Monday, December 26, 2011

Tomato Gravy: Southern Ambrosia (and I don't mean that orange/coconut stuff either)

See the lumpy reddish gravy at 6:00 on the plate?  That's tomato gravy, not the prettiest I've made but the first made that the camera was remembered and the process photographed.

I like to think of it as Southern Ambrosia, food of the gods.  Or something very pleasing to taste and smell.  It's a fambly favorite with or without Christmas breakfast.

Christmas breakfast?  Yep.  Breakfast.  Twenty-four years ago Thanksgiving morning in a small one bedroom apartment on Mount Moriah Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee I awoke to smell nothing.  No thing.  It was different, not having smells of anything cooking when holiday memories previously were infused with scents of deliciousness coming from the kitchen.  Most times the smells would hurl me out of bed and to the kitchen where Mama would welcome the help, ignoring the fact the middle pecan missing from the pie was concomitant with my arrival there.   Mama would put the turkey on the top rack early in the morning when the brothers were awakened to go deer hunting, sent out the door with biscuit and link sausage.  Pecan pies would follow fowl into the oven, squash or pumpkin pies took their turn following the nuts, then casseroles and dressing.  The kitchen was rich with love of fambly, the smells coming from it a happy byproduct.

That first Thanksgiving away from home was difficult to salvage.  I was so excited to finally be out of the Deep South - away from everything I knew.  It should have been cookies (notice I didn't say cake - I can do cake).   It should have been a grand adventure.  Except there were no smells to wake up to.  There was nothing cooking in the kitchen.  It was awful.  I was homesick.  Me!  Homesick!  A vow was made that it would never happen again.  It hasn't, either.  Christmas Breakfast was created.

Every Christmas Eve I'll put a ham in the oven to slow roast the entire night.  Years ago, about the time the babies were waking up the ham would be done.  Everybody knows youngsters don't sleep past five Christmas morning.  

This year's breakfast was a little lighter than previous ones although I did find yellow grits at the Pig.

There is always (I know - no such thing as always but really there always has been) tomato gravy, one of everyone's favorite food.  To make it you'll need:

tomatoes - these are home grown, home canned Marglobe tomatoes, two pints
1/2 cup oil or bacon grease
3/4 cup flour
sugar to taste
salt to taste

See the ham to the left and grits on the back right
burner? MMmmmm...

Put the oil and flour in the skillet and turn on medium heat.
 When there's lots of bacon to be cooked
I bake it in the oven.  It turns out
nice and flat and you don't have to 
stand there and fry it.

With the heat up like this it won't take but a few moments for the flour to brown.

Almost there...

Yep!  I hope you've opened the tomatoes already.  If you haven't, take the dark roux off the heat or else it's going to scorch and make a bitter mess of a gravy.

Add the tomatoes and stir.  It really won't take but two or three minutes for them to thicken.

Add salt to taste and sugar to taste.   Home canned tomatoes don't require much sugar to take the acidic edge off.  GranGranny liked anything made with tomatoes to be very sweet.  My fambly enjoys it without all the sweetness.  Add as little or none at all for your family.   I have a half-cup of sugar in the photo.  I actually sweetened the coffee with a shake of it, using probably 1/4 cup in the gravy.

Here you go.  Christmas breakfast.  
 Can you tell?  I like black pepper.  I learned
a long time ago not to add pepper to the pot
or no one else will be able to eat!

Don't keep tomato gravy in reserve just for Christmas.  Our fambly also enjoys breakfast for supper where it requires little more than a pan of biscuits.  Make breakfast for your bunch tonight!

Since Christmas breakfast was actually on Friday this year so the Oldest Fellow could eat with us, I had Youngest Fellow run to the Pig and pick up a pack of bacon for our REAL Christmas day breakfast, which I put in the oven on warm.  It baked perfectly.   I wasn't waking up on Christmas day without smelling anything - not even in my own house!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Melted Chocolate Chips Chocolate Buttercream: Incredible Edible Invention of Necessity

Meh.  It's later than normal getting a post up.  And I wouldn't even bother but it's kind of sort of a happy accident that worked for the good in the kitchen tonight.  Y'all know I'm the Queen of Make Do.  I'm also the Empress of Stack.  Did y'all know that?  Yep.  I challenge anyone to come in my kitchen and wash and stack as many clean dishes as I can in the sink (the key word there is wash).

