Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Simple Joy of A Southern Christmas

Ask anyone what their favorite food is and I guarantee if they’ve had Southern, they’ll place it at the top of their list.

Southern food is the perfect comfort food and Christmas was all about comfort.

Here are some of the things that I loved about being back in the South again.

The Ham
Yes, Ham is a holiday classic and actually, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I could do ham any time. It’s one of my favorite meats.

Soak a ham overnight in apple juice to remove the salt and change the juice once or twice.
Before you cook the ham rub it with an orange, stud it with cloves and during baking baste it with cider.

Once the ham is cooked, deglaze the drippings with brandy (as little or as much as you want) and reduce it to sauce.

We also did sweet potatoes which are not my favorite but hey – nothing that a lot of butter and brown sugar can’t cure.

My son got the River Road Cookbook (first edition) which I think is one of the best, old Louisiana cookbooks. If you want to know how to cook perfect white gravy, you have your choice of thin, medium or thick.

Presents: We all (see I’ve slipped back into my southern drawl again) got kitchen toys and I continue to be inspired that people are so passionate about cooking together.

Like Pizzas…and we cooked a lot of them.

Jessica’s Pizza Dough

3 cups warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
2 tsp salt
7 1/2-8 cups flour

Mix first 3 ingredients in mixing bowl. Add in yeast and salt. Then add in flour. Knead all together and put in large bowl. Cover for 2-4 hours. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or bake on a preheated pizza stone for 7-10 minutes at 500.

Jessica prebaked the pizza crust in a 350 oven for about 7 minutes, took it out and topped it and then put it back in the oven for another 13 minutes. All of her pizzas were delicious. We especially loved the BBQ chicken of which my son was the pizza chef.

We also preheated a pizza stone for 45 minutes at 500 degrees and cooked one for 7 – 10 minutes just so she could taste the difference with the pizza stone. We agreed that we liked the one cooked on the stone the best as there is such a remarkable difference in the outcome of the crust.

I still use my time-honored pizza dough recipe that I’ve made since 1987. It’s from James McNair’s Pizza cookbook.

Basic Pizza Dough

1 tbsp. sugar
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees f.)
1 envelope quick-rising active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm tap water that registers 110-115 degrees F.

Sprinkle yeast over water and stir gently until it dissolves, about 1 minute. When yeast is mixed with the water at the proper temperature, a smooth, beige-colored mixture results. Let stand in a warm spot until a thin layer of foam covers the surface, about 5 minutes, indicating that the yeast is effective.

To mix and knead the dough by hand, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture and the oil. Using a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the flour into the well, beginning in the center and working toward the sides of the bowl, until the flour is incorporated and the soft dough just begins to hold together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough gently in the following manner: press down on the dough with the heels of your hands and push it away from you, then partially fold it back over itself. Shift it a quarter turn and repeat the procedure. While kneading, very gradually add just enough of the remaining ¼ cup of flour until the dough is no longer sticky or tacky; this should take about 5 minutes. As you work, use a metal dough scraper to pry up any bits of dough that stick to the work surface. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth, elastic, and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Knead the dough only until it feels smooth and springy; too much kneading overdevelops the gluten in the flour and results in a tough crust.
If you have a Kitchen Aid (my son gave me one for Christmas in OSU Orange) use your dough hook and let the machine knead it for 5 minutes. Now I wonder why I waited so long to get one.

After mixing and kneading the dough, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl, turning to coat completely on all sides with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set to rise in a draft free warm place (75-85 degrees) until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes for quick-rising yeast, or 1 to 1 ½ hours for regular.

With your fist, punch down the dough as soon as it has doubled in bulk to prevent overrising. Shape it into a ball, pressing out all the air bubbles.

