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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

They opened a new amusement park in Gulf Shores, which is about an hour from my house.

I’ve mentioned before that I love Disney World, although that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been, but I know it’s been over twenty, possibly over thirty.

My daughter and I used to run half marathons together, before med school took over her life, and one year, we decided to go for the coast to coast medal-which means you run a half marathon at Disneyland and then one at Disney World. We did. Two weeks apart. That was a lot of traveling, a lot of training, and a lot of money.

My husband is a very patient man.

Most of what I love about Disney is the atmosphere. The other part is the roller coasters. I’ve loved roller coasters ever since I can remember. My youngest brother and I are twelve years apart and I can remember taking him on coasters when I was a teenager and he was just barely old enough to meet the height restrictions.

And then they opened and an amusement park near my house. Like I was going to pass that up. We spent the day out there about a week ago and, while it was no Disney (what is?), we had a great time. We stopped for lunch at this restaurant in the park, and they had delicious homemade pickles. My grandma used to can pickles, but she made the gross kind-bread and butter. Grandpa loved them. I mentioned in a previous post that grandpa loved peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwiches. I guess the sandwiches wouldn’t have been as good with dill pickles, but that’s hard for me to say.

I think they would have been just as bad either way.

Anyway, she didn’t can dill pickles when I was growing up, but the process isn’t that much different—there’s just a lot more sugar involved in sweet pickles. So I’d seen it done before, and I knew I could pull it off. Once I had the ones at that restaurant, I wanted to make my own. I couldn’t find their recipe, but that didn’t matter. Homemade dill pickles are good no matter how you make them.

And these refrigerator pickles are so simple, there’s really no reason to buy them in the store. One of my most popular recipes is my mayhaw jelly recipe. I love that stuff, but by the time you wash, juice, sterilize, boil, can, and process, you’re in the kitchen most of the day. Refrigerator pickles take about ten minutes to prepare, then all you have to do is pop them in the fridge and let them soak for about a week. I cut them thick and eat them straight out of the jar, but they’re also amazing on my husband’s jalapeño pepperjack burgers.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

2 cucumbers

2 cups water

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

1/tsp sugar

1 bunch fresh dill

2 cloves minced garlic

Wash and trim dill, then place inside a quart jar. Wash and slice cucumbers to desired thickness and place in jar on top of dill. Add minced garlic to jar. Place one cup of the water in a pot and bring to boil. Add sugar and salt, stir until dissolved and remove from heat. Add remaining water and vinegar to water/salt/sugar mixture, stir, then allow cool completely. Pour cooled brine over cucumbers and seal jar tightly. Allow to stand in refrigerator for one week. Eat within 4 to 6 weeks.

Tiramisu

Whoever said herding cats was hard has never tried to herd my two dogs. My 7-year-old, Bear, is supposed to be my good boy. I can turn him loose in the yard without a leash, and he will stay within eyesight, then come when I call. Milo isn't quite five months yet, so he still gets the leash, which he usually wraps around both my legs and his in the 50 feet it takes to get me across the yard and into my office.

Today, I had just gotten my shower and was headed for my office when I made the mistake of stopping at my car to get my water bottle. Bear LOVES to go for rides. So, of course, the second I opened the door, he hopped in the car. Milo followed. I got the water bottle and told Bear to come, and he, instead, jumped over the console and into the driver's seat. Milo tried to go after him, but his leash was hopelessly tangled by then. I leaned into the car, which has a black interior that was about a million degrees in our 97 degree summer heat, picked up a protesting Milo, and told Bear again to come.

He refused.

I went around to the other side, Milo squirming hard enough that I almost dropped him. And the second I opened the driver's door, Bear hopped the console and headed back to the passenger side. Milo was losing his mind. Bear was looking me dead in the eye and refusing to budge. And I was wondering how I suddenly lost control of two fifteen-pound furballs.

After I swapped sides two more times (so did Bear—he's obviously a lot smarter than me), I got into the car with him. Not only did I burn the back of my leg on the seat, the sauna inside undid the shower I had just taken thirty minutes before.

Bear still refused to move.

I hauled them both out, one squirming under each arm, and kicked the door shut before they could escape back into the car again. And I actually found myself wondering why these two couldn’t be as well behaved as our cat, Frisbee.

