Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Old Fashioned Chicken and Drop Dumplings

A classic southern comfort dish made of stewed chicken with fluffy drop dumplings.

Old Fashioned Chicken and Drop Dumplings

You just cannot beat this Southern classic of stewed chicken with dumplings in the comfort meal category. While most of us Southerners can agree on that, it's the dumplings that can cause a stir as much as our cornbread can.


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How to Render and Use Bacon Fat




Ahhh, yes... Bacon Fat.

Now this, my friends, is a true staple of the southern kitchen in my little ole humble opinion and it is a rare southern household that doesn't have a Mason jar or grease pot full of this hanging around the stove or in the fridge.

Course lots of times we cook with bacon, so we use both the bacon and the rendered fat from the bacon. Yum - nothing like bacon. Bacon fat just adds so much flavor to cooking it is impossible to match with any other fat, even butter, and y'all know I love butter.

First, while we're here on fats... {pulls out soapbox} as far as the butter versus margarine argument, I just flat out don't believe in using margarine. Period. I know there are arguments on both sides of the issue and mostly people use margarine for health reasons, but even still, I question that, because I believe that butter is the better choice when there is a health reason, when it is used it in moderation.

Here are my arguments. For one, butter is all natural. Butter is made from churning the cream that rises to the top of milk - that's it - so I know that butter is natural and my body immediately recognizes it for what it is. Butter is a great source of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and contains natural fatty acids our bodies need.

Margarine has its start from very low quality, chemically extracted refined vegetable oils to begin with. It often contains trans-fatty acids and toxic residues resulting from the process of turning that poor quality oil into a solid substance. These residues in excess can cause lung cancer, kidney disease, depression and contribute to diseases such as arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and malignancies. Margarine also contains artificial coloring agents to make it look like butter. Butter does not contain those trans-fatty acids or toxic metals or artificial colors.

Yes, margarine is cheaper, but considering that it is completely nutritionally bankrupt in comparison to the purity of butter, is that really a bargain? I choose to pick my budget battles and pinch my pennies in other areas to pay a little more for things like real vanilla and pure butter.

So, for me, butter wins hands down. Now... of course, I'm not gonna call you out as wrong for what you choose to use - I would never do that! Whatever you use is right for you and who am I to try and tell you otherwise?! I'm just sharing why I choose to use butter. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! ;) {tucks away soapbox}

But... we're here to talk about bacon fat right now!


Except for the strainer that is built into my grease pot, I don't worry too much over straining it well,except for in some cases when I am about to use it, most often with a dark roux since I don't want the solid bits of bacon in there to burn my roux. Then I just warm it and strain it before using it. But as far as storing the rendered bacon fat, when I cook bacon, I just pour the drippings into my little grease pot or a mason jar and I keep it stored in the refrigerator. I know that some folks keep their bacon fat right on the stove or the counter. I don't know if they are straining it well first or not, but the idea of pieces of pork possibly being in that fat and going rancid and growing bacteria is disturbing to me, so I just play it safe and keep my jar in the fridge. When you pull it out to use it, just draw your spoon down to the bottom to turn the drippings and scoop from there, that way you're always circulating the older fat to the top.

If you want to strain it, while it's still pretty warm and liquid, just place a coffee filter or a paper towel over a spouted container of some sort like a glass Pyrex measuring cup and pour the bacon fat through the filter. This will remove the solid bits that are left behind from cooking the bacon. Discard the filter and transfer the strained fat into your Mason jar or some other glass container - don't use plastic - and stick that in the fridge.

What do you use it for? Well, I'll be the first to tell you that I use heart healthy oils like olive oil wherever I can. But sometimes getting a little boost of flavor from bacon drippings can really make a difference in flavor. Just about any place where you would generally use butter or oil to saute or flavor a dish, or oil to fry, you can use bacon fat.

On the occasion when I decide I want a dirty fried egg, I always cook a strip or two of bacon and cook my eggs right in the bacon drippings. I like my whites cooked and my yolks runny, so if I have made two strips, I'll crumble up one of them and sprinkle it right on top of my eggs just before I dig in. I've made my fried eggs that way forever and I love them. I'd eat them every day if I could get away with it. I do my Birds in a Nest in bacon drippings too.

I use bacon drippings a lot for my skillet cornbread, not only to coat the skillet to produce that wonderful crunchy crust we all love, but then after I swirl it around, I pour it right into the batter as my fat. I just love the flavor it adds to cornbread, and sometimes I'll even add in some crumbled bacon. It's great for old fashioned skillet biscuit bread too. It's even good with chex mix, though I still lean toward butter for that snack myself.

When I am making a light roux or gravy, bacon drippings add wonderful flavor to chicken gravy, or peppered milk gravy for chicken fried steak. I use bacon drippings in combination with butter for my loaded baked potato soup.

I use either bacon fat or bacon in combination with the drippings for many dishes I do, like when I make fried cabbage, collards or turnip greens, skillet potatoes, southern style green beans as well as my sweet and sour green beans. I use it for cream corn, drizzle it over crispy smashed potatoes, creamed squash and fried corn, but it's even great to use for a quick pan saute of fresh spinach or fresh greens too, both of which I love even though the Cajun won't touch either. I even use some bacon drippings in my skillet fried apples!

It's great for shallow frying meats, or even for browning grilled sandwiches, or even tater cakes. I use bacon with the drippings for pot roasted chicken and the fat even makes a great salad dressing. It's great for okra and tomatoes, or even just for sauteing okra in before adding it to a gumbo.

You see? Cooked bacon and the residual drippings really are quite versatile! Just search my site using that search bar in the upper right hand corner with terms like bacon fat or bacon drippings, and I'm sure there are many things that will motivate your imagination, but start saving your bacon fat, and don't forget ... use it!

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Easy Homemade Southern Peach Ice Cream

Ice cream made with fresh peaches, sweetened condensed milk, half and half and instant vanilla pudding, makes a creamy texture that you'll be sure had to be from a homemade custard.

Homemade Peach Ice Cream

Homemade peach ice cream is another food that makes me think of my Grandma Mac. She didn't make it often during the summer, but when she did, it was so good. She had the old-fashioned hand cranked type of ice cream maker too - what a lot of lovin' work must've gone into making that ice cream, and goodness, it sure tasted it too.


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Onion Burgers

Juicy and delicious onion burgers made with an envelope of onion soup mix, tomato sauce and Worcestershire are a long loved classic.

Onion Burgers

I do love a grilled burger, and like many of you, I've been making these burgers for years. It just produces a tender, yummy burger full of onion flavor - by far one of my favorite ways to eat a grilled burger.

A simple packet of onion soup mix provides all the onion flavor you need, the Worcestershire sauce gives it a tasty punch and the tomato sauce helps to keep the burger nice and moist. The ideal way to go with this is to grind your own meat from a nice chuck roast and cook the burgers to medium, about 140 degrees F. Just perfect. Otherwise, using pre-ground beef, you'll need to cook it to well done as pictured, to 160 degrees F. Try not to handle the ground beef much with your hands when forming them and for pete's sake, don't press down on 'em while they're cookin' and you'll end up with a try, tasteless burger.


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Old Fashioned Homemade Fresh Lemonade

Old fashioned homemade lemonade made with freshly squeezed lemons and simple syrup.

Old Fashioned Homemade Lemonade

I admit, there are some pretty good frozen lemonade concentrates out there, but a holiday like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day, just calls for something special and that means fresh, homemade lemonade to me. This one begins with a simple syrup, which really helps to provide that perfect balance between tart and sweet. Be careful not to over-boil the syrup though ... you don't want to make candy!


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Perfect Root Beer Float

Scoops of a high quality ice cream, topped with a great root beer, preferably bottled and ideally Barq's, add a tall spoon and straw and you have a fantastic, ice cold root beer float.

Perfect Root Beer Float

With ice cream in the house and summer just around the corner, seemed to me a root beer float was just waiting to happen!

Just sippin' on this reminded me of Amy, my best friend in junior high school, and visiting her Mama at Calvert-Carraway's drug store, where she worked in the afternoons. We'd sit and sometimes spin when we could get away with it, on top of the red vinyl topped metal barstools at the soda fountain counter and get treated to an ice cold root beer float - or sometimes a cherry coke - while we soaked in that ice cold air conditioning on one of these swelterin' hot summer days we have down here in the Deep South. I clearly remember when businesses used to proudly display signs in their front windows that shouted "Ice Cold Air!"

And if there weren't too many patrons eating at the counter and we didn't annoy Amy's Mama too much, sometimes we'd get to snack on some yummy onion rings too! Boy, those were the days. Life was simple, no worries, and nothin' to do but just be.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Southern Style Potato Salad

A basic and traditional southern potato salad - simply potatoes, onion, celery, eggs, just a bit of mustard, some pickle and mayonnaise, shown here plated with my BBQ menu, including grilled ribs, baked beans, macaroni salad, marinated tomatoes and Silver Queen corn on the cob.

Southern Style Potato Salad

Potato salad reminds me so much of my Mama. This recipe is basically the same as hers - simple, basic, southern potato salad. Nothin' fancy or highfalutin' - just potatoes, eggs, onion, celery, a little bit of mustard, some sweet pickle relish, salt & pepper. Oh, and mayo, of course!


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Buttermilk Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake

A long-held southern favorite, Texas Sheet Cake, is the lightest, fluffiest, perfectly sweet, rich and delectable, melt in your mouth, best chocolate cake ever. No matter how hard you try you will not be able to eat just one piece.

