Muffins. Blueberry variety.

Muffins. Blueberry variety.

There are muffin tops, and there are muffins that are tops. These would be the latter.

OK, that was a reach. Give me a break. I’ve been working on a brochure, and my mind has turned to tapioca, and I need to think about something else.

Like muffins.

One thing everyone ought to have in their culinary repertoire is a good muffin recipe. I have two: the bran muffin recipe long detailed on the All-Bran box, which remains one of my favorites, particularly when you add diced dried figs and toasted walnuts.

And this one.

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Ahh, shrimps. Lovely little creatures, they are.

Ahh, shrimps. Lovely little creatures, they are.

I love shrimp. I’m not sure but what shrimp may be my favorite protein from the animal kingdom side of the house.

It’s a versatile critter. You can boil them up in a Cajun boil, with potatoes and corn and a chunk or three of Andouille sausage and some really good shrimp boil seasoning. You can grill ‘em. You can sauce them and put them over grits. You can bread and fry ‘em, although damned if I know why you’d want to. You can bake ‘em, you can saute’ ‘em, you can put them in a salad or on a salad or hang them on the rim of a martini glass filled with an astonishingly wonderful cocktail sauce.

I love ‘em. I’ve never tasted anything with a shrimp that I didn’t like. And want more.

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Aloha, coffee!

May 5, 2014

Snobbery IS worth it when it comes to coffee.

Snobbery IS worth it when it comes to coffee.

I am a self-proclaimed coffee snob. I just almost won’t accept a cup of coffee at someone’s home or office, unless I’m desperate for caffiene. I loathe Starbucks. (Some restaurant coffee, generally, is relatively decent, and oddly, one place I can count on getting a reasonably decent cup is at McDonald’s.)

I grind my own beans daily. I find it next to impossible to drink coffee from conventional coffee pots; I use a French press and an electric kettle to heat the water. I order the beans from Cafe Brazil in Dallas, five pounds at a time.

Or I did. I may have changed that.

Because I have discovered Kona Cloud Coffee. One hundred percent pure Kona (that would be Hawaii, y’all) coffee, estate grown, beans shipped to Jonesboro and roasted.

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Happy Star Wars day!

May 4, 2014

Worth the drive, I'm telling you. Do this.

Worth the drive, I’m telling you. Do this.

And if May the Fourth is with you today, it means that Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow. That being the case, there are likely certain supplies you should procure in order to properly celebrate it, to-wit:

  • A pinata.
  • Significant quantities of Latino-inspired/brewed beer. My personal favorite in that category is Negra Modelo, although Carta Blanca isn’t bad, and Bohemia is downright awesome.
  • The makings for chili and arepas.
  • Some good tortilla chips, and good cheese dip. I highly recommend Pancho’s, if you live in an area where the groceries carry it. If not — move.

And you should betake yourself to Newport, AR, and get you a dozen or two or six of Lackey’s Tamales. If you don’t live within striking distance of Newport, see advice in preceding item.

The Delta has a longstanding love affair with the humble tamale. The Southern Foodways Alliance, of which I am a proud member, discusses here the potential origins of that relationship, which remain shrouded in mystery. Certainly they were common fare when Robert Johnson sang “two for a nickel, three for a dime” in juke joints up and down Highway 61 in the ’30s.  Delta tamales burst onto the national scene perhaps in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected President, and coincidentally immortalized Doe’s Eat Place, whose Little Rock outpost of the Greeneville, MS homeplace was a favorite of his.  There’s even a Delta Tamale Trail (see SFA, again,) and a tamale contest in Greeneville.

An aside: In Crittenden County, where I ran a newspaper for several years, it’s a common practice for African-American churches to hold fundraising dinners midday on Saturdays to meet assorted financial obligations. Those dinners were generally fried catfish or buffalo, slaw, spaghetti (yes, spaghetti is a side dish, with a meatless red sauce) a slice of light bread, and a chunk of chocolate cake. Sometimes they’d sell tamales on the side.

One Saturday, I woke up jonesing for tamales. I grabbed a copy of the previous day’s paper, thinking I had recalled a dinner that featured tamales. I did, and I betook myself to Rising Sun M.B. Church in Sunset, Arkansas. Walked in. Conversation sort of stopped.

I walked up to the counter and said, “Good afternoon, Ma’am. I’d like to get some tamales, please.”

Several black ladies looked at each other, looked at  me, and looked at each other again. Finally, one said, “We’re out right now, but she’s gone to the house to get some.”

Another one chimed in, “I’ll call her.”

The phone was dialed. “Miss Ruby? You ’bout through? They’s a white girl here wants some tamales.” A pause. The speaker looked at me. “Honey, you want hot tamales, or mild?”

“Hot’ll be fine,” I said.

“She says she wants hot tamales. You on your way?”

Shortly, Miss Ruby came in, carrying a large stock pot, which she turned over to two other ladies, who proceeded to wield tongs and secure my tamales. Wrapped in aluminium foil instead of the traditional corn shuck, they were boiled, not steamed. The filling was ground beef, not shredded pork. But they were wonderful.

And yes, they were hot. And I went back to Rising Sun every time they advertised they would be selling them.

But I digress. I am here today to tell you (and likely commit Southern culinary heresy in so doing) that Doe’s ain’t got NOTHIN’ on Lackey’s when it comes to making tamales.  Doe’s tamales tend to have a more bland masa, and the ratio of masa to filling is entirely too high. For my money, I like the seasoning Lackeys gives the shredded pork interior better, too.

So go to Lackey’s and get your tamales. Get however many you think you’ll eat in six weeks or two months; they freeze well for that long. Then come home and make you some chili.

