Jambalaya!

img_3252I was peeling shrimp. Minding my own business, when out of this feeble brain of mine- I heard this song running around,

‘ Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo… me oh my oh! Gonna see ma cher amio…On the Bayou’.

Apparently Yvonne could either make a mean jambalaya or dance the night away in the lovin’ arms of Alabama born country legend Hank Williams, so you know I had to make a pan of Jambalaya. Since way before that song was written- we’ve all been trying our best to make sure Jambalaya isn’t just On the Bayou, but on our tables too!

img_3435Now, there might be dozens of recipes for Jambalaya and I’m sure I’d love them all! Still. If you’ve never made it, you might not realize, it’s a one iron skillet dish that’s easy to get on the table and can feed the multitudes. If you don’t need a big batch… Well, it’s even better the next day and also freezes well! And actually, most of the early Jambalaya recipes were from fishermen, so proportions aren’t exact. In fact, one very old recipe called for ‘clean Bay Water.‘ Okay, here’s something you need to know- they used exactly what they had on the boat and rarely gave proportions. Still. It’s that complex simplicity of a classic Jambalaya that still inspires.

img_3437Here’s my rendition of the Classic Jambalaya:

  • Allow one cup of uncooked, unwashed rice to a pound and half of peeled shrimp. (Leave the tails on for extra flavor)
  • In a large skillet, fry 3-4 pieces of Bacon. Remove and drain.
  • In hot bacon drippings, brown one large sliced onion, 1/2 cup chopped green pepper, 1/8 cup chopped celery. Quickly add chopped garlic- one or two cloves.
  • Add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust at the end if needed), 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoons of thyme,  1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika, salt, pepper and stir to combine working quickly.  *As Eugene Walter always admonished….use fresh ground pepper, not that powdery stuff that loses it’s flavor before it hits the food! *At this point, feel free to add chopped smoked sausage.
  • Add 1 cup raw rice, 1 1/2 pounds shrimp and stir until shrimp turns pink.
  • Add enough boiling water (Start with 2 cups) over mixture. Add one bay leaf.
  • The rice will thicken the liquid, yet isn’t done until the grains are tender.
  • Simmer , adding more boiling water if needed.
  • Add more spices until you’re afraid to add anymore!
  • When all liquid has been absorbed ….Jambalaya!

img_3436

  • To make it extra good, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the Jambalaya after it’s done. And to make it real pretty, top with chopped green onion tops and parsley, even cherry tomatoes. Folks won’t mind if you crumble that bacon top as well! Some have been known to top it with grated sharp cheddar cheese- though I think that’s gilding the lily a bit too much.  And don’t forget to remove that Bay Leaf! This recipe will feed 4-6.
  • Jambalaya is great with garlic bread and a green salad, though equally good with fresh cornbread, baked sweet potatoes and steamed cabbage. Jambalaya doesn’t have tomatoes in it, though I’ve added a few cherry tomatoes on top of this Jambalaya for her beauty shot! And yes, you can make it in something other than an iron skillet! img_3437

Easy and delicious, is it any wonder Hank Williams wrote, ‘On the Bayou’ in celebration of Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie…oh me, here I go again!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Eugene Walter was another famous Alabamian, known for his book ‘Hints and Pinches’.  *Shrimp and shrimp boats were photographed at Alabama’s own Bon Secour Bay, and were obviously taken by me!′img_3434

Southern Comfort- Soups, Stews, Shrimp and Grits…

img_3081Winter in the South is fickle, some days chilly, windy, rainy or downright warm. And while I think most southern food is comfort food- there’s nothing like something warm in a bowl to make us all feel better about the weather and the world in general. It’s like a warm hug or a welcome home, now that’s southern comfort. And, let’s face it- this sort of comfort food is a great way to feed the multitudes!