I'm all distracted.  It happens when Harry Connick, Jr is the Pandora station playing and there's still an hour of cakery business to get done before laying a weary head down.  I'll shuffle and sing and make icing and fillings and entertain myself with silly thoughts all while Harry croons to me from the lap top on the kitchen counter.

I was thoroughly distracted this evening coming back from Pine Level.  I'd 'helped' Mama sew her Perlena's Peculiar Critters Feed Sack Totes the whhhhole day long.
Aren't they so stinkin' cute???

I thought I had everything necessary to make cakes, peanut butter cream filling, and chocolate butter cream icing.  That's what I get for trying to think after working with the Tzarina 0f Making-Everyone-Else-Multitask-While-Micromanaging.  Don't let that sweet smile of hers fool you...

I didn't have cocoa powder.  It was eleven o'clock.  Post meridiem.  The Pig is closed.  Yikes!  What to do what to do???

I'll tell y'all what this Queen of Make Do did.  I made do splendidly with chocolate chips instead of cocoa for the chocolate butter cream.  I've read all over the internet of using melted bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate to make icings with.  It never occurred to me, though, that it might taste worth a flip.

Guess what?  It is MayyyyreeeLICIOUS!  It's super smooth and the butter kind of stands out.  I love it!  It can't be used all the time.  The cakery is a primary source of income without WORK work right now and profit margins have to be maintained.  But wow!  If somebody wants something extra special?  I'll definitely do this again.

See the time getting on towards one in the morning?  You're going to have to use your imagination with the photos.  I'd only decided to make it a post after the icing was made.  I really was only going for adequate chocolate butter cream icing, having no clue it was going to be exceptional.  

It's not terribly more troublesome than measuring cocoa powder.

I had a bag of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips.
You're seeing a full bag.  Really.  You are.
I melted them in the microwave.
That's a full cup of melted chocolate chips.  Seriously.
I licked the spoon, by the way...

I added the melted chocolate (half of it per mixer) to one cup of shortening, one cup of butter, and two teaspoons vanilla that had been whipped 

until it was thoroughly blended.  

**Big imagination necessary to see photo.**

When blended add a two pound bag of sugar and almost one third cup milk.  It will take a little sploosh more milk to get to spreading consistency but not much.

Kitch in action.
Aid is finished!

In the morning it will go on these.  

**Yawwwwn** Icing is finished, filling is finished, cakes are out of the oven, cardboard is cut.  Nothing left but to get to bed and then up in the morning to put everything together!  You'll have to see the finished products on Facebook.  I'll give you a hint - they're covered in candy...

Y'all have a good one.  I'll be along in a couple of hours to make us some different hot spiced cider and share it.

And do me a favor - don't tell Mama I called her a micromanager.  She'll think it's something ugly and I'll be in trouble!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Knotty Yeast Rolls

Yeast rolls.  Knotty yeast rolls.  

I made these for a catered meal today.  I say I made them.  I think a better verb for what happened to them is: repurposed.  I repurposed something.  It was quick.  It was easy.  And the ladies and one gentleman consuming them had little clue the rolls hadn't taken hours to make.

Here's what you need:
Yep.  Canned breadsticks.
Cooking spray for the muffin tins
Herb butter for slathering.  Or not. It's entirely optional.

I like zaatar mixed in with margarine on Texas toast, on other breads, and on these rolls.  The heavy oregano flavor in it is a welcome change from the previous 48 years of garlic butter on every toasted bread that wasn't for breakfast.  

What's leftover from this batch will be saved for when The Fellows come in next week. What's that got to do with anything?  I make naan dough;  Oldest Fellow rolls it out and cooks it.  Zaatar butter with naan?  Ohhhh yeah!

Annnnyways.  Mix whatever herb flavors your fambly likes with your favorite form of slathering ingredient.  

These are Pillsbury Bread sticks.  I don't usually purchase the premium brand but they were on sale.  Don't forget to cut off and save the Boxtops for Education points!

 Unroll the dough

Take a piece of it and stretch it a little

Tie it in a knot

Put it in a lightly sprayed muffin pan, tucking under the ends.  
That's one...




Put in pre-heated 400 F. oven for ten minutes.
When the dinger dings, take them out of the oven and slather with flavorful stuff.

