Monday, July 20, 2009

Our Daily Greens

Every single day of my childhood, we had greens. This is not an exaggeration. Every single day, my father made some type of greens; collards, turnips, mustards, or cabbage. Either they were fresh or they were reheated but they were ubiquitous. To keep the supply constant, my father had a garden in the back yard.

In fact, no one could walk into our front door without walking out the back at his absolute insistence to see his prized garden. It was bountiful. The black soil of St. Louis produced okra that grew to 6 feet tall! We had onions and peppers, tomatoes and squash. We even had a plum and a couple of peach trees.

My Uncle Love (his real name) knocked on our door every morning between 5 and 6 AM for a cup of coffee and came back in the evening for "something boiled." These men loved their vegetables! There was always something boiled at our house and that something included without fail, some type of greens.

My father's recipe was simple, first he boiled salt pork in about 4 cups of water. The salt pork came in about 6x6 inch square and was wrapped in wax paper. He would use about 1/3 of this for each batch of greens. While the meat came to a boil, he would wash usually two bundles of greens to remove the grit and to tear away the stalk. Unlike greens you find in many restaurants, my fathers greens never had the crunchy stalk, only the tender leaves.

Once the greens had been cleaned in 3 baths of fresh water and torn into approximately 2 inch squares, he would add them to the boiling salt pork base. He would then add just enough water to cover the greens and put the top askew on the large pot.

My job, too often, was to make the cornbread. Although I very much wanted to, we would eat no Jiffy, not for these men, not ever. The cornbread must be prepared from scratch and cooked in a cast iron skillet. It could be baked,traditional hot water cornbread or it could be fried into corn bread pancakes.

While the greens cooked, and it seems to me, the greens were always cooking, life happened at our house. We watched TV, did homework, played outside often to the shouts of, "Pam, watch my greens now. Don't let them burn!"

My father was serious about the flame it had to be blue and he would demonstrate the height with his fore finger and thumb. "Let them simmer slow. Don't be in a hurry." They cooked for at least two hours but when they were done. They were, in his words, "right." He added no extra seasoning of any kind. They did not need any.

Of course today, I don't use salt pork. I use chicken broth and herbs and my greens are very different from my fathers. I often even stir fry my greens. Still although I have chosen a heart healthier approach to leafy green vegetables, there is no food more comforting than collard greens prepared with love. That is why the collard greens and soul food are synonymous.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Art of Fries

My "little" brother Edwin was a Fry Master. Indeed if levels of proficiency with the fried potato were meted out, he would be a 7th degree black belt. He mastered the proper thickness, the proper heat, the proper oil, the proper cooking vessel and the optimal cooking time. No one makes better fries than the Reverend Edwin M Coleman.

Unlike me, growing up Edwin did not have a broad range of menu items, rather he chose one lane, the fried potato and became its aficionado. We had a gadget called the Veg O Matic. As promised on its TV commercial, "it slices, it dices..." Edwin tried every shape the veg o matic would produce and settled on the 1/4 inch dice as the perfect size and shape for the perfect fry.

As for the vessel, he selected a deep cast iron skillet. he would fill it half full with an oil concoction and heat it to some perfect temperature for which he had a sixth sense. The oil was from a can kept by the stove. We had two grease cans. Recycling is nothing new to us. We had one can for fish grease and one can for everything else. Fish grease could only be used with fish, which we had every Friday night. The other can is what made food at our house special. The grease can started life as Crisco shortening. The thick white shortening is what we used to fry chicken. Once the chicken was done and when the oil was cool, we would pour it back into the can for the next deep fried opportunity. Whenever we fried bacon, the drippings were added to the chicken grease can.

This chicken grease, Crisco oil, bacon drippings combination is what purported these fries to legend. Edwin would season the potatoes before frying using salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. The oil did not burn and the fries did not flounder. They floated, turned golden and he would turn them onto a plate covered with a paper towel to remove the excess oil. On special occasions, he would fry onions with the potatoes.

Once the fries were perfect, he would quickly turn the drained hot potato onto a waiting plate and eat them while they were still hot. These fries did not need ketchup but on the rare occasion when he was willing to share his fries with me, I used it. The combination of sweet,salt, crunchy smooth, hot and cold was everything my 15 year old appetite demanded. And I marvelled at this young man's craft.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catfish and Spaghetti

You read it right, catfish and spaghetti! Almost every friday we had fish. And that fish was always fried. Sometimes we had buffalo which had a wonderful flavor but way too many bones. Mostly we had catfish, fried extra crispy. The fish man parked about 3 blocks away on Ennis and we would walk over and buy fish off his truck. The fish was wrapped in newspaper and the fish was whole. I don't think I had a filet until high school!

Now this traditional Friday night meal was accompanied by the same thing every week: white bread (in case a bone got stuck in your throat), hamburger dill pickles, raw onion slices and spaghetti. The drink was 7 up or sprite. Now this sounds strange to anyone not from St. Louis but I guarantee that this meal is a delight.