  • Shrimp and Grits
  • Fresh Tomato Soup
  • End of Summer Vegetable Soup
  • Fresh Mushroom Soup
  • Mimi’s Lemon Butter Chicken
  • Camellia’s Spicy Shrimp

All of these and more have made us southern folks feel full and comforted. Often, it’s what’s served alongside these dishes, that’s just as delicious as the bowl of soup, stew, gumbo, dumplings or shrimp and grits! img_3082

  •  Cornbread Patties…
  •  Bighearted Cornbread…
  • Garlic Breadsticks
  • Saltines or Tiny Oyster Crackers
  • Toppings of grated cheeses, crumbled bacon, thin sliced cucumbers, celery sticks, red pepper flakes, even hot sauce img_3043

All add that special something to a one bowl meal. Think of a Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Buffet… now, that would be a Comfort Food gathering! img_3098

And is there anything better than Tomato Soup with a Grilled Cheese Sandwich, especially when it’s made in an iron skillet? Try Iron Skillet Sandwiches…

img_3085A lot of these Comfort Foods we’ve already written about, yet never fear we’ll give you the links and the prettiest pictures we could come up with at the time! However, I realized a grave error; while we’ve expounded on Bighearted Grits, I’ve never actually given you the recipe for topping those hominy grits with warm and spicy shrimp! So! That’s your bonus round today! And very well one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever given to you…img_3081

Now, we all know that every recipe has a story- Shrimp and Grits started out as an humble quick breakfast for shrimpers, then city folks and high browed chefs got in on the act! Here’s how you make the ‘shrimp part’ of Shrimp and Grits-

Shrimp and Grits

  • Grits made according to package directions. I prefer Hominy Grits.
  • 2-3 slices bacon
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (any size, I like medium for this)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
  • Grated zest added to the juice of one large lemon
  • Grated Cheddar Cheese, if desired and I do!
  • Chopped Green Onion Tops
  • While the grits are cooking, take an iron skillet, fry bacon slices until crisp, drain. Reserve 2-3 Tablespoons of Bacon Drippings in the iron skillet. Finish making grits and keep warm until ready to serve. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and hot sauce, reserve. Sprinkle raw shrimp with a dusting of Old Bay Seasoning, toss. In hot skillet, quickly cook shrimp in a single layer on both sides until pink. Swirl in lemon juice mixture and heat through. A thin gravy will form. Spoon Shrimp over a bowl of grits and a portion of gravy. Top with crumbled bacon, grated cheese and garnish with green onion tops. Feel free to add whatever toppings you like! Tip: Old Bay Seasoning is hot! Hot Sauce is hot! Start with a small amount and adjust seasonings. You may want to omit the Old Bay Seasoning and simply sprinkle raw shrimp with salt and pepper before cooking shrimp. Serve with Bighearted Grits…

This classic dish is quick and easy… makes 4 generous servings and may be expanded to feed a crowd!

And… The beauty of soups and stews is they all can increased to feed a crowd or served  for more than one meal! So, here are few links to some of our favorite soups and stews! All are full of ‘good for you’ ingredients! Enjoy!

Southern Tomato Soup…– we have several versions of tomato soup, one is a Summer Tomato Soup…img_3079

Mimi’s Lemon Butter Chicken…– an heirloom recipe she claimed would cure anything!img_3074

Homemade Mushroom Soup…  is loaded with fresh mushrooms, butter and fresh thyme!img_3080

The classic version of Chicken and Dumplings… with no big ol’ thick globs of dough either, strips of dough make it perfect! And I promise I’ll make you a batch of these soon!img_3099

Camellia’s Bighearted Spicy Shrimp is  way easier than you would believe! And, it is very similar to gumbo – which has the addition of sausage, green onions, bell peppers and tomatoes- It does start with a roux! Scary? the easiest way I’ve found to start a roux is found in Of Real Roux and Faux Beignets… Great with rice, though this gumbo can also be used alongside those Bighearted Grits! img_3083

Southerners are known for hospitality, comfort food and knowing how to feed the multitudes! Soups, Stews even Shrimp and Grits stretch farther because small amounts of meat or seafood are combined with delicious broths, vegetables, starches and seasonings, they are all satisfying and just plain good. Here’s a bowl of End of Summer Vegetable Soup, that is basically the last pickings of tomatoes, corn, okra, bean, peas, carrots, onions and a good chicken broth and if you have a bit of chicken- add that in too! Nothing better with a pan of cornbread! img_3082

Looks like we’re going to have a cold snap and  a bit of cold weather followed by warm spells and rain! Here’s hoping your house is filled with soups, stews, spicy shrimp and well…Southern Comfort Food!