Anyone who has a cat knows you don’t own a cat—they own you. You don’t tell a cat what to do. When they want something, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, you’re supposed to leave them alone to manage their own life. Frisbee does a fine job of that. She’ll rub against my leg and purr once or twice a week (as long as Milo isn’t jumping around her head), but other than that, she keeps to herself. I’ve never had to fish her out of my car. And I’ve probably gotten some open rebellion from her a time or two, but let’s face it, you kind of expect that from a cat.

So anyway, twenty minutes later, water bottle and dogs in hand, I finally made it out to my office.  My dogs are now at my feet, pretending to be little angels. And now it’s lunch time. I’m reluctant to disturb them to go into the house. It was enough of an ordeal last time that I’m seriously considering skipping the meal just to keep from having to fight my way through the yard again.

Except I made Tiramisu for dinner last night. Yeah, that’s a pretty big motivator. My daughter studied abroad in Florence, Italy, so naturally, I went over for a visit while she was there. I took a cooking class from an Italian chef who taught me how to make the best Tiramisu I had ever had in my life. No joke. I’m not a huge coffee person (don’t tell anyone around here I said that—I think they can blackball you from the South for not drinking coffee), but he told me I could use amaretto instead of espresso. The trick is to dilute the amaretto so the flavor doesn’t completely take over.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it.  I’m going back inside.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

4 fresh eggs (room temp)

1 lb Mascarpone cheese

Lady fingers (to make gluten free, use gluten free vanilla wafers--just soak them a bit longer)

12 teaspoons sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup amaretto

2/3 water

Separate eggs. Beat whites till soft peaks form and set aside. Combine sugar with yolks and mix till blended, then fold in Mascarpone. Fold whites into yolk, sugar and cheese. Spread half of the mixture across the bottom of an 8 x 8 casserole dish. Mix the amaretto with the water, then dip the cookies into the amaretto mixture, one by one, and lay across the cream mixture. Spread the other half of the cream mixture on top of the cookies, then dust with cocoa powder. Chill for two hours to let the flavors soak in together.

Contains raw eggs, which can increase the risk of food borne illness. Use fresh eggs (if you drop the egg into a bowl of water, it should sink), and eat within 2 days.

Sophie’s Lemon Cookies

My youngest is one of the most outgoing people I know, next to my husband. She definitely got that trait from him. She has friends all over the world, all of which she met online. As a parent, you can bet this made her father and I a little edgy. Maybe more than a little.

So anyway, last summer, my oldest had to spend a month in New York working in an emergency department in Flushing. My oldest traveled all over the place with me before I remarried. From the

time she was twelve, I taught her how to navigate airports because I knew that was a skill she would one day need. We went to New York, L.A., Atlanta, Dallas, Fiji, Mexico, St. Maarten, the Bahamas, Italy, France, Spain, Orlando, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Belize, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. She even studied abroad in Florence for six weeks.

So you would think the child would have some skills when it comes to navigating strange cities. Not so much. I was raised all over the place, since my dad was what they called a “job shopper” (which meant he did short term, independent contractor work). I’m fairly comfortable wherever I am, especially since they invented GPS. Those little guys are soooo much better than trying to find your way around Orlando with a road atlas. I did that once. Do you have any idea how many streets in Orlando are named Buena Vista? I mean, seriously.

My children, on the other hand, were all raised in the South. The oldest was born in Puerto Rico, but I brought her home when she was three, and she’s been here ever since.  Even with all the travelling we did, she never had to find her way around on her own. I handled cabs and subways. Her six weeks in Florence were carefully coordinated by a professor. So, for a slight young woman who’d spent very little time out of the South, the New York City transit system was a complete mystery. Even at twenty-five, the thought of having to navigate the buses at midnight worried her. A lot.

Welcome to culture shock. She asked if I would go with her and spend a couple of days helping her figure out the bus routes. Sure. Why not? That’s what moms are for. I grabbed my youngest daughter and my mom and we made a vacation out of it. We studied up, spent a day riding buses, and I got her all settled. As an aside, I overheard someone on the bus talking about a friend who had a car. “She’s spoiled. She can just go anywhere she wants whenever she feels like it.”

Yeah. Like I said, culture shock.

So anyway, this is where Sophie comes in. Considering how completely unexposed my children are to life in a city bigger than Birmingham, I would never, never let my youngest, then sixteen, loose in New York City by herself. However, as soon as we got settled into our room in Queens, she asked if she could go into the city to meet a friend she’d been chatting with online.