 Pricey pastry brushes from Williams Sonoma?
I don't think so.  Inexpensive multi-pack from
the dollar store works great.

Return to the oven for another ten minutes.
Loaded mashed potatoes.....

When they come out, slather them again!  No point in not claiming double indemnity when it comes to food, right?

Yum.  Thirty minutes, start to finish, for knotty yeast rolls.  Y'all can't beat 'em with a stick!!!
Don't you like the cute cute tablecloth
I found at Dirt Cheap?  Yep.
Four bucks...

Will these be making an appearance at our fambly's Christmas meal?  Yep.  I'll make at least two dozen of them, too, because half of them will be eaten coming right out of the oven with The Fellows home.  Make them for your fambly:  easy, quick, economical -- y'all are going to love them!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hot Spiced Tea (Is there balm in Gilead?)

Tell me truly, I implore.  *snort* Now that I've taken two lines from Edgar A. Poe's The Raven and planted them into your minds, let me tell y'all, this is the kind of kind nepenthe that will have you quaffing more. 

Eh.  It must be the antibiotic making crazy talk, dragging lines hesitantly forward from a fragmented memory not thought of for a long while.  I really was going to start with Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman's epic duet of the beautiful folk song "There Is a Balm in Gilead" 'cause that's what hot spiced tea reminds me of, something to make the wounded whole and heal the sinsick soul.  Not that a sinus infection qualifies as a wound or sinsick  (now there's an argument just waiting to happen concerning Original Sin and the appearance of less than perfection i.e. illnesses {don't get me started -- antibiotics, remember??}) but hot spiced tea makes the minor nastiness that it is feel all better.  Lots better.  I'm having a cup of it now and am feeling immensely better.  I might be using exclamation marks by the end of the post.

I looked and looked in the local church cookbooks for the recipe.  I broke out my favorite cookbook of all, the Mississippi Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from home economics teachers and the extension service.  You can tell it's my favorite, it's all to pieces and held together with a rubber band.

It wasn't in any of them.  I looked online and the closest I found was for Hot Russian (spiced) Tea.  But that wasn't quite it either.  I'm thinking it's one of those recipes that Mrs. Mary Sue was called for and wrote (written?) down on the back of an envelope.  I'm pretty sure that envelope is in the bottom of the **shudder** junk drawer.  Y'all have one -- don't deny it.  It's that one drawer in the house that, if not careful, will begin to expand to an entire cabinet or chest of drawers or room.  It's either there or stuck between the pages of a cookbook I don't use often that I swore to myself I'd remember.  I didn't.  I don't know where the recipe is for hot spiced tea made with the fresh fruit juices so I put one together.
The oranges tonight are tangelos.  The local
FFA fellows and gurls sell boxes of Florida
fruit for their big fundraiser.  Despite the cold
early last year and the dry weather through 
the summer, the citrus coming out of
Florida is exceptional this year!

There's a lot of fruit juices added to the recipe.  You can see where I started with three family sized teabags, scratched out four and finishing with five.  It will take a strong tea to carry the flavors.  The cloves measured out are more than a tablespoon.  They're more than two tablespoons but not quite three. 
 I love my old Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar
that has been home to cinnamon sticks
for well over 20 years.

I'll be truthful -- I didn't measure them at all.  The Fellows and I enjoy the clove flavor in this so I measured a palm-full.  A palm full... Not everybody likes cloves that much, though, so a tablespoon is a good amount to start.  Tweak it like you like. 

Those ingredients are:
Five family sized tea bags.  I like Luzianne.  Mama likes Lipton. It's a house divided.
Three cinnamon sticks
One tablespoon whole cloves
One large can pineapple juice
Three cups sugar.  This is not too much sugar -- the recipe makes almost two gallons!
Three quarts of water, boiling
Juice of six medium large lemons
Juice of 12 oranges.

Okay!  Here we go.

Fruit juices react with metal.  Use a big porcelain pot with at least an eight quart capacity.  I made this once in the stock pot.  Eewwwwwww... Not good.  That taste of metal like eating a bite of pie with a spoon out of the aluminum pie pan entirely ruined the tea. 

To the boiling water add teabags, cinnamon, and cloves.  Let steep for at least 15 minutes.

Juice oranges and lemons while waiting.
There're cakes covered up under those 
flour sack dish cloths.

