Black-eyed peas for New Year's Day

It is tradition in the South to eat black-eyed peas (or Hoppin’ John) on New Year’s Day for good luck. This ranks right up there with painting porch ceilings haint blue to ward off evil spirits in terms of superstitions down here.

I cook them every year and force them on everyone else. I have long since learned that the only good bowl of black-eyed peas is stewed with bacon or salt pork. If you eat them by themselves – well, as Elise puts it – they kind of taste like dirt. I like to eat them with chow chow relish to kick things up a bit, which you can make at home or buy at Southern grocery store chains.

Anyhow, I thought I would share the recipe I am going to try this year from the website Immaculate Bites, which has African/Caribbean recipes. Like Southern rice varieties and sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas came to the South from Africa. I love African cooking, so discovering this website has been a real treat.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (453grams) black eyed peas
  • 4 -5 thick bacon slices , chopped
  • 1 cup smoked sausage or turkey , diced
  • 1 large onion , diced
  • 1 stalk celery , diced
  • 2-3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 Jalapenos , minced (optional) replace with cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme , minced
  • bay leaf
  • 1-2 teaspoons creole seasoning
  • 7-8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups or more Collard greens , sub with kale
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Rinse dry black-eyed pea beans and pick through and discard any foreign object. (I did not have to do this because I used the package beans,). Add beans to a large pot covering with 3-4 inches of cold water. Cover and let sit for about 2-3 hours.
  2. In a large, heavy sauté pan, saute chopped bacon until brown and crispy about 4-5 minutes, then add sausage saute for about 2-3 more minutes. Remove bacon and sausage mixture, set aside.
  3. Throw in the onions, celery, garlic, jalapenos, thyme and bay leaf  and saute for about 3-5 minutes, until onions are wilted and aromatic. 
  4. Then pour in the chicken broth or water.
  5. Drain the soaked beans, rinse, and place the beans in the pot. Season with creole seasoning and salt to taste. Mix and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
  7. Throw in the collard greens, and bacon and sausage into the pot, continue cooking for another 10 minutes or more, stirring occasionally, or until beans are tender and slightly thickened to your desire.
  8. Add more stock or water if the mixture becomes dry and thick, the texture of the beans should be thick, somewhat creamy but not watery.
  9. Remove the bay leaves.
  10. Taste and adjust for seasonings with pepper, creole seasoning and salt if needed. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with green onion.

Christmas festival, Baylor football, and homemade pasta

Last night, we went to Flagler Beach’s Christmas Festival. It’s great fun living in an old-school beach town that is small enough to still have the feeling of a real community. There were a series of children’s choirs singing carols, the high school bands, food trucks from local restaurants, and tons of games and face painting for the kids.

We each got slices of New York-style pizza from a local vendor and ice cream, which we ate on the beach. I made a remark to someone who stopped to talk to us about how fortunate we were to be eating ice cream on the beach in December.

Santa has a very beachy way of visiting Flagler for the holidays (which we skipped this year, but here you go for a chuckle).

I’ve spent today in the kitchen making oatmeal cookies, snickerdoodles, and fudge. And watching our alma mater, Baylor University, lose to Oklahoma in overtime (sad face) and Georgia – LSU. Baking and some good Southern football, yes please.

I am moving on to homemade pasta. I have a years-long obsession with making pasta. Rodney gave me pasta cutting attachments for my Kitchen-Aid mixer for Christmas a few years ago. The first pasta I ever made was a batch of ravioli with my brother. I became very good at it, and it turned out to be something Elise loved to do with me. Kids are naturals at playing with dough, you know.

Elise helping make pasta in our first experiments.

Homemade pasta is quite different from the dried pasta that you can purchase in stores. After making it for a while, I came to see restaurants in a different way. I could tell how much effort they were putting into their food by the taste of their pasta. Homemade pasta has texture and a creaminess to it. It’s substantial, something you have to chew, but silky at the same time.

Anyway, the only downside to having mechanical pasta cutters (in my opinion) is cleaning them. You can’t submerge them in water and clean them like you would any other kitchen equipment. They include a little brush with the cutters, but it really does not help to clean out the inside of the machine. So flour builds up in there. I am going to have to take mine apart to fix them.

