Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fried Egg Sammich – The Breakfast of Champions

Mmmmmmmmmmm, mmmmm! A fried egg sammich! A Farmer’s fav! Good bread, good eggs, that bit of magic that happens when a slather of mayo warms on lightly toasted bread… eating doesn’t get much better than this! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or “brinner” (breakfast for dinner – a true delight every time), whenever you eat this sandwich, I’m sure it shall be pure revelry. 


My whole life, I’ve loved a good ol’ fried egg sandwich. Yet, I’m proud to say I’ve discovered how to perfect this dish to be sublime every time. I’ve always known that soft white bread was key, runny yolks were mandatory, and that Hellman’s ever so lightly spread brings  it all together.

Bread…  oh the goodness of plain ol’ white bread. Aside from homemade bread, just about the best bread in the free world is Pepperidge Farm’s Soft Oatmeal bread. Spongy and soft, slightly sweet, and reminiscent of true home baked bread, this bread is the perfect binding for this sandwich. Lightly toasted on one side allow the untoasted side to remain absorbent for the yolks that will burst upon first bite. This sandwich may be served open faced with a couple eggs on each face, but traditional sandwich style is totally apropos. 

Good eggs are major. I prefer the taste of organic eggs and milk because I prefer the actual taste… they taste like eggs or taste like milk…the way eggs and milk are supposed to taste. The eggs from my father’s farm are quite tasty, but if I’m out, my grocer’s cooler has eggs a plenty to choose from. While on the subject of eggs…

This may be a stretch, but hear out the Farmer. When this snack/meal/ perfect eat, is done right, the essence of Hollandaise sauce is at hand. Hollandaise sauce is egg yolks blended with butter. Egg yolk and butter can stand alone on their own merit taste wise, but combined, this duo is fabulous. With the little bit of mayo on the sandwich and salt and pepper on the egg, you’ve technically got the same ingredients in a hollandaise sauce, since the mayo has vinegar or lemon juice in it. The acid in the vinegar breaks down the fats in the yolk and butter, creating a taste that, when released on the palette, is just an explosion of tang, sweet, velvety richness, and depth. I know this is getting pretty technical for just an egg sammich, but it is the gospel truth my friends!

Now, frying an egg is an art as well. My flat iron skillet lightly greased with spray oil and then doused with some butter will give you the ideal bed for frying your eggs. If you are watching your weight, cutting back, etc etc etc this New Year, this may not be the sandwich for you, though I do use Smart Balance if that is any consolation!?  Cast iron holds heat so well, that you can start the fry then turn the heat down or off and watch the eggs cook evenly. I like the yolk runny but not cold, and eating in this fashion is fine. Of course you can crack the yolks and fry them too, but this is a matter of personal preference.

Gently salt and pepper your eggs, place them on the soft untoasted side of a slice of bread, lightly apply Hellman’s on the other, and make a sandwich. Duke’s, Blue Plate, Miracle Whip… all goes back to the personal preference issue again. Usually depends on what your mama used! Now that your sandwich is made, you may want to have a fork and knife handy: it can be messy. Any “knife and fork” kind of sandwich is a good sandwich.

With a glass of milk and a few Wickle’s Pickles, you’ve got yourself a fine, fine meal. From this Farmer’s kitchen to yours, enjoy yourself a fried egg sammich!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lucky Money Stew

 .........a continuation of Monday's post, Roots of New Year's Food Traditions

As with any Southern celebration, the table will be donned and decked with the literal pieces of our family’s legacy. A great aunt’s china, grandmother’s silver, or mama’s linens. We Southerners know our people and know their worth–a worth laden with sentiment, honor, and legacy if not anything monetarily per say. The memories of those who celebrated this meal are held dear as we utilize their treasures as we shepherd our lives into this New Year.

The garden shall provide our centerpieces. It is wintertime after all, and time to put the garden to bed for a long winter’s nap. Cedar, cypress, boxwood, holly, and magnolia will be clipped and set into a coiffure bouquet only the garden can provide. Pine boughs and cones, bowls of pecans in silver dishes, blue juniper berries and deep aubergine privet berries will augment the serenity of the season and a dose of color to our homage of garden greens. Touches of white from early Paperwhites, silvery artemisia, and popcorn tree will truly sparkle against the deep evergreens’ foliage, looking ever so dapper in any cachepot, tureen, pot, or pail.