The Fellows don't like pulp.  I strain it out.

Pretend you're seeing lemons instead of oranges in that last photo.  

When the dinger dings add all fruit juices and sugar to the pot of steeped tea.
I don't even have any more Kentucky eggnog 
and the photo is blurry.  I'm going to say it's
the antibiotics this time.  

I bring it back to the boil just long enough to assure the sugar is dissolved and that the whole of it is piping hot.  I also let it stay refrigerated in the pot with the spices overnight to develop flavors more, storing in jugs in the refrigerator sans spices the next day. 

Have a cup!  Join me while I cut cardboard for cakes, won't you??

This makes almost two gallons of spiced tea, a perfect amount for an open house, small church function, or to store in the refrigerator until your fellows get home.  It will keep for several weeks there.  I've not ever frozen it, but I bet it'd freeze well also -- there's nothing in it to not freeze well.

Y'all don't forget to keep a hat or hood on your head;  Mama's right about body heat escaping from there.  And if the head cold or sinus infection develops, make this tea.  All that vitamin C and tea flavonoids are good for what ail you, cinnamon for aching joints and cloves are a traditional antiseptic and respiratory aid.  I promise!!!  See how much better I'm feeling?  All those exclamation marks... Hot spiced tea ROCKS!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

GranGranny's Tomato Vegetable Soup a la Mayree

Howard and Sara Lois Mohundro, Grandaddy and Granny, lived in a little house on Parker Drive in Memphis, Tennessee the day I met them - the day after X and I married.  I'd wanted to meet them so badly, X talked of his grandparents often and fondly, and with good reason.  They were all he claimed and more.  It didn't take but a moment of Granny's scrutiny to ascertain that I was, indeed, a farm gurl from hard-working folk, just like her.  She would have loved me anyways, for X's sake, but she didn't have to;  I could work doing the things she knew (like cropping the larger leaves on the greens instead of pulling the whole plant up), scurry to bring in her myriad pot plants and dig the banana trees when the first big chill threatened, Hoover (Hoover?! it was a new term to me, meaning vacuum) the floor furnace AND light the pilot light -- all without being told.  Working and cooking went a long way in Granny's book...

Grandaddy.  Wwwwwwell (and that's the way he said it, a long 'w' and a waver in his voice)... He was something else.  Sitting on the back porch any evening when the weather allowed with them brought stories, augmented I'm sure, of souped up motors and running moonshine up and down the Tombigbee Hills of Mississippi.  I adored him.

I adored them.
This was their 60th Anniversary Celebration at
AJ's house in Olive Branch.

One evening, X and I were visiting Granny and Grandaddy in their home.  The Fellows were staying with AJ and weren't with us.  I forget the occasion to be in Memphis but we had time to sit a spell and get caught up on the latest family gossip news.  They'd been watching the television.  Loudly.  Granny was having a hard time hearing the conversation going on over the tv.  She turned, looked at Grandaddy and said "Mute it."  Grandaddy began flipping through channels carrying on his conversation.

A second time, Granny said a little louder, "Mute it, Howard."  And again, Grandaddy picks up the remote and begins flipping through the channels, continuing the dialogue of keen observations on family behavior that only he could observe in the way he did.

Granny (I still get the jiggly giggles just thinking about this!) leaned forward in her chair, flopping her paper on the corner of the table between them, and repeated "I said MUTE it, Howard!!!"

To which Grandaddy replied, "There ain't no d*mn news on SaraLois!!!"  Grandaddy said Sara Lois like S'raLois -- kind of all one word that evening.  He didn't get in a hurry about speaking any one word, much less two, but he sure spit out her name that night.

X and I fell out of our chairs from lack of oxygen, trying to hold in the laughter. 
Annnnyways.  Granny made the best vegetable soup.  I loved having soup and cornbread at her house.  She made it for Grandaddy the way he liked it, super sweet.  To say Grandaddy had a sweet tooth is like saying the Pope is Catholic, possums play dead, or the sun shines.  It's a given.  

I've scanned the recipe so you can see Granny's instructions.  You'll notice that it contains a WHOLE cup of sugar.  Surely enough, you'll see that she mentions that this is the way Grandaddy likes it.  You know it's love when enough sugar for a gallon of sweet tea goes into a pot of soup!

