Hog Jowls Day 2: Lima Bean Soup

Lima_Bean_Soup 14

My last post explained why you should love hog jowls, but today I’ve come to the  sad realization that hog jowls and lima beans probably don’t top the list of your favorite foods. They should. Your mother would be thrilled if you would finally learn to like lima beans. Even better, it’s been proven that pork fat is good for you, along with beer, whiskey, and popcorn. (Like every male in America, Fred rejoiced when I broke the news. Then he fell asleep.)

In moderate quantities pork fat can, apparently, help improve your good (HDL) cholesterol and lower your bad (LDL). I’m living proof of this; after a particularly egregious season of bacon eating a few years back, my bad cholesterol was so low, and my good cholesterol so high, that my doctor praised my healthy habits and declared me practically immortal.

Health benefits aside, this soup is just plain good. It is hearty without being heavy and  has an unexpected sweetness, like that of carmelized onions or sun-dried tomatoes. (Note that unsmoked jowl bacon, not the smoked jowls pictured here, is used in this recipe, which is why I’ve suggested guanciale as a possible substitute.)

Lima Bean and Hog Jowl Soup

4 – 5 oz. hog jowl bacon or guanciale, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large carrots, quartered lengthwise & sliced at 1/4″ intervals, or chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups turkey or other good quality poultry broth
4 cups frozen lima beans
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. dried herbes de Provence or thyme
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

Fry jowl bacon or guanciale on medium high heat in the bottom of 6 qt. or larger pot until crisp. Turn off heat & spoon out all but 2 tablespoons of fat. (Refrigerate fat for a later use or discard.) Add onion and sautee on medium heat until it is translucent, about 5- 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots, bay leaf, herbes de Provence or thyme, and salt; stir briefly until coated with fat. Saute an additional 1 or 2 minutes. Add broth and lima beans. Bring to boil on high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook an additional 20 – 25. Taste and correct salt if needed.

Squash Casserole

I’ve almost recovered from Christmas.

On December 2Silver Christmas4 and 25, my sister and I are transformed into “elves” (a euphemism for “slaves”) by our mother, as she prepares a meal that could feed 30 but generally includes around 8. Christmas Eve finds me chopping something, fluting pie crusts, making cornbread, emptying the dishwasher, washing measuring cups, and whatever else I am ordered to do. Elsewhere, cheese is grated, squash is peeled, and sage is rubbed. Flour coats clothing and floor.

My 10-year-old niece, elf in training, is lured in for occasional tasks she enjoys, such as making pie filling and peeling potatoes. My heart goes out to her. It won’t be long before my mother will have her battling a turkey-induced stupor as she clears the table and cleans out the coffee pot.

The men avoid the kitchen at all costs and skulk around the edges of the house. I’ve seen Fred wandering outside with his camera, taking pictures of cows.

They do not understand. My brother-in-law’s comment after the Christmas meal on Tuesday is a good example. By then, my sister had collapsed, exhausted, in her room. Fred huddled in a corner of the kitchen, awaiting orders: “Honey, put this sweet potato casserole in the fridge downstairs.” “Honey, would you make sure all the glasses are off the table?” My stepfather had wordlessly gathered pecan pie and coffee and retreated to the empty dining room.

At that moment, my brother-in-law sidled up to me and whispered, “I have a suggestion. Let’s all go in together and have this catered for your parents next year.”

I glared at him. “That’s crazy,” I snapped, my hair falling into my eyes as I rinsed dishes and stuffed them into the overflowing dishwasher.

He crept away.Christmas Spode

What don’t they understand? It’s what my mother said on Christmas Eve, as I was rifling around for the cornbread spoon—an ancient, battered implement used for generations, short-handled and burned in spots, and the only proper thing for stirring the batter. “I don’t care what we do as long as we’re together.” And we’ve been doing this together for over 20 years now. Every year, like childbirth, the pain and the exhaustion fade away, and what you remember is the beautiful thing you created together.

As for the cornbread—I can’t give you the recipe. It’s my stepfather’s, and his recipes are more carefully protected than some embassies in Afghanistan. Even though he’s only recently become aware of the Internet, he’s got an iPhone now (to text my nieces, who probably don’t even know how to use something as outmoded as a phone), word of my betrayal could get out. And I’ve still got a fried chicken recipe to collect.

But I can give you the recipe for the squash casserole. It’s a simple version of this Southern favorite, low on embellishment but high on flavor, texture, and cheesy goodness. Make it with people you love.

