Ham salad

I am listening to Jacques Pepin on one of my food podcasts this morning and he is talking about what cooks really need to do is keep it simple. No asparagus foams or blood orange coulee. Just roast a chicken and serve it right up. And I wondered if my ham salad qualifies. I would be interested to know if Jacques Pepin actually has ever had ham salad. Or if he knows Mrs. Grissom.

Everyone in the South knows Mrs. Grissom. She started out as the pimento cheese lady and then she ventured into chicken salad and, finally, ham salad. Which is where my husband met her. Not actually. But there isn’t a supermarket below the Mason-Dixon line that doesn’t carry her products. And she’s a feisty old broad, still showing up at her factory in Nashville well into her nineties. The other day Mark was pining away for some Mrs. Grissom’s ham salad and I went to my beloved Publix to get some. And, shockingly, they didn’t have any. Maybe other people were also having Mrs. Grissom’s ham salad attacks and they had run out. I don’t know.

So I decided to make my own and this is so simple I am almost embarrassed to post this but if you, too, are having a ham salad attack one day and cannot find Mrs. Grissom’s you can make your own ham salad too.

First you have to start out with a very humble ham steak. I think this one cost $3.49. You may not think you’ve seen this, but you have. It’s the thing you walk by and wonder, “Who ever buys that?” I do. Mark just loves it simply fried in a cast iron skillet. Once you get it home, do the same thing. Fry it. It only takes about 2 minutes on each side. And then let it cool, trim the fat and remove the bone.

And then all you do is cut it into pieces, put it in your food processor and pulse until the ham is chopped very fine but hasn’t turned to mush. I like to keep things simple where ham salad is concerned. No pickle relish or chopped hard-boiled egg. Just mayonnaise and a little Durkee’s. Durkee’s is probably a story all by itself, but I’ll save that for another day.

There is no recipe here. Just add as much mayonnaise as you like in a ham salad and then add a touch of Durkee’s or plain yellow mustard if you don’t have the Famous Sauce. Taste it before you add any salt. Sometimes the ham is salty enough already.

As I said, I was not actually thinking of blogging about something so simple, but this morning Mark got out the last of the ham salad and started eating it on crackers for breakfast. Really? “This is the best ham salad I’ve ever had,” he mumbled as a few stray cracker crumbs hit the kitchen floor. Really? Better than Mrs. Grissom’s? I hope she doesn’t read this. I’d hate to give her a heart infarction or something.


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Chicken tetrazzini

So I have made a startling discovery sitting out here on the deck because the weather is nice and I can’t smoke in the house anymore. Nail polish goes bad.

The last time I bought nail polish was about three years ago. And I noticed, over time, that my toenail painting skills were beginning to slip. I attributed that to advancing age and the inability to bring my toes even halfway within range of the polish. Today I happened to pick up a fetching pink polish called “I’m Indi-A Mood for Love” (wouldn’t you hate that job – naming nail polishes?) at the supermarket and it went on like a charm. I realize this has nothing to do with Chicken Tetrazzini, but if any of you are having the same problem I just figured I’d pass along this piece of new-found wisdom. And if any of you are attending the Women of St. Paul’s Sherry Party this week, please admire my toes. Discreetly.

But I digress and I haven’t even started yet. On to Chicken Tetrazzini, which by the way is not even remotely Italian. Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini has been around the casserole circuit as long as there have been funerals and christenings. But let me tell you something about making casseroles. They’re a hell of a lot of work. Unless you have a refrigerator stocked with perfectly matching leftovers you have to start each component from scratch before combining them into the perfect dish. I am always amused when Mark helps me “clean up” after I make a casserole. What he didn’t see is that I dirtied every damn dish in the kitchen and cleaned as I went before my pristine casserole popped out of the oven.

I have been a chicken cooking fool for the past month since I got my Char-Broil Big Easy. It is an outdoor roaster that requires no clean-up which was given to me at absolutely no cost for writing blog posts for the company. And it works like a charm without any effort on my part, which is fine because I can just sit on the deck, having a glass of wine and playing World of Warcraft (I am Clairet, the night elf priest, blessings upon you) while my chicken roasts away to juicy perfection. So I had a lot of surplus chicken when I made tetrazzini. I will advise you, however, to get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store unless you just love cooking chicken like I do.

I do not have much else to say about Chicken Tetrazzini. It’s a casserole. If you don’t like any of the ingredients, substitute something you do like. It’s just a casserole.

