Poppy Seed Chicken and death

I apologize. Right from the start. I will talk to you about Poppy Seed Chicken, one of the South’s greatest inventions. But first, death. In a funny way.

My husband is a lawyer and a few days ago he got a letter in the mail from a company that records your message to your loved ones to be left with your will and “enjoyed years after (your) death.” Really? Is that a good idea? Here’s my message to Mark: Hi, honey. Miss me yet? Have you fed the cats and cleaned the litter? How about the trash? I know you love the tall trash, the kind that spills out of the garbage can in the kitchen. Did you empty it? Are the doors locked? You know my OCD about locking the doors. Are you sure they’re locked? Check again. No, check three times. Hey, I have a great view of the house now and I think I see some cat vomit in the living room. Can you clean that up? Miss me? By the way, the mortgage is due.

So, Poppy Seed Chicken. There is no greater threat to public grooming than poppy seeds. You do not want to eat a poppy seed bagel at an important business meeting. Just as you’re about the seal the deal, you smile. Oh, God. And yet, we love our Poppy Seed Chicken. We serve it at potlucks, funerals and christenings. We just don’t smile much on those occasions.

Poppy Seed Chicken

1 supermarket rotisserie chicken

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

2 cans cream of chicken soup

16 ounces sour cream

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 sleeve Ritz crackers

1/3 cup butter melted

Remove the chicken from the bones and shred it. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the mushrooms until they have released all their juice and they are well browned. Reserve. In a large bowl, mix the chicken soup, sour cream, and poppy seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and the chicken.

Pour chicken mixture into a 9-by-13 dish. Crush the crackers and mix with the melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

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My $150 dinner

Tandy Wilson, in signature ball cap, and Ashley Christensen fixing us supper.

I am as cheap as they come. I revel in a $7.35 lunch for two at the Krystal. Fifty percent off of anything? I’m there. But once in awhile you just have to kick out the jams.

The Southern Foodways Alliance, of which I am a proud member, holds these Stir the Pot suppers around the South. They’re fund raisers for the SFA’s documentary film program. Watch one of the films here. I promise you it’s worth it.

So the Stir the Pot came to Nashville starring Chef Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, N.C., ably assisted by Chef Tandy Wilson of City House (where the event was held) and Chef Tyler Brown of the Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grill. Yes, my cheap self shelled out $300 for Mark and I to gluttonize ourselves. I do not believe gluttonize is a word but it should be. And it was worth every mouthful.

So without further delay, here’s the menu:

Snacks:

Hook’s 3-year Cheddar pimento cheese

Oyster stew with vermouth and turnip

Cornmeal fried green tomatoes with roasted tomato slaw

Chicken liver pate with whipped honey and Fallot Dijon (I had to look up what that was – it’s mustard with a pedigree)

Dinner:

Wood-roasted asparagus with frissee, beets, Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander (a cheese) and tarragon emulsion

Crispy N.C. softshell crab with sunburst tomato and marinated white acre peas

Rabbit confit pizza with Carolina ramps, pickled carrots, and black pepper aioli

Slow-cooked flank steak with oyster mushrooms, macaroni au gratin, and broccoli raab in vinaigrette

Dessert:

Warm cornmeal strawberry shortcake

Warm cornmeal strawberry shortcake with Cruze’s Dairy buttermilk anglaise and rhubarb jam.

This is more food than I eat in three days, folks. But you know what? I’ll remember every bite. And do you know what? The next day this is exactly what I ate: a package of cheese crackers. That’s how full I was from the night before.

This is so decadent in these times of trouble, spending $300 on dinner. But here’s why it’s worth it. If

The salad and that tarragon emulsion

you appreciate food, you appreciate it at every level from bacon-wrapped crackers to pimento cheese to a dinner like Stir the Pot. But Stir the Pot takes it up a notch. You taste things you’ve never tasted before. I practically licked the tarragon emulsion off the plate. The oyster stew with vermouth and turnips? One of our dinner companions said she hates oysters and she ate every smidge of it. Oh and let’s just wax poetic for a second about the

Flank steak, macaroni au gratin (that would be mac and cheese taken to a whole new level) and broccoli raab

warm cornmeal strawberry shortcake. This was the last thing on the menu, after eight other offerings. I cleaned my plate.

Recipes? I have no idea. I could spend three years trying to figure out exactly what was in all this stuff and never come close. That’s why it’s worth $150. I can cook. I can cook damn well. But I can’t come close to that dinner.

By the way, I am making bacon-wrapped crackers right now for a Community Resource Center event. They are not worth $150 but I’ll bet I could get $5 a cracker for them.

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Huevos Rancheros

 

So it is Tax Day. Boo hoo. Mark and I timed our marriage date poorly because we tied the knot on April 14. So every anniversary is the day before Tax Day. Needless to say, we do not go all out on anniversary presents. Once again, boo hoo.