Ha! You’ve got to be kidding me. Not only was I not going to let her roam New York City unsupervised, I wasn’t about to let her meet up with some random person she had met on the internet. Naturally, that made me insanely overprotective. Sixteen-year-olds know everything, and apparently, I had missed the memo. But, being the reasonable person I am, I agreed that her friend could go with us to the museum.

We met Sophie at her subway stop, and she turned out to be a nice, normal teenager. Her mom let her roam New York City with strangers. I guess I am a little overprotective. Or maybe Sophie is just better equipped to handle the jungle than my daughter would be. Either way, we liked Sophie. So we decided to let her come to Alabama for a visit this summer.

If anyone ever tells you that New Yorkers can handle anything, they lie.

I don’t think Sophie had ever been out of New York, but if she had, she sure as shootin’ had never come to the South. Turns out, culture shock works both ways. My daughter took her to the Gulf. Sophie had never been to a beach before, and she got so excited that she ran right in, clothes and all. And, oh yeah, she had her cell phone in her pocket. The phone was toast. Oops.

She had a great time, though.  As a thank you, she made a batch of these cookies. And I ate one. Or two. (Take that, doc). I don’t like lemon cookies/cakes/candy as a rule. But, Holy mother of pearl, these were amazing. They have a tart flavor that’s perfect for summer. So give these a shot when it's hot outside and you want something sweet and refreshing. Add a glass of sweet tea, and you'll be in heaven.

Sophie's Lemon Cookies

Sophie's Lemon Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3 tbsp. lemon zest

1 egg

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. butter (softened)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:

Confectioners sugar

Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. In mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine zest and sugar and rub together until fragrant. Add butter to sugar/zest and blend on lowest speed until combined. Add egg and vanilla, blend, then slowly add flour mixture, blending as you add. After all flour is added, knead until completely blended and dough forms a smooth ball.

Separate dough into 1.5 inch balls. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool for 10  minutes before glazing.

In a separate bowl, start with 1 cup of confectioners sugar and slowly add lemon juice a teaspoon at a time, mixing until the glaze has a thick, frosting like consistency. Add just enough more lemon juice to make the glaze thick but still drizzle-able, then drizzle the glaze liberally over each cookie. Make more glaze, if necessary.

Chicken Apple Sausage

After six months gluten free, I finally had my blood work yesterday. I’d be a lot more excited about it if it weren’t for the fact that nothing changed. Nothing. Antibodies are still exactly where they were before. The doctor’s advice? Do it again.

Seriously? I’m not sure if this falls into the “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” category or the “insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” category.

Whatever. Either way, I have six more months of quizzing unsuspecting waiters about what gets fried in their oil and whether my food might have sat downwind from something with wheat in it. That’s the nasty thing about gluten intolerance--staying away from wheat and barley isn’t enough. You have to stay away from anything it cozied up to, as well.

Fortunately for me, other than the obvious problems associated with having to play twenty questions with a guy that just wants to get you up from his table so he can collect his tip, clock out and go home, there’s not a lot of suffering involved in a gluten free diet—a lot of inconvenience (and I do mean a lot) but not much suffering. In fact, having a butcher shop at my disposal is the perfect way to plow through a gluten-free diet. If I can’t have bread, I can take the edge off by eating a really good steak. Of course, if you go overboard in the wrong direction, there’s always the possibility that you can swap gluten intolerance for gout. My mother has both. Bless her.

On the other hand, my grandmother will be 93 years old in three weeks, and she swears the secret to long life is baked chicken. First…ew. While I’ll admit that I can find a way to bake chicken that doesn’t taste like flavorless shoe leather, I’ve mentioned in past posts that my mom’s mother isn’t much of a cook. So she can’t. I don’t think I want to live to be 93 if I have to eat baked chicken every day—especially if she cooks it. And, as an aside, if I do live to be 93, you can bet I’ll eat whatever the heck I want, and it won’t be baked chicken. I mean, let’s face it, by the time you reach that age, should you really be worried that a pork chop is going to kill you? The grim reaper is just around the corner no matter what you do. You might as well enjoy your life.

Second, I fall into the category of picky eaters that can’t even eat the same category of food two days in a row. If I eat Mexican food of any variety today, it’ll be three days before I want it again. If it’s Chinese, it’ll be at least a week. If I ate chicken every day of my life, I’d want to throw myself into a swamp after a week.

Having said that, I do eat a lot of chicken. My mother used to raise chickens. I hated those birds. Whoever said they crow at dawn didn’t know that they were talking about. Those spiteful little featherheads used to strut around outside my window at two in the morning, crowing their fool heads off. I was happy to eat them. It felt like revenge.

But, if I’m going to eat a lot of anything, I have to find a way to give it some variety. This is one of those ways. This sausage is amazing. I make a big enough batch to freeze leftovers for later, but my stepson usually doesn’t let it get to the freezer. As you can see, it browns up nicely, just like regular sausage. But it’s a lot better for you, especially if you skip the bacon. Which I don’t, because, well, it’s bacon.

Chicken Apple Sausage

Chicken Apple Sausage

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/4 pound bacon, cooked

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, grated and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons olive oil

Place chicken, in small batches, in a food processor an pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add bacon and butter to processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add to the chicken and combine by hand until blended. Add apples and spices, then stir by hand until well blended.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat, then pinch off a small amount of the meat mixture and heat it in skillet until brown, flip and brown the other side and cook until no longer pink on the inside (don't overcook or it'll be dry). Sample to ensure spice mixture is to taste, then add more spices, if necessary, and blend again.

Once mixture is to your liking, pinch off portions of the meat mixture and pat into patties. Heat the patties in the oil, flipping as needed, until brown on each side and no longer pink in the middle.

Guacamole

I just returned from a week and a half long road trip from Oregon to Texas. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a road trip that long, but if you haven’t, you can take my word for it that your own bed starts looking good after three or four days of staying in hotels.

I had a great time, though. I haven’t driven through the western US since I was very young. I went by my old house in Southeastern Washington State, cruised through mountains, deserts, red-rock cliffs, and plains and spent a day hiking around the Grand Canyon. Wow.

I mean seriously. I had forgotten how beautiful the scenery is out that way. I shared the trip with my brother, sister-in-law and seven-year-old niece. Believe it or not, after a week and a half on the road together, we all still love each other. We took three separate cars in a caravan, though. That might have something to do with it.

Anyway, about six days into the trip, my sister-in-law, my niece, and I stopped at this little roadside stand in New Mexico that sold Native American Artwork. When my sister-in-law got out of her car, she mentioned that she had spilled her drink on her shirt. I look down and noticed for the first time that her shirt said something on the front about avocados.

And just like that, I was jonesing for some good guacamole.

I’ve seen avocado decorations in several places lately. Seems like everyone’s getting into them. Including me. If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have noticed that I’ve always had an aversion to green stuff. Avocados are no exception. Something about green mushy food was such a turn off that I was never even willing to try them. I was in my 40s the first time and I tasted guacamole. My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica, and I had caught some kind of bug that gave me a fever and made my stomach a little queasy. So, while my husband sampled the local cuisine, I ordered a plate of plain corn chips. The chips came with a side of guacamole, which I promptly scraped to the side. Some of it stuck to one of the chips, however, and when I bit down, I was unexpectedly met with green gooey goodness.

I was hooked. Not too long after, I noticed that avocados had become trendy. Hence the avocado on my sister-in-law’s shirt. Well, why not? They’re good for you, and if you can get past the baby food like texture, they taste amazing. As in, I want to crawl in this bowl of guacamole and take a bath amazing.

Here is the perfect recipe. And, holy guacamole, this is it. The sundried tomatoes make this recipe different and a little bit awesome. I like mine with a little extra lime juice and salt, too. Serve it with some street tacos. You'll feel like Harry Potter when he found the perfect wand.

Guacamole

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon cilantro

2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, diced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mexican crumbling cheese for garnish

Combine lime juice and red onions in a bowl and allow to sit until onions have soaked up the juice. Remove skin and pit from avocados and add to onions, then add remaining ingredients. Add another splash of lime juice, if desired. Combine until blended, mashing avocados until desired consistency. Garnish with Mexican crumbling cheese. Serve with corn tortillas.

Lasagna

Okay, I have a secret. Deep breath. Here goes.

I’m not exactly perfect.

Don’t tell my kids I said that. I messed up. It all started with Disney World. See, I never really considered Mickey Mouse a bad influence. I mean, he’s usually a stand up guy and all, but there’s this place on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. It’s on the right just as you go in the park. And Mickey has filled the place slam to the top with ... gluten.