Top and cook in a preheated 500 degree oven for 7 -10 minutes

I also love Davanti Enoteca’s breakfast pizza. The recipe: Béchamel sauce, scallions, asiago cheese, potato, pork belly and a farmed egg on top. I’ve tried twice to make it at home (use a mandolin to slice the potatoes) and although it was good, it just doesn’t taste like Davanti’s. I can usually figure out a recipe so I’ve concluded that it must be the atmosphere at Davanti that makes their pizza taste so good.

Redrock (9916 Riverside Pkwy, Tulsa) Ribs and potatoes – another great repeat performance and high marks for their classic Margarita –

almost as good as mine and at $7 a pop, you get a drink and a half to share with your mom.

I loved the breakfast at BBDII (8218 S Harvard, Tulsa)… even if it was my son’s breakfast I loved instead of mine. Conclusion: Let your son order your breakfast. It’s a safe bet.

Classics: Claude’s Hamburgers (since 1954) and Weber’s Root Beer (since 1933).

New Classics: Cranberry Infused Vodka. This is so good in a Christmas cocktails you’ll want to start the blend weeks in advance of the holidays.

Place cranberries in bowl of food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Combine vodka and cranberries. Cover and let stand for at least 2 weeks. Strain with fine mesh sieve into a bowl; discard solids.

Transfer to sterilized bottles that seal airtight; refrigerate.

Going down to Cherry Street and my old haunt, the Petroleum Club, was memory lane, as was Cain’s Ballroom where Hank Williams Jr. has planted his star.

Tulsa has changed. Going to the Blue Dome District was a whole new Tulsa for me.

I bought my son a Christmas tree this year, cut fresh and shipped to his door. I wanted him to have the best Christmas ever.

As I do each year, I bought him some new ornaments to remind him of the year passed - his celebrated Margaritaville party, a Florida vacation where he pulled star fish out of the ocean in the early AM light, and the Cubs (another season come and gone but we still for eternity BELIEVE). Events that he can now look back on and always remember.

We spent Friday night at our number one restaurant: Flemings. (1976 Utica Sqaure). They have small plates on the menu now including my favorite: the Lamb Riblets.

A Side Trip To OKC:

Loved Pinkizels (150 N. E Gaylord Blvd)– Malted Milk and Salted Caramel cupcakes. A renowned bakery with a few surprising treats…like white chocolate candy with pecans and caramel.

OKC Memorial and Wall: Overpowering. In a place of such somber remembrance, the tranquility, at first sight, clearly took my breath away with a single view.

Eischens: does the oldest bar in Oklahoma have the best chicken in the world? Got my vote after hearing that they serve 24,000 pieces of fried chicken a week.

What’s in the recipe? Wheat flour, corn meal, salt, baking powder, sugar, paprika and a whole lot of other secret spices. Deep fry at 330 degrees for 15 minutes.

We also had Frito Chili Pie which is definitely an Oklahoma obsession although when I got back home to Chicago, I laughed when I saw that my new Saveur Magazine had posted this recipe from Mabel’s Smokehouse, an Oklahoma-style BBQ restaurant in Brooklyn.

Actually, this is one of the best chili recipes that I have made recently. It has a genuine Oklahoma kick to it.
Frito Pie

2 ½ pounds ground beef
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt to taste
2 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. black pepper
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. paprika
1 ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
3 cups whole peeled tomatoes in juice, pureed
1 10.2 oz bag Fritos-brand corn chips
Toppings: shredded white and cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos, minced red onion, sliced scallions and cilantro leaves.

Work in batched, add beef to a 6 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to heart with oil,

Add onion and cook, stirring until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Add garlic, season with salt and coo until garlic is soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add all the spices, beef, tomatoes and 1 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 45 minutes.

Divide chips among 6 serving bowls and top with chili and all of the toppings.

The Party’s Over:

In a blink of an eye, the holidays have come and gone. As always, food was a major part of our holiday journey. Remember - The benefit of eating together as a family is as significant as the food you cook.

I know your holiday was the perfect combination of tradition and magnificent feasting.

Bon Appetit and Let’s Do It Again Next Year!