I put mine together a little differently because we like it meatier tasting.  I found, through the years of making this, that cooking everything with the tomatoes from the beginning resulted in a very different sort of tomato taste than adding them at the end.  It also makes a thicker broth from the beginning and  butter beans and field peas take forever to cook in it.  Maybe not forever -- but a longer time than in the thinner meat broth.

Here's what you'll need:

Cast iron soup pot.  What?  You don't have a big ol' cast iron soup pot? Mine doubles as the greens pot and the chicken and dumplings pot.  Bless your heart.  I suppose any large pot will do, it needs to hold four quarts comfortably. 
Four cups of ham, chopped fine, if starting raw.  I kind of shredded this and doubled the amount.  It was already cooked and would fall apart in the stirring.
28 ounces can of tomatoes.  I like the Red Gold crushed tomatoes.  They're economically priced but don't taste like it at alllll.
A medium onion, diced kind of small.
Two small potatoes or one large one (whatever is in that pantry will work just fine).
One cup (or so) of  butter beans, field peas, okra, carrots, green beans, and English peas.  OR whatEVER is in your freezer or on the shelves available.  This evening I didn't have butter beans (how'd that happen?  I always have butter beans!) so I put in English peas.  
If you like bell pepper, by all means add it in.  I like bell pepper just fine, but not in a vegetable soup like this.  It's overpowering.  There doesn't seem a way to get a small 'taste' of bell pepper by using a small amount.  I don't use it in soups.
Three quarts of water.
Dice/shred ham. 

Yikes.  I've not even been in the Kentucky egg nog tonight
and have blurry photo!
Place in soup pot with water 
 and put on heat to come to a rolling boil for ten or fifteen minutes.  
There's no time on this step.  It should be long enough for the salt in the ham to impart to the water and make a rich ham broth.

Butter beans and peas take about the same length of time to cook so add them to the boiling ham broth.

If fresh carrots are being used, they'd be added now and cooked with the peas/butter beans/ham broth 'til almost tender.  There weren't any carrots in the crisper;  they were in the freezer so they'll get added later.  Semi-finely diced onion and potato are added to the soup pot.
The rolling boil is continuing in the background as soup ingredients are added.  When the potatoes are almost done add everything else but the tomatoes (and don't forget the little dab of corn that was all there was in the house).

Is it smelling incredible yet?  Why, yes.  Yes it is!  Add seasonings.  Since this is a shank ham (with precious little smokey flavor) I'm adding liquid smoke, garlic powder, and black pepper.
 I promise, I've not been into the egg nog.

I know. Fresh garlic IS better but it's cold outside, the wind is blowing, and the garlic is happy being warm under it's covering of dirt.  I wasn't going out to dig any. 
Granny's soup was always very sweet for Grandaddy.  Y'all ought to try it just once the way she's written it.  The tomatoes require something to knock the edge off but since this is ham, I'm going to use 1/4 cup of local honey.  Surprise ingredient!!!  

Now it's time to add the tomatoes, adjusting salt if necessary.

Yes.  Even though I wipe the tops and bottoms of
metal cans to open, if possible, I always open the 
bottom.  Mama's voice saying "You don't know
what ran across the top of that can" lingers...

I'll leave the lid off for the soup to simmer for another 15 or twenty minutes.  Everything is fully cooked in it now, it's just a matter of the flavors melding and the broth continuing to thicken a little bit.

Ooops.  I forgot to take a photo of the finished soup in the pot before bundling it up to carry to church tonight to share!
That's a sneak peak at the ingredients
for Mrs. Camille's Spiced Tea...

Tadadaaaaaaa... We've eaten our fill and this is what's left!  It's hearty. I made a pun!  There's almost no saturated fat in it whatsoever.  Filling.  Hot.  The light doesn't do it justice, it IS red.  Don't laugh at my bundling.  I've discovered that thread-bare cotton rugs are fabulous insulators for hot foods AND, if placed in any number of larger baking dishes, will absorb any wayward spill from the food!

There was a bowl of fried pitty-pat (small hand-formed)
biscuits made to go along with the soup.  I would've made
cornbread, too, but ran out of time!
Granny almost always made hers with ham.  The Fellows actually prefer it with ground beef.  All you need to do is brown the beef and pour off the excess fat to start the process.
Go check the pantry and freezer.  See if there's the makings for this pot of love.  Your fambly will thank you for it!