We shall eat for progression, luck, health and wealth, and a myriad of good things, and will end the dining festivities with sweet morsels of Southern goodness. Our gardens and land shall be ever present as our décor–a gentle reminder of where our provisions were grown and raised. The food may be spiced with meaning, tradition, and superstition, but the lore has become a part of our culture. For a few hundred years, we had to eat what we had, what we grew. Though times have changed, eating that food, eating “poor,” is still cherished and revered so we may truly eat “rich.” We shall have rice for riches and peas for peace and be no worse for the wear. From this Farmer’s table to yours, Happy New Year!

Lucky Money Stew

Cook’s Note: Use leftover collard greens, black eyed peas, and ham from the holidays for the base of this stew. I froze said ingredients and simply add them to the pot to thaw. Since they are cooked, all they need is to be warmed through. Measurements are give and take and depend on your leftover amounts. Of course, you can always make this stew from the scratch if no leftovers are at hand.

  • 1 Vidalia onion, chopped
  • Teaspoon of garlic, minced
  • Salt, pepper, Lawry’s and Nature’s Seasoning to taste
  • About 4 cups of leftover cook turnip greens
  • About 4 cups of leftover black eyed peas
  • About 4 cups of leftover ham, chopped
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes

Brown the onion, garlic, and celery with butter and oil, seasoning to taste.
Add chicken bouillon cubes,diced ham, cooked greens and peas.
Add two cans of white beans with their liquid and water, bring soup to a boil and then serve with cornbread. Luck and money headed your way!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Roots of New Year’s Food Traditons

“Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year… Rice for riches and peas for peace.” 
Old Southern saying for New Year’s Menu 

Collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread and pork are the foodstuffs of the South, rich in legend, lore, and superstition. Money or not, every Southern family I know dines on these same vittles for their New Year’s supper. Not too poor of eating if I say so myself.

According to this Farmer, the New Year’s Day menu is a Southern supper at its finest. Steeped in tradition, flavored with history, and doused with a touch of superstition, this meal encompasses the South’s ebb and flow of classicism and eccentricity–a meal of our heritage. Here in America’s Deep South, the cultures of Europe, Africa and the Native Americans combine with their respected refinements and sentimentalities making this meal fit to usher in a new year.

Growing up in rural Middle Georgia, we knew our food’s legacy before it arrived on our tables. This Farm to Table movement of late has always been the custom for those of us raised in a more bucolic fashion. We know our farmers and growers. In his blessings before a meal, my brother-in-law’s father always gives thanks for “not only the hands that prepared the food but grew it as well...” whereas our New Year’s meal is of no exception. This is a meal seeking to begin the New Year with the blessings of life. Binding Southern commonality, our New Year’s meal is the food of the people, regardless of class, who eat will eat “poor” (common food) so we may eat “rich” (eat well) for the remainder: farm to table is as rich as they come.

Pork, in various forms, is used throughout the meal. The noble pig moves forward in life, progressing in its rooting for food, finding truffles and treasures of nourishment, while a chicken scratches backward for food. This old Southern axiom begins to shed some light on the development of our traditions and superstitions for New Year’s cuisine. We prefer to move forward as well, thus the basis Sus domestica’s appeal–why we eat pork on New Year’s Day and not chicken.

Braised or grilled sausage seasoned with herbs, spices, and other local flavor; roasted tenderloins sliced into medallions and served with biscuits; or chops barbequed and smoked with oak, pecan, or hickory wood–pork generally takes the lead role as main dish for a Southern New Year’s Day. What better way to start the New Year than with a pig–the mark of a year to come that is full of promise. A good pig can feed a family for months, and as for the better part of our country’s (and our world’s history for that matter) can attest, a pig with which to commence forward into the new year is a very good sign.
As we progress, good fortune and its accoutrements, luck, money, health and wealth, shall hopefully be at our side. Black eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread, and Hoppin’ John, a Southern staple, shall be served across the Deep South on New Year’s Day and throughout the year. A mix of rice, dried peas or beans (usually black eyed peas), and some pork, this dish is more so a slice of Southern history.

Some of the finest rice in the South, Carolina Gold, was grown (and still is) in the Low Country. From Savannah upwards through coastal Carolina, this rice was a major cash crop in antebellum years–a doyenne of our lifeblood foodstuffs. After the Civil War, the Gulf States became major rice growers as well as the Mississippi River marshes of Arkansas. We Southerners eat many dishes over rice as a result. African and Caribbean influences further ensured the grain’s presence on our culinary tableaux, Hoppin’ John, Dirty Rice, and Jambalaya thus becoming ensconced into our heritage. For New Year’s Day, Hoppin’ John will be the dish du jour, bringing the progressive representation of pork with luck from the black eyed peas and brought together with a common grain that has fed us and much of the world for years. Rice for riches–its plentiful grains in hope will garner plenty for us as well.

