Why I Love Southern Food; A{nother} Hash Recipe; And a Giveaway Winner(!)

Lordy, Southern food has been in the news a lot lately.  From Paula Deen to Trisha Yearwood to Hugh Acheson, there’s been a lot of talk about what southern cooking really is. I know I’ve written about it before, but I thought it warranted a bit more discussion.  I mean, I’m a southerner, and I cook, so I guess you could say I’m a southern cook.  I grew up watching other southerners cook, both men and women, and I’ve learned a thing or two from each of them.  Mostly what I know is that, for the most part, southern food is simple.  It’s based on seasonal foods that come from the land, and it’s highly flavorful.

I love the tradition of southern food.  I love that it’s based on an agrarian lifestyle, one where food is grown within a community and consumed within that same community.  And while the fats of choice in southern cooking have traditionally been animal fats in the form of lard, butter and tallow, I’m okay with that too.  There are more and more studies every day that show that fats from pastured animals are actually good for us in moderation.

Moderation is also a common thread in southern cooking (and eating).  I can remember being at my grandparents’ house in Mississippi when I was young.  Supper was often a simple bowl of white beans spooned over cornbread.  Or a plate of garden vegetables to accompany a few fried fish that had come from the lake earlier that day.  And yes, the fish were fried (probably in Crisco, because that was all the rage those days), but they were small and the majority of the meal was made up of vegetables in the form of green beans, tomatoes, green onions and peppers.

To this day, this is how I prefer to eat.  A little bit of protein, accompanied by some farm fresh vegetables.  In my mind, this is the epitome of southern food.  Simple, fresh, seasonal.

Even when those seasonal vegetables might not be my favorite, I’m making an effort to learn to like them.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a rutabaga hash that I’d made for breakfast one morning.  In that post, I mentioned that I’ve never really been a fan of rutabagas (also known as turnips) because of their bitter, earthy flavor.  The problem is that they are in my CSA bag every week.  And I am beyond grateful to have the resource of a local farm that brings me farm fresh vegetables on a weekly basis, so I’m not about to complain.  So I just have to make every effort to embrace the rutabaga

This time, I shredded them using the large shredding blade on my food processor.  Then I salted them and let them  sit for five minutes or so.  The salt drew out a lot of the liquid, which also removed much of the bitterness. I placed them in a clean kitchen towel and twisted it tightly to squeeze out as much of the liquid as  I could.

Then I sauteed them in some clarified butter with some kale and pulled pork.  The earlier version of rutabaga hash was good, but it wasn’t great.  The cubes never got good and crispy the way I like, they just kind of got soft and mushy and wet.  They tasted alright, but I felt like they needed a little tweaking.  The shredded version?  Crispy, brown, tender, flavorful – really great.

I served it over some heirloom pencil-cob grits and topped it all with a couple of poached eggs.  It was a quintessential southern dinner – local, seasonal and fresh. 

Pork, Rutabaga and Kale Hash

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 15 minutes

serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 3 small rutabagas, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup kale, shredded
  • 1/2 cup pulled pork (could also use pot roast, corned beef, or leave out meat altogether)
  • 2 teaspoons clarified butter

  1. Place shredded rutabagas in a stainless steel bowl, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.  Let sit for five minutes to draw out the water.
  2. Place on a clean kitchen towel, pull ends of towel up to create a little pouch.  Twist tightly to squeeze out as much water as you can.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add clarified butter  to pan and melt.
  5. Add the kale, pork and rutabagas.  Cook over medium heat, stirring periodically until crispy and brown.
  6. Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as necessary.
  7. Enjoy!

If you, like me, are not a fan of the humble turnip, give this method a try.  The salting and draining really mellows out the flavor, and it helps in the crisping process.

And finally, for the announcement you’ve all been waiting for, the Whole Foods gift card giveaway winner.

There were 32 entries into the contest.  I wrote them all down in the order in which I received them, and then I went to random.org to choose a winner. 

Congratulations, Natalie!  Email me your address at lifeinrecipes[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll arrange to have the gift card mailed to you. You’ll be making over your pantry in no time.

Thank you to Harry’s Farmers Market Alpharetta for partnering with me on this generous giveaway!

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One Day At a Time. And Today It’s Coconut Cake

Things kind of suck right now.

That’s the gist of my life these days.  I’ve been avoiding this space because I don’t really have much to talk about, and because I’m down.  Blue.  Sad.

