to warm and soften them. Before you begin, measure 6 tablespoons of water into your saucepan and notice what it looks like. Pour it out and do the same thing with one cup of water. This will help you know when the mixtures have reduced appropriately in your saucepan.

And yes, I did lick my plate!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wild Rice with Cranberries and Caramelized Onions

For tonight's supper club, I needed to make a side to go with Anne's chicken with basil and goat cheese. Last week at Costco, I bought an economy bag of Craisins, one of my favorite pantry staples. (Side note: I am eating them in my morning oatmeal with a tablespoon of orange marmalade, a trick I learned from Caribou. Great fall breakfast!)

Anyway, the bag of craisins had an intriguing wild rice recipe on the back, and Anne's chicken seemed like a good opportunity to try it. I think this would also pair quite well with a simple pork tenderloin.
Combine 2 cups chicken broth with 1/2 cup brown rice and 1/2 cup wild rice. (Note: I purchased a mix of both and simply used 1 cup of rice.) Bring rice and broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 45 minutes or until rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. (Or follow rice package directions.)

The recipe calls for three medium onions, sliced in thin wedges. My mom was still here and cut those up for me. Talk about taking one for the team -- she had to leave before it was finished, so she didn't even get to taste any of it. I forgot to tell Mom to slice them, not dice them, but you really cannot complain when someone else is cutting up your onions for you.
Cook the onions with 3 tablespoons melted butter and 2 teaspoons brown sugar over medium-high heat for about 6 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and onions are soft and translucent. Reduce heat to low. Slowly cook onions, stirring often, for 25 minutes or until they are caramel in color. Stir in 1 cup of dried cranberries.
Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until cranberries swell. Mix rice and cranberry onion mixture with 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Everyone agreed this recipe is a keeper for fall. Would be great with grilled pork chops or a fabulous turkey side for Thanksgiving! Amy made a super-moist Pumpkin Pie Cake from Cooking Light and shared the extra pieces. I may be having one with my morning coffee.

Sunflour Baking Company

My writing club buddy Lisa told me about a new bakery in Elizabeth. While Mom was still asleep in my guest room, I drove over and got us a little Monday morning breakfast sampler. If only every week started this way!

I went a little overboard and purchased four things for the two of us to split -- we are suckers for variety. The haul: a cherry almond scone, a chocolate croissant, a raspberry "pop tart," and (for a little something savory) a ham and cheddar muffin.

Then I took a few minutes to heat up the lot in my toaster oven, which I'm convinced is essential for true enjoyment of all baked goods -- especially scones. (Please note the extra color on the scone is from my toaster oven, not the bakery.)
The verdict? DELICIOUSNESS!!! Picking a favorite seems cruel, but I might have to go with the chocolate croissant. It wasn't unique, just a perfect rendition of the classic pastry in a lovely scroll-like shape. Second place would be the pop tart, which was decadently buttery and had the perfect burst of gooey raspberry flavor.

Check it out! It's on the corner of Pecan and 7th Streets in the shopping center across from Showmars on 7th. Another clever thing they offer is 4-inch pies for $6. They had coconut cream, banana cream and chocolate cream. I will be back...too bad it's not closer to my house. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing!