Monday, April 30, 2012

Five Tips for Hosting a Church Potluck Supper Southern Baptist Style

Go big or go home.
Yesterday, my husband and I joined my parents at their church, First Freewill Baptist in Richmond, to enjoy some seriously good gospel music followed by a potluck supper of epic proportions to celebrate the church's 60th anniversary. As the sweet tea flowed, dish after dish was laid out on (count 'em) three separate tables that overflowed with more food than I've seen in years. From country ham biscuits and fried chicken to pecan pie and sweet potato dumplings, homemade food that was carefully made with love was presented end to end inside the church's fellowship hall.

As someone who grew up in the Baptist church, potluck suppers hold a special place in my heart, not only because the food is so amazingly good (and I'm talking Jesus can take me now cuz it just doesn't get any better kinda good), but because each and every dish is created with great care and thought. The goods you'll find at a church potluck is food truly made with love. There's no highfalutin cooking going on here-- just solid, soul warming comforting eats that's been sifted, stirred and made from scratch just for you. Believe it or not, potluck's are more about sharing and giving of yourself than actually eating, although arguably the eating part sure is fun. Whether your cooking skill set is advanced baker or can't boil water, your dish is always welcome on the church potluck table, and it goes without saying, more really is merrier.

For those of you who have yet to enjoy a true Southern-style Baptist church potluck, I've assembled a few potluck fundamentals to give you an idea of what you're missing.
There must be at least five platters of deviled eggs.
Deviled eggs are the Southern church potluck's equivalent to, I dunno, utensils. They absolutely, positively must be on the table and in multiple varieties. From paprika sprinkles to plain, from mustard-tinged to mayo heavy, and from sweet pickles to no pickles at all, deviled eggs have got make and appearance. Note: potluck deviled eggs should always be served from a special deviled egg platter and you get bonus points if you also bring a creamy potato salad made from any leftover boiled eggs.
Casseroles and meat.You can't have your pudding if you don't eat your meat, and at a church potluck that means fried chicken (always), country ham (a must), sliced roast beef, turkey, pineapple studded baked ham, ham sandwiches and/or biscuits (always), and definitely multiple varieties of meat-based casseroles, which nine times out of ten, will be made with some sort of cream of mushroom soup.
Hello Jell-O.
No church potluck is complete without an array of Jell-O/gelatin/grease-cutter salads. More often than not, these salads will be made with canned pineapple, strawberry gelatin and boast multiple layers of goodness in the form of cream cheese, whipped cream, nuts, and if you're really lucky, crushed pretzels. Lime Jell-O salads are also acceptable, especially if they are made with cottage cheese and studded with pimentos. Bonus points if you bring your Jell-O salad in a circular or rooster mold versus a casserole dish.
There must be a stupid number of desserts including banana puddings.
Notice the plurality of "banana puddings". This is because more than one combination of vanilla pudding mix, bananas and Nilla wafers is required for the dessert tables (tables) which will be locked and loaded with an array of homemade street treats designed to get any young child properly high on sugar. You can bet there will be more than one pound cake, several pies (pecan, sweet potato and strawberry if the weather's warm), multiple cheesecakes, definitely brownies, and something layered with pineapple, whipped cream and canned cherry pie filling. If you're really lucky, someone will bring a vat of homemade butter pecan or peach ice cream, although this is usually reserved for the church ice cream social which I hope to address in a future blog post.
Dainty eaters should not apply. Pile up that plate or someone will do it for you.
One certainty at any church potluck is that this is NOT the place to watch your caloric intake. Run an extra mile (or 5) before you go so you can pile that bad boy up because if you don't, one of two rumors will probably be started about you-- the first being that you have some kind of eating disorder or second, and this is far worse, you don't like the food. A good rule of thumb is to avoid most anything of the salad variety (Jell-O, potato salad, macaroni salad and creamy slaw notwithstanding) and go straight for the good stuff-- grape jelly meatballs, turkey and stuffing, green beans cooked in fatback, macaroni and cheese, mystery casserole, twice baked potatoes, baked beans, mashed potatoes, pigs in a blanket and anything doused in gravy. And, you've got to really load it all up or risk having a church lady snatch it out of your hand and do the job for you. Trust me. I've had this happen and it ain't pretty.

Been to a church potluck and have a story or recipe you'd like to share? I'd love to hear it.