Another Southern standard for New Year’s Day is Lucky Money. Combining black eyed peas with collard greens ensures luck and the hope of green–economic fortune. Seasoned with pork, may it be fatback, streak-o-lean, jowels, or back meat, this dish is another all encompassing way of bringing the greatest of expectations to the table for the New Year. Lucky Money, with its pot liquor, should be eaten with cornbread–crackling, corn pones, or skillet–whatever will allow you to sop up the liquor or flavor left in the pot after cooking the greens and meat. Sop it up indeed, for the cornbread represents gold and will continue your meal’s countenance to send you into the New Year with good fortune as your guide. Freeze your leftovers and make a delicious soup later on that will fill you again with the hope of goodness for a new year!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Farmer’s Whipped Vanilla Bean Crème Fraiche… Whipped Cream, Ya’ll

So whipping cream is delicious. It, like butter, just amazes me how many things can come from milk. It’s life’s first beverage. It’s a must on every trip to the grocery store. It’s milk! If you haven’t hooked onto organic milk and cream yet, you are missing out! The lactose free milk is about the best glass of anything you’ll ever drink! I digress…

Whipped cream is simply divine. The science of physically changing a liquid into a solid is astounding, but what is so amazing to me is the taste. With a scant bit of sugar, some good vanilla, and the inside of a vanilla bean pod, you can have the best of dessert toppings in a matter of minutes.

I inherited my great, great Aunt Irene’s “whipper,” a wiry paddle that takes the strongest of arms a long time to whip up a batch of this heavenly topping. Want a workout? Trust me, you’ll burn off the calories you’ll consume by whipping cream by hand. Use an electic mixer for time and bicep’s sake. It’s a fun tool to have though and I treasure it and my memories of her. I can only imagine how many times Aunt Irene or her cook Ida Mae whipped cream with that “whipper.” They deserve sainthood for such a feat… Ida Mae more so I’m sure!!!

There is a bit of art to whipping cream. Here are a few of this Farmer’s tips and my recipe… master this and you’ll have so many friends and family wanting a finger licking taste, you’ll have to give out numbers!

  • ALWAYS use a metal (copper or stainless steel) or glass bowl. Ceramic is fine too. Plastic won’t cut it.
  • ALWAYS use cold cream and GOOD vanilla beans and vanilla extract. This is one delicacy you’ll truly taste the vanilla and you want the best.
  • I use my vanilla sugar (vanilla bean pod infused sugar) for that added richness and depth of flavor.
  • Whip, mix, whisk until the cream forms soft peaks and just looks right… It shouldn’t be runny in the least after mixing and can be stored in the fridge for a few days. It will get runny on a hot piece of pie, but that’s perfectly apropos!

The Farmer’s Whipped Vanilla Bean Crème Fraiche
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream or crème fraiche… Whipping cream is more of a liquid and crème fraiche can be more solid. Use more sugar if using crème fraiche and a scant less for whipping cream since it is slightly sweeter.
  • Tablespoon of good vanilla
  • Scant teaspoon of scraped vanilla bean pod’s inside. We eat with our eyes first, so seeing those vanilla bean specks is a visual appetizer of the glory divine to come.
  • Scant tablespoon of vanilla sugar. Cook’s note – I don’t like heavily sweetened whipped cream. I love the taste of whipped cream by itself…the sugar just sweetens the pot, literally! Add more sugar if you prefer, but, trust me, the actual taste of whipped cream on its own is delicious!
  • Beat until it begins to form soft peaks that can stand on their own and no longer runny!
  • Serve with just about anything and it will be delicious I’m sure! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pecan Tassies – a Farmer’s Favorite!

Mimi’s Pecan Tassies are definitely a favorite when it comes to choosing from my grandmother’s repertoire of family recipes. The recipe comes from her mother and their mothers before them. A “tassie” is a miniature pie shell filled with a pop of sweet goodness, such as a pecan pie filling.  Warm morsels in a perfectly simple dough, baked with a delicious filling, Pecan Tassies bring childhood memories into the forefront of my mind. 

