Gorgonzola Sauce

As I've mentioned, we're serious carnivores. Since my husband bought the butcher shop, not only have we had a limitless supply of whatever kind of meat we want, I have access to a bunch of stuff I wouldn't touch if I were stranded on a desert island and hadn't eaten in weeks. He sold raccoons once. I mean, actually sold them. I thought they would sit in the case until he had to throw them out. They were gone by the end of the day. There's hogs head cheese (I made the mistake of asking how that stuff is made--it sounds every bit as gross as it looks). And squirrels. And chitlins-chitterlings, if you want to be all proper about it. My husband calls them "exotic meats." 

Yuk.

But then there's the good stuff. Like steak. I love steak, and no one cooks a steak like my husband. When he puts the plate on the table, you can actually hear angels signing. You don't ever want to pollute a real steak with, well, anything. We eat a lot of ribeye around here, and when my husband is being extra sweet, he'll bring me a filet mignon (or a filet mignon roast stuffed with cream cheese and bacon. Sweet mother of meat.). That kind of steak is a gift from heaven that you just don't spoil with steak sauce.

However.

Every rule has an exception. This is it. If you've found a way to make filet mignon better, you can just go ahead and throw the bucket list away. You're done. I'm serous. I've had guys ask me for this recipe. I'm talking die-hard carnivores. We had a half a dozen of my husband's guy friends over for a cookout and every one of them was practically licking the leftover sauce off of his plate. It was adorable.


It takes a little time to cook down the cream, but it's so worth it. Just make sure you keep stirring. I've let it boil over more than once (left the kitchen. I guess I never learn), and it makes a mess.

Gorgonzola Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce

2 cups heavy cream

2 ozs. Gorgonzola crumbles (blue cheese will also work in a pinch)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. parsley

Bring cream to a full boil in saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat to medium/high and boil, stirring constantly, for 45 minutes or until cream has thickened to a sauce-like consistency. 

Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients all at once, whisking until cheeses melt. Spoon over steak and serve while sauce is still warm. 

Rum Cake

Happy holidays!! It's that time of year again--when I break out the mixer and start making all the stuff that will drive me to the gym on January 2. That means Christmas candy. It takes a lot of patience and precision to make candy. So, you may have guessed, I don't do it much. But once a year, my daughters and I descend on the kitchen and spend the day messing up every dish in the house. It makes for an impressive grocery run. Which means you have to keep yourself from choking up at the cash register. 


A true Southerner does spend an adequate amount of time barefoot (it gets pretty hot down here), but to approach candy day in anything less than tennis shoes is suicide. If you ignore that rule, the back and legs will spend two days making sure you regret it.


This may sound like too much effort, but I also make rum cake on candy day. Anything that involves rum is worth the effort. My version uses two different kinds. So double the pleasure. Plus half of my Christmas gifts are knocked out in 8 hours at home and I get to spend the day with my girls. Therefore, in the balance of things, candy day is a plus. So is this rum cake.


Rum cake

For the cake:
 
1 cup chopped pecans
1 package yellow cake mix (mix only-don’t add the other ingredients)
1 small package vanilla instant pudding mix
4 eggs
1⁄2 cup cold water
1⁄2 cup cooking oil
1⁄2 cup dark rum
 

For the glaze: 

1⁄2 cup butter
1⁄4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup coconut or dark rum
 
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle nuts over bottom of greased bundt pan. Stir together cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, oil and rum, then pour batter over nuts. Bake for one hour. Cool for ten minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Prick the top of the cake with a fork.
 
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in water and sugar, then boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Brush glaze evenly over top and sides of cake.

Chicken and Dumplings

My woeful lack of cooking skills in my youth is a frequent subject of family get togethers in my neck of the woods. I made some cookies that my daughter referred to as "nuclear waste." There was that cake my brother used as a frisbee. And the time I melted a rice cooker. Not kidding. It ended up in a puddle on the bottom of my microwave. I actually burned boiling water once. Don't ask my mom about it. Even after 25 years, she'll still bend your ear for 30 minutes about how I ruined her good double boiler. If you've read any of my previous posts, then you'll know what happened--I left the kitchen.

