Tag Archives: eating

111. Hello Dollies, Goodbye Girlish Figure

12 Sep

A Hello Dolly by any other name still tastes as sweet

Folks up here call these delicacies “magic cookie bars,” but in the South they’re called Hello Dollies. Why, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps because they inspire folks to burst into song? I can, however, see why people think they’re “magic,” seeing as they’re easier than pie to make (even using storebought crust) and more addictive than crack. Not that I’ve actually compared the additive qualities of the two substances. I’m merely speculating. However, I’d be willing to wager that they’re easier to make than crack or at least crystal meth, considering all the complicated shenanigans on Breaking Bad.

Anyhoo, after I graduated from the Easy Bake Oven to the actual kitchen stove, Hello Dollies were some of the first baked treats I mastered. Considering that they’re nigh impossible to mess up, I think they ought to be adopted as the entry level Home Ec project as opposed to the more challenging Rice Krispies treats, which can potentially be disastrous. (Ok, maybe not for most people. But perhaps most people when faced with the conundrum of using large marshmallows instead of the traditional mini version might ignore their Home Ec partner when she suggests melting the marshmallows one at a time and thus avoid making “treats” that resemble concrete, only slightly more difficult to bite into.)

I can.

Folks, Hello Dollies are so easy to make that creating a bad one requires malice aforethought, such as substituting carob for chocolate chips, walnuts for pecans, or using fat-free sweetened condensed milk. As y’all may know, I’m of the opinion that the word “free” ought not be found in any dessert recipe. However, if you want to include that word in the price, by all means, go right ahead! I believe I’ve also made clear my position on alternate fat sources like margarine or the unfortunately named “Buttery Stick,” But in case you missed it, I’ll sum up: Just no.

For Hello Dollies, you’ll need just a few staples that are most likely already in your cabinet/fridge/deep freeze. Namely, graham crackers, butter, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, pecans, and sweetened condensed milk.

Once you’ve gathered all that and a baking dish (I prefer 8 1/2” x 11″, but they’re nearly impossible to find so a 9” x 13” will do), melt a stick of butter and put it in the bottom of said baking dish. Then crush up about one sleeve of graham crackers and mix them in with the butter to make a crust. I just keep adding more till I get a firm, not too buttery-looking foundation. Then layer on a package of chocolate chips, some shredded coconut (the pre-sweetened kind), and some pecans that have been chopped and toasted (forgot to mention that step).

Serving size: 1

Pop an opening on the can of sweetened condensed milk with the rarely used pointy end of a bottle opener, and then make an identical opening directly opposite the first (both on top of the can). Now, here comes the fun part: drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top of the prepared layers. You could remove the top of the can and drizzle with a spoon or something, but it’s not nearly as exciting. (Did I mention I started doing this as a kid when I had more free time and was more easily entertained?)

Once you’ve drizzled all that will drizzle, carefully remove the top from the can with a can opener (beware the sharp points!). Scoop up the remaining sweetened condensed milk with your finger and lick. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes a plastic spatula is helpful for getting out those elusive last drops. Please note that eating sweetened condensed milk from the can like this is dangerous for children under, say, 27 so you should perform this task yourself. Oh, and also, you should put the pan in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until it looks brown and bubbly on top. I recommend eating this while it’s hot (also not advised for children) but room temperature also works.

Courtesy of sweet and talented Jessie aka CakeSpy. Click to visit her fabulous blog.

If you have any leftovers (hah!), they freeze and reheat nicely in the microwave. (The only reason I know this is because I live with someone who hates both pecans and coconut. However, if you take a pan of these to any gathering of three or more, you will come home with an empty baking dish. Not just empty — scraped clean!)

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little extra spendy, I’ll do a version of these I learned from my friend Gina (of the add-marshmallows-one-at-a-time debacle). Follow the same (half-ass, I know) directions but also add a package of butterscotch chips, a package of peanut butter chips, and a package of mini baking M & M’s.

When serving Hello Dollies, you might want to make sure there’s an adequate number of comfortable horizontal surfaces nearby because they’ve been known to cause sudden and prolonged sugar comas. Consider yourself warned.

Hello Dollies Quick Reference Recipe
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
12 oz. package chocolate chips (more or less to taste)
1 cup nuts
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Make crust with the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs. Layer other ingredients as listed. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the top and bake at 350 until tan on top.

Ok, show of hands, who likes eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can?

109. Hushpuppies–The Best Use of Corn Since Bread

4 Sep

Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter—click for recipe.

I recently dined at a place that sounded awesome on paper: Southern small plates. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron to some and a tragedy to others, but small plates are all the rage here in Seattle. The concept comes to us from Spain where small portions of scrumptious appetizers (called tapas) are ordered and shared amongst friends. The plates tend toward the $3 to $5 range and you might need four or five to make a meal for two, which would make for an economical evening out were it not for the tasty (and spendy!) libations. (My friend Karen introduced me to a great Spanish tapas place recently, and I couldn’t resist saying, “Why, yes, I do believe I will have another lemon drop!” Fresh squeezed lemon juice, vodka, and a sugared glass rim. What’s not to love? Unless you’re Baptist, in which case the answer is “vodka.”)

Ok, back to the hushpuppies, y’all…

They looked sort of like these,
but slightly more burned
and the sauce had an orange hue.

So at the Southern small plates joint the first thing I ordered was hushpuppies. This is a mistake I’ve made repeatedly in Seattle, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive five overcooked spheres of dough, each roughly the size of a gum ball. Maybe a jumbo gum ball, but still. I’m not usually a numbers person, but I couldn’t help doing the math: this $6 plate worked out to $1.25 per hushpuppy. This might have been ok had they been delicious or even edible. Upon taking the first bite, I discovered that the “hushpuppy” interior was an odd shade of orange speckled with bits of red bell pepper (a departure from the typical Seattle hushpuppy add-in: jalapeños). Despite the peppers, the hushpuppy was oddly flavorless, not to mention DRY, but I guess I just did. Perhaps that’s why they were served with a dipping sauce. I dunked the second hushpuppy in the orange dipping sauce, which rendered it even less appetizing than the first. Ick! I’d go on recounting the culinary infractions at this particular establishment, but that would require thinking about them again. In retrospect, I should have known the place would be a disappointment when I saw the dessert selections, which included: fruit cobbler, cheesecake, and ice cream. Fruit cobbler and ice cream (priced separately!) might pass, but I’ve never considered cheesecake to be a Southern delicacy. Delicious? Indeed. But not Southern, y’all.

Now that I’ve rambled on about what all hushpuppies are not, I’ll attempt to explain what they are. Your basic hushpuppy features a batter made from cornmeal, flour, and milk. Some people add an egg or occasionally a diced onion. You drop a blob of batter into hot oil and in a minute or two you’ve got a moist, delicious—if somewhat bland—hushpuppy. Sometimes they’re roundish, sometimes tubular, sometimes abstract shapes, but usually, yes, a little bland. That’s how we like ‘em, y’all!

What tends to give Southern hushpuppies flavor is that they’re fried in the same oil as the catfish. According to my dad, hushpuppies were invented at a fish fry on account of a yapping dog. Supposedly, the cook dropped some catfish batter into the oil, tossed it to the dog and said, “Hush, puppy!” Various versions of this tale exist on the Internet, but it seems a bit farfetched to me. I mean, who first wrestled the fried dough away from the dog and decided it tasted good? And also, anyone who’s dealt with dogs at suppertime knows that tossing food at them doesn’t make them hush for more than a moment. After that, they commence to begging more loudly and aggressively than ever. So this may or may not be how hushpuppies were invented, but it does make a great story for kids.

In Seattle where there’s a dearth of catfish, you’ll generally find hushpuppies served as a side with BBQ (not a bad idea—Southern restauranteurs take note!). After my seemingly endless convalescence last summer, my friend Linda kindly took me to a BBQ place in the next town over (recommended by my friend and fellow Southern small plate victim, Tricia). Lo and behold, it was the first place in Seattle where the pulled pork didn’t require sauce. Better still, the tender, smoke-infused meat was served alongside some large, fluffy hushpuppies! Made from scratch, fried to order, and dusted lightly on the outside with a little salt. Yum! They come with the meal, and you can get an extra side of five hushpuppies for $3. Twice the size of the trendy joint, half the price, and 100 times tastier.

What’s your favorite place to get hushpuppies? Are there any BBQ joints in the South that serve them? Please name names, seeing as I get back for a visit at least once a year.

Photo credits: Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter, Other Hushpuppies by Martin & Jessica O’Brien–Flickr Creative Commons, Slap-yo-mama Hushpuppies by Jeff Balke–Flickr Creative Commons, Hushpuppie sign by pecanpieguy–Flickr Creative Commons.

107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate

28 Aug

Four layers of coconuttyness by The Thrillbilly Gourmet

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ve most likely dined in one of Tom Douglas’s many fine establishments. Seeing as they’re second in number only to Starbucks, it isn’t hard to do. Unless you are broke and have no generous friends. Then it could be something of a challenge seeing as Tom doesn’t give it away.

“How does this relate to Southern coconut cake?” you may be wondering. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It relates to Tom’s triple coconut cream pie. I believe that means there’s coconut in the crust, filling, and whipped cream, but honestly, I’ve never slowed down enough to check. This is some MY-T-FINE pie, my friends. But what it isn’t is good old-fashioned coconut cake. Apparently, folks around these parts fail to recognize the awesomeness of said dessert. Either because they’ve never had it or because they don’t know what’s good.

Every Seattle baker and his/her Facebook friends are doing renditions of red velvet cake that range in flavor from so-so to what Gordon Ramsay might refer to as “the dog’s dinner,” but nobody’s even attempting coconut cake. Well, some of the local cupcake places sprinkle a few flakes of coconut on top of buttercream icing and call it coconut, which I suppose it technically is. But no. To my mind, coconut cake was, is, and forever shall be comprised of no less than two, but preferably three or more layers.

Dear Cupcake Royale, more icing, please!

Why are Southerners so fond of layer cakes? Simple: more icing per square inch. (Sorry, y’all, but I’ve been out of the South so long, I can’t remember if the correct word is “icing” or “frosting.” Somebody help me out here.) With a cupcake or sheet cake, there’s only one sad, lonely layer of icing. And woe be unto you if someone serves you a slice from the middle. Which, incidentally, never happens with a layer cake. You always get a wedge that includes at minimum three layers of frosting–top, middle, and side–and quite often you’ll encounter an extra middle layer. Pardon me for going all mathematical, but that’s a 3 to 2 or 4 to 3 ratio, which always trumps 1 to 1. At least as far as icing is concerned.

Please note that I’m not a cupcake or sheet cake hater. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m an equal opportunity cake eater. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for layer cake every time.

You might think from the name that a Southern coconut cake would feature a fair amount of coconut, coconut milk, or even the dreaded “coconut” flavoring. Nope, many coconut cakes contain nary a flake of coconut. They’re usually regular old white cake all dolled up in coconut frosting. Heaps of frosting with heaps of coconut. Not that anybody’s going to snub a cake with actual coconut in it, but…(Sorry, y’all, I just got sidetracked looking at photos of/recipes for coconut cake on the Internets. But now you have my undivided attention again. Except that I’m hungry.)

Well, anyhow, what makes a Southern coconut cake special is that it’s always super moist and the icing is usually slightly sticky. If you encounter a dry coconut cake with dry icing, run! Ok, that’s a bit drastic. Perhaps you should merely mosey along. Unless there’s no other dessert option, in which case, you’ll have to make do.

Here’s where I should probably tell y’all the secret to making a traditional Southern coconut cake. Sadly, I haven’t the foggiest. I live with an avowed coconut hater, so this particular cake is pretty far down on my to-bake list, seeing as I’d have to consume the whole thing myself. Not necessarily in one sitting, but still. I’ve thought about making one as a party/potluck contribution, but that would involve procuring a cake carrier. Which would involve finding a place to stow said carrier when not in use, and my cabinets exceeded maximum capacity three mixing bowls ago.

A few months back, as I perused a cookware store, a book called “Southern Cakes” beckoned me to come hither. And thither I went. After one glance at the stunning coconut cake on the cover, I promptly added the book to my library queue. (A shout out to my friend Linda who clued me in that one could check out cookbooks from the library. Who knew? Just be careful not to spill.) I made a few of the recipes—including one called “Celestial Chocolate Cake,” which turned out to be worthy of its name. If you like to bake (or just drool over pretty pictures) I highly recommend this particular cookbook. Also, it makes an excellent gift. Hint, hint!

In the meantime, I’ll leave y’all with my grandmother’s recipe. As always, the directions/measurements are vague, so your results may vary.

P.S. What’s your favorite Southern cake? Please do tell!

My Mom’s Mother’s Coconut Cake

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
1 pinch soda
1 t vanilla

There are no mixing instructions, so use your best judgment. Also, I have no idea how long it should bake or at what temperature.

Filling:
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
Coconut (No amount specified. Add however much you want, I reckon.)

Cook filling in double boiler until it thickens. Add vanilla.

I believe my mom once mentioned that it’s better to make the cake the day before you plan to serve it. But I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to wait that long to eat cake.

Photo Credits: Coconut layer cake courtesy of The Thrillbilly Gourmet, Coconut cupcake by Sea Turtle–Flickr Creative Commons.

105. Sausage Balls–Way Tastier Than They Sound

10 Apr

If you’ve never encountered a sausage ball in the wild, you might think of this delicacy as something one would find atop a mound of spaghetti, but you would be mistaken. A sausage ball needs no accompaniment. It’s complete in and of itself, seeing as it contains three major Southern food groups: meat, cheese, and bread.

Sausage balls couldn’t be simpler to make (unless some ingenious person comes along with a heat & serve version). After all, there are only three ingredients: sausage, cheese, and Bisquick. Even so, there’s no real consensus among Southerners as to the ratio of said ingredients. Even amongst my closest friends and family the battle lines are drawn.

Our designated sausage ball maker used to turn up with perfect sausage balls every time. (Which, consequently, is how she came to be our designated sausage ball maker. Word of caution: Refrain from bringing anything especially delicious to a party unless you have the means and motivation to bring the same dish to every subsequent party in perpetuity.)

All was well on the sausage ball front until our S.B. maker took up with someone who was firmly ensconced in the small & greasy camp. Imagine our surprise (and disappointment and complaints) when she turned up again and again with sausage balls that were practically Bisquick-free. Why, Sandy, why?

We suffered through this for years seeing as nobody else could be bothered to step up and take over. Yes, sausage ball making is relatively simple, but it requires copious touching of raw meat. Also, you’ve got to purchase a gigantic box of Bisquick (there’s no small or even medium size), which will take up precious cabinet space for months or even years. Sure, the makers of Bisquick claim that it’s multi-purpose, but I’ve rarely seen it used for anything besides sausage balls or perhaps “homemade” Red Lobster cheddar biscuits.

“But do you NEED Bisquick?” one might ask. “Couldn’t you just use flour?” Oh, no, you absolutely could not. There’s not a brand of flour on the market that contains the all-important ingredient: partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil.

As far as I know, they have yet to start selling containers of that over by the Crisco. And, no, Crisco isn’t the same thing. It’s a unique blend of oil, fully hydrogenated oil, and partially hydrogenated oil. Yum!

My sister finally caved and started making her own version of sausage balls, which through the mystery of evolution became piggies. These still contain the requisite meat, cheese, and bread, but there’s no need to come in contact with raw meat, only meat juice from the cocktail weenies. Though I’m not sure which is worse.

What do y’all think? Do you prefer sausage balls, piggies, or some other meat/cheese/bread concoction that doesn’t involve touching unpleasant food or food-like substances?

Photo credit: Sausage ball photo courtesy of Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake, one of the best-named blogs ever!

103. Banana Pudding–Over-Ripe Fruit at Its Best

3 Apr

Southern banana pudding by Evil Shenanigans

One of the perks of being the child of a Southern Baptist preacher (besides, of course, having your most embarrassing childhood antics immortalized in sermons) is that folks occasionally show up at the house with food.

I would never admit to rating congregants based on the quality and frequency of their culinary gifts. But if I were to do such a churlish thing, the winner would be Donnie of the aforementioned chicken and dumplings. First runner up in the (imaginary, y’all) savory category goes to Vicky J.’s lasagna and garlic bread. However, Vicky takes first prize in the dessert category. “There’s a dessert category?” Does bacon come from pigs? (Surely, no one will argue that bacon can also come from turkey. That’s not bacon. That’s a travesty!)

Yes! We have no bananas...

Anyhoo, Vicky breezes past the competition with her banana pudding. Those of y’all who’ve never had banana pudding may be wondering how such a dish could ever win (an imaginary!) dessert contest. There’s not even chocolate in it, and nary a nut to be found. You might think of pudding as something only old folks, hospital prisoners, and people lacking tastebuds would eat. Oh, no. You’re probably thinking of banana-flavored pudding (or more often, chocolate-flavored, still no nuts).

Banana pudding is an entirely different creature. First of all, it starts with actual bananas. Not just any old bananas (or worse, new!). They should be slightly riper than you’d like with cereal, but nowhere near banana bread territory (or smoothie for Seattle folks). The other key components are pudding and Nilla Wafers.

Pick the middle one.

What makes Vicky’s banana pudding so delectable is that she has the optimal balance of ingredients. Some folks are stingy with the wafers. Some skimp on bananas. But Vicky’s banana pudding features an abundance of everything so that every time you dip the spoon, you get pudding, banana, and wafer all at once. (Anybody who eats with me on a regular basis has likely noticed that I’m a big fan of the “perfect bite.” It takes a bit longer to eat in this persnickety manner, but it’s worth it.)

When I went down to Memphis to welcome my newest nephew, Eli, my sister gave me a very important assignment (and if y’all know Jenna, you know how fond she is of giving assignments). She had Paula Deen’s banana pudding recipe and wanted me to whip up a batch and bring it to the hospital so she wouldn’t be forced to ingest institutional chocolate-flavored pudding or worse, green-flavored Jello.

One of the steps in Mrs. Deen’s recipe is to mix together a block of cream cheese with a can of sweetened condensed milk. I was tempted to stop right there and eat the whole bowl, but I feared the wrath of my sister and thus persevered.

Rather than use the traditional Nilla Wafers, Paula goes all fancy (and spendy) using Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. I’m not sure they’re an improvement, but my tastebuds are heavily influenced by nostalgia, so I could be wrong. I’ve also heard of banana pudding made with Nutter Butter cookies, but haven’t tried it because I’d hate to end up on A&E’s “Intervention.”

While I’d never turn up my nose at Paula’s banana pudding, I’ll note that it IS made with boxed pudding mix (though thankfully NOT banana-flavored). I’ve tried my hand at a variety of banana pudding recipes over the years and my favorites are the made-from-scratch variety. Like my PerfectBite™, homemade custard takes a little more work, but it’s worth it. The next recipe I’m trying is from Evil Shenanigans, pictured at top.

What’s your favorite banana pudding recipe? Or if you don’t cook, where’s the best place to order it?

101. Cream-of-Something Soup

27 Mar

I don’t know whether or not anyone has ever heated up Campbell’s cream-of-anything soup and actually eaten it straight. In a bowl. Maybe with some bits of saltines (or oyster crackers for the fancy folks). I, for one, have never done this. Nor have I witnessed it or even heard urban legend-ish tales about people who’ve done it. See, where I come from, cream-of-whatever soup isn’t actually soup. It’s an ingredient. I mean, you might as well dig in to a bowl of flour or down a shot glass of butter.

So how did cream-of-something soup become such a Southern staple? In a word: casseroles. I’m pretty sure casseroles existed before canned soup, but I can’t imagine how. Surely folks didn’t make homemade soup and then toss some combination of chicken and pasta or green beans and crispy onion rings into a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish to make a casserole. I mean, if you’re making homemade soup, well, wouldn’t that be considered a meal unto itself? And now that I’m thinking about it, how on earth did folks make green been casseroles before they started selling those onion rings in a can? Maybe some of my more seasoned readers can shed light on this mystery. I’d hate to have to do research, and by “research” I mean check Wikipedia.

If you’ve ever been to a dinner on the ground (or the non-denominational event known as a “potluck”), you’ve likely seen all manner of casseroles, most of which involve chicken. If there’s anything Southerners like almost as much as fried chicken, it’s casseroled chicken. But we don’t stop there. We’ll happily eat casseroled vegetables, too, as long as there’s cream-of-something soup involved (and also meat of some sort). And, of course, there are dessert casseroles, but thankfully, they’re mostly soup-free.

I can see now that the topic of casseroles is far too broad for one blog post (seeing as I was about to expound on the sweet potato casserole marshmallow vs. crunchy pecan topping dispute), so I’ll stick to discussing only those involving cream-of-something soup.

One time, a friend was telling me about one of her relatives who became quite indignant upon arriving at a potluck and discovering that someone had “stolen” her recipe for chicken and rice casserole. I said, “You mean that same chicken and rice casserole that every Southern person has known how to make since birth?” She said, “Precisely.”

For the benefit of folks who don’t have the recipe embedded in their DNA, here is my mom’s version, which she credited to one of her sisters. Apparently, providing vague directions is a genetic trait.

Chicken Dinner (Geneva)

Chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 large onion, chopped

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice

1 1/2 cans water

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and place in a large baking dish. Place chicken breasts on top and pat with butter. Bake at 325 for 3 hours.

I have made this dish many times over the years, but have yet to produce anything that tastes nearly as good as my mom’s version. It might have something to do with the vague directions or my inability to wait three hours for dinner to cook. Then again, it might have to do with all the tinkering I’ve done trying to make it healthier and/or a smaller serving size.


I do not recommend:

Using 98% fat free cream-of-something soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken soup

Using only the cream-of-chicken and cream-of-celery soup

Using skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Omitting the onion

Using only ½ a stick of butter

Adding way too much salt

The last time I made this, I followed the recipe (such as it is) exactly (except for jacking up the oven temperature to 450 or so). Still wasn’t as good as mom’s, but better than any previous attempts. And for the first time ever, I had half a casserole in the freezer. It was almost like having funeral food, except nobody had to die. Yay!

I’ll have more to say on casseroles later, but I just have to tell y’all that during my time in Seattle, I’ve attended not one, but TWO casserole potlucks. Which is two more than I’ve ever attended in the South, but I reckon that’s because at Southern potlucks there’s no need to add the word “casserole” to the invitation. It’s implied.

What’s your favorite use of cream-of-something soup?

Photo Credits:
Cream of mushroom soup ad available from Bamboo Trading, Chicken casserole from Campbell’s, Cream of chicken soup ad available from A Glass Collector.

I’m Baaaaaaaack, Sort Of.

10 Aug

When I read Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in France,” one of the passages really struck a chord with me. Julia’s referring to cooking, but I think it’s more of general life lesson that might give Oprah an “aha moment.” Although, to be fair, it’s not too difficult to elicit an “aha moment” from Oprah. Probably a gerbil could do it. Or a hampster for sure. But not a Guinea pig. All they do is sit there and stare at you. In a creepy manner.

Anyhoo, here’s the passage wherein Julia discusses serving someone a terribly unappetizing meal:

“We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine.

I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as, “Oh, I don’t know how to cook…” or “Poor little me…” or “This may taste awful…” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attentions to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!”

Oh, no, Mabel, your sweet potatoes
look very...well done.

And that’s why I won’t be apologizing for my extended absence from the blogiverse. Also, I just hate it when you start reading a new blog and the writer keeps apologizes profusely for their absence(s). Like I care. I just met you. So what if you missed the last Weight Watchers meeting/church service/whatever? I wasn’t there either!!

So welcome, new subscribers! Please allow me to offer a very brief explanation to my long-time readers. Here goes: Pinched nerve root in neck. Pain radiating down right arm and hand. Typing = Torture. Hence, no entries. On the mend now, but paying work takes up nearly all my limited typing time. Therefore, here are a few funny and/or tasty and/or tasteless distractions for y’all till I’m back for reals.

The HI-larious and insightful scribes over at Real Southern Men are offering “Twanglish Lessons,” my favorite of which, thus far, is “Cussemisms.” That is also my new favorite word, although “twanglish” was definitely a contender.

I am all about the inadvertently amusing advertising one occasionally runs across (or frequently when one lives in the South), so I just lurved Todd Pack’s recent entry “‘Used cows’ and other signs of the times.” I’m still kicking myself that I never bothered to stop and take a picture of my favorite sign right outside Jackson, MS. It was a giant banner that read “Cemetery Now Open!” Yes, folks, an exclamation point! So hurry on in, y’all!!

Ok, I may be getting too far into my English major roots, by mocking the mistakes of most likely good-hearted people, but one of my favorite sites is CakeWrecks. And my favorite types of wrecks are the appallingly misspelled or, most especially, the ones whose instructions are horribly misconstrued. Check out the cake that inspired the blog, but be prepared to spend hours on the site.

Not that I am one or either...

I realize that a Shakespeare link might permanently label me as a nerd, but this is amusing whether or not you’re a fan of the bard. And besides, if I was truly a nerd, I wouldn’t get all the amazing impressions Jim Meskimen does–from Jimmy Stewart to Harvey Keitel, George Clooney to Droopy Dog. What’s most impressive to me is how his Jimpressions so accurately correspond to the words in Clarence’s speech from Richard III. My favorite is his line by Simon Cowell referring to “such howling in my ears.” But now that I’m on the subject of impressions, I must mention my favorite improv impressionist, Kevin Spacey, as seen on Inside the Actors Studio. Even better than his impressions was his answer to one of James Lipton’s recurring series of final questions: “What is your favorite curse word?” Spacey: “Rat bastard.” Let’s all try to incorporate it into our repertoire, shall we? Ok, Baptists, you are excluded. Feel free to use the above-mentioned “cussemisms.”

And to end on a sweet note, I must direct y’all towards my delightful bloggy pal Christina’s Southern Sweet Tea Granita recipe at Dessert for Two. What’s better than sweet tea on a hot summer day? Right, iced sweet tea. But what’s better than that? Sweet tea slushie! Hooray!

Hope these amuse y’all. Stay tuned for more frequent entries in the hopefully not-too-distant future. Next up: Cream-of-Something-Soup, since it was the first runner up on the SSPL Facebook page survey. Thanks for the vote “Kim’s Sister,” or Jenna, as I call her.

What are some of your favorite web finds? (And by all means, feel free to vote for yourself!)

P.S. I am partial to funny cat videos.

Photo Credits: “Hey Y’all” sign available from SlippinSouthern at etsy; Well Done Yams by Walker Cleavelands, Flickr Creative Commons; “Heavens to Betsy” t-shirt available from SweeTee; “Math & Stuff” shot by me (rather poorly with phone); Sweet Tea Granita by Christina at Dessert for Two.

99. Salads (Hold the Veggies, Please)

15 Jun

Cranberry salad by Unsophisticook.
Click for recipe.

When I lived in LA, I witnessed a whole heap of salad eating going on. Here in the Pacific Northwest, folks happily munch on greens of any variety, as long as they’re organically grown less than two miles from their home (Ok, maybe it’s 50, but who’s counting? Locavores, that’s who!). But I daresay there’s no place in the country–perhaps even the planet–where folks eat more salad per capita than the South. Now before y’all start to challenge my completely made up statistics, let me explain: When I say “salad,” I don’t mean a bowl of veggies lightly drizzled with dressing, perhaps topped with a sprinkling of walnuts or cranberries. Oh no. I’m referring to Southern-style salad, which hardly ever features any vegetable as the main ingredient.


So what IS in Southern salad? Well, there are two main categories: sweet or savory. Cool Whip features prominently in the former and mayonnaise in the latter.

Sweet salads include, but are not limited to: fruit salad, pistachio salad, cranberry salad, strawberry salad, blueberry salad (noticing a theme here?), and ambrosia and Waldorf salads (for the fancy people).

Many of the above salads also feature Jello (or Jello Instant Pudding) as a main ingredient. In fact, I think the rule is that as long as you add one other ingredient to Jello, you can call it a salad. The varieties of congealed salad are too many to list, but here are a few I found in my trusty Bell’s Best community cookbook: Apricot Jello Salad, Coca-Cola Salad, Lemon-Lime Congealed Salad, and Miss Dora Sills’ Golden Glow Salad (which involves lemon Jello, pineapples, and carrots. Yum?).

Pistachio salad by Country Door.
Click for recipe.



I should mention that the outlier of the bunch is Waldorf salad, which contains both fruit and mayonnaise. But don’t blame Southerners for that bizarre pairing. It came straight out of the hotel formerly known as the Waldorf Hotel (now Waldorf-Astoria) in New York City. I should also mention that my sister-in-law Karen taught me to make an AH. MAZE. ING. fruit dip using only a pack of cream cheese and a jar of marshmallow creme. Ok, so that’s not technically a salad, but close enough.

In the savory salad category, you’ll find Southern staples like chicken salad, tuna salad (usually referred to as “tuna fish”), potato salad, egg salad, and macaroni salad. This is where you’ll find the occasional vegetable such as celery, green onions, or pickles. Mostly, though, the recipes break down like this: Put a large portion of salad’s namesake ingredient in bowl, add large portion of mayonnaise, stir, and serve. If you’d like to read more about chicken salad, check out what Southern women want by my blog pal, reelingintheyears.

Chicken salad–Hey, who added the lettuce?



I’ll leave y’all with the recipe for one of my all-time favorite salads (also courtesy of my sister-in-law Karen). You might think it sounds more like a casserole than a salad, but it’s CALLED salad, which is good enough for me.

Hot Chicken Salad
2 cups chicken (cooked and cut up)
1 can water chestnuts
1 can pimentos, chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup almonds
2 T lemon juice
1/4 t celery salt
1/8 t pepper
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 can french-fried onion rings

Mix all ingredients together except cheese and onion rings. Mix cheese and onion rings together and place on top of mixture. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

What are your favorite “salads”?

95. Cheese Straws–For Eating, Not Drinking

20 Apr

Following the time-honored Southern tradition of misnaming things, these tasty, cheesy morsels somehow got labeled “straws.” You can’t sip a beverage through them. You would not use them as bedding for farm animals. And it would be nigh impossible to weave a basket out of them. Still, we call them “straws.” I reckon it sounds better than “kind of like an elongated cracker, but with a different texture, plus cheese.”