I went to the website for FG Pizza and Italian, which I highly, highly recommend for pasta equipment. FG’s is a family-owned company, and they are of the little old Italian grandmother culinary persuasion. They sell rolling pins for cutting pasta, which works for things like fettuccine and pappardelle. (You need an extruder for things like spaghetti and penne.) They also do a lot of tutorials on making Italian dishes. I will report back on whether the roller works well. With the machines, you can make pasta that melts in your mouth. This is going to be a test of my real skills, lol.

Elise’s riding instructor let her gather fresh eggs from the chickens on the horse farm. She put them in her helmet. It reminded me of when she was a toddler and we gave her mussels for the first time. She thought they were such treasures that she put the empty shells in my handbag when I wasn’t looking so she could take them home. Before bedtime, she remembered her shells and came running down to search through my bag. I had shellfish sitting in my bag the whole day! Now she’s older and I have eggs rolling around in the backseat of my SUV.

Change the way you cook bacon

Over the holiday, Rodney read an article that tested the various ways that you can cook bacon. The winner (which I think was from Martha Stewart?) was putting slices of bacon side-by-side on parchment paper on top of a baking sheet (with edges) then baking it at 400 degrees until it looks the way you want it to. Use enough parchment paper that the edges are folded up around the edges of the baking sheet so the grease never touches the baking sheet (like you might do with fish). You don’t even need to flip it. We let the bacon cook for about twenty minutes. Then transfer the bacon to a plate with paper towels like you normally would. After the grease cools, just throw the parchment paper in the garbage. There’s no mess to clean up, and the bacon tastes like fluffy, airy goodness.

We will seriously never cook bacon in a skillet again. Perfection!!!!!

Miso-marinated salmon

Our culinary project for the day is miso-marinated salmon. This is a centuries-old Japanese technique for preparing fish. Before the days of refrigeration, salmon was prepared this way for long journeys inland. It was brought to the United States recently by Nobu Matsuhisa, founder of the Nobu restaurant chain.

Basically, you take 1/2 cup of miso paste (I found mine at one of the Asian supermarkets in our town), 1/4 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of sake, 3 tablespoons of mirin, whisk it all together in a bowl, place the salmon filets in a bowl face down, and let them marinate for 6 to 24 hours.

We are heading out for the day to play, but will be coming home to a delicious dinner.

Update

This is definitely the way to cook salmon! We did not get home until late last night, so we ended up letting the salmon marinate in the miso mixture for over 24 hours. We took it out of the bowl, scraped the miso mixture off, and broiled it for a few minutes. The results were sublime. The fish gets a flavorful crust on the outside and remains silky on the inside. I topped it off with some tartar sauce, but ended up pushing it off the fish.

We served it with garlicky rice pilaf and asparagus with salt, pepper, and truffle dust.

A Florida version of salad niçoise with fresh local swordfish

I knew a girl in college who loved shoes so much that every morning she’d select a pair of shoes from her hundreds of pairs and then try to construct an outfit.

That’s sort of how we are with cooking living in Florida. We have a constant supply of fresh seafood, where the fishmongers either caught the fish themselves or directly know the person who did. We start by looking at what fish are available and then build a meal around that. For lunch we made a curry out of mutton snapper. For dinner I made a salad niçoise with swordfish. This truly is paradise.

I’d say nothing says summer like salad niçoise and chilled wine, but that’s another great thing about living here…. It is the land of eternal summer. Well, it’s usually great. Going out to get the fish today was the only time anyone left the house. When we are not being thrashed about by the squalls, it is so humid that it feels like you are walking around in a cloud. It wasn’t even nominally hot today, but the moisture in the air gave us a heat index of 110 degrees. Not exactly gardening weather.

Anyway, back to the salad…. This is pretty basic if you love to cook, but someone is going to ask me how to make it, so here you go.

I make a vinaigrette of 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, juice from three or four lemons (just try to get about half a cup), 1 minced shallot, a bunch of fresh basil (finely chopped), fresh oregano, fresh thyme, a couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and a pinch or two of kosher salt. (It is important to use fresh herbs, and a lot of them – they really are part of the salad.) Let the vinaigrette sit for a while as you cook the rest, so the flavors have a chance to mingle. This makes a lot of dressing, but trust me…. You are going to want that much.

