Mardi Gras is a fun season for food. Not only can you draw from the great canon of Louisiana cooking, you can play with the bright signature colors of purple, green and gold and be a little silly. This slaw is simple but the multi-colored vegetables and the tangy dressing make it a special dish. It is beautiful served beside or on top of a po’ boy, but is also a great starter or side with other favorites like Shrimp Creole or Red Beans and Rice or Grillades and Grits. But this slaw is also beautiful at a summer barbecue or picnic, long after Mardi Gras season has passed.
Mardi Gras Slaw
For the dressing:
1/3 cup creole mustard (I use Zatarain’s)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
a couple of dashes of hot sauce
For the slaw:
½ head purple cabbage
½ head green cabbage
2 yellow bell peppers
For the dressing:
Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or in a small bowl with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing is creamy.
For the Slaw:
Cut out the core of each cabbage half. Slice the cabbage with the slicing blade of a food processor. You’ll need to do this in batches. Transfer the sliced cabbage to a very big bowl. Remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers and finely dice. Add to the cabbage in the bowl. Use you clean hands to toss everything around until evenly distributed. Discard any large cabbage pieces or remnants of hard core.
Give the dressing a last whisk to make sure it is creamy and pour it over the slaw. Stir and toss to coat everything well. I like to do this with clean hands as well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend. This is best served soon after it is made, but will keep for up to a day.
Serve 10 – 12
Cauliflower Cheese is a very popular dish in England, one of its comfort foods. Basically, it is cauliflower in a creamy cheese sauce. But the first time I heard of cauliflower cheese, on the set menu at a restaurant during a high-school summer in England, I was a little worried it was actually some kind of strange British cheese. I thought they might bring our some lumpy, bumpy, smelly cheese – an early on I always worried even the most innocuous sounding English food would contain unfamiliar animal parts. I have since learned not to fear British food, and the combination of cauliflower and cheese is a solid one. I love it in this creamy, simple soup.
This soup is hugely adaptable. I love the interesting touch of the curried crumbs (and it is a way to use some of the extra cauliflower), but the array of topping possibilities is endless. Try the crumbs with just salt and pepper, or any seasoning you prefer. Crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta, toasted croutons, a shower of chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, chopped toasted walnuts or some extra shredded cheddar. Use your imagination and what you have to hand.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Curried Cauliflower Crumbs
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts (about 8 ounces)
¼ cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
6 – 7 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pound cauliflower (about ½ head)
14 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
For the Crumbs:
½ head cauliflower
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon curry powder
Slice the leeks into thin rings, then rinse well under cold running water. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the leeks and cook until soft and wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Sprinkle over the flour and cook until the flour is thoroughly combined with the leeks. Add the broth, cream and 2 cups of water. Stir until the soup begins to thicken, then add the nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme (I tie the sprigs together with a small piece of twine to make them easier to remove later). Bring the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil.
Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, removing any very hard center stem. Drop the pieces into the soup, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or vary carefully in batches in a blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the grated cheddar by handfuls, melting each handful before the adding the next one. Season well with salt. The salt can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. Reheat gently; do not boil.
Serve sprinkled with the curried crumbs.
For the Crumbs:
Use a large knife to shave the knobbly top of the cauliflower to produce ½ cup of crumbs. Remove any larger pieces of stem. It should look like fine bread crumbs.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the cauliflower crumbs. Stir constantly until the crumbs are brown and toasted, Sprinkle over the curry powder and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Toast a few seconds longer until brown and fragrant. Remove the crumbs to paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the soup to serve.
I adhere very solidly to tradition of eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s day for luck and prosperity. I have a wonderful New Year’s Eve tradition, so on New Year’s Day, I usually sleep in, then curl up on the couch with a book while a pot of peas and some collards stew away on the stove – minimal prep and minimal work. But this cast-iron skillet, bacon-fried version of collards is a quicker method, if you don’t get around to cooking until its almost time for dinner. If you really sleep in after a night out. Or they make an excellent accompaniment to a bowl of slow-cooked peas.
I think these are collards for people who don’t like collards. The bacon of courses helps, as does the fact that these are thin strands of greens, rather than a big leaf. And the sugar slightly caramelizes the greens and the bacon, adding an interesting touch of sweet. A big bunch of collards wilts down to a small amount – this makes about 2 cups of cooked greens, so its just enough for a small side. These are really interesting used as a garnish on a big bowl of black eyed peas or hopping john, just place a tangle of the collards on top. They could even add an extra dimension to soft, slow cooked collards. You can certainly double the recipe or make multiple batches.