Love y’all, Camellia

All photographs are obviously mine!

The Eggnog Party…

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DWe could have called it a Fruitcake Party, though fruitcake rarely makes an appearance. We could have called it a Caroling Party. We tried that one year- no one wanted to go. Ever. Again. Come to think of it- we could have called it the Bourbon Ball. Okay, that’s a bit pretentious and we’re better at eating than dancing. The truth is- fruitcake, bourbon balls and eggnog tend to be … let’s just say- under appreciated holiday fare. For over two decades, we’ve been going to an Eggnog Party, hosted graciously in the home of friends; attended by families and friends who are loved and cherished as the ‘family we have chosen for ourselves’. It’s uniquely southern, so it’s a traditional party, with the dining room table set buffet style and yes, family china and silver makes an appearance.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DThe Eggnog Party is sort of an unorganized , uncategorized gathering of folks bound by generations of communal experiences. Besides the heirloom recipe for Eggnog- what makes this party so charming is the Program, the Favors and the planning for it- often months in advance. There are children of… all ages and highly anticipated by all. The Program always includes Readings for children and one or more Readings which embody the Season and always includes Music. Sometimes the program is as zany as The Sister Act, a goofy rendition of Santa Baby or an airing of jovial grievances through Festivus, which, by decree shall never be repeated again. One of our talented guests might sing Ave Maria or an old fashioned Christmas Carol which would have been introduced by a Reading of the history of the hymn – always accompanied by a classical Guitar. Last year a Reading of Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’…followed by the old Lullabye- ‘All Through the Night’ with a soloist, the haunting strains of soft music as the rest of us sang the sweet Chorus- that one definitely brought forth a few sweet tears. The favor that year had the theme of Angels.

Always, regardless of the theme, the program is a mix of the significance of the season and the joy of it too. Any gifts are token and quietly exchanged – to be opened later, since this party isn’t centered around gift exchange, instead its more about exclaiming, getting caught up, enjoying the program, the music and always the bubbling effervescent love and laughter. And my oh my! the food! A Christmas Ham and a thinly sliced fragrant Turkey. The sides always include a relish plate, our beloved southern casseroles, a cheese ball, roasted and salted pecans, cheese straws, tiny rolls and a buffet laden with desserts. Groaning might be a better word.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DOf course, there’s a silver punch bowl filled with a frothy full bodied Eggnog-

  • The creamy color of magnolias and gardenias,
  • Light as a feather plucked from an angel’s wing,
  • Thick with cream and
  • Freckled with fragrant nutmeg.

In the South, we tend to claim Eggnog as our own, since George Washington of Virginia enjoyed it and recorded a recipe for it. In the southern tradition of leaving out a critical bit- in Washington’s case he left out the number of eggs! Eggnog really isn’t southern at all- it’s British, it’s European, it’s American- yet what makes this recipe Southern is the ‘spirits’. We tend to replace ale or sherry with ‘brown whiskey’ … Kentucky Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey- some add Rum, to honor our southern proximity to the Sugar Fields and Caribbean flavors. Take a sip of Suellen’s Eggnog and ‘darlin’ you’ll talk southern to me.’

 

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DHere’s how you make this old classic which we know as Suellen’s Eggnog

  • 14 Large Eggs, separated
  • 1 pint Jack Daniel’s Brown Whiskey
  • 14 Tablespoons Cane Sugar
  • 1 Quart and 1/2 pint Whipping Cream

Separate eggs and reserve egg whites at room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until pale yellow. Slowly add whiskey, one silver teaspoon at a time, at first. Increase additions of whiskey beating continually until egg yolks and whiskey are combined thoroughly. Add sugar slowly, one silver tablespoon at a time. Whip cream and add slowly to mixture. In another bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold gently into whiskey mixture. Sprinkle with fresh grated mixture. Keep thoroughly chilled. It is preferable to ladle from a silver punch bowl. Enjoy!

This Eggnog is an adaptation of an old recipe from a Talledega cookbook, one county over from where we live. *Please note that an essential tool is a silver spoon. This isn’t a pretentious tool- old recipes tend to specify silver spoons since other materials could affect the taste, generally metallic.