Last night, in celebration of our 22nd anniversary and to note the fact that we have no money because it is, yes, Tax Day, I made Huevos Rancheros, a traditional Mexican dish served as a mid-morning meal on poor farms. I have some mint and rosemary growing in a pot by the garage so I think that qualifies Casa de la Mayhew as a poor farm.

And because I was doing this on the cheap I used what I already had in the pantry and fridge. I would like to say that I settled on pureed lentils from a can of lentil soup instead of re-fried beans because the lentils are healthier. But that would be a lie. Mark wanted lentil soup when he was sick about a year ago and then he got well and he didn’t want it anymore. But with the addition of some ancho chile powder and cumin it made a fine stand-in for re-fried beans.

I would also like to point out the irony that my husband will never, ever order sunny-side-eggs for breakfast but he will happily eat one when I tell him the yolk makes a “sauce.” He’s so easily led.

Huevos Rancheros

For the pureed lentils:

1 19-ounce can lentil soup (Progresso), drained and pureed in a blender

½ teaspoon ancho chile powder

¼ teaspoon cumin

Salt to taste

Heat the puree in a saucepan after blending.

 

For the tomato sauce:

½ cup diced red onion

1 tablespoon chopped green chiles

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

¼ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and chiles in 1 tablespoon of oil until they are translucent and beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes, cumin, paprika, red wine, salt and pepper and simmer until sauce thickens.

 

8 6-inch flour tortillas

4 eggs

Mexican melting cheese (or any cheese you have on hand), grated

Fry the tortillas in a dry pan until they are browned and crisped. Reserve.

Heat 1 teaspoon of butter in the same pan and fry the eggs.

To assemble: Place a tortilla on a plate. Top with the lentil puree and sprinkle with grated cheese. Add another tortilla and top with the tomato sauce and an egg.

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Bacon Cinnamon Rolls

The three chicks always strive for innovation here at the world headquarters of the Community Resource Center, where I am the executive director, chief fundraiser and toilet cleaner. Especially on Bacon Wednesdays. Yes, every Wednesday we eat bacon in some form or another. Why would you not have Bacon Wednesdays? Section 3, Paragraph 28 in the CRC Employee Manual states: “Employees are required to eat bacon every Wednesday as a part of their job description. Year-end bonuses will be paid for employees who bring special effort to their presentation of bacon. Turkey bacon may be substituted for real bacon in the event of a religious restriction but it won’t taste as good.”

We map out Bacon Wednesday on our Command Central Board to ensure a variety of bacon offerings. Tomorrow it will be bacon and pimento cheese grilled sandwiches. Two weeks ago, we had bacon-wrapped club crackers with cocktails by the dock door (also in the Employee Manual, Section 5, Paragraph 17). Last week it was Betsy’s brilliant rendition of bacon cinnamon rolls. Here’s how you make them:

For each cinnamon roll (from a tube in the refrigerated section of your supermarket, bake one strip of bacon. Unroll each cinnamon roll into a long strip. Bake the bacon at 400 degrees until it’s done to your liking. Now here’s the trick. While the bacon is still warm and pliable, place a strip on the cinnamon roll dough and roll it up. Then bake the rolls according to the package directions.

Oh yes. Sweet and salty. Soft and crunchy. So inappropriate.

 

 

 

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Welcome Happy Morning…the end of Lent

In the Episcopal church, especially in our Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s, we always greet Easter morning by belting out a soulful rendition of  “Welcome Happy Morning.” Father Bob can’t get enough of that song. It just kind of sets up the whole service of joyful worship and, not incidentally, it marks the end of the 40-day season of repentance and fasting known as Lent.

Happy morning, indeed, because this is Hamburger Day. Every year, someone asks me what we’ve having for Easter dinner, imagining baked ham or roasted leg of lamb. “We’re having hamburgers,” I say. “At Five Guys.”

Every year I give up hamburgers for Lent. I adore hamburgers. I am like Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons, the character that ferociously downed hamburgers but couldn’t pay for his habit. “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” he would plead.

So this morning, after the 8:45 service, we headed to Five Guys. It is apparent that eating hamburgers was not a religious experience for most of the diners because they were dressed in t-shirts and shorts. Heathens. Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe they were all Jewish. Then again, probably not. It’s Passover and I’m pretty sure Five Guys is not kosher. Druids. They were probably Druids. Whatever.

You know how it is when you deny yourself something and the deadline for ending your fast draws nearer and nearer? You just want that forbidden thing all the more. For the past week, I’ve imagined hamburgers all day long. I’ve superimposed them over the faces of my friends.

A Five Guys burger with sauteed onions, mushrooms, lettuce and mayonnaise. Oh, yes. That’s what I ordered. I was tempted to tell the clerk at the cash register of this momentous occasion, my first hamburger in 40 days, but he was wistfully looking past me at the line of Druids still waiting to order so I just took my order slip, No. 71, and moved on to the Diet Coke dispenser. By the way, Mark and I were the first people in line. How is it we’re No. 71? I don’t get that.

Bliss. That’s all I can tell you. Worth waiting for. Worth dreaming about. Worth giving up because getting them back is so sweet.

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Beef short rib pizza

I have nothing profound to say about this except that it’s amazing what you can put together from bits and pieces and end up with something that gets the ultimate complement from Mark: “I’d have this again.”

The short rib pizza is a prime example. I’d made braised beef short ribs one night a couple of months ago and I couldn’t fit all the ribs in the dish. So I froze the one rib that couldn’t jump in the pool with the rest of his cousins. One solitary short rib. What in the heck do you do with that?

Pizza is what’s for dinner when I am idea challenged. We always make our own. Ball of pizza dough from Trader Joes or my beloved Publix. Almost never tomato or pizza sauce. I just think that’s admitting creative pizza-making defeat. Sometimes pesto sauce, sometimes chow-chow or sometimes just olive oil and herbs. And then whatever I have on hand. Which, on the night Noah came home from college for spring break, was a solitary short rib, some grated Monterrey Jack, some onions and green peppers.

If you’ve never braised a short rib, here’s how. First, go to Costco. They have the best short ribs. Those puny things in the grocery store will not feed a cat on a diet. Salt and pepper the rib and throw it in a shallow dish, add some beef stock if you have it or even water if you don’t. If you have a can of diced tomatoes, so much the better. Throw those in. You don’t need to brown the short rib first. It, in the final analysis, won’t make that much difference. Trust me on this. I’ve tried it both ways.  Cover the dish with foil and put it in a 320 degree oven until it’s tender. This could take a few hours so plan ahead. It is done when the meat falls apart.

What I did to make the pizza sauce was to merely take the juices the short rib had braised in and reduced them down to a thick syrup. And my boy had the brilliant idea to make a stuffed crust, so he cut some matchstick-sized slices of cheese and folded the dough over them.

So here’s the thing, as Alec Baldwin would say (and if you haven’t listened to his new podcast, you should), it doesn’t take more than a bit of imagination to make a meal out of bits and pieces. Use the short rib idea  or don’t. Maybe you just have ground beef and Velveeta. Make a cheeseburger pizza. I guarantee you it will be better than anything that comes in a box.

By the way, “I’d have that again” translated into zero leftovers. Made Momma happy.

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Lamb kabobs with grilled vegetables

I know, I’m about to digress and I haven’t even started. I’ll get to the lamb in a minute.

It is Palm Sunday and for the first time in about 17 years, I did not go to Palm Sunday services. Many of my blog followers go St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and they may be tempted to smite me. Or smack me. But I just needed one Palm Sunday off.

Palm Sunday is all about proceeding. We proceed because Christ proceeded. He proceeded into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by people waving palm fronds. So we proceed with great vigor. But not on donkeys, of course. We just hoof it.

The first procession takes place during the Palm Sunday service and involves the children carrying palm fronds and marching up and down the aisles of St. Paul’s. Back and forth, to and fro. Usually this involves very young children whose parents may have nudged them out of the pews and into the aisle. I know this because I practically shoved Noah into the marching line. “I don’t want to,” he would say. “Just do it,” I’d hiss. “It’s Palm Sunday. Now proceed, dammit.” I wouldn’t actually say dammit, of course. I have never seen a child cry while proceeding, but I have seen some fairly confusing looks on their faces. Why, oh why, am I proceeding? Where’s my mommy?

But we’re not done. After the service, children and adults join one or two other congregations nearby and we proceed en masse through historic downtown Franklin. We proceed past the Starbucks, where bikers in their tiny shorts and funny shoes regard us with some confusion. We proceed along at a fairly good clip, the children carrying banners in front of us. The children are still not quite sure why they are proceeding but they get to carry banners and they’re outside so they’re usually compliant. Once we get down to the Square, we turn around and proceed back.

In general, I like proceeding. It’s one of the gentle, if odd, ways we proclaim our faith. And it’s good exercise. It’s worth a cup of frozen yogurt topped with caramel sauce and nuts if you have proceeded vigorously.

But this year, I did not proceed except to make my way to the grill to make lamb kabobs and grilled vegetables, a religious experience of a sort. A few notes about kabobs. First of all, you might be able to find a nice butcher to do the work for you rather than cutting up your own lamb. I can get pre-cut lamb kabobs at The Fresh Market. Secondly, I never alternate the vegetables with the meat on kabobs. I just throw the vegetables in a grilling basket. That way everything gets cooked as it should.

Lamb kabobs with grilled vegetables

½ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound leg of lamb, cut into one-inch pieces

1 8-ounce package fresh whole mushrooms

2 red peppers, cut into large chunks

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, salt and pepper. Marinate lamb for about one hour in the refrigerator. Thread the lamb on skewers. Set aside.

Cut the mushrooms into halves and combine with the peppers in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a grill to medium high. Add the lamb kabobs to one side of the grill and the vegetables to the other, using a grilling basket. Grill the lamb about five minutes and turn over. Continue grilling until the lamb springs back slightly to the touch. Continue grilling the vegetables until they have a nice char and are cooked through.

Let the lamb rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Filed under lamb, Uncategorized, veggies