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Everything posted by takomabaker

  1. I was going to mention Hummingbird Cake and you beat me to it. I LOVE it. Also, Coconut Cake (my family recipe is entitled Grandmother Goddard's Coconut Cake -- it was my grandmother's grandmother who was Grandmother Goddard), pecan pie (obviously), key lime pie (if you are from Florida), banana and Nilla wafer pudding (with a glass of really cold milk!!!), sweet potato pie, lemon meringue pie, ambrosia/heavenly delight (whether you see it as as dessert or side dish, it's still sweet), cat's tongues, jello molds with canned fruit cocktail (you secretly love it so just admit it), icebox cakes, DIVINITY (yum).... I know I'll think of more!
  2. takomabaker

    Swamp Cabbage

    Thanks to everyone for their kind words. They are really appreciated!
  3. takomabaker

    Swamp Cabbage

    Well, I just got back from Florida. My grandmother passed away. I'm distraught. Her 6 children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren and our spouses, and 7 great-grandchildren (too young for spouses) were all present. Ollie Mae Thelma Starling Anderson was laid to rest at our family plot in Englewood next to my grandfather, who preceded her by just over two years. I wrote her eulogy and couldn't stop crying until it was finished. She was the granddaughter of a Florida Confederate Soldier (7th Manatee Reg) and the great granddaughter of a Revolutionary patriot. She was also the best cook I'll ever know and I'll miss her collards almost as much as I'll miss her. I don't think I'll recover anytime soon, but when I do I think I'll make a meal in her honor, including swamp cabbage.
  4. takomabaker

    Swamp Cabbage

    I haven't been keeping up with my swamp cabbage quest. My grandmother is back in the hospital. Her 87th birthday was yesterday so it wasn't much of a birthday present for her. So, the swamp cabbage quest is on the back burner, so to speak. But I appreciate all advice. Keep it coming, please... And Robyn, I know about the state and county laws of Florida, and I know that the Miami environs have festivals that revolve around swamp cabbage and other cracker cuisine and culture. But if I mentioned Miami, festivals, or the official state law to any of my relatives I'd get a response that I could not repeat as a lady or in a public forum. When you've been in the same county since 1834 and your great-great grandfather is in the Florida state history books for shooting the first carpetbagger, you don't tend to file a lot of state permits to chop down a tree. I'm by no means advocating poaching, but my grandfather (God rest his soul) used to spend a lot of time in the Everglades. He was an avid hunter and naturalist, and could make a hell of a pot of swamp cabbage. I'll just leave it at that.
  5. I worked at Wendy's when I was in high school. It was my first job (not counting babysitting). I LOVED the chicken a la king potato topping, but we used to put it on torn up French fries and eat it with a fork OR we used to use it as a dip with the chips for the taco salad. (When you work in a fast food joint, you get pretty creative with the food.) And their hot apple dumplings -- basically a deep-fried apple fritter covered with cinnamon syrup. It was yummy.
  6. Trader Joe's has a bottled Chinese Chicken Salad dressing that claims it is as good as that of "famous restaurants" that I bought on a whim. I've used it a few times and it isn't bad, but I've never had the salad at The Cheesecake Factory so I have no point of comparison. You might give it a try, though, if you live near a TJs.
  7. I don't remember him adding anything to the robot coupe but enough olive oil to make an emulsion. He only deep-fried the basil leaves for a second or two -- it was a quick "in and out" of the fryer -- so there was moisture in the basil that I am certain contributed to the emulsification. He also drained them very well before he put them into the Robot Coupe. I've done this at home a few times and have found that although I can do it with a degree of success, I cannot get my oil at a high enough temperature at home to get that fast crispiness of the basil while retaining the moisture. The basil tends to "spit" no matter how dry I think it is, hence I think it is losing the moisture it needs for a good emulsification. I believe that this is due to the fact that I cannot duplicate the higher heat of a professional kitchen's fryer. Also, my Cuisinart does not do as good a job at emulsifying as the Robot Coupe had done. Now that you brought it up, I might add a drop or two of water to the Cuisinart and I might get better results. It's still very good, but not as good as I remember. The dish that this technique was used to finish is still a dinner party stand-by for me. The Chef poached rockfish until slightly underdone. He made the basil oil as I described and spread the larger bits of basil left in the chinois on the rockfish. He eventually (right before serving) finished the rockfish off under a broiler for a minute or two. He made a beurre monté (some people are discussing this technique elsewhere and calling it beurre fondue -- is this the same thing?) with some of the rockfish poaching liquid and poached some spring veggies in it. (I think we had some fresh peas, asparagus, baby carrots, etc. I vary my veggies with what is in season and available when I recreate this.) He served the veggies in a shallow bowl with just a little bit of the liquid that he had reduced and finished with a white wine that I don't remember -- I've tried sauvignon blanc with success, plated the rockfish on top of the veggies and garnished it with a few sprigs of fried basil and drizzed the thick basil oil around the whole thing. The final basil oil was about the same consistency as a nice vinaigrette -- not watery but not a mayonnaise consistency either.
  8. I watched a chef prepare basil oil for garnishing a fish dish when I was younger and making some extra money working as a lackey for a caterer, and he deep-fried the basil leaves and then he put the drained and crispy leaves in a robot coupe with a little olive oil (food service grade -- nothing too fancy) and made a thick emulsion. He strained it through a chinois, put it in a squeeze bottle, and used it as a garnish. It was VERY thick and intense, more like puréed basil, and I still make basil oil that way. Oh, and I know he did not use the stems or even the spine of the leaves, because I was the one who did the destemming on pounds of basil. It was NOT fun.
  9. takomabaker