You see, St. Louis soul food spaghetti is different from what you would expect in an Italian restaurant. Our spaghetti does have tomato sauce. However, it traditionally does not have Italian seasonings, meat, or parmesan cheese. The sauce is not served on top of the noodles either, it is mixed in.

The sauce is flavored with sauteed onions, bell pepper, salt, pepper, and garlic. Depending on the cook, one may find a teaspoon or two of sugar , Louisiana style hot sauce and/or extra black pepper. When served this way, spaghetti is an excellent compliment to fried fish. (optional additional side, potato salad)

The fish, is so good, no one complains about having it every friday. The recipe is simple. Season the fish (filet, steak or whole) with salt, pepper and garlic. Shake it in a bag of Corn Meal and fry it! Fry it in a large cast iron skillet in peanut oil until golden brown and crispy.

Mmm mmm, I can see the arch from here!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Site is Up!

The Beta Version of the site is up. I added about 20 recipes and have hundreds more to go. If you have any special requests, please let me know. Bon Appetite!

The Farmer's Market

I love the farmer's market. There is so much inventory and its so fresh and so cheap! Yesterday, I purchased a huge ginger for .$26. Three bags of Panko bread crumbs at $1.39 each. Rosemary in bulk for $.30. 2 big bunches of collard greens totalling $2.29 and 3 mangos in a bag for 1.29. If I had made these same purchases at my local grocer my bill would have been 3 times as much and the trip would not have been nearly as exotic and exciting.

I am taking my kids on a field trip to the farmer's market next week. Now thats recession time fun!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Paprika Chicken

My brother Larry called and asked for my mother's paprika chicken recipe a couple of months ago and immediately my mouth started to water.

My mother prepared Sunday Dinner on Saturday night. She put the sabbath's day meat in the oven while I watched Saturday Night Live or Wolfman Jack, before she went to bed. On Sunday morning our home smelled like culinary heaven. It always promised an amazing feast which we would as a family enjoy at 1:30 after church. (We usually had to be back at church for the 3:30 program where the choir would perform an A&B selection. She was the choir director.).

One of my favorite Sunday dinners was paprika chicken and I had not prepared or thought of it in well over 10 years. Paprika chicken is baked in the oven slowly with the most basic soul food ingredients, salt, pepper,and granulated garlic. We cut up two whole chickens, seasoned the pieces generously adding paprika to each piece and our standard seasonings.

We added just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and filled the baking dish with chicken (she had 8 children). She then prinkled the chicken with a light dusting of flour and dotted the whole think with small squares of butter.

We put this whole thing in the oven, covered loosely with aluminum foil "until the meat fell off the bone." There was not much technical about knowing when chicken was done. There was no meat thermometer or timer on the stove. If the meat on the leg has not contracted up to the thigh, it was not yet ready. And if your chicken did not fall off the bone, then your chicken was not "right." And above all things in soul food, you want your food to be "right."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have been adding recipes to the site all day today. I hope to publish the site sometime this weekend. Adding the content in a simple to understand format is tougher than I thought it would be. Especially since I rarely use recipes for most of the dishes.

OK. When you try the recipes, and I sincerely hope you will, please let me know what you think.

Also, if you would like something demonstrated, I will create a video for you.

Please Note: I do not do chitterlings, so don't even ask!

Peanut Butter and Jelly on Hot Wheat Toast

I never remember a time when I didn't cook. At 5 years old, I walked home from kindergarten by myself, let myself into my suburban home, where I stayed by myself until my older brothers and sisters got out of school at 3 PM. Kindergarten in those days were half days and I went in the mornings.

From 12-3, I would draw, watch TV, read and yes, sometimes cook. No, I couldn't use the stove. I wasn't tall enough. But, I would create the most amazing sandwiches. My all time favorite then and now is peanut butter and jelly on toasted wheat bread. I called this the Pam Sandwich. Not very creative, I know. But I was five and no one in the house was making this one so when I said, Pam Sandwich, everyone knew what I was talking about.

I was allowed to use the toaster and I would put two slices in and watch until they popped up. Then as quickly as I could, my little fingers would slather on creamy peanut butter. I had to be quick and the peanut butter had to be creamy. I wanted it to melt over the edges of the bread. As the peanut butter melted, I would add the jelly. Always grape and never so much that it would plop out onto the table or me. After I carefully assembled the sandwich to beat all sandwiches. I would use the butter knife (the only kind I was allowed to use) and slice the sandwich into triangles the way I saw the mommy's do it on TV.

And then, I would eat. To this day, it doesn't get much better than the "Pam Sandwich" and a tall glass of milk.

At 9, I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal, turkey and all. Cooking was never really a chore to me. It is as much a creative art form as painting, drawing or singing,which I also enjoy. Soul food is art and baking is science. I love them both.

About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
Marketer,Foodie, Mom