Growing up, our Hawkinsville farm, much akin to the farms of those around us, was dotted with rows of pecan trees, forming a forest of orchards that yield cultivars of pecans in the late fall  and early winter such as ‘Desirable,’ ‘Schley’ and ‘Elliot.’ Each pecan has its own taste and flavor, and for Mimi’s Pecan Tassies, ‘Elliot’ pecans are often first choice. These buttery almost round pecans are small and make for the perfect filling for the tassie cups of dough. Karo syrup (I mix light and dark), brown sugar, eggs, good vanilla and butter round out the other ingredients, and with a combination like that, the already fantastic pecans are made divine. The perfect mix of complements -  sweet and salty, crunchy and soft – Mimi’s Pecan Tassies are truly delightful.  A bite size delicacy, these small packages are definitely good things. Cook’s hint: try salting your pecans for an added sweet-n-salty satisfaction!
The crust is very close to pie dough, but thicker and easier I think. What I love about this recipe is that it takes the fear out of dough making – making dough is easy! Master this recipe, Mimi says, and you’ll be able to entertain and serve your guests something very elegant with confidence and ease; especially since this dough can be used for not only tarts, but pot pies, shortbreads, and other perennial Southern tassies. Lemon, Peach, and Plum Tassies, Coconut Tassies, Chocolate Tassies, Vanilla Crème Tassies – the list goes on! But for this Farmer, Mimi’s Pecan Tassies will remain a dessert darling. 

Mimi, and Mrs. Mary too, always had me to think about what is in season – what is absolutely best right now – and use that. Hyper-seasonal… a fruit per say is at its ripest, it’s very best, the flavors are the supreme… they will be and need little else to make it table worthy. So if blackberries or plums or dewberries were in season, that’s the type of tassie we’d have! Take the freshest and finest of fruits and use them with the easiest of dough, and your guests will surely be pleased to have been at your table.

Some of the finest meals I have ever experienced – which is how a meal should be taken in, as an experience – are not so much an elaborate production, but more so of a presentation of the season's best offerings, simply prepared and seasoned. A meal of the freshest cuts of meat from our local butcher, vegetables and fruits direct from the farm or garden, and a simple dessert of classic ingredients makes for the most delightful of times to break bread. From this Farmer’s pecan trees, kitchen, and Mimi, I hope you make tassies your dessert de rigueur.

Pecan Tassies

**I follow the Karo syrup pecan pie recipe for the pecan filling. It is a classic Southern staple. Use chopped pecans and somewhat undercook for chewier or softer tassies... brown for crunchy tassies.

Tassie Dough, Two Ways

  • 2 Cups of all purpose flour OR
  • 1 ½ cups of all purpose flour and ½ cup of pecan meal
  • 1 ½ sticks of butter, salted
  • ½ a cup of ice water to “bring together”
  • Tablespoon of vanilla sugar (insert leftover or scraped vanilla pods into a sugar canister and the essences will combine)
  • Teaspoon of good vanilla
Cut or fold cubed butter into the flour in a large bowl.
Add vanilla and vanilla sugar to the mix.
Use electric beater or paddle attachment to bring together, adding ice water as needed to help “ball”  up the dough.
When dough has formed a ball or is malleable to form a ball, pat into a disc and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to a week.
Roll dough out into thin sheet and line greased muffin tins with dough and fill with pie filing of choice.

Bake at 350 until golden brown…about 25-30 minutes. Watch so pecans don’t burn.
Serve with Vanilla Bean Crème Fraiche! Enjoy!

Lemon Curd Tassies

Fill the above tassie dough cups with this lemon curd filling for a sweet citrus treat!
  • 1 block of softened cream cheese
  • 15 ounces of ricotta cheese
  • Teaspoon of good vanilla
  • ¼ cup of powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of fine salt
  • 1 jar of Dickinson’s Lemon Curd
  • 1 cup of candied lemon rind

Blend the above ingredients together and fill tassie dough cups AFTER you’ve baked them until firm and golden, about 20 minutes at 350.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Only the Ocmulgee’s Finest for this Farmer’s Décor

As often stated, I’m a major fan of Latin names of plants. They can tell you so much about a plant’s character, origin, growth habit, etc etc etc, but some are just fun to say. Pinus palustris. Isn’t that illustrious?! 

The longleaf pine is probably one of my absolute favorite trees. That’s a bold statement for the lover of so many plants and trees, but the longleaf pine is definitely a top contender. I could write volumes on my adoration for these trees, their straw, their lumber, their ecosystem, their byproducts, and their place in Southern history, but for today, I’ll stick to another delightful attribute of the longleaf pine–their pine cones.