Buttermilk Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake

I got this recipe for Texas Sheet Cake from Tommie, a friend of mine from Oklahoma, but it's essentially one of those recipes that has been around in one form or another, and by one name or another, for as long as I have, and probably longer. It originated with Hershey many years back, and was on the back of the cocoa tin. One year, I can't even remember how many orders of this sheet cake Tommie said she did for a church bake sale, but it had to be a few dozen all told. As soon as somebody would find out she was making them for the bake sale, they'd be calling to place an order for a full tray before the bake sale even started! I can certainly see why.


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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Apple and Walnut Pie

Apple and Walnut Pie made in layers of crushed walnuts, apples and cinnamon sugar.

Apple and Walnut Pie

I had some apples to use up and considered doing a good ole old fashioned apple pie but I settled on doing this Apple & Walnut Pie instead. This is actually an old Slavonian recipe that is intended to be made as a slab pie in an oblong dish and cut up into squares, but I had some ready made Pillsbury pie crusts in the fridge that also needed to be used, so I decided to adapt it for a regular pie pan instead.

I also thought I would use the thin slicing blade on my food processor this time in order to slice the apples real thin (chip), but honestly I wasn't real stoked up about the results. I should have known better to be honest. I much more prefer texture to my apples, and chipping them takes that away.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tater Cakes! - Mashed Potato Patties

Transform cold, leftover mashed potatoes into a whole new side with these delicious potato croquettes.

Mashed Potato Patties

Better known I guess as Mashed Potato Patties, but Tater Cakes sound so much more interesting, don't ya think?  The basic seasoning for my potato patties are always garlic powder, onion powder, and of course, a little Slap Ya Mama, but honestly you can flavor these up just about anyway you like. You can also use a variety of coatings in combination with the flour - bread crumbs are standard, panko bread crumbs are superb, but crushed potato chips or tortilla chips work well, especially the flavored and spicy kinds of chips, heck you can even use crushed plain corn flakes! Use your imagination.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Chicken and Spaghetti Casserole

A well loved casserole dish, this chicken and spaghetti casserole made with chicken, cream soup, onion, garlic and diced tomato, is loaded with cheesy goodness.

Chicken and Spaghetti Casserole

Now in all fairness, I know that this recipe is representative of what most folks think of when they think of chicken spaghetti. I really don't consider this to be a true "chicken spaghetti," since my Grandma - Grandma Mac of the pound cake fame - made a killer chicken spaghetti that was my all time favorite dish. Her chicken spaghetti was made with a whole hen and a red sauce similar to a beef based spaghetti, it was not baked, and it contained no cheese whatsoever.


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Friday, May 8, 2009

Southern Style Creamed Peas

Green peas, or preferably petit pois, cooked in a light roux.

Southern Style Creamed Peas

Break out that jar of bacon fat ya got in the fridge for this one, cuz we're startin' with a roux!



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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ranch Mashed Potato Casserole

Mashed Potato Casserole, made with heavy cream, milk, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, Ranch dressing mix, garlic and onion powder, Cajun seasoning, paprika and French fried onion bits.

Ranch Mashed Potato Casserole

Hot dang it is muggy uggy down here along the Gulf Coast. Geez... you'd think it was July already for pete's sake. I was tryin' to get some pics of a few flowers earlier and had to keep wiping the lens and viewfinder between every shot because it kept foggin' up! All I can say is thank the Lord for central air conditioning.


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Monday, May 4, 2009

Homemade Southern Red Beans and Rice

Homemade red kidney beans made with dried beans, and slow stewed with the Trinity, bacon, smoked sausage and a good ham bone or ham hock if you have one, served over hot rice with fresh French bread.

Homemade Southern Red Beans and Rice

Monday. Wash Day. Red Beans and Rice day.

Back in the day at least, that was the way that it was, and the tradition of eating red beans & rice on Mondays, either for lunch or dinner, carries on down here in the south, even if nobody’s doin’ laundry.


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Grandma Mac's Perfect Southern Pound Cake

In my mind a perfect pound cake like Grandma's, is moist, tender, light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, all at the same time.

Grandma Mac's Perfect Southern Pound Cake

Was it wrong to have pound cake for breakfast? If there was fruit involved?? If it is, I don't care.



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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grown-Up Southern Tea Room Chutney Chicken Salad

Inspired by Martha's Tea Room in Ocean Springs, MS, this is a grown-up, southern tea room style chicken salad, made with chicken, red onion, apples, grapes, and pecans and a secret ingredient of fruit chutney.

Chutney Chicken Salad

This is not your standard deli style chicken salad with creamy mayo, celery, and sometimes, chopped up eggs - though that's pretty darned good itself and I sure love it. No, this one is the kind that you get when you go to lunch with the ladies at 'Tea Room Restaurants' all across the country, and in fact, Martha's Tea Room, right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was the inspiration behind this chicken salad recipe I wrote. The only secret I could pull out of the owner, Martha Reichard, was that it contained her mother's homemade mango chutney. Many people have tried to duplicate this top secret chicken salad and as Reichard stated in a television interview, nobody has come close. Well, this isn't her recipe either of course, it's just my tea room style chicken salad, inspired by Martha's Tea Room.


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