Even in the South, spotting cheese straws in the wild is an unusual (and therefore delightful) occurrence. I think folks are scared off by the high-priced tins of cheese straws offered by purveyors of Southern delicacies. Sure, they’re tasty, but I’d rather spend my hard-earned 20 bucks on something more substantial. Chocolate, for instance.

I’ve heard that cheese straws were the hit of the cocktail party circuit back in the day, but I never ran across any, seeing as Baptists don’t invite folks over for drinks all that often.

I think your best chance of finding a batch of cheese straws is to get yourself invited to a Southern girl’s bridal or baby shower. As an added bonus, you’re likely to happen upon a platter of piggies and the almost as rare but far more delicious Southern delicacy, petit fours.

The only time I’ve seen cheese straws north of the Mason Dixon was at an ad agency I worked for in Southern California. Someone brought a tin of them back from a vacation in the South. Oh wait, that was me, so I guess it doesn’t count. Note: The whole tin was devoured in record time.

I’ve only made cheese straws a few times, always for showers and always in Mississippi. Seeing as they’re not at all difficult to make, I really should whip up a batch soon and introduce them to my Yankee friends. I will probably use Homesick Texan’s recipe. Any of y’all planning a cocktail party?

If you’re at all curious about the history of cheese straws, check out Hoppin’ John’s well-researched post.

Photo Credits: Homemade cheese straws by Chez Loulou, Flickr Creative Commons; store-bought cheese straws available at The Everyday Gourmet.

93. Fried Pickles–Chips, not Spears

12 Apr

Ever since I moved to Seattle, the 5 Spot has been one of my favorite restaurants. Along with their eclectic selection of American comfort foods, they feature special regional menus that change every few months. And it’s not just the menu that changes, y’all; they redecorate the whole restaurant (including the bathrooms). You’ll find all manner of kitch from the featured region like Mardi Gras beads and masks for New Orleans or the particularly impressive donkey and elephant paper mache mobiles for the Washington, D.C. theme. (I couldn’t resist the Marion Barry Cakes – pancakes covered in marionberry sauce and topped with candied macadamia “rocks” and a sugar crystal butter ball. Dee-Lish-Us!)

What does any of this have to do with fried pickles? Well, I’m getting to that. But first let me tell you about what goes on in the restrooms. Or one of the things, anyway. As soon as you walk in, you’ll hear a bad radio drama that will sound vaguely familiar. It will probably take a few moments to figure out what this is supposed to be, unless you cheat and look at the sign on the wall that tells you. The first few times I encountered this, I thought it a travesty that someone would butcher classics like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or “Charlotte’s Web.” Then I found out who was doing it: the 5 Spot staff. How loveably dorky!

Now to the fried pickles. Many years ago, I spotted fried pickles on the 5 Spot menu. “Hallelujah!” I shouted (inside my head), and promptly ordered a batch. Imagine my surprise when what arrived at my table were not crispy, delicious, deep fried dill pickle chips. No, folks, these were spears. Spears!! After a few mishaps such as this (I can’t even talk about the Fried Catfish Incident), I’ve learned not to order anything the 5 Spot tries to pass off as “Southern.” (With the exception of the fried chicken from their regular menu. It’s actually pretty good.)

If you’ve never had Southern-style fried pickles, you might be wondering why spears would be so appalling. After all, they’re still pickles. They’re still deep fried. Yes, yes, but spears and chips are worlds apart when it comes to pickle/batter ratio. In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much batter. I’m still waiting for the restaurant that will sell fried chicken, minus the chicken. Don’t get me wrong. I like chicken, but I LOVE the battered and deep fried skin.

Good news: They DO sell fried chicken skin.
Bad news: In Malaysia

Given the popularity of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, this ought to be a no-brainer. I mean, what do they do with all the leftover skin? It’s 2011, y’all. How is it possible that nobody has invented chicken rinds?

Some of the best fried pickles I’ve ever had came from Kismet’s, a little hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant in Brandon, MS, of all places. If you like regular fried pickles and ranch dressing, wait till you try their version with Greek seasonings and feta dressing. Yum!

I wish I could tell y’all where you can get some tasty fried pickles around here. Alas, I do not know. The ones at The Counter are semi-decent, emphasis on “semi.” After a quick search, I found folks on Yelp raving about the fried pickles at The People’s Pub. Just when I was starting to get my hopes up, I learned that they serve SPEARS. Sorry, Seattle Yelpers, but y’all don’t know what’s good!!

Photo Credits, Flickr Creative Commons: Chips basket and pickle spears by Robyn Lee, chicken skin by Phil Lees.

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