©2012 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brown Beans, Cornbread and Eastbound and Down

Pinto beans topped with chow chow relish and minced onion-- the only way to have 'em.
2012 has been an eventful year, to say the least. February alone handed me a rejected cookbook proposal and an out of print cookbook. This type of rejection isn't easy for any writer, but it definitely stings more when suddenly the entire planet seems to be tweeting, "So excited! I just signed my first cookbook deal!" While I'm happy for everyone's success, I'm also still trying to find my place amongst an ever-changing and finicky industry.

The good news is, my first book, "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining" which was originally published by Ten Speed Press back in 2006, is in my hands as I've had the rights reverted back to me, an option that many publishing companies offer writers once a book has officially gone out of print.
I'm truly proud of this book, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to bring our family's recipes, tall tales and entertaining tips to dinner tables all over the world with making a few ducats in sales at the end of the day serving as icing on the cake (an almost unheard of concept in today's over-saturated, underpaid world of food writing). Additionally, I was lucky enough to have a great editor and a fantastic publicist to help me see the book through several years and a couple of reprints. Yet, White Trash Gatherings was published over six years ago, long before the onslaught of blogging and social media. Back then, I co-marketed the book through thankless in-person book signings, radio, television and print coverage, and *aghast* a monthly email newsletter. I can only imagine how things would have played out differently in a world led by Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogging and self-marketing.

So, here I sit with this book of mine that could possibly be on the cusp of a sort of renaissance due to many factors including the success of a certain genius of a show, "Eastbound & Down" along with plenty of other prime time TV trailer-related shows. For more about the "White Trash Cooking" meets Kenny Powers connection, check out this LA Weekly piece by food writer Jen Garbee who juxtaposes Micker's original cookbook to Eastbound's colorful characters, highlighting the inherent comical beauty that lies in a combination of "insult and entertainment".
Fact is, when White Trash Gatherings was originally released in 2006, it was not particularly well received by mainstream media. We had a terrible time getting anyone to blurb or endorse the book, especially food writers, authors and experts who specialized in Southern cooking, and for the life of me, I couldn't get a review in any major publication (keep in mind I had big publisher's marketing team behind me, too). In the beginning, I thought there was simply little interest in the book's concept (i.e. spiral bound, low-brow humor and recipes, and shoddy photography by yours truly). It was later that I found out no one wanted to touch the book because of its title.
Not only did I hear this firsthand from several fellow journalists as in, "I really love the book, but my editor would fire me if I featured it", but I got a true taste of the vitriol two single words can incite when I did a 30-plus radio book tour where either the interviewer was lambasting me for writing something so horribly offensive or the callers were. Toss in some nasty emails, multiple venues and book stores that refused to host book signings because of the title, and even a few in-person altercations, and I'm shocked the damn book sold at all.

Most of the people who took issue with the title never advanced past the cover page. I did countless interviews where it was clear the host hadn't so much as read page one. So much for the "don't judge a book by its cover" thing, I guess.

Yet, today is a new day, and Lord knows the food writing world has changed considerably since 2006 with some arguing that the web has become so engorged with foodie everything that it has actually come full circle. Fact is, the world of food is ever-evolving and that will never change. If you want a career in food writing, you'll need to hop that raft and ride it on down the river with everyone else, and that often means finding nontraditional ways to feature your work, which is where I hope to take things.
It's abundantly clear that Southern cooking is trending (by the way, I HATE HATE food trends, but that's another discussion). I think it was when I saw this that I realized that herb roasted capon has officially been replaced with chicken and dumplings, at least for 2012. While Southern cooking (or as my family calls it: country cooking) has graced many-a-table for generations, it is now clearly a hot commodity whether you're talking restaurants, media or current food movements that could potentially change the culinary landscape as we know it, so why not jump on that bandwagon while it's still rolling?

In all honesty, I am still in the planning stages of what I'll be doing with the content of "White Trash Gatherings". Perhaps I'll be publishing some snippets on my blog or maybe I'll look into something more digital. White trash recipe app anyone?

Whatever I end up doing, I'll know that it's all mine, and that's something I can be proud of.  I'm excited to share bits of my book with anyone who appreciates good country cooking, a couple of laughs and who doesn't give two you-know-what's about semantics.