Cast Iron Collards
1 large bunch collard greens
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
6 strips bacon
1 garlic clove
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cut the leaves of the collards away from the hard center stems. Stack the leaves up in bunches of about 6, then roll each bunch into a cigar. Cut the collards into thin ribbons. Place the collard ribbons in a colander, shuffling them around to make sure they are well separated. Rinse the collards thoroughly and shake as much water of as possible. Lay the collard ribbons out on a tea towel, then roll them up in the towel to blot off as much water as you can. A little damp is fine, soaking wet will be a problem when you add them to the bacon grease.
Put the vegetable oil and bacon strips into a large, deep cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat until the bacon is very crispy and the fat has rendered out. Do not be tempted to raise the heat or the grease will get too hot and scorch the greens. When the bacon is crispy, remove it to paper towels to drain. Drop the garlic clove and the red pepper flakes into the pan and cook for just until the garlic starts to brown and is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Remove the garlic clove.
Carefully add the collards to the pan, standing back because the moisture on the greens will spit. Stir the collards to coat in the bacon fat and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until the greens are wilted. Add the sugar, baking soda and salt and stir well. Chop the bacon into rough pieces, add them to the greens and stir. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook the greens for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are tender. Watch carefully so they do not burn. The greens will be dark and soft, with a few crispy edges here and there.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little pepper vinegar if you’d like.
Serves 4 as an accompaniment
Here’s a fun fall snack that features beautiful green apples and nutty gruyere cheese. A great spread on hearty wheat crackers, this also makes a wonderful sandwich filling that’s particularly suited to rye bread. In fact, those little square slices of party rye are great for an appetizer or little tea sandwiches.
This is a basic blueprint that is fabulous on its on, but feel free to stir in some pecan or walnut pieces, or some dried cranberries.
Apple Gruyere Spread
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces of gruyere cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled
Beat the cream cheese until it is soft, then fold in the gruyere, mustard and chives and mix until combined. Grate the apples with their peels and immediately add to the cream cheese mixture and fold into to completely combined. Make sure the apples are covered by the cream cheese to prevent browning. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors blend. The spread will keep a few days in the fridge.
Makes about 1 ½ cups
The summer herb garden has been rampaging this year, and I have a rosemary bush that won’t quit. I’ll have plenty for use when the pears come in to make Rosemary Pear Butter and I’ll make a couple of dishes of Chicken, Prosciutto and Rosemary Lasagna. But I have also been using it in all sorts of interesting ways, trying to step out of my normal routine.
Delicately brushing that line between sweet and savory, these little bites are lovely beside a glass of champagne or crisp white wine. I’ve even served them on a cheese board with some soft goat cheese.
Lemon Rosemary Cocktail Wafers
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well blended. Make sure your rosemary is very finely chopped – use an electric spice grinder if you have one, if not chop as much as possible with a heavy knife. Add the rosemary and lemon zest to the bowl and beat until blended. Add the flour and salt and beat until combined and smooth.
Scoop half the dough onto a long piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log. Roll the dough up and wrap tightly into a small, thin log. I like to make these a small bites, so I roll the log about 1-inch in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate the logs for at least an hour, but these will keep in the fridge for several days.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and slice wafers, about 1/8 of an ich thick from the logs. Lay them on the baking sheet about ½ and inch apart and bake for 5 minutes, just until the centers are firm and the edges are slightly brown. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 40 wafers
When I think of really old Southern recipes, spoon bread always comes to mind. I really have no particular knowledge of its history, its just that first time I ever had it was on a school trip to Colonial Williamsburg where it is served at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern by costumed and in-character servers. I assume everything else at Williamsburg is so accurate, that this must be a colonial recipe. I love Williamsburg, and no small part of that is the food, and I have enjoyed the spoon bread on many subsequent visits.
Working on the theory that bacon makes everything better, I added a little bit to my classic spoon bread recipe. The creamy, light cornbread-soufflé hybrid is perfect with the addition of a little crunch. But it occurred to me that spoon bread could be taken out of the realm of simple side with the addition of a little saucy extra. This bacon-onion-tomato mixture is one I have been whipping up with leftover bits and pieces for years, but finally decided was worthy of a recipe.