    The Basics

    That's a great idea, but I think "techniques" might be better than recipes. I mean, 90% of the recipes in the back of women's magazines in the check-out line are variations of a sautéed protein and simple pan sauce. So, being able to sauté properly and have a formula for a basic pan sauce would be valuable knowledge to most people. And I would think being able to make a proper emulsification for such things as a vinaigrette and mayo would be up there in importance, and to be able to master a few more versative mother sauces such as bechamel would be up there. I'd say being able to make stock would be on the list, but I volunteer as an assistant at a cooking school and have assisted enough Beginner Techniques classes that I know that no matter how much the chef extols the virtues of homemade stock that many of the students are going to leave the class and buy Swansons. It's sad but true. So, I actually think that it is useful to at least teach people who don't have a desire to move beyond the mundane to at least "doctor up" canned stocks. And, frankly, if you've ever cooked at a relative's house or in a remote cabin in a kitchen with nothing but a circa 1957 Club Aluminum pot and a spatula with a broken handle it sure doesn't hurt to know how to make Swansons not suck in a pinch.
  10. Hey Daniel, I live in DC and my SO of 5 years is a New Yorker. We take yearly vacations in Maine with our dogs. We usually do drive up the coast when we visit, and it is a breathtaking journey. But we have also spent some time in the White Mountains, which are gorgeous and incredible. Truly awe-inspiring. I also try to spend a day walking around Portland, too. It is a wonderful small city, with great art galleries and a really enjoyable museum that really reflects the city's culture. I go to the Portland Public Market and buy blueberries that I freeze when I get home to use throughout the year. I also buy some great local cheeses, breads, jams, honey, beers, etc. I bought some local wine that I wasn't overly impressed with, but I probably just chose poorly. Next time I'll seek some advice. There's a great beer shop that allows you to "mix and match" local brewery beers so you can bring a variety back to sample. I bring a little cooler, and make the Public Market the last stop on the way back to New York, and we snack on really nice fruits, breads and cheeses on the way home. If you have the time, I would definitely try to work in a day in Portland and in the White Mountains on your trip. (That's what I love about Maine. There's just TOO much to work in!)
  11. takomabaker