Chicken Tetrazzini

1 rotisserie chicken

4 tablespoons butter

8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup marsala

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup chicken broth

Juice from ½ lemon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

8 ounces thin spaghetti

1/2 cup frozen peas

½ cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs

Shred chicken and set aside. Melt one tablespoon of the butter and add the mushrooms. Saute with a little salt and pepper until well browned. Add the marsala and reduce any liquid in the pan. Remove the mushrooms and add the onion, sautéing until tender. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Combine the mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme and set aside.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute. Ad the milk, cream, broth, lemon juice and nutmeg. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Note: This will be thinner than a regular cream gravy but it’s all good. The warm pasta will absorb much of the sauce.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Mix the pasta with the chicken, mushroom mixture, peas and sauce. Mix the Parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Put the chicken mixture in a casserole dish and top with the cheese/breadcrumb mixture.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling.

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Flat iron flips with adobo cream

As many of you know, I am quite proud to be blogging for Char-Broil on occasion and the very nice folks over there ask that I not post the same recipe on this blog for obvious reasons. But you will want to make these steak flips, I promise you. So if you would hop on over to the Char-Broil Live site and take a little look see, I’d appreciate it.

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Sausage and cabbage

Finally, there’s a nip in the air. Which is fortunate because we had our annual honey bee invasion last week. I know, I know. Save the honey bees. They’re disappearing. Well, let me tell you they are not disappearing. They have simply relocated to the Mayhew household, specifically under the floor of the den.

Last year, we called our bee guy (yes, this is such a problem we have our own bee guy) to come and extract the bees and the honey. This has been an annual ritual but last year we finally figured out where they were getting into the house. One cooler of honey, another cooler with about a bazillion bees in it and 20 stings later (the bee guy – he can take it), they were finally gone.

So last week, when the weather hit about 85 degrees, the bees came swarming back. I mean swarming. It is amazing to me that bees can remember from one year to the next the exact location on Albert Drive where they are to congregate for the winter. However, I think we foiled them. They swarmed and swarmed, but I don’t think they got into the house. It got nippy again and now they’re gone. But it’s warming up to 85 later this week so I will keep you posted on our ongoing battle.

Nippy is also perfect weather for sausage and cabbage. I am a cabbage addict. If you’ve never fried it, just give it a shot and see if you don’t love it, too. This is a perfect weeknight meal because it literally takes 20 minutes to fix. Use the best quality sausage you can find. I am fortunate that Ralph Cole is standing ready at the Franklin Farmer’s Market just waiting for me with his stupendous array of sausages from West Wind Farm. Try to go organic and locally produced if you can. If you can’t, look for sausage that says “hormone free.” Really, ladies, do we really need any more hormones? You gentlemen just stand off in a corner and nod in agreement.

Sausage and cabbage

1 pound link sausage such as kielbasa or bratwurst

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 small head cabbage

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon dried onion

Juice from ½ lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon caraway seeds.

Cut sausage on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and add sausage, browning well on both sides. Remove from pan and reserve.

Slice cabbage into thin strips. Melt butter in the same skillet you fried the sausage in and add the cabbage, onion and lemon juice. Saute until cabbage begins to turn brown and is tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Add caraway seeds and sausage.


Filed under casseroles, pork, Uncategorized

Ode to a starving college student

This weekend I participated in the leftover sweepstakes. This is a competitive sport involving the ability to produce mass amounts of leftovers in an extremely tight time span. In this case 48 hours.

Noah is on the unlimited food plan at the University of Tennessee. When I see the word “unlimited” I think of, well, no actual limits to the food. Let’s look it up in the dictionary. Yes, I believe I am correct. Unlimited: Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent. However, the university’s administration apparently frowns upon the removal of mass quantities of food from the cafeteria.

I believe this is so unfair that the next time I’m in Knoxville, I plan to bring a shopping cart into the cafeteria and load up on behalf of my son. And when some pencil-pushing administrator challenges me after being called by campus security, I will merely hold up my massive UT tuition, room and board bill and say: “It says unlimited food plan. I am merely attempting to get what I am paying for.” And they will let me go. Or send me to jail, with a box of Pop Tarts and a club sandwich clutched in my unyielding hands.

But I digress. So an attempt to supplement the “unlimited meal plan,” Noah’s grandmother and I mount a massive two-pronged offensive every semester. The first prong involves Bunny taking Noah to Sam’s Club because every college student requires a 48-bag box of kettle chips, a case of breakfast bars and a 10-gallon container of beef jerky. The second prong involves periodic mass leftovers to provide that home-cooked touch to Noah’s institutional diet. Bunny and I are warriors at this. Total warriors. In two days, we produced or foraged enough leftovers to completely fill this over-sized shopping bag. And not the shabby stuff. Let’s just make a list: chicken in white wine/lemon sauce with angel hair pasta, filet mignon, Thai chicken wraps with a peanut dipping sauce, pulled pork Cuban sandwiches, chicken and pesto pizza, buttermilk spice and molten chocolate cupcakes and, less sophisticated, Little Smokies because Noah craves them. Bunny also contributed two vat-sized jars of peanut butter the purpose of which I cannot imagine.