But I did pick up a trick or two from Grandma when I was young. Like good chicken and dumplings. I moved to Maine when I was 21, and I remember calling her because my chicken and dumplings didn't look like they were supposed to. She solved the problem in five seconds, and we had home cooked chicken and dumplings 30 minutes later, even in the dead of winter in Brunswick, Maine.

So the ability to make good chicken and dumplings is one I acquired from Grandma and, other than that small hiccup, have had most of my life. Grandma always rolled the dough, but I just spoon it into the pot. Grandma worked a lot harder in the kitchen than I do. I should be ashamed, but I'm not. 


Make sure to add plenty of black pepper. And make a double helping. If your house is anything like mine, you'll need it.

Chicken and Dumplings

1 10.5 oz. cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups milk
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded (I use a pre-cooked rotisserie)
1 cup baking mix
1/2 cup water or chicken broth

Add cream of chicken soup to large pot, along with milk and shredded chicken. Heat, stirring constantly, until well blended and bubbly (you can add a half cup of water to the mix to thin it out and give more volume, if you like). Place baking mix in a bowl and add water or chicken broth, then stir until well blended (should have a dough-like consistency. You can add more water or baking mix to get it to the right consistency). Drop dough by half-spoonfuls into the pot, then simmer, stirring constantly, until the dumplings are firm.

Cube Steak

Rumor has it we fry everything in the South. If you've ever been to the Texas state fair, you'll know those Texans will fry anything that stands still long enough. Cheesecake. Candy bars. Broccoli. Donuts. I even saw somebody fry some Kool Aid once. No joke.

But I may have mentioned that I'm a bit of an outcast when it comes to Southern cooking. My poor daughter grew up choking down stuff the dog turned his nose up at (I know--the grammar lovers are yelling at their computer screens, but no true Southerner would say "at which the dog turned up his nose." As one of my old bosses used to say, "As long as you know right.")

As it turns out, not having a knack for cooking at a young age kind of worked out for me. I don't fry much, and I rarely do anything with bacon grease--let's face it, when you make a living sitting in a chair, bacon fat is not your friend. 

So I've learned a lot of ways to make good food without handing it water wings and turning it loose in a skillet full of oil. Cube steak, however, is a real challenge. I've mentioned that my husband owns a butcher shop. And even he can't bring home cube steak that can survive a non-stick spray sauté without it tasting like a pair of cowboy boots. 
Someone told me you can put it in a crock pot with some soup and slow cook it. Nope. It tastes okay, but plan on chewing each bite for at least fifteen minutes.


But done right? Oh, yeah. Cube steak is salty, meaty goodness. I've tried several recipes, and I've come to the conclusion that there are only two ways to do it right.  The first (and best) recipe involves a lot of flour, some good seasonings, and a vat of vegetable oil--let's be real here, there aren't many things that can't be made better with a good deep fry. It also takes a long time and makes a five-alarm mess. And I won't even speculate how bad it is for you. 


So here is the compromise. Enough oil to make it taste good, but not so much that the end result will send you scrambling for the cholesterol medicine. Don't go crazy-like my daddy always said, "A little dab'll do ya."


Cube Steak


4 cube steaks

3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a skillet


Heat the oil in the skillet until a little flour thrown in the oil sizzles. Mix together the dry ingredients, then dredge each side of the cube steaks in the flour. Add cube steaks to skillet, then cover and cook 3-5 minutes on each side until cooked through.


If you like, once the steaks are done, remove them, scrape the bottom of the skillet to loosen the remaining bits of cooked flour (but leave them in the skillet), then make a roux gravy with the remaining oil to top the steaks with. 

Cheese Grits

Two things someone will hand you as soon as you walk across the Mason-Dixon line are grits and biscuits. When I was young, I lived in Washington state for several years. We moved there from Mississippi, so, as you can imagine, I stood out. My teachers thought my Southern accent was adorable. My friends actually thought I was from a foreign country.

Anyway, I can remember that my grandma used to send us care packages that included boxes of grits. Why? Because in the 1970s, no one outside of the South had ever heard of grits or biscuits, at least not in my experience. If you wanted grits, you got cream of wheat. And, seriously, if you've ever had good grits, how could you possibly settle for cream of wheat??