    Swamp Cabbage

    My entire life, swamp cabbage has always referred to finished pot of stewed cabbage palm hearts with lots of pepper and salt pork. However, in my research I have come to realize that some refer to the raw material, unstewed, as swamp cabbage as well. No matter what, it is very, very good.
  12. My grandmother had a heart attack a little while ago. Although she is holding up quite well, I got "the call" from my mother informing me that I needed to haul my tush to my hometown to see her. Since plane tickets on such short notice are pretty expensive, I ended up driving from Maryland to Florida in one straight trip -- something I haven't done since I was in college in Virginia over fifteen years ago. Hanging out with my grandmother, who is much better shape than I had been led to believe (or maybe it's just wishful thinking), I started asking her about cooking. My grandmother is an incredible Southern cook, a gene that was completely lost on my mother. I swear I've gotten food poisoning from my mother's cooking, but I have dreams about my grandmother's kitchen. I've reached a point in my life where I've realized that if I'm going to continue to consume the food that I get truly nostalgic for, I'd better get off my butt and figure out how to cook it myself. I mean, as much as I hate the thought, my grandmother isn't going to be making me plates of collards and chicken fried steak my entire life. And the one thing I get most nostalgic for is swamp cabbage. I've taken French pastry courses and can make a croissant like no one's business, but I still can't make greens or swamp cabbage like my grandmother's. One my brothers, the silver-tongued one, took the opportunity to tell me when I was home and cooked for the family that my food tasted like it was "from a restaurant", and therefore was not as good as that made by other members of the family. I told him he was free to cook for himself if he didn't like it. But I get the point. Somewhere in my culinary quest I passed over what was closest to me and now I regret the hell out of it. I can make a mean cassoulet, but I can't chicken fry a damned thing. When my great-grandmother was ill and I got "the call" 20 years ago, she had refused to eat anything for days. My grandmother sent me over to my great-aunt's house (who had been caring for my Great-grandma) with a huge, turquoise, Club Aluminum pot of swamp cabbage. I still remember the smell of it drifting up from the passenger's seat of my '74 Dodge Dart as I drove the long, dirt road to my Aunt Dot's. If Great-grandma was going to eat anything, this was it. I understand that now. If I had to choose a last meal, I wouldn't even have to think about it. It would be smoked mullet and swamp cabbage. So, over some sweet tea and carrot cake at my grandmother's kitchen table, I started my inquiry about the elusive swamp cabbage. I had to be diplomatic. After all, she had just had a massive heart attack and I didn't want her to think I was more interested in swamp cabbage and the lack thereof in the event of her demise than I was in her health. I started out with her sweet tea, and my pathetic attempt at duplicating it and segued to swamp cabbage. She started "Well, first you have to cut down the cabbage palm...." Twenty minutes later we are at the point where you strip off the hard outer part of the palm to get to the tender insides and how to tell what part is good to eat and what part isn't and I realize that it would snow in hell (or my hometown for that matter) before I made swamp cabbage from her directions in my suburban Washington DC bungalow. I figured somewhere, someone MUST sell raw cabbage palm innards and I started a search, but I can't find it anywhere. I'm not talking about canned, fancy Hearts of Palm. I want raw cabbage palm cores. I want swamp cabbage with lots of pepper, some salt pork, and a little cider vinegar. I want a pot of the stuff that gave my great-grandmother the will to live. I started walking around my parents' property eye-balling cabbage palms and my mother told me I had better leave her landscaping alone. I drove out to a state park that is down the road from my childhood home one morning just to enjoy the scenery, but everywhere that I saw cabbage palms visions of steaming pots of swamp cabbage filled my head. Short of poaching on state land and ending up in a Florida penitentiary, there has to be a way for me to make swamp cabbage in Maryland. My search continues. Are there any other swamp cabbage obsessives out there who have any insight? My grandmother told me that if I drove back down for my family reunion over Memorial Day weekend I could get all of the swamp cabbage that I could eat (hint hint), but I don't want to be at the mercy of second cousins twice removed or drive for 18 hours down I-95 for a swamp cabbage fix. There has to be a way. Just because I'm an expatriate cracker doesn't mean I have to eat like one!
  13. I'm in the same boat. Has anyone tried powdered buttermilk? I haven't yet, but want to try.
  14. I was looking for a roommate to share a house that I was renting once. The bedroom that was up for grabs was a HUGE finished attic space with stairs off the kitchen. One potential rommate looked around the kitchen and asked if I cooked. "Of course," I answered, "I LOVE to cook." I thought she was looking forward to having a roommate who made good food (as my previous roommate had), but instead she looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, but I can't STAND the smell of FOOD. This probably wouldn't work." Seriously. I almost fell over. When you look for a roommate, you truly get to see the depths of human weirdness. I mean, did this woman put a clothespin on her nose every time she ate?
  15. On a visit to my Alma Mater in Virginia, I made a pitstop at Wade's Mill in Raphine. I brought some of their grits home and they are some of the best I have ever had. www.wadesmill.com
  16. I never thought about the fact that my grandmother's and mother's homemade preserves are runny with big chunks of fruit, but they definitely are. I have childhood memories of piling my grandmother's preserves on Wonderbread, folding the bread in half with the open side up, and eating it like a taco. It worked.
  17. That's why Southern women are so neurotic. I've been dating a New Yorker for five years who cannot understand why I can't leave the house without makeup. And I hate to admit it, but I have been trained from childhood to have a good bathrobe by my bed at night so in case of emergency I won't have to run out into the street in something embarrassing. It's terrible. My college roomate (from Snow Hill, North Carolina) used to quote the Steel Magnolias line, "The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize." (I may have butchered that line. I haven't watched the movie or seen my old roomate in years.)