Now I have to admit, when you tell someone at Disney World you can’t have gluten, they will trip over themselves to ensure that your food doesn’t even get close enough to take a picture of anything that might have a grain of wheat in it. They take gluten intolerance seriously. Like, “I’m going to lose my job, be taken out back, drawn and quartered” seriously. So once you commit to eating gluten free at Disney, forget about changing your mind. No, sir. Mickey’s Minions will throw themselves on a hand grenade before they let gluten touch your plate.

But the Main Street Confectionery is unguarded by the gluten cops. Even though I know Mickey can be more than accommodating of a gluten-free diet, I decided a cookie wouldn’t kill me. My doctor probably won’t be thrilled with me, but I’m happy to report that, in fact, my indiscretion did not result in Disney World’s first cookie fatality. I didn’t even notice a difference.

Well, except for the guilt. When you pay a professional a lot of money to give you advice, there is a certain amount of guilt involved in ignoring it. So, when I got home, I made a commitment to make up for my indiscretion.

Enter the best lasagna you’ve ever eaten in your life. I’m not even kidding. This didn’t even feel like I was being good. And it makes enough to feed a small army (even in a house with two teenagers), so...leftovers!!

It takes a while to make, and I generally try to avoid anything that has more ingredients than will fit on my computer screen at once. But trust me, it’s worth the effort. Add a little homemade bread, and you’ll never want to go out for Italian food again.

Lasagna

Lasagna

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

28 ounces crushed tomatoes

12 ounces tomato paste

13 ounces cans canned tomato sauce

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt (divided)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (divided)

6 lasagna noodles

16 ounces ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot (I use an electric pressure cooker), cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon of the salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and remaining salt.

Preheat oven to 375.

To assemble, spread one third of the meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese. Spoon half of the remaining meat sauce over mozzarella, arrange remaining 3 noodles over the sauce, then spread the other half of the ricotta cheese on top. Top with remaining meat sauce, remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil (to prevent sticking, spray foil with cooking spray).

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Dill Potato Salad

If you saw my last post, you might’ve gotten the idea that we eat a lot of barbecue at my house. If so, you would be right. My husband has a whole room at the butcher shop for smoking meat, and I’m sure not going to pass up the chance to let someone help with dinner. My mama raised me to be smarter than that.

There are a lot of things that go well with barbecue—grilled corn, baked beans, sweet potatoes, fried okra. I’m told collard greens are good, too, but I just can’t. I mean, really. The smell alone is a turn off. And when you get past that part, they look positively menacing.

And then there’s potato salad. There are dozens of ways to make it, so you can’t beat it for versatility. My grandma used to make it with hard boiled eggs, sweet pickles and lots of raw onions. Grandma was an old school country cook, and I loved most of her cooking. The potato salad was a rare exception. It was mainly because of the pickles.

Grandma made her own bread and butter pickles. Most country women in these parts do. When it comes to canning, there’s not much that’s easier to can than pickles, so you can make a lot of product for very little work. And Grandpa loved them. He used to eat them on peanut butter sandwiches. No, I’m not making that up. I adored my grandpa, but the idea of a peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwich is a little too far off the beaten path for me. Still, I can remember him eating those sandwiches with a glass of milk at that old Formica table they kept in the dining room like it was yesterday, and Grandma’s been gone twenty years.

I prefer dill pickles. They don't taste any better with peanut butter (just a hunch, mind you, but I'm pretty sure I'm right), but they're just as easy to can. They're even easier to buy. And when you put them in potato salad, something amazing happens. They turn a fairly bland vegetable into a side dish that sings. I usually add cheese and bacon bits (the real kind--not those weird prefab ones) to give it a baked potato flavor. Try this with some baked beans (I have a great recipe I'll share soon), and you're ready for your summer barbecue. Enjoy!

Dill Potato Salad

Dill Potato Salad

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed

1/4 c. dill relish

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons parsley

1 cup light mayo

1/4 c. white vinegar

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

8 oz. real bacon bits

Boil potatoes until tender. Immediately drain and rinse in ice water bath to stop cooking, then drain again. Add relish, mustard, vinegar, mayo, cheese and bacon bits, then stir until blended. Garnish with parsley. Refrigerate until cool and serve.