I haven’t really wanted to write about it because it seems silly.  There are so many other truly terrible things in the world, and my little bout of self pity seems a little trite.  But, it’s my life – and that’s what this space is all about.  Life.  And sometimes life isn’t so great.

I think a big part of it is that I’m looking for work, and that process is always discouraging.  I’m a task-oriented kind of person, and lately I’ve been sorely lacking in the task department.  I need some meaning and direction.  And I need to figure out how to find it for myself, rather than waiting for someone else to find it for me.

And that scares me.

So, I’m taking it one day at a time.  I’m waking up in the morning, I’m getting up out of bed, and I’m living.  I’m caring for my children, and I’m keeping my house (sort of), and I’m looking for meaning in the little things.  And I’m grateful for distractions that take me out of my head.

I was particularly grateful the other day when my neighbor texted me with a challenge.  She and her husband had stopped on their way back from Cherokee, NC and purchased a coconut pound cake.  They liked it so much, they wanted me to try to replicate it.  She brought me a piece to sample, along with the ingredient list from the label.

It was very moist, and had been glazed with a very sweet coconut-flavored glaze.  The ingredient list for the cake read: flour, margarine, sugar, eggs, coconut, milk, shortening, flavorings; and for the glaze: sugar, coconut milk, margarine.

I knew right off that it wasn’t a traditional pound cake recipe – those usually consist of a pound of flour, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs.  No milk, no shortening.  No levening.  Just flour, butter, sugar and eggs.  But, I wanted to try to stay as true to the ingredient list as possible, so I went in search of a recipe that seemed similar.

I landed on one from Bon Appetit, Y’all by Virginia Willis.  Hers used a combination of butter and shortening, as well as milk.  I decided to eliminate the shortening, since I don’t like using hydrogenated fats in my cooking (and I didn’t have any expeller pressed shortening on hand), but for the most part I stuck pretty close to the ratios in her recipe.  Of course, I had to adapt it somewhat to accommodate the coconut.

I wound up baking two versions – one that used sweetened flake coconut, and one that used fresh coconut.  I couldn’t tell from the inspiration cake’s ingredient list which the baker had used, so I wanted to try it with both.

I have these peel-and-stick blackboard panels on my refrigerator.  I use them to make notes about recipes as I’m working on them.  As you can see, I have the ingredients and amounts for the two different versions of the cake listed above.  This really comes in handy for note-taking – eliminates the need for paper on the counter (which gets messy), or running the risk of spilling something on my computer.

Coconut Cake – Version 1 (using sweetened flake coconut)

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sweetened flake coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 325, and grease two loaf pans
  2. in the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter until light and fluffy
  3. slowly add the sugar to the butter and whip on high until light in color and increased in volume
  4. whisk together the milks, eggs, vanilla
  5. sift together the flour, baking powder and salt
  6. with the mixer on low, add the flour and liquid mixtures to the butter/sugar mixture, starting and ending with flour
  7. fold the coconut into the batter
  8. divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans
  9. bake at 325 for 55-65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Coconut Cake – Version 2 (using fresh coconut)

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup grated fresh coconut
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup grated fresh coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 325F and grease and flour two loaf pans
  2. Combine milk, 1 cup coconut and 1/2 vanilla bean (pod and seeds) in a sauce pan.  Heat to almost boiling.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Strain, reserving milk in one container and coconut in another.  Discard vanilla bean pod.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip butter until light and fluffy.
  4. Slowly add the sugar to the butter, whipping until lighter in color and increased in volume
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. Whisk together the cooled milk and eggs
  7. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk/egg mixture to the butter and sugar, starting and ending with flour
  8. Fold the second cup of fresh coconut into the batter
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans
  10. Bake at 325F for 55-65 minutes

For the glaze (this is enough for four cakes):

Combine 1 cup coconut milk with 1/2 a stick of softened butter and 1 2/3 cup powdered sugar.  Whisk to combine and until smooth.  Pour glaze over cooled cakes.

I think both versions were successful, but I definitely liked the one with the fresh coconut better.  It was a little more moist, and I think it had more coconut flavor.  It wasn’t exactly like the one they brought back from Cherokee, but it was close.

And this task certainly provided a much needed distraction for me for a few hours yesterday.  And for that I’m thankful.