  18. 2 cents from another Florida Cracker (7th Generation): Crackers: The term "Cracker," while now more widely known as a derogatory term for rural whites, has a more specific--and less insulting--definition in Florida. The Florida Crackers are whites of Celtic descent who first settled South Florida around the mid-eighteenth century. Crackers usually migrated to the Florida Everglades from Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, drawn to the fertile land for ranching and farming, and to the peninsula's plentiful resources for fishing. And in my grandmother's house, macaroni and cheese is melted Velveeta and cheap macaroni (no semolina in there) topped with shredded cheddar cheese and baked.
  19. I got involved in this a little late, but in a pastry class a couple years back we were experimenting with French and Italian buttercreams. I had the misfortune of making it to the flavorings shelf after my classmates had already raided it and ended up with a choice of only banana or peanut butter. I chose the banana. When I completed my project, the buttercream tasted nostalgically like... you guessed it... the Sara Lee banana cakes that my grandmother used to buy. The flavoring I was using was this: http://www.auiswisscatalogue.com/store/mer...D/P_FLAV/011007 Does it taste like ripe, tropical bananas? No. Does it taste like a Sara Lee banana cake? Darn tootin'! I don't remember if the consistency was the same as the Sara Lee (my memory is not THAT good), but if it helps I used it to flavor an Italian buttercream.
  20. I was taught to not just cut across the grain, but cutting across the grain at a sharp angle (think sliced lox) is the trick. I cut both flank steak and chicken for high heat dry cooking this way. It works wonderfully. The same chef who taught this method also suggested that in some instances, a very sharp serrated knife might work better than a chef's knife if you want your slices very thin. In class, we used flank steak and made a high heat stir-fry and the result was amazing even with no marinating or velveting. I've been a convert ever since.
  21. My Lithuanian grandmother used to make me cheese blintzes with either apple sauce or sour cream as a topping. I don't have her exact recipe (unfortunately, because she passed away just a little over a year ago), but I think it was a pretty traditional recipe.
  22. My mother was APALLED when she picked me up at the airport for my first Christmas break from college (I went to college in Virginia) carrying the same ink-stained backpack that I used for my books and wearing a beat-up Timex watch with a broken face that I wore because I was a theater major and went through watches in the scene shop like candy. If I remember correctly, I was also wearing Doc Martens (it was the 80's) and ripped jeans. A few weeks later, I opened up my presents and got a Movado watch, a very conservative navy blue Coach handbag, and a stern lecture on how being 18 and attending a liberal arts school was no excuse for slovenliness. I've carried that lecture throughout life, but I still reserve the right to wear sweats and a baseball cap when shopping on a Saturday afternoon. And I'm not unsure that I don't still have that backpack in my attic closet along with 15 years of bridesmaid dresses. As for grits, plain and swimming in butter and salt for breakfast, and served with tomato gravy for dinner (usually fried fish dinner). I LOVE grits and tomato gravy!
  23. Okay, first, I LOVE this forum but I've never posted. I love to read though. But I'm very interested to get opinions on this: I've been in a 5-year relationship with a New Yorker from Queens. We currently live in D.C. My "father-in-law" passed away recently. It was very sad. The viewing and funeral was held in a Catholic funeral home in Queens. I was shocked to find out that not only was no food allowed in the funeral home, but the concept of bringing food to a funeral was quite shocking to my in-laws. Afterwards, there was a "luncheon" at a local Italian restaurant that was arranged in advance and paid for by the family. I grew up attending funerals at the same Baptist Church adjacent to the same cemetery where 150 years of my family are buried. And there has always been food in a meeting room where, after the cemetery service, has served as a gathering area for a huge after-service feast. There was always a table full of great food. The staples were always pimiento cheese sandwiches on crustless white bread (cut into triangles), cold fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni salad, that funky salad with the citrus and marachino cherries and marshmallows and shredded coconut, deviled eggs, key lime or lemon meringue pie, and pitcher after pitcher of sweet tea. And there would always be optional items in addition that could include anything from BBQ to smoked mullet to biscuits with ham. But food was a REALLY big part of the entire grieving and comfort process, and the leftovers were carefully packed up and carried to the home of the immediate family. My significant other was shocked at the idea of having a "potluck" after a funeral in the church. But to me, going to some restaurant and paying someone else to cook for the family and friends of the deceased is even weirder. I mean, providing the proper food at the proper event is a very strong tradition in my family. It shows you care more than any floral arrangement or card. The food was never fancy. It was usually eaten with disposable dinnerware and served out of ancient green or blue Tupperware containers set out on portable card tables with vinyl tablecloths. But it was what we did. I have not, honestly, attended a lot of funerals outside of my own family. Is the difference in tradition a North/South thing or is it more cultural than that?
  24. takomabaker

    Pot Roast

    I did a really nice "Mediterranean" braise a couple of weekends ago on snowy Saturday with houseguests. Traditional method, but with artichoke hearts (I keep frozen ones from Trader Joe's in my freezer for "emergencies"), sliced fennel, various cured olives I had lurking in the back of my fridge, and I seasoned with rosemary and fennel seed and garnished with lemon zest. I would have liked basil, but I couldn't keep the fresh going in my window past the fall but the rosemary is doing great and running to the store wasn't an option. I made a cucumber and feta with vinaigrette side and it was a great snowed in dinner. It sort of inspired me to come up with more themes on braising. Asian with star anise, cinnamon, Thai eggplants, fresh grated coconut? Mexican with chocolate and ground and fresh chiles? The possibilities are endless. I love to braise.
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