I’ll admit, I sip only one small punch cup, it’s a thick, rich holiday mixture unlike anything else. Eggnog is also something I taste just once a year at this amazing party. If you’re wishing you had a less spirited eggnog, I’ve had good success slowly melting homemade ice cream, adding a bit of whipped cream on top with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DHere’s the thing- I’ll always associate Eggnog with the exquisite color of creamy magnolias, strengthened with the years of friendships sustained for such a long time… soft strains of music, gentle laughter, so much love, genuine acceptance, concern freely expressed and the joy only this season can bring. Here’s hoping your gatherings are as spirited as Bourbon Balls, as nutty as a Fruitcake, as fragrant as a Gardenia and full of Comfort and Joy!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine. Eggnog contains raw eggs, it’s best to use pasteurized eggs, and it should not be consumed by children due to alcohol content.

Pecan Pies…

Pecans are a cash crop in Alabama, indeed all across the South, folks love to have their own pecan trees. Pecan Pies are the iconic southern dessert, and while we wouldn’t turn down a piece of pecan pie any time of year- a pecan pie always makes her appearance on holiday tables. The truth is? It’s hard to imagine southern food without this wonderful nut. Some of my favorite cooks tend to enjoy- shelling pecans. Could I get a hallelujah for these fine ladies? I’ve had a few tell me they find it ‘relaxing’ to shell pecans… I wouldn’t know about that, it’s frustrating to me. To each his own. I do know this- to receive a bag of fresh shelled pecans is better than getting a bag of gold!

Now, I have to admit that I love pecans and pecan pies, though I also tend to restrict myself to baking the classic pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I love variations on the classic too. Chocolate Pecan Pie and Sweet Potato Pie topped with Pecans is amazing too. I’d never turn down either variation. Still. I rarely make all three at the same time. I made a classic pecan pie and a chocolate pecan pie for Thanksgiving this year. The classic is my husband’s favorite and I had a special request for the chocolate pecan pie. These pies are amazing and might just be one of the easiest pies to make! The wonderful thing about the classic pecan pie is that it can be pre-baked now and thawed and reheated any time during the holidays! I’ll admit to having one lurking in the freezer right this minute! I haven’t tried freezing the chocolate one…yet I believe it also would work well. And, even though, making your own pie crust dough is a wonderful thing…with all the busyness of the holidays, why would you unless you’re very organized and made up pie crust dough ahead…I’d say go ahead and use it! It’s the holidays! You want to put your very best out for family and guests! Here’s how we make Camellia’s Chocolate Pecan Pie-

You will need:

  • Single Pie Crust for Deep Dish Pie (unbaked)
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (melted)
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 1 cup Dark Corn Syrup
  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee
  • 3/4 cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (melted)
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/2 cups Pecan Halves
  • Prepare crust in a deep pie crust dish or 8 inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. For Filling Mixture- In a saucepan, on low heat, melt butter, then add chocolate chips to melt. Add Dark Corn Syrup, Sugar, Instant Coffee and Salt- combine well. Mix eggs in a small bowl and add to Filling Mixture, combining well. Stir in 1 1/4 cups of pecans, reserving a few to decorate the top of the pie, if desired. Pour Filling Mixture into prepared Pie Crust. Bake for 50-55 minutes until crust is lightly browned and filling is not completely set- *This is important- do not over bake the filling! When done, top the pie with reserved pecans in a circle to decorate if desired. Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack.
  •  
  • You will need:
    1 Single Pie Crust for deep dish pie (unbaked)
    1 cup Dark Corn Syrup
    3 Large Eggs
    1 cup Sugar
    2 Tablespoons Butter, melted
    Pinch of Salt
    1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
    1 1/2 cups whole pecans
    • 1 Tablespoon Bourbon ( if desired)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pie crust in deep dish pie pan. Line bottom of pie crust with whole pecans placed in concentric circles. Set aside to mix filling. Melt butter. In a mixing bowl, lightly mix eggs. Add corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, pinch of salt and vanilla extract. Combine well and pour carefully over pecans in unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes, until pecans rise to top. Do not over bake. When pie is still hot sprinkle Bourbon over hot pecans (you will hear a sizzle!) Cool on a wire rack for at least one hour or until thoroughly cool and set. Keep chilled, before serving warm lightly if desired.

