Making Cracklin Cornbread

Cornbread with cracklings

When I finished my lard rendering project, I was left with about 4 cups of cracklins. Cracklins (or cracklings) are crispy bits of fried pork fat. They are pretty much just like the crispy ends of a bacon strip. Not wanting to waste them, I put them in the freezer for later use.

Cracklings or cracklins

Cracklings or cracklins

Ever since I had cracklin cornbread at Harold’s BBQ in South Atlanta, I’ve been wanting to make some at home. One exceptionally cool night last week, with a pot of veggie soup on the stove, I pulled out my cracklins from the freezer and made a skillet full.

One thing I want to make clear… you should never, ever, ever add sugar to cornbread. That is just wrong.

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Gin and Tonic – a classic cocktail

I love gin. It’s probably my favorite spirit to use in a cocktail. Tom Collins. Aviations. French 75’s. Martinis. I love the perfume of botanicals that transforms a neutral distillation of malt, rye, wheat and/or corn. Juniper berries give gin it’s predominant taste, but other botanicals can include coriander, angelica root, orange & lemon peels, anice, lavender, cinnamon, clove…even cucumber or green tea! Gin can be as complex as any single-malt scotch or vintage Bordeaux.

One of the most basic gin cocktails is the Gin & Tonic. Developed as part medicine and part refreshment in the tropical heat, the gin & tonic was introduced by the colonial army of the British Empire in India. The quinine in the tonic water was used to treat malaria and the lime was used to prevent scurvy. 

Interesting gin fact I just learned: Gin contains very few congeners, or the chemical elements, which cause hangovers. So, drink up! Science!

 I drink G&T’s because they have a light refreshing taste that are great when it’s warm enough to sit on the front porch with friends. Cheers!

Gin & Tonic 
Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour:
2 oz of gin (I use a London Dry variety, like Bombay Sapphire or Cititdelle)
Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime. Rim the glass with the spent lime.
Top with tonic water.
Garnish with a lime wedge and a few juniper berries tossed in.

Making Lemon Chess Pie – a Southern traditional recipe

The finished lemon chess pie, waiting to be served with strawberries

Do people in other parts of the country make chess pie? Even though I’m not from the Deep South, I’ve eaten chess pie my whole life. It’s hard to imagine someone not knowing about it. Brought over from England, the chess pie has been around the South for at least 200 years. Chess pie is a simple egg custard pie, made with buttermilk, butter, sugar and, uniquely, corn meal.  Variations that I’ve seen include nutmeg, vanilla and lemon for the flavoring. In the springtime, before the summer fruits start coming in, I love to make a lemon chess pie to serve with the beautiful fresh strawberries that we start to see in the market. With some newly-made pie dough in my fridge last week, I decided it was time to make a pie.

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Retro 1950’s Cocktail – The Moscow Mule

Entertaining friends for the season premiere of “Mad Men” sent me looking for retro cocktails of the 1950’s and 1960’s to serve.  Looking through cocktail guides from that time, one drink that kept popping up was The Moscow Mule.  A snappy blend of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer always served in a copper mug, it’s not really a cocktail that you see much of anymore. But during Don Draper’s time, it was very popular.

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Making Pie Crust with Lard

Pie Crust with Lard Uncooked

Sometimes, when I talk about an ambitious food project that I’m working on at home, I get the sense that people think I’m crazy. Am I that much of a food freak? Maybe I just have too much time on my hands, but I sincerely love good food and I’ve realized over the years that the best food comes from a certain amount of effort done in my own kitchen. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. Many of my friends are like-minded – spending a lot of time, energy and love on their food. I hope that you’re one of those people, too.

One thing I love to do is make pies, including my own pie crust. A homemade pie crust has a flavor and texture so superior to a store-bought crust and is so easy to make, that I never even think of buying one. If you have cold butter (and/or lard), flour, salt and sugar, you can have a pie crust dough ready to put in the refrigerator in 10 minutes.

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Stuffed Chard Leaves

When I opened up my first CSA box* of the season last week, the first thing that I saw was a bundle of colorful Rainbow Chard sitting on top. Besides being so vibrantly beautiful, they were big. Big enough to use in a stuffed roll recipe. I often make a vegetarian Greek stuffed grape leaf, or dolmades, so I decided to adapt my dolmades recipe to make stuffed chard leaves. 

Rainbow chard leaves from my CSA box

Rainbow chard leaves from my CSA box

With my chard as a starting point, I pulled fresh mint and oregano from my garden and then looked to my pantry for black rice (which, like wild rice, has a nice nutty flavor) and some Turkish red pepper flake, called Kirmizi Pul Biber, that my brother just gifted to me.

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Making Lard at Home

A jar of freshly-rendered lard

What’s wrong with lard? Nothing. That’s why you should be making lard at home.

In the 60’s & 70’s, everyone knew that butter and lard were full of saturated fats and cholesterol and if you cooked with them, you were just handing out heart attacks on a plate. My Southern mother, being the progressive person that she was, always cooked with Crisco or margarine. Why? Because science told her it was healthy! To us, lard was a bad word, connoting greasy, porky, fatty food. I’m sure the ghosts of our Southern great-grandmothers were collectively rolling their eyes at this. Why? Because as it turns out, switching out manufactured shortenings and fats for natural fats was a huge mistake. It turns out lard is a healthful fat!  

How healthful? Lard contains less saturated fat than butter, is mostly a mono-saturated fat (the good kind of fat), has no trans fats and has a high smoke point, making it ideal for frying. If it is naturally rendered, it is free of artificial colorings, flavoring or additives. It is also has an incomparable taste in a pie crust or a tamale. It’s really no wonder that chefs have rediscovered cooking with lard as a return to natural whole foods. 

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The Income Tax Cocktail

Sorry to be a party pooper, but it’s April 12th and that means that it’s the last weekend for you to work on your tax returns. So, to either get you in the right frame of mind for going through that shoebox of receipts OR to celebrate the fact that you sent in your 1040 forms two weeks ago, there is a very special cocktail for you today – The Income Tax Cocktail.

I found this vintage cocktail from the 1920’s in a great cocktail book, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haugh (aka Dr. Cocktail). The Income Tax Cocktail is basically a Bronx Cocktail with the addition of Angostura bitters. I can’t find any reference to why this cocktail was named for such an unpleasant subject, but I’m guessing the addition of the bitters was a one-fingered salute to the IRS.

The Income Tax Cocktail

1 ½ oz gin (I use Plymouth gin)
¼ oz dry vermouth
¼ oz sweet vermouth
1 oz of fresh squeezed orange juice
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist

Happy filing! Cheers!


Rincon Latino – Pupusas and Salvadoran food in Atlanta

Since we’re spending Spring Break this year in Atlanta, we’re trying to compensate for our lack of beach action by doing fun “staycation” adventures in town. Part of being a tourist in your own town means hitting up your restaurant wish list, which for us means heading to Buford Highway.

I’d read a review of a Salvadoran restaurant in Doraville called Rincon Latino. I didn’t really know much about Salvadoran food, so it seemed like a good place for a food adventure. Rincon Latino is known for it’s pupusas, a specialty of El Salvador. Like a Mexican torta, a pupusa is a thick masa flatbread filled with different kinds of meat and cheese, then cooked on a griddle.

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The Algonquin Cocktail

Algonquin Cocktail

Winter is refusing to leave Atlanta on-schedule this year. With a bit of nip still in the air at night, it makes me want to linger a bit longer in the “brown liquor” season. The Tom Collins and Mojitos will have to wait a few more weeks, I guess. In the meantime, here’s a yummy rye drink to hold us over… The Algonquin Cocktail.

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