White BBQ Sauce

I was born in Pascagoula. If you’re a Jimmy Buffett fan, you’ve heard of it. I've mentioned before that I was raised everywhere else. I first moved to Alabama when I went to college at the University of South Alabama, which is in Mobile. Mobile is almost as far south as you can go in Alabama without swimming in the ocean (the farthest south is a little town called Bayou La Batre—if you’re a Forrest Gump fan, you’ve heard of that, too). So I never spent a lot of time in North Alabama. You’d think it would all be about the same.

Not quite. North Alabama has Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. My daughter went to the University of Alabama. The one thing I can tell you about Tuscaloosa is that you don’t really go there—you experience it. Tuscaloosa is a football town, and the University of Alabama is at the dead center of it.

They’re proud of their football. I think there’s a blood test with the admissions application. If the results don’t come back “rabid Alabama fan,” they ship you off to Auburn. Or Siberia. To an Alabama fan, they’re roughly the same thing. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s been four years since she graduated, and my daughter would still rather cut off her own leg than miss the Iron Bowl.

Then there’s Birmingham. Birmingham is awesome. My son-in-law has lived there for eight years, which is roughly how long he and my daughter have been together, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. It has it all—green, rolling hills; any kind of shopping you could ask for; trendy nightlife; culture; concerts; and amazing restaurants. In the South, amazing restaurants means someone is going to open a barbecue place.

And that was my introduction to white barbecue sauce. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I mean, the sky is blue, grass is green, and barbecue sauce is brown. That’s just how it is.

Not in North Alabama. From what I’ve been able to tell, this truly is a recipe that is limited to that region. I can’t imagine why. It’s amazing. Put this on some smoked chicken, and you’ll never want the brown stuff again. I served this at one of our parties and one of the ladies took a piece of bread and swiped every last drop from her plate. Then she dumped some more on her plate and soaked that up, too.

I love this with chicken. The vinegar and lemon juice make for a tangy sauce that compliments chicken's milder flavor. 

White BBQ Sauce

North Alabama White BBQ Sauce

2 c. light mayonnaise

2 T. fresh ground black pepper

2 T. salt

6 T. lemon juice

6 T. apple cider vinegar

4 T. sugar

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Cajun seasoning to taste

Mix all ingredients together until smooth, then chill until ready to serve.

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

I've only recently discovered brussels sprouts are actually good. Really good. As in, "where have you been all my life?" good.

Well, maybe not all my life. I've never been a fan of green, leafy things, and brussels sprouts were close enough to cabbage that I classified them as inedible early in life. That's practically sacrilege when you live in the home of collard and mustard greens (one of my closest friends raises greens on a farm in Mississippi, and I can't tell you how many times she's tried to send some home with me. Yuk. Have you ever noticed how slimy collard greens are?).

But I wasn't raised in the South (at least, not completely), so I get a pass. I spent most of my single digit years in Washington state. And not in the mountains, either.

Eastern Washington is mostly desert and tumbleweeds, and where we lived, there weren't exactly fields of vegetables. In fact, my only experience with fresh produce came when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go with her and her family to pick some apples at an orchard. Sure. Why not?

My friend was a first generation Vietnamese girl whose parents escaped during the war. They were part of a tight knit community that shared, and apparently, this trip was part of that practice. We drove several hours to an orchard where they were allowed to pick and keep as many apples as they could in a day. I suppose they preserved them in some fashion and then shared them with other families in their circle. I had no idea. I just wanted to hang out with my friend.

Fast forward to the end of the day, and imagine my surprise when they tell me I'm going to keep all the apples I picked. Seriously? I thought I was just helping out.

Nope. All mine. I arrived back home with all my apples in tow--all 218 of them. My mom thought I had lost my mind. We piled them on a newspaper on the living room floor, and mom just stared down at them like she didn't know what to do next. We had every kind of apple dish you can imagine for the next week, then she cut the rest up and put them in little bags in the freezer. When we moved two years later, most of the bags were still there.

So I learned to appreciate fruits, but not leafy greens, and I never developed a taste for them. Right after my dad died in 2016, though, my business partner invited me to join him and his wife for dinner at a restaurant in Seaside, Florida. I had spent dad's final year as his caregiver, and my partner was worried about me. He thought the outing would do me good. I would never in a million years have ordered brussels sprouts. My partner ordered them as an appetizer and assured me they were outstanding. I'm polite enough not to argue.

Well, mostly--my partner and I are both lawyers, so I guess that's not entirely true.