And no, I do not think this is too much bacon. It is actually very well balanced. But of course, these two dishes stand alone wonderfully well. The spoon bread as a side with stick ribs or grilled foods or as part of a breakfast spread. And the jam, which makes more than you need for the spoon bread, is wonderful on burgers or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bacon Spoon Bread
6 strips of bacon
1 ½ cups cornmeal
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 Tablespoon bacon grease
Mix the cornmeal, sugar and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Bring the water, butter and 1 Tablespoon bacon grease to a boil in a pan. Turn on the mixer and pour the boiling water into the cornmeal. Beat until thick and stiff. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Measure the milk in a 4-cup jug, then crack in the eggs and beat well. Beat the milk and eggs into the cornmeal mush, then fold in add the bacon pieces and beat until combined. Beat in the baking powder until well blended, then scrape the spoon bread into the baking dish. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the center is set. Serve immediately with spoonfuls of Tomato Bacon Jam.
Serves 4 – 6
6 strips of bacon
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
½ cup white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
In a large, high-sided saucepan, bring the chopped tomatoes, onion, sugars, vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down. Use a spatula or the back of the spoon to crush the tomatoes, though I like to give the jam a little whirl with an immersion blender at this point to create a rough puree. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the bacon pieces and simmer until the jam is thick and spreadable, about an hour or more. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. As the jam thickens, watch it more closely and stir often to prevent burning. The jam will be done when you pull a spatula through to expose the bottom of the pan and the two sides don’t run together.
Scoop the jam into jars or a bowl and leave to cool. The jam will keep covered in the fridge for more than a week.
Makes 1 pint
Tabbouleh is the perfect summer farmers market dish – fresh herbs and vegetables tossed with fine grains for a fresh, cool salad. But has always been underwhelming to me. Too bland, too dry, I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to love it, but never had.
Until a conversation at a party about family recipes. A lovely woman from Mississippi was telling me about some of her family’s traditional Lebanese dishes, filtered through generations in the Missisippi Delta. She mentioned in passing that her family always soak the bulgur in lemon juice. That idea stuck with me as a way to pep up the dish. And it does. This version of tabbouleh is bright with lemon juice, really tart and unique. I love lots of fresh herbs, but have added a few spices for a little flair. So now I like tabbouleh – my way. I make this for parties and cook outs, but also just to keep a bowl in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks.
But here’s the thing about tabbouleh. This is my blueprint, lifted from someone else’s recipe. You can do what you want. More tomatoes or cucumbers, no garlic, a little chopped hot pepper. What you find at your market or in the garden. I do offer some hints. I like to give my knife and board a workout and finely chop all the ingredients, so each bite has a good mix of flavors, rather than a big chunk of tomato or cucumber or a big parsley leaf. With all the lemony tang, I’ve never really thought this needed salt, but do as you will.
Summer Market Tabbouleh
½ cup fine bulgur wheat
¼ cup lemon juice
2 plum tomatoes
1 cucumber, seed scooped out
1 green onions, white and light green parts
1 small garlic clove
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coriander
Place the bulgur in a bowl. Then mix the lemon juice and ¾ cup water in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the bulgur and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.
While the bulgur is soaking, finely chop the tomato, cucumber, green onions and place in a large bowl. Pass the garlic clove through a press into the bowl, or chop it to a fine paste on a board and add it. Finely chop the herbs and add to the bowl. Add the olive oil, sumac, cinnamon and coriander to the bowl and stir well to blend everything. Set aside.
When the fifteen minutes have passed, uncover the bulgur and fluff with a fork. If there is any liquid in the bowl or the bulgur seems wet, place it on a fine sieve and press out any liquid. Return to the bowl and fluff with the fork. Leave the bulgur to cool for about 5 minutes.
Scrape the bulgur into the tomato cucumber mix and use a fork to mix everything together, breaking up any clumps in the bulgur and scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.
Serves 4 as a side dish, easily doubles.
I spend a great deal of time in the summer putting up gorgeous fresh tomatoes for winter. Almost as much time as I do eating them. Ziptop bags full of sauce and soup base. Salsa, bloody mary mix and chutney in jars. And this, my favorite tomato condiment. I discovered recipes for tomato butter in several very old community cookbooks. The kind of recipes that call for a peck of tomatoes and sugar, just sugar no measurements. I was intrigued first by the name – I make lots of fruit butters, but had never thought about doing it with tomatoes. Then I was drawn in by the addition of vinegar; I could see how a hit of acid would really balance the sweetness of the tomatoes and sugar. So I set to work scaling this to a recipe more reasonable for my needs. And I love it.
Tomato butter has a jam like consistency and a deep, glossy, rich red color. It is sweet and tart, perfectly playing on all the attributes of a good tomato. Try this on a hamburger, and you may never go back to ketchup again. It is excellent dolloped on a steak or a piece of fish. It makes a wonderful mid-winter BLT and it is an elegant addition to a cheeseboard. My favorite usage is spread thick on good bread bought from a local baker, a few thick sliced of creamy brie and some smoky bacon, toasted and pressed. And I warn you, once you start making this, it may become an addiction.