The salad itself is made of 1 and 1/2 pounds of small red potatoes, quartered and boiled with a pinch of salt until they are just tender (watch them closely so they do not get so tender that they break apart or start to lose their skins); trimmed green beans (boil for three minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath); a few medium tomatoes, cored and sliced; a few hard boiled eggs, sliced; a couple tablespoons of capers; and some anchovies (though you could add a touch of anchovy paste to the vinaigrette for the same effect). And of course, olives (you are supposed to use niçoise, but I use kalamata because they are easily available and I love them) and fish. Traditionally, the fish is tuna, but I often switch it out for swordfish. We eat a ton of tuna here, especially when we go out to eat. Ahi is everywhere along the beach.

There is a fantastic restaurant in Flagler Beach called the Flagler Fish Company that makes an outstanding salad niçoise with ahi. I wish I could replicate their Dijon vinaigrette – it sounds simple, but I’m not sure what I am missing. The taste of potatoes and Dijon mustard that is sublime, so I am always pretty heavy on the Dijon.

(It’s hard to explain to people who have tried Dijon straight and hated it that Dijon subtly improves many foods and often in unpredictable ways. For example, when I make quiche, I coat the crust with a heavy layer of Dijon mustard before filling it and putting it in the oven. This has an absolutely transformative effect on pie crust. It does not come out tasting like mustard, but it an unreal improvement. I’ve gotten to where I don’t tell people my trick until they’ve tasted the final product first. Every Southern woman needs a signature dish that people associate with them specifically. My signature dish is quiche, and the grand secret – lol – is Dijon.)

And of course for dessert… A key lime pie. The perfect summer meal. These are good days.

Banana trees and a new love of Latin

Today has been a rather unusual day in our household. (Do we ever have normal days though?)

This morning, Elise told me that she wanted to spend the entire day working on her Latin, which is suddenly her new favorite subject. In the past, we had done “math only” school days. She’d wake up, put on her “math day” t-shirt (a shirt she bought at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that says B greater than average via a math problem) and hit the books. I could not believe that Latin has replaced math. True to her word, she worked her way through several chapters of Latin and spent the afternoon addressing us in Latin. She says she needs a t-shirt that says something in Latin.

Mandatory “math day” attire.

Since she was occupied and I was in-between work for our clients, I decided to make a Persian feast for lunch, with shawarma, tzatziki, flatbreads, a salad of tomatoes and cucumber, and a mixture of figs and apricots crossed with plums (they just sounded bizarre and fun while we were out shopping). The food filled the house with the most amazing aromas, and honestly it still smells divine now. I used to cook tagines all the time, and I missed the intense combinations of spices.

My first attempt at shawarma (before being shredded).
And my first attempt at tzatziki ever.
Summer fruits.

At the end of the day, Elise and I took a walk along the esplanade in our neighborhood, which follows the Intracoastal Waterway. She devoted herself to catching lizards while I watched the boats returning from the Atlantic Ocean.

Lizard collecting. (Yes, she only studies the lizards for a while and then sets them free. Our only rule on nature walks is that we do not capture any pollinators.)

As we were walking, a woman we did not know beckoned us into her backyard to show us that her four or five banana trees were now loaded with dozens of ripening bananas. (She was very proud of her banana trees she said, and just needed to share the moment with someone. As an obsessive gardener, I can relate.) This was fascinating to both Elise and me, since we had tried to grow a banana tree in a pot on our front porch this summer. It either did not like the pot or its spot or access to water, because it did not flourish. I asked her if the banana trees did well through the Florida “winter,” to which she responded that she had not had any problems with them except through the two recent hurricanes. She said the hurricanes always destroy the banana trees. When I find a new plant in a nursery one of these days, I will plant some in our backyard. The woman told us that the best fertilizer for banana trees was surplus bananas. Elise has been going around explaining this curiosity to everyone who will listen.

An impromptu lesson on cultivating bananas.

Equally interesting is seeing how exactly banana trees develop fruit. The bananas grow along a sort of flower-rope that dangles down toward the ground. Nature is unbelievable sometimes! We have the loveliest neighbors here in Florida.

A close up of the “flower-rope” that bananas grow along.

Walking away, Elise said to me, “imagine how many banana splits that nice lady gets to make now.” Indeed.

A bonus picture of Elise for friends and family.

A game of chess with Dad while waiting for food at our favorite Mexican/Caribbean restaurant.