life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Comfort Food

Chardin, Grace Before a Meal
Looks like more rain is heading this way; the view outside is dank and drippy.  True to form I want to head to the kitchen to put something together that tastes good, is easy to prepare, and brings a satisfied warmth to the bellies in my house.

Here are a few of our favorites.

Bubble & Squeak
`Now, cheer up, Toad,' she said, coaxingly, on entering, `and sit up and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal. And do try and eat a bit of dinner. See, I've brought you some of mine, hot from the oven!'    

It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the narrow cell. ..and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry, and poetry, and deeds still to be done; of broad meadows, and cattle browsing in them, raked by sun and wind; of kitchen-gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm snap-dragon beset by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table at Toad Hall...   

Bubble and Squeak has a somewhat negligible reputation amongst foodies, which must be due to the fact that traditionally it was made up of leftover mashed potatoes and old cabbage boiled down in a pot to muculent ignominy.  We've made our version of delectably seasoned Virginia pork sausage, fresh cabbage, and new potatoes.  Quite the rainy day fare!

Take half a head of fresh green cabbage, wash thoroughly, and slice into 1/2" thick sections, chopping these in half again, and set aside in a bowl into which you've poured about 1 c. ice-cold water.  Wash and cube about 4 medium russet potatoes, leaving skins on, into pieces 3/4" - 1" in diameter.  Brown 1 lb. local sausage (Valleydale, Weinberg's, Neese's are all good choices, depending upon where you live) in a large skillet until down, lift out and let drain; pour off most of the sausage grease from pan, leaving crisp drippings.  Place the cubed potatoes in the skillet with 1 tbsp. unsalted butter and 1/4 c. water, cover and cook over medium low heat 15 minutes.  Add sausage and cabbage, layering over potatoes, cover again and steam about 10 more minutes just until cabbage is lightly done.  With spatula, lift and turn over the mixture to blend, cover tightly and remove from heat and let sit about 10 more minutes.  Serve with piping hot biscuits and butter or cornbread.  So good.

Shrimp & Grits
Nathalie Dupree, Charleston chef and former SC Senatorial candidate, has written an entire cookbook on this delectable concoctionBeing from Virginia, I'd never heard of it until I moved to South Carolina.  After my first bite I honestly wondered how I'd actually lived up to that point.  Never fails to lift my spirits, no matter how bummed I may be or how difficult the day has been.  Pure heaven defined in a china bowl.  Serve with green salad and hot tea.

Cook grits according to package directions using milk instead of water for a creamy consistency (Generally, measure 1-1/4 c. grits to about 4 c. milk, heat slowly on medium-low heat, add 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. salt, stirring often until mixture is thoroughly cooked and thickened but not lumpy.  Keep covered.  Takes about 20-25 minutes). 
While grits are cooking, brown 3 - 4 slices fresh bacon on both sides, remove, drain, crumble, set aside, reserving pan drippings.  Add a bit of olive oil if necessary to make about 1/3 c. total in pan.  Wash, peel, de-vein about 1-1/4 lb. fresh medium-sized shrimp and remove tails.  Place shrimp in pan on medium heat, turning quickly but gently with spatula as the shrimp heat thoroughly, and as they are finishing, replace crumbled bacon in pan and lower heat.  Add a splash of white wine or apple juice, 1 tbsp fresh chives, 1 clove fresh minced garlic, fresh ground black pepper, dash tabasco or other flavorful hot pepper sauce to taste.  Cover and remove from heat, let this mixture sit for about 3-5 minutes so that the flavors continue to meld.  Serve up grits in large round cream soup dish with shrimp mixture ladled over the top.  Serves 4-5 admirably.

Bean & Bacon Soup

A childhood favorite.  Great with a grilled cheese sandwich and a nice dill pickle or two.  Using freshly dried herbs gives this a monumental flavor that will bring them back for second helpings every time.

1 lb. pkg. Navy or Great Northern Beans, washed & drained
1/2 lb. smoky sliced bacon strips, cooked according to package
2-3 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
1 small white or yellow onion, minced and cooked in bacon drippings until clear, drain and set aside
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
6-8 c. water
2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp snipped rosemary
dash turmeric, ground black pepper, salt to taste

Cook beans according to package directions in large soup pot or dutch oven until tender.  Add cooked bacon, crumbled, along with about 2 tbsp pan drippings from bacon, and mix thoroughly to distribute.  Add carrots, cooked onion, tomato paste, water to desired consistency, and seasonings.  Cover and cook thoroughly on medium-low heat for about an hour.  Serves 10-12.

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