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Anchovies, anyone?

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 7.23.45 AMWho eats anchovies? Those salty, slimy, oily little fish sold in metal tins – no thank you. Many times before ordering pizza for friends or family, I’ve asked what they like on pizza. And often the reply has been, “Anything and everything, except anchovies.” I’d never consider anchovies on pizza.

The only way I’ve ever eaten these little fish is in salad. A few minced anchovies, combined with mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and Dijon mustard to make the dressing, adds zing to a Caesar salad’s unique flavor. It’s one of my favorite salads, but I can’t see the dark, reddish-brown, unappetizing minced fish.

And then I learned about fresh anchovies. While travelling in Italy recently, Lucca, our tour guide in Cinque Terre, suggested a traditional Italian meal at his friend’s restaurant, Teverna del Capitano. The waiter offered our group of seven a three-course meal: salad, fried fish, and pasta.

Sliced tomatoes with basil leaves and mozzarella balls drizzled with olive oil. Delicately battered fried seafood, fresh from the Mediterranean Sea only a hundred yards from our table. Calamari, shrimp, white fish, and anchovies. And clam and mussels pasta, topped with pesto and olive oil. All sounded delicious, especially shrimp, except I couldn’t imagine yummy delicately battered fried shrimp on a plate with yucky, stinky anchovies.

“Fried slimy anchovies?” I said to Lucca, who was seated beside me.

“Probably not like anything you’ve eaten. These are fresh. Probably caught this morning,” he said.

When the fish platter was passed, I chose several large shrimp, a couple of calamari strips, and fish. The whole anchovies, without heads, were silver and light gray, but didn’t tempt me.

On his plate, Lucca used a fork to split, beginning at the tail, a four-inch long anchovy. Then he lifted the tail and the skelton to leave two narrow strips of white and flaky meat. “You’ve right,” I said, “I’ve never seen or eaten an anchovy like that.” Lucca ate half and gave me half.

Oh my. In an instant, every preconceived notion I had about anchovies vanished. Mild, light, tender. Not salty. No strong fish odor.

“That’s delicious,” I said. “Show me how to get the bones out.” Deboning an anchovy was as easy as Lucca made it look. The flavor was better than shrimp and a squeeze of fresh lemon brought out the taste. I pushed the other fish aside and ate anchovies as fast as I could debone them.

I now know the processing of anchovies gives this fish its bad reputation. Because they are small and have a high oil content (a healthy oil), they don’t transport well. So anchovies are cured and packed in barrels of salt for several months and the white flesh turns a brownish red color.

Will I give fillets of anchovies packed in tins another chance? I don’t think so. I can’t get past the look: slimy and an unappetizing color. But when offered fresh anchovies, I’ll be the first in line.

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Best Wintertime Eating

What’s better than a bowl of hot soup for supper on a cold, winter day? I’m not a soup snob. I’ll eat almost anything that’s served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, but I have favorites.

My go-to canned soup has been around since 1897. Talk about standing the test of time! Campbell’s condensed tomato soup was first marketed 121 years ago. Campbell’s first produced ready-to-eat soup in 1872, but its condensed soup wasn’t introduced until years later. Tomato soup was one of the few canned foods Mom bought when I was a kid, and it was a cure for whatever ailed me. Mom added about half a can of milk and heated it on the stove in a pan. I’d crumbled soda crackers on top and practically lick the bowl.

Now one of my Grands acts as if she’s getting a treat when offered tomato soup. At age 10, she makes her own. She dumps the thick, red mixture in a bowl, adds a little water, and heats it the in microwave. As far as Lou and I are concerned, only Campbell’s makes tomato soup.

My go-to soup recipe is White Chili. I discovered more than twenty years ago on the side of a can of Bush’s beans. I figure a recipe written on a can label in size 9 font, so small I get out my magnifying glass, must be good. Why would a company print a recipe for their product that wasn’t good? I open a few cans, dice cooked chicken, and heat everything in a pan, bake a skillet of cornbread, and it’s supper. I’ve tried other and more complicated white chili recipes, but always come back to this one. (https://susanrray.com/recipes   It’s listed at the bottom of the recipe page.)

My all-time favorite soup isn’t canned or printed as a recipe.   Mom’s vegetable soup. She had everything needed on hand, but the ingredients were never exactly the same. She opened a jar or two of her home canned tomatoes and added whatever vegetables she’d saved from leftovers. Maybe a spoonful of lima beans, a serving or two of corn, a cup of green beans, some black-eyed peas. Vegetables that she and Dad had grown in their backyard garden, harvested, preserved, and Mom cooked. Then she froze leftovers, no matter how small the amount, in a plastic container that was labeled vegetable soup leftovers.

After all the leftovers were in the soup pot, Mom added cubed white potatoes, a chopped onion, and sliced carrots, if there were any in the refrigerator. And then she’d reach in the cabinet for her secret ingredient: two bay leaves. A dash of salt and black pepper, and an hour later, Mom served the most delicious soup I’ve ever eaten.

I do my best to make Mom’s vegetable soup. Freeze leftover veggies. Can summer tomatoes, specifically for soup. Add everything to the soup pot that she did, even bay leaves, and it tastes almost the same.

Yes, cold weather calls for hot soup. Don’t you agree?

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It’s Corn on the Cob Time

“We’ll save Elaine’s corn. She only ate half of it,” I said while Husband gathered dirty plates after supper with Daughter’s family. Elaine, my six-year-old Grand, had completely cleaned one side of an ear of corn; the other hadn’t been touched.

“Want to save mine?” My Grand’s older sister asked. Corn kernels dotted the ear she held. A few here. A few there. The corncob had been attacked from all sides with no rhyme or reason. I shook my head. Looking at Elaine’s half eaten ear of corn, her sister said, “How does Elaine do that?”

Elaine, like many people, eats corn by rows. Starts at one end and eats a whole row, or two or three, to the other end. People eat corn differently. Some people eat around the cob. Chomping all the kernels while rotating the cob. Some bite in a hit or miss pattern.

And there are just as many ways to cook corn on the cob. I grew up eating boiled corn. Dad pulled the ears from the corn stalks in our garden and shucked each ear. My chore was to remove the silks. Mom heated a pot of water while I struggled with thin, damp strings wedged between the kernels and rows. Mom carefully eased several ears, some silks intact, into boiling water. Then she set the timer for 20 minutes.

The cooked corn was starchy and chewy. I thought it was good until Mom discovered that corn boiled for only five minutes was better. Tender and juicy.

I’ve cooked corn many ways. Boiled for a few minutes as Mom taught, roasted, and microwaved. To roast, pull the shucks off and remove the silks. Slather the kernels with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and ‘redress’ with the shucks. Or just cut off the brown silks and don’t’ shuck. Either way, place corn ears on a medium hot grill for about fifteen minutes.

Microwaved corn is fast. For years, I removed the shucks and silks and placed the ears in a flat baking pan. Added about ¼ inch of water and covered tightly with plastic wrap. Cooked on high about 2-3 minutes per ear.

Now I leave the husks on and cut off the brown silks. Microwave about 2 ½ minutes per ear. To hold cooked corn, roasted or microwaved, I wrap it in newspaper and place in a thermal bag. Shuck just before serving and the silks almost slide off. Roll each ear over butter. I gave up spreading butter on hot corn a long time ago.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to eat corn on the cob, but I have definite ideas about cooking and seasoning. Less cooking is better, no matter how it’s cooked and there are more ways than mine. Removing silks is easier after cooking in the husk. Butter and salt are ‘musts’. Black pepper is optional.

And I know fresh corn on the cob is mighty fine eating and if you eat in rows you might have leftovers for another day.

 

Favorite Shopping Market

 

My favorite grocery store opened in May. Selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Beef butchered here in Tennessee. Bakery items: fried pies, sour dough bread, poppy seed muffins. Homemade candles. Honey. Cut flowers. All local. Available at the Community Farmers Market, 201 Mahler Avenue.

I hate grocery shopping. I psych myself up to push a cart down store aisles. What a freedom to get to choose, I tell myself. How fortunate to buy what’s on my list. While I force myself to do week-in, week-out grocery buying, shopping at Farmers Market soothes my country girl appetite and soul.