And, we’ve told you about another Pecan Pie that’s absolutely delicious!

It’s called Sweet Potato Pecan Pie… and is a wonderful twist on the classic pecan pie!

Fried Pies… it’s a Southern Thing

img_2718Fried Pies might be the ultimate comfort food for southerners. Especially of… folks of a certain age; though their appeal knows no age, economic barriers or social status. Given the chance to eat a fried pie, the answer is always ‘yes!’

There are variations of fried pies. In other regions they might be called:

  • hand pies,
  • turnovers
  • even empanadas.

img_2721The comfort food we know as fried pies are generally filled with a thick filling of dried apples or peaches, though I’ve also seen other types- strawberry, lemon, chocolate and another southern type called Nachitoches Meat Pies from a small town in Louisiana. These variations aren’t what I’m talking about here. Fried pies always conjure up the type our mother’s made from dried fruit-plumped up with water and sugar, then boiled down until as thick as jam.

img_2724A tablespoon or so is put inside a small circle of dough, the edges are folded over to make a half moon shape; then they are fried. Not deep fried either… which I personally think would ruin a fried pie! Still, they are fried in about a half inch of oil or shortening even lard. They do especially well fried in a hot iron skillet. * You know, I really should tell you sometime all the reasons we love our iron skillets and fried pies is just one reason!img_2720

In my grandmother’s double first cousins’ cookbook- there is an old ‘anonymous’ recipe for fried pies… still the best one I’ve ever come up with so- Here’s how you make real southern Fried Pies!

  • 2 cups sifted Plain Flour (All purpose)
  • 3 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/3 cup Shortening (plus extra for frying)
  • 2/3 cup Milk
  • Dried Apples or Peaches

Prepare dried fruit for filling. Set aside. Mix first 4 ingredients until like cornmeal, using a pastry cutter. Add milk and mix well. Divide dough into 8-12 parts and shape into balls. Roll or pat on floured surface to make a circle. Fill each circle with a tablespoon or so with dried apples or peaches. Fold dough over filling, seal edges by crimping with a fork. Chill. Fry pies in a heavy iron skillet in hot shortening until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm if possible.img_2718

* A word about rehydrating dried peaches or apples- feel free to soak the fruit in water overnight… a few hours will be fine also. Add granular sugar at a ratio of 1/2 cup to 1 cup of fruit, I’ll admit I often add a full cup of sugar to 1 cup of soaked fruit. These fruits are tart when dried. I have added a bit of cinnamon even nutmeg to the fruit, though this isn’t necessary. Simmer the fruit until the mixture is as thick as jam, watching carefully. I often bring the fruit to a bubbling state, cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, more if needed. When the fruit has stewed, with a potato masher, press fruit until it is the texture of a thick jam; any excess juice can be drained away, you don’t want to ‘wet’ the dough when filling. Set aside the stewed fruit until the dough is ready. The stewed fruit will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Above are what dried peaches look like. And.. Below are what rehydrated and sugared dried apples look like before mashing. img_2719

* A word about the dough- the rule is to never overwork a pastry dough, fried pie dough may be an exception. My grandmother thought milk ‘toughened’ a pie crust dough, yet Milk works very well for fried pies since it will need to hold its shape while frying. And in my grandmother’s day, chilling wasn’t always feasible, yet I find after I fill and crimp the fried pies, chilling helps- therefore that instruction was included in the recipe.

** If you aren’t frying the pies right away, it is best to freeze the uncooked pies on a baking sheet in a single layer, then place carefully in freezer bags until you’re ready to make them. I love to make a double batch, freeze them and then take out however many I plan to fry. They do not need to be thawed before frying! (I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you, that many southern ladies who are expert at making fried pies, use a time saver they use canned biscuits and roll out the individual biscuits into a flat disc, fill with stewed apples or peaches just as in this recipe, and I must say- those are awfully good too!)img_2721

Fried Pies … it’s a Southern thing y’all! I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love them! They are warm, filling and delicious! With this nip in the November air, I know I’ll be making up several batches to enjoy as the ultimate comfort food! I hope you’ll try this southern favorite soon!

Love y’all, Camellia

All photographs are obviously mine!