It has been well documented that when Noah arrives on the UT campus after a successful leftover campaign, students who have only heard of him by word of mouth line up to follow him to his dorm room. I believe Coach Derek Dooley has offered him a season pass to sit on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium if only he will bring his shopping bag of leftovers with him.

Or so I’ve heard.

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Mole with pine nuts and golden raisins

A very exciting thing has been happening in our supermarkets down here in the South. Over the course of the last few years, they have started stocking exotic items, at least to people used to buying the ingredients for biscuits and gravy. Particularly, in the area of Mexican food. In the olden days the most exciting thing you could find was an Old El Paso taco kit. Now we have tomatillos, cactus paddles, and acres of different types of dried chiles. This is very exciting to me.

The other day, faced with a lack of imagination as to what to make for supper, I remembered mole. I can’t make that little symbol over the “e” to have it look correct, but basically mole is a Mexican sauce that can be made in literally hundreds of different ways. But it always starts with dried chiles.

I was stupid when I started making this. I soaked the chiles but the skins still seemed kind of tough. So I took a knife and tried to take out the soft-looking interior. Well, that was a mistake. I ended up with about a teaspoon of chile. Read the directions, dummy. Just chop them up and throw them in a blender. It all works out. Mole is wonderful on chicken, which is generally how you see it on a Mexican restaurant menu. But you can also use it in other ways.

The first thing I did with the mole was use it as a sauce on a fried tortilla pulled pork taco.  Just fry a flour tortilla, both sides, in hot oil until it puffs up and browns a bit. Then top with Mexican melting cheese (another great find), pulled pork, mole, lettuce and sour cream. Mark at three of them and was eying mine. You could use shredded brisket or chicken and it would be just as delicious. Then a few days later, I made pizza and instead of the tomato sauce I used the mole. Mark ate half the pizza in one sitting and the rest for lunch the next day.  I love an enthusiastic eater.

If you have leftover mole, put it in a baggie and freeze it. It freezes beautifully, as we say in the South, and you can add it to soups or stews for an extra something something.


Mole with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

4 dried pasilla chile peppers

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

½ cup yellow onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

¾ cup chicken broth

¼ cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons golden raisins

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon coriander

Salt and pepper

1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened baking chocolate

Boil a small saucepan of water. Turn off the heat and add the dried peppers. Soak about five minutes until softened. Drain, remove stem and seeds, and chop roughly. Add the chiles, tomatoes, onion and garlic to a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Add broth, pine nuts, raisins, and spices. Continue to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mole to a saucepan over medium low heat and add the chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted.


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Mini croissant sandwiches

Southern women love college football. It’s a fashion opportunity. Oh, we genuinely love the game and can talk all that football talk, but I guarantee if you open any woman’s closet in the SEC you will find a blinding array of school-colored clothing, accessories and jewelry. If you are fortunate, you will be an LSU fan and can wear purple and gold. LSU is very fashion forward. On the other hand, if you are a Volunteer fan, as I am, your choices are somewhat limited and nearly always unflattering. Day-glow orange is not fashion forward.

We actually got cheated out of a pretty good color and I’m not sure why. If you look carefully at the Volunteer uniforms you will notice they are not the same extreme orange that the fans wear. The color is a lighter orange that was chosen in 1891 to mimic the color of the American Daisy, which proliferated on campus back then.

So as I’m pulling out my orange t-shirt, orange pajama pants (this is an “at home” game for me) and orange clogs I am thinking about football food. While rooting for the Vols at home there are certain precautions you must take to ensure victory. You must be dressed in orange, you must have a cocktail or two before halftime and you must have some manner of football food.

Football food can be the usual – wings, pigs in a blanket, barbecue. Or it can be something you just don’t eat every day. Special. Usually fattening. Able to soak up vats of alcohol should the Vols not be doing so well. Here are my mini croissant sandwiches, made so Southern with the addition of red pepper jelly as a component. If you have to ask what red pepper jelly is they probably don’t sell it where you live.

Mini croissant sandwiches

1 large onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 mini croissants

12 slices ham

6 slices Swiss cheese

Whole grain mustard

Red pepper jelly

Cut onion into thin slices. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onion and gently sauté until it is a caramel color.

Slice croissants and spread the bottom half with whole grain mustard. Add ham, cheese and caramelized onions. Spread the top half of the croissant with red pepper jelly.


Filed under breads, pork, snacks, tea sandwiches, Uncategorized