Squash CasseroleYellow squash

4 – 6 yellow squash, peeled and sliced into 2” chunks
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ – ½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ – ½ tsp. garlic salt
¼ – ½ tsp. ground black pepper
6 saltines, crushed
½ cup evaporated milk

Topping:

4 oz. (½ cup) or more sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp. butter, melted
8 – 10 saltines, crushed

Butter 2-3 quart casserole. Steam squash and onions together until tender. Drain into colander. Press out water with a fork, mashing squash and onions together.

Spoon squash into casserole. Sprinkle with garlic powder, garlic salt, and pepper, or to taste.

Stir in and saltines and evaporated milk. Sprinkle cheese over top. At this point, casserole can be covered and refrigerated for a day.

When you are ready to cook the casserole, preheat oven to 400. Mix together butter and saltines and spread over top of casserole. Bake for about 30 minutes or until topping is lightly browned. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Back

We’re back! Back in Atlanta, stuck in traffic, sweltering in the heat, wondering if our trash will ever get picked up, marveling at the number of mattresses that make their way onto the interstate. It’s wonderful to be home.

I tried to like Durham and North Carolina. I should have liked it a lot more since I went to college there and had a good experience. But my heart is in this messy, inefficient, traffic-filled, smog-coated, crowded city in the part of the world I love best, where I can drink wine outside with old friends on a warm evening, and find a Korean taqueria tucked into an industrial park and it not be the only Korean restaurant in town, and see the skyline while jogging around Grant Park (our new neighborhood), and sit on the deck at Six Feet Under and look over the cemetery, and have dozens of interesting neighborhoods to explore, and not be subject to the fashion whims of bald, graying professors laboring under the delusion that the ponytail they grew in 1972 still looks cool.

I’ll be posting on a regular basis again sometime in the coming weeks, once I get a bit more settled into my new job. Glad to be back!

On the Road Again

Today we’re in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we will spend our first anniversary skiing with my family. I am taking snowboarding lessons with my 14-year-old niece sometime this week. I hope I survive.

This is what I look like when I ski, except for the standing up part:

I’ll report on eating adventures as they happen.

Getting Our Mojo On . . .

After a day spent waiting for the plumber to take $445 so that we would have the privilege of using the toilet in our own home, we now sit here waiting for the gas company to come and turn our fireplace off. Apparently overwhelmed by the sight of plumbers running past it with giant machinery, and perhaps a bit disconcerted by the sight of the toilet sitting in the hallway, the turn-off mechanism on the fireplace decided to call it quits.

And so, two days before our first anniversary, our home fire literally keeps burning.

And so we are ordering pizza from our local favorite, Mojo.

UPDATE: The gas company came by to turn off our fireplace. The technician walked into the house, looked at the fireplace, pulled out a pair of pliers, and turned it off.

Not much mojo around here, it seems.

Mistakes I Have Made

The end of the year is a time for self-reflection, for setting new goals. My goal for 2008 is never to deceive my poor readers again. In this spirit of confession, I offer in humble penitence the greatest sins I committed in my column for my neighborhood newsletter, Oakhurst Eats, in 2007.

ONE: For December I wrote that I’d always been haunted by the image of the Christmas goose, which Scrooge sends to the “Cratchett” family on Christmas morning to replace their pitiful chicken. But after re-reading “A Christmas Carol” recently, I was horrified to learn not only that Scrooge sent them a turkey, but also that their last name is actually spelled “Cratchit.” Furthermore, the crappy Christmas bird those Cratchits were eating was–can you guess? If you said “goose, because as you said in your column it barely feeds four adults,” you would be correct. And in an extra-special touch of irony, I should note that I wrote my dissertation on–well, if you were to say, “Charles Dickens, the author whose story you got wrong and whose character names you misspelled,” you would again be correct.

TWO: In re-reading Anthony Bourdain’s brilliant if snarky and self-satisfied Kitchen Confidential (HarperCollins, 2000), I learned that my November column on stock was not entirely accurate. In his chapter on “How to Cook Like the Pros,” he writes that stock is easy: “Just roast some bones, roast some vegetables, put them in a big pot of water and reduce and reduce and reduce and reduce. Make a few months’ worth, and . . . strain it and freeze it in small containers. Life without stock is not worth living.” Not quite as easy as dumping your leftover bones into a pot and boiling, as I suggested, but if you want to make authentic stock, that’s how.

THREE: I actually moved to Durham, NC, in August, where I now write Oakhurst Eats from afar. My poor husband continues to live in Oakhurst in our house that won’t sell, so I’m still in the neighborhood frequently. Since he’s an ATL native (well, Covington, but that’s probably close enough), we should return often enough to keep up with Oakhurst until the Leaflet editors tell us to go away.

That feels better, but truth be told I’ll probably continue in my sinful ways. It’s the best a Victorianist who can’t spell the name of major literary figures can do.