Meanwhile, how about a recipe for beans and cornbread? Recipe courtesy of this little book I know....

The Senator's Brown Beans and Fatback

Serves 10-12

1 (16-ounce) package dried pinto beans

1 slug of salt fatback (about 2 x 2 inches) or 1 to 2 meaty pork ribs

1 1/2 quarts water

Salt and pepper

Put beans and water in a cast-iron cooking pot on medium heat. Wash the salt off the piece of fatback and put it in a microwavable coffee cup and cover with water. Microwave on high for 30 seconds or so, then turn the fat over and do the same for another 30 seconds. Pour the fatback and broth into the cooking beans. Once the beans begin to lightly boil at medium heat, lower the temperature to low, cover and cook for about 2 hours. Every half hour or so, uncover beans and give them a stir, making sure they are simmering in enough cooking liquid. If beans appear dry, add a little more water. Once beans are tender, season with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper before serving.

K.G.'s Country Grit Bread

Serves 8

1 cup plain white stone-ground cornmeal (not instant)

3/4 cup yellow self-rising cornbread mix

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons sausage, bacon, country ham, or pork chop drippings (Crisco or half butter and half Crisco will work as substitutes)

1/4 cup plain white stone-ground grits

3/4 cup water

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Sift white cornmeal, cornbread mix, sugar, salt and baking soda into a big mixing bowl. Add fat drippings to a cast-iron cornbread pan (or muffin or cornstick pan) and warm it on the stove. When drippings are melted, tilt pan so the sides and bottom are well greased. Then pour off and reserve two tablespoons of drippings.

Mix grits and water in a bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stop and stir and then microwave again on high for 3 minutes and set aside. The grits will be about half done, but that's OK. Whisk egg in a bowl. Then mix egg with buttermilk and add to the dry ingredients. Stir until the batter is well mixed but still a bit on the firm and dry side. Add the reserved pan drippings and grits. Mix all of the ingredients well with a large spoon. (If grits and water have cooled, reheat for 30 seconds before adding.) Your batter shouldn't be too dry or too wet, but somewhere in between.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. (Cornsticks take slightly less time.) Your grit bread is done when a nice, golden brown crust has formed. Now, all you need to do is get a big slab of butter and dig in!

Cooking Tip: Leftover grit bread makes mouthwatering fried cornbread. Just heat up a griddle or cast-iron pan and drop in a small bit of butter. Then fry up your leftover cornbread wedges until they are nice and golden brown.

©2012 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
Pin It Now!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Smoke It, Cure It, Pickle It: Pasture RVA

House made Tasso, Saucisson and Lomo at Pasture RVA
Ok, Richmond. This is where it's at, and sue me now because I'm about to rave like a blubbering little girl about the house cured and smoked meats, pickled vegetables and fish that's going on at Chef Jason Alley's newest spot Pasture located on an up-and-coming stretch of E. Grace Street in downtown RVA.

I grew up picking at relish trays. There wasn't a Sunday supper at my Granny Boohler's house back in Princeton, West Virginia, which is ironically a hop and a skip across the border from where Jason Alley grew up in Dublin, Virginia, that didn't involve her busting out her very best depression glass and filling it with homemade bread and butter pickles, pimento stuffed olives, mini dill pickles, celery sticks, and if we were really lucky, some homemade pimento cheese-- think this:
It goes without saying that I get real warm and fuzzy when it comes to platters of pickled anything, so when we hit Pasture last night, the house made pickled cauliflowers, beets, green beans and bread and butters were at the top of my list. This piquant combo was eventually drowned in a shot of Virginia Gentleman chased with another shot of said vegetable's pickling juice (a.k.a. a Pickle Back), which any good Southerner needs to try at least once.

As pickle-ly as our first nibbles were (we got pimento cheese served with Ritz crackers as well, which is a whopping $2 during happy hour--more on that later) it was the house-cured and smoked goodies that definitely had me. The charcuterie platter featured a Spanish-style cured Lomo, a French-influenced Saucisson, and a stupid good Cajun Tasso (my personal fav) alongside a lovely savory meets sweet homemade pate, more pickles, and what appeared to be a made-in-house stone ground mustard. Since, Chef Alley and his charcuterie expert compadre and Chef de Cuisine, Joe Sparatta, had just spent the day touring the Edwards Ham facility in Surry, Virginia as evidenced by some drool-worthy tweeting, I'm figuring this is where they're getting their pork, making this a full-on, Granny-approved expression of meats, especially since her version of charcuterie often consisted of bacon, country ham and sausage patties.
Now, onto the fish.