Holy Moses. Those little balls of leaves were one of the most amazing vegetable dishes I'd ever had. So, of course, I looked up the recipe the moment I left the restaurant.

I've been serving roasted brussels sprouts ever since--quarter them, coat them with olive oil, salt them, then bake them for forty five minutes or so. My husband told me he had only ever had them boiled before (eww). So. Much. Better.

But, geez, an hour can be a long wait. Steaks are done in 15 minutes. There had to be a faster way.

And here it is. In fifteen minutes, these are tender, tasty, good for you, and gluten free. They even smell good. What more could you ask for?

Brussel Sprouts

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt, to taste

In large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sprouts and saute for about 10 minutes, or until brown and fork tender, stirring to make sure they are evenly browned. Add the garlic and saute for another minute, then remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Salt to taste and serve while still hot.

Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my brother lives in Portland, Oregon. He used to live in Dallas, and he and his family are moving back again this summer. I’m excited about that for a number of reasons. First, my brother, his wife and my niece are three of my favorite people in the world. Oregon is a long haul from southern Alabama, but Dallas isn’t.

Plus Dallas is great. I mean, really. I’ve lived all over the country—Maine, Missouri, Washington state, Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and a very short stint in California—and I settled here in Alabama for a reason. It’s home. I love it. And there are only a few places I would give it up for: anywhere in Florida, Rome, and Dallas.

Why Dallas? Because there are very few bad things I can say about it. There’s no beach and a lot of traffic. But that’s it. Everything else is a plus. You can find just about anything there. Great concerts that we don’t get here. The Perot Museum. The Christmas ice sculpture exhibit at the Gaylord.

And Brazilian steak houses. We were visiting my brother a few years back, and I had never been to a Brazilian steak house before. He said we had to try it. So we all trekked over there.

I had no idea how unprepared I was.

My brother had neglected to tell me that, to fully appreciate a Brazilian steak house, it’s better to go really, really hungry. As in starving. Don’t eat for at least two days. I had eaten lunch that day--a rookie mistake that will never happen again.

And there was the disc. Green means go, red means stop. Fairly elementary. I thought I could handle that. What he didn’t tell me was that the second you flip that disc over to green, prepare for an ambush. I flipped the disc and a stream of servers began to wave sides of meat under my nose. You go to take a bite of one and they’re plunking something else on your plate. Your taste buds are singing and you want to try it all, so you tell them to keep it coming. And they do.  

At first, I thought it was no big deal. After seven or eight of the servers had come and gone, I had a collection of small bites on my plate. They were just little bites, after all. When I eat dinner, don’t I usually eat more than eight bites? That didn’t seem like much.

But after five or six bites, I was filling up. And the servers just kept coming. There was stuff I hadn’t tried. I didn’t want to wave the white flag on an all-you-can-eat meat fest after half a dozen bites of food. I soldiered on for a few more bites, but I am, apparently, a wimp. A couple more of the servers were preparing to pounce. I flipped the disc over to red.

The assault stopped.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the term “meat sweats,” but if you’ve never experienced them before, I can personally assure you it is exactly what it sounds like. Oh. My. Gosh. I began to wonder how many people they’d had to scrape off the walls after they exploded. As my husband said, that was a different kind of full. I left wanting both to take a nap and to run around the block three times to beat that heavy, gut bomb feeling out of my system.

It was awesome. Seriously.

One of the things they dropped on the table before the chaos started was a basket of this Brazilian cheese bread. These little guys are incredible. When I came across this recipe some time later, I snatched it up. And when my doctor made me give up gluten, these became my go-to rolls for steak night. They’re dirt simple to make, and they’re made with tapioca flour, which means they’re gluten free and have a light, chewy texture that’s unlike any wheat rolls you’ve ever tried.

I suspect these would keep well, but I haven’t managed to have any leftovers yet. Even when I double the recipe, my family still scarfs them down like I haven’t fed them in a week. Make sure to use freshly grated parmesan, and not the pre-shredded stuff. And save the recipe. I promise you’ll want to make these again.

Brazilian cheese bread

Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

1 egg

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 1/2 c. tapioca flour

3/4 teasp. salt

2/3 c. milk

1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Spray mini-muffin pan with non-stick spray. In a blender, blend egg, oil, flour, salt and milk until well blended. Add cheese and blend for another 5-10 seconds. Fill each cup about 2/3 full. Bake until golden brown (about 15 minutes).

 

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