Fast forward forty years. The world has evolved. When I go to New York, I can find biscuits if I look hard enough, although bagels are still the preferred breakfast bread. While most folks have figured out biscuits at this point (although I would argue that no one who lives where it snows can do them right), grits are still a bit of a mystery. When it comes to grits, Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny had one of the best lines of all times: "Sure, sure I've heard of grits. I've just never actually SEEN a grit before."


A "grit" is an amazing culinary experience, if done correctly. If not, it is a flavorless mouthful of sandpaper. So if you've had bad grits before, you need to understand that it wasn't the grit's fault. And here's a tip: if your only experience with grits involved a buffet, life has been very unfair to you. There is no way to make buffet grits taste good. Trust me on this.

If you want to give grits a fair chance, cheese grits are the way to go. Here's how you make a good grit. In fact, you can saute some shrimp in butter, Worcestershire, cayenne, and Tabasco, add bacon, and dump it on top of these to make amazing shrimp and grits. 

Cheese Grits

 4 cups milk
1  cup quick cooking grits
1/2 tsp salt (don't skimp on the salt--in my humble opinion, unsalted grits are gross)
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 tbs butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
 
 
Bring milk, salt and pepper to a slight boil on medium high heat. Whisk in grits slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.Reduce heat and cook until thick or until desired tenderness and consistency (about 5 minutes).  
Cut cream cheese into chunks and add into grits with cheese and butter.  Stir until well blended and all cheese has dissolved.

Vaca Frita

I'm a Southern girl. Most Southern girls know their way around food. Those of us with country grandmas stood in the kitchen from the time we were knee high to a grasshopper learning how to cook.

And then there's me.

My grandma tried, but she didn't have much to work with. The rest of my family knew it. Grandma said once that anyone who can read a recipe can cook, to which my dad, rest his soul, replied, "You've never had her cooking." Sigh.

But finally, 20 years after my grandma died, I got the hang of it. I learned that the number one rule in cooking is to stay in the kitchen. Trust me on this one. If you wander off to do the laundry, there will be a smoke alarm involved. 

And pizza ordered. 

 

So after I finally got the golden rule of cooking settled in my head, cooking became an accomplishment I could be proud of, and meals at my house got a lot better. I have actually traveled a lot, and I've picked up recipes from a lot of places. I bring those home and add some of grandma's down home goodness to it. Now, I've gone from creating epic disasters to having our children come over just so they can have some of whatever's for dinner. Of course, they could just be hungry. They're barely out of their teens, and good lord, nothing eats like a teenager. They're like locusts.

But still. Yay, me! 

I've decided to start with a recipe that only recently made its way into regular rotation.This is my take on Vaca Frita, a Cuban meat dish. Fortunately for everyone at my house, my husband owns a butcher shop, so a good roast is never in short supply. We eat a lot of meat in the South. In fact, I don't think we have many vegetarians in Southern Alabama. There's one that shops at my husband's butcher shop. I know, right? She's a vegetarian, but her husband is not. What an awesome marriage those two must have. I'm serious about that. Kudos. But she's the only vegetarian I've heard rumors of around here.

So grab a fork (if it turns out right, you won't need a knife), and dive into this awesome Cuban cuisine.

IMG_4887
Vaca Frita
 
2 lb. Chuck Roast
1 Bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic (you can also used minced garlic)
6 T. lime juice
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
 
Core and quarter bell pepper. Remove skin from onion and cut in half. Place chuck roast in crock pot with a cup of water, one half of the onion, and the bay leaf the bell pepper sections. Cook on high heat for 4 to 5 hours. 
 
When the roast is done, turn it onto a cutting board and shred. Place the shredded pieces into a bowl. Cut the onions into slivers and add them to the beef. Smash the garlic into a paste and add it to the mixture, along with the lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients well, cover, and let sit for at least an hour. 
 
After the mixture has had time to marinate, heat a skillet or griddle until hot. Spoon the beef onto the griddle and spread into a layer and add additional salt and pepper, as desired. Don't pile it up--the meat is already cooked, so your goal is just to brown it. When the bottom has been browned and a bit crispy, flip and brown the other side. Then remove while you brown the remainder of the meat. 
 
Serve with black beans (lots of cumin and a little lime juice makes black beans a really good complement) and rice.