The uber-whimsicle deconstructed house-cured salmon over an "Everything Bagel Cream Cheese" studded with bits of crunchy bagel bits and accented with pickled red onions definitely hit it. Just when you think, how on earth can anyone bring something new to the often overdone smoked salmon app, Pasture does it.

So, about that happy hour. We were there at 6pm, and there were plenty of spots at the bar, which to be honest, totally baffles me, if only for the fact that all of their snacks are half-off (they are normally $4), so you can nosh away at an array of goodies for less than the cost of a Big Mac. They also have $2.00 beer specials and $2.00 off all other drafts and a $5 white and red wine. There's some good mixology going on over there as well with a specially priced cocktail of the day. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 5-7pm, so get thee there stat and stop complaining about your budget.

In other news, word has it there just may be a collaborative dinner party in the works slated for sometime in June to be held at Pasture, which will feature some seriously high-profile chefs including James Beard Award winning Chef's Sean Brock and John Currence as well as several others yet to be announced. Give a "Like" to Pasture's Facebook page for more on this event.

The Basics:
416 East Grace Street  Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 780-0416

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Niner Estates Wine Dinner at Wild Ginger RVA

Wild Ginger's Yellowtail Sashimi. Simple yet elegant.
Last night, the man and I made the trek southbound to Wild Ginger for an intimate wine dinner hosted by winemaker Amanda Cramer of Niner Wine Estates, a LEED certified family run winery in Paso Robles. With only about 20 or so folks in attendance, we spent the evening gabbing at communal tables while some stellar juice flowed and Wild Ginger's resident chef, "Chef Ken" , who hails from Malaysia, created some seriously bold food pairings to accompany the wines.
Chef Ken's Malay roots went into full effect with his "Golden Star", a 12-hour sweet and savory curry and galangal-based broth laden with hand-rolled dumplings filled with Alaskan King Crab, scallops and prawns. Accented with a handful of cilantro, which has got to be a tough one to pair with any wine, the dish worked surprisingly well with Niner's 2008 Sangiovese, a lighter-style red (almost Pinot Noir-ish in some ways) that boasted a whole mess of tart black cherries. Definitely daring, but fun.
Next up, was the "Uni Star" consisting of broiled eel wrapped around a mixture of spicy avocado and shrimp topped with a few sprinkles of panko crumbs. Here is where things got really interesting. This spicy/sweet dish was paired with Niner's 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. An oak-y, tannic, big California red paired with broiled uni glazed in a sweet and salty unagi sauce you say? Yup, it worked, and I can now fully confess that I am no wine expert because I have no earthly idea why.
Our last course pairing made the most sense with a braised rack of lamb coated in red miso paste and Chef Ken's "favorite meat broth from home" paired with Niner's 2006 Fog Catcher, a delightfully peppery blend of French oak barrel aged Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot that winemaker Amanda Kramer describes as "Cabernet Sauvignon to the nth power!" This wine is a big-un and was a natural choice for the slightly gamey lamb.
In all honesty, I didn't know much about Wild Ginger's wine events before last night, but after chatting with some folks over there it looks like they plan to make them a regular occurrence. In fact, there just *might* be a Malaysian Street Foods dinner in the works featuring some real-deal Malay foods whipped up by the man himself, Chef Ken, IF they can convince him to do it. In the meantime, you can always head over to Wild Ginger and get your hands on a couple of Malay-styled fried jumbo soft shells (pictured above). We actually ate these for dessert because evidently a four-course wine dinner just wasn't enough. *snort*

At any rate, if you haven't checked out Wild Ginger, I recommend trekking across the bridge if only to hit up the bar, which has a decent happy hour, plus great lighting which seems to make everyone look 10 years younger--bonus! And while you're there, see if you can convince Chef Ken to do the Malaysian street foods dinner.

The Deets:
Wild Ginger
3734 Winterfield Road
Midlothian, VA 23113
(804) 378-4988
Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30
Mon-Thurs 5-10
Fri-Sat 5-10:30
Sunday 5-9:30

Pin It Now!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...