Now, I am not going to get all up into the “real” chili  vs. “that other” chili. I’ve made chili with beans, and chili without. I’ve made chili with tomatoes, and chili without. I’ve put corn in chili. I’ve put shredded beef, cubed beef, several different iterations of pork. I’ve tried chicken, and even goat, boar, and buffalo.

For this chili, I prefer a no-beans, tomato-based version, somewhat thinner than my usual. It is, roughly:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • ancho chile powder, cumin, salt, pepper, smoked paprika to taste (I don’t measure spices)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 bottle dark beer (the aforementioned Negra Modelo is perfect)

Saute the onions in a couple of tablespoons of oil in  a sizeable Dutch oven. When it’s soft, add the garlic. When that gets highly fragrant, ad the ground beef and spices. Saute until beef is well-browned and the liquid it gives off is cooked away. Add the tomatoes and beer, cover, and simmer an hour. Taste and correct seasonings.

You can make some arepas to go with them, if you’re ambitious. Drain a can of whole-kernel corn and dump it in a mixing bowl. Add a cup or so of masa harina (corn flour), a spoonful of bacon grease, an egg, and enough milk to make a stiff dough. Pat out patties, and fry until they’re crisp. You can add grated cheese if you’re of a notion.

When it comes time to eat, assemble your dinner as follows:

  • Take your plastic wrapped bundle of six tamales (Lackeys packages them in half-dozens), unwrap them, lay them flat side by side on the plastic wrap, and carefully rewrap them. Nuke them for 2 minutes in the microwave. It may take another minute, depending on your microwave.
  • Into a large, shallow soup bowl, ladle an inch or so of chili.
  • Unwrap the individual tamales from the corn shucks, and arrange them on your chili.
  • Sprinkle the whole steaming thing with a couple of tablespoons of grated cheddar, cotija, co-jack or queso fresco.
  • Add some diced onion and/or jalapenos if you’re of a notion.
  • Balance a couple of arepas on the rim of the bowl.

Grab the bag of tortilla chips, a fresh Negra Modelo, and dig in!

Then, you ‘n y’mama ‘n ‘em go beat up on a pinata.



Let there be spring!

May 3, 2014

I won't attempt to name 'em in order. Or even name 'em. Herbs.

I won’t attempt to name ‘em in order. Or even name ‘em. Herbs.

And about damn time, too.

In honor of the occasion, I have:

  1. Gone to the first farmers’ market of the season. Strawberries, green onions, asparagus, radishes, some all-natural lotions and creams, and some other stuff that I forgot about already.
  2. Hooked up the gas bottle I bought when I moved here last summer, and grilled some steaks. Too done, but who’s counting? They were good. Also large.
  3. Planted the herb garden. All 10 pots worth of it. And made myself a hefty vodka and tonic with which to recover.

All in all, it’s been a fine day.

Steak, baked potato, corn, asparagus. Hello, spring.

Steak, baked potato, corn, asparagus. Hello, spring.

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Not certain I’m back on a regular basis, but I’ve actually cooked some here recently, and the itch to record it is growing. Plus, there have been some noteworthy things on the food front. Plus, it’s finally, maybe, sorta-kinda getting to be spring (albeit I had the heat on last night, which may be the first time in recorded history my heat has been on in May, but when it’s 64 degrees in my house before I go to bed, I’m not playing with that stuff.

Plus, I’ve MISSED y’all. (Please feel free to chime in with how much you’ve missed me. Affirmation is a Good Thing.)

So. Assorted cookery, observations, and other stuff.

"Every girl's crazy 'bout..."

“Every girl’s crazy ’bout…”

It was Easter about a week and a half or so ago. We did not do egg hunts, and I did not do Easter baskets, but I did have the sharpest-dressed man (with thanks to ZZ Topp, because THIS girl’s sure crazy about her grandbaby) at church on Sunday morning.

And I cooked Easter dinner.

A holiday-worthy spread, it was.

A holiday-worthy spread, it was.

Nothing very out-of-the-ordinary for Easter dinner, except I took a notion and wrapped the asparagus in proscuitto and roasted it, which was quite excellent. I also bought two pounds of it for four of us adults for Easter dinner, and one of us doesn’t like asparagus. I may have perhaps overshot the mark on that. But it warmed up well.

Actually, Child C prepped the asparags, after I showed her how to snap the stalks and then wrap each spear. This would be Child C, who Does Not Cook. Much. I was kinda proud.

Along with the asparagus, we had Petit Jean Farms’ smoked ham. Good ham. All things considered, I couldn’t say I could make much difference in it and regular PJ ham. I have a fair quantity of it in the freezer, so you’ll see that some this summer. It was fully cooked, but I went ahead and put a mustard and brown sugar glaze on it and put it in the oven long enough to heat through. Sides were corn pudding and mac and cheese and deviled eggs — pretty plain vanilla ones, with mayo and mustard and pickle relish and paprika.

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March 23, 2014

Well, folks, it’s been fun. Almost 800 posts, lots of new adventures in the kitchen, and I’ve learned a ton (and gained about that much weight). But it’s time to take a vacation from the keyboard, or at least that portion of it that’s tied to food.

I’m just not feeling it these days. Work schedule is picking up, social schedule is busier, grandparenting schedule is keeping me busy. I’ve taken on a couple of new clients, a couple of extra writing projects, some more travel. I’m not cooking much, and experimenting on less.

I’ll be back. Probably about the end of June, when the Farmers’ Market swings into full steam ahead. Meanwhile, eat well, and I’ll see all of you soon.



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