5 pounds tomatoes, peeled
2 cups sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
First, place a small ceramic plate in the freezer. You’ll use this this to test the set of the jam later. Then get your jars clean. You will need 5 -6 half-pint mason jars (I always have an extra on hand in case I need it). I clean the jars and the rings in the dishwasher, and leave them in there with the door closed to stay warm. You can’t put the lids in the dishwasher, it will ruin them.
Chop the tomatoes and place them in a large Dutch oven with the sugar and vinegar. Stir everything together, then turn the heat to medium and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down and become soft, about 15 minutes. Blend the tomatoes with an immersion blender until you have a smooth puree. Lower the heat and continue simmering the jam, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is thick and spreadable. This could take anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. As the mixture thinks, stir more often and watch carefully to prevent scorching.
When the jam has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it. Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate. If the jam stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’sready. Also, run a finger through the jam on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.
While you jam is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing jam in a canner. When the jam is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the jar lids jars to soften the seals and set aside.
When the jam has met the set test, remove it from the heat. I like to ladle the jam into a large measuring jug for easy pouring. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the jam, leaving a ½ inch head space. Wipe the rimes of the jars with a damp paper towel to clean up any sticky spills. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands tightly, then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you have a bit of extra jam, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.
The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!
Makes 3 – 4 (½ pint) jars, plus a little extra
I have also made this in the slow cooker. To do this, place all the ingredients in the cooker and cook uncovered for 12 – 14 hours until set. Puree the tomatoes when they are soft.
Watermelon and mint are a classic summer pairing. I love it in a sorbet or a sweet tea drink. But basil is a great match with melon as well, so I worked up this sweet pesto, with the herby, grassiness of basil and a little undernote of mint. It really is a fresh taste of the summer garden.
Serve the watermelon however you like – in thin wedges, big chunks or pretty balls. Toss it as a salad or drizzle over pieces. The pesto is also good on other melons and fruits.
Watermelon With Sweet Pesto
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup neutral flavored oil, like grapeseed or canola
1 small watermelon
Put the basil, mint, confectioners’ sugar and lemon jusice in the bowl of a food processor (I like to use a small one) and process until finely chopped. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil until well blended.
The watermelon is up to you – wedges, balls, rough chunks. Drizzle with the pesto before serving.
Store the pesto in a jar in the fridge for up to a day. Shake well before serving.
My love of field peas has been declared far and wide. I generally grab bags from the farmers market, put some up in the freezer for a mid-winter summer meal. Then I throw some in my field pea pot with whatever pork product I have around. Salt pork, bacon, country ham, fatback. My summer Saturday dinner. But not so with lady peas. Lady peas are delicate and dainty – I am assuming that’s where the name comes from, and too much salty, strong pork overwhelms them. So I like to treat them with a gentler hand. Bright and sharp celery, a light addition of garlic and classic onion and bay flavor the peas, and butter enriches the whole dish, adding a lovely glaze. This version is simmered uncovered so the liquid reduces to burnish the peas. There is just enough potlikker to soak up with some tangy buttermilk hoecakes.
Butter Braised Lady Peas
1 pound of fresh lady peas
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks, with the leaves
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
¼ cup ( ½ stick) of butter
Place the lady peas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to settle for 30 minutes, then scoop off any floaters. Pick out any bruised peas, then lift the peas out of the water into a saucepan using your hands. Don’t pour through a strainer, the dirt only gets on the peas again.
Nestle the garlic, celery onion and bay leaves in the peas and add fresh water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam or scum that rises. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the butter. Simmer the peas, uncovered, for 1 hour until soft and tender but still holding their shape. Remove the celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves and add salt to taste. Serve warm.
Serves 4 – 6
Buttermilk Hoe Cakes
½ cup soft wheat flour, like White Lily
½ cup stone ground cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons melted butter
oil for frying
Stir the flour, cornmeal salt and baking powder together with a fork. Measure the buttermilk and water together, then crack in the egg and stir in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until thoroughly mixed. The batter should be loose but thick. Add a little more buttermilk if needed.
Heat a couple of Tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet (you can add a little butter or bacon grease if you’d like). Drop about 3 Tablespoons of batter for each hoecake into the oil. Cook about 3 minutes per side, then flip and cook the other side until brown and cooked through.
Remove the hoecakes to paper towels to drain.
Makes about 8 hoecakes