A good buddy of mine and his sister share this Farmer’s love for Hawkinsville, the River (that’s the Ocmulgee for those of you not from Houston or Pulaski Counties proper), and its native flora. These dear family friends are a slice of the South in general, with “good people” kind of roots on both sides and a true calling for the land. It is their beautiful land in particular where these gorgeous pine cones come from–land running the course of the Ocmulgee River, banked in longleaf stands, palmetto forests, and wax myrtle. It is families like theirs that make Hawkinsville and other small, Southern towns charming, tasteful, and classy. It has been said of their grandmother that if Hawkinsville had a queen, Mrs. Barbara would she be!

Since we grew up in a town so connected to the land, the river, and our agrarian heritage, it is no surprise that the offerings from the land influence or, more so, invade our décor. Whatever is in season is on our mantles, tables, or foyer pieces; and in the fall and into the depth of winter, nature lends us one of her truly amazing works of art and geometry for our tableaux–the longleaf pine cone.

Piled in bowls, bedecked on the mantle, peering from behind pheasants, mixed with pecans and cypress–however these pine cones are used, I am just elated to use them. Reminiscent of sunflower centers, chrysanthemum petals, and whirling tendrils, each and every cone is a unique expression of nature at her finest. The large longleaf cones are statements in and of themselves and are striking displayed en masse. Smaller cones tucked into fruit and pine needles are lovely for a January arrangement that harkens the Yule time feel but are totally apropos after New Year’s Day. The browns, greens, oranges, and reds of the fruit, foliage, and cones are remarkable against the glossy green boughs of holly and two tone magnolia as well. A cinnamon, green, coppery salmon and garnet hued combo is just luscious!

Simply filled with pine cones, my dining room table urn makes a statement of the season and serves as a siren to those passing by to stop, take a gander, and be amazed at the utter simplicity and elegance that is a pine cone. Sirens indeed, for these icons of beauty lure me with their song of delight, beauty, and legend of their land. From this Farmer’s pine cone filled home to yours, Happy New Year, happy decorating, and happy wishes for pine cones aplenty!  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sausage and Lentil Soup...Farmer Style

Winter comfort food at its best, this soup is hearty, filling, feeds an army, and is perfect on a chilly winter’s day. Plus, make it all in a big ol’ pot for easy prep and cleanup! 

With the holidays past us and us all stuffed with stuffing, a break from the traditional fare of the holiday sideboard is surely welcomed. I love to make a pot of this soup and eat it for a couple days, freezing some for another day or sharing with my friends and family…trust me, for they’ll come running to your table for a bowl of this delicacy.

The texture and mélange of flavors lends this dish towards perfection as winter’s best soup. Root veggies, lentils, cabbage, and warm seasonings make this an ideal mainstay to fight the winter blues or ward off the cold. Cornbread, crackers, a spicy cheese, or simply some sour cream are the condiments de rigueur with this soup. I’m a firm believer that condiments make a meal, this one of no exception.

Take tasty, simple, and even local ingredients and you’ll be thrilled with the result. Find your favorite local sausage and use it - this Farmer loves M & T’s smoked mild links or Stripling’s from Cordele. With much glee, I’m also so thrilled that Conecuh sausage is now readily available at grocery stores across the South! It is the best sausage you can get at a grocery store in my humble opinion. Local cheese, such as M & T’s hot pepper is ideal as it melts ever so smoothly into the warm soup. Find the local stuff and use it my friends!  If you prep all this ahead of time, this soup takes hardly any time at all…another added bonus! From this Farmer’s kitchen to yours, enjoy!

Sausage and Lentil Soup 
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • ½ a head of cabbage, sliced into strips
  • 5 stalks of celery chopped with some leaves
  • 1 bag of lentils (Publix brand doesn’t require soaking…I’d use them or another that doesn’t require soaking)
  • 6 cups of water
  • Tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1 package of sliced, smoked sausage… about a pound
  • ½ a stick of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • Dash of Nature’s Seasoning
  • Dash of Lawry’s Season Salt
  • Dash of cumin
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Slice sausage into small rounds and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 or until edges are crispy.

In a heated pan or heavy bottomed Dutch oven, add olive oil and butter to melt.

Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent and beginning to brown. Stirring often and adding cumin and other seasoning as well.

Add garlic once onion shows some caramelization.

Sauté garlic for a minute, stirring the seasoning, onions, and garlic together. Add lentils and celery.

Stir lentils and celery with onion mixture and add bouillon cubes and water. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, adding cabbage after 20 minutes are up.
Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add sausage and some drippings and serve!
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