Saturdays are the days everyone shows up. All the vendors. All the shoppers. It’s like Saturdays when as a kid I walked with Granny to town in Byrdstown. She stopped on the sidewalk to talk with friends, and I spent my dime for an Archie comic book at the drugstore. For a down home gathering and the widest selection, go to Farmers Market on Saturday

Because the pavilion is available for vendors Monday- Saturday, anytime I drive near Mahler Avenue, I swing by. Monday morning, 9:00, I didn’t really expect to see sellers, but I hoped for one tomato for a BLT. Parked was a green pick-up truck piled with corn. I’m hooked by one vendor selling one item and I was the only customer.

“Good morning,” a strong looking young man greeted me as he shucked heavy thick leaves off an ear of corn.

“Good morning. Looks like you’ve been busy. Picked this morning?” I asked.

“Yes, mam. Peaches and cream. It’s pretty good.” He nodded toward the one ear he’d completely shucked. Yellow and white kernels glistened. Golden silks. Not a single worm.

“How much?” I asked.

“$5.00 a dozen.” Didn’t I pay $4 a dozen last year? And not long ago, $3? Hadn’t I bought corn from him before? I asked his name.

“Lance,” he said and nodded. Thick corn leaves fell and Lance stacked light green leaf-covered ears of corn. “I’ve sold a lot corn for several years. Right from this truck.” I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my pocket. Lance counted a baker’s dozen and put thirteen ears of corn in a plastic bag.

As I drove home, I thought of a sign my mother kept on the wall of her business, Ruth’s Flower Shop, in the 1960s. Something like, ‘If folks only knew the time and money spent to grow flowers, they’d gladly play the price.’ I can only guess the time and money spent to break the ground, plow, plant, fertilize, weed, remove suckers, gather, sell. For about forty cents an ear, I can bite into tender fresh-picked corn.

Most Saturday mornings I stroll through Farmers Market. I take home bags of vegetables and fruit. Last week I made a plan with a vendor to buy twenty pounds of cucumbers to make pickles.

Farmers Market is open through October. I just wish the vendors sold everything on my shopping list.

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Peanut Butter Sandwich – Anyone?

 

images       The grape jelly jar was empty so I searched the pantry for something to make a sandwich. Peanut butter and raspberry jam? Orange marmalade? Molasses, thick and grainy? Perfect. Peanut butter and molasses on whole wheat bread may have been the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Peanut butter is a staple at my house. A spoonful of peanut butter and a cup of coffee, with a little cream, and I’m good to go for a few hours. I first reached for the peanut butter jar those early mornings when I was teaching and in a rush to get out the door and needed protein. I licked the spoon clean as I drove across town to school.

Have peanuts and peanut butter been around forever? According to National Peanut Board, the peanut plant probably originated in South America; pottery was shaped in the form of peanuts as far back as 3,500 years ago. Africans introduced peanuts to North America beginning in the 1700s and they were a commercial crop in the 1800s, first in Virginia. During the Civil War, both armies subsisted on peanuts as a high source of protein, and after the war Union soldiers took them home. In the 1900s, peanuts and cotton were the South’s commercial crops.

There’s evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to ground peanuts into peanut butter. In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter and later a St. Louis physician developed a smooth peanut mixture as a protein substitute for his patients who had poor teeth and couldn’t chew meat. In 1904, peanut butter was introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair. So who came up with the famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It’s believed that the U. S. army made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich poplar during World War II.

And a pb & j sandwich is a favorite with young and old. The basic sandwich is classic, but peanut butter combines with almost anything to make a sandwich. Honey. Marshmallow cream. Apple slices. Banana. Brown sugar. Some people even make a peanut butter sandwich with pickles and lettuce. Husband’s choice is peanut butter, Miracle Whip, tomato, and a thin slice of onion.

Peanut butter shows up in many things we eat. Celery stuffed with peanut butter and decorated with raisins. Cookies. Candy. (Reece’s peanut butter cups are my favorite.) Cakes. Pies. Ice cream. Pancakes. Granola bars. Pretzels. Doughnuts. Spread on bagels and English muffins. The list extends to peanut butter sauce for chicken and Asian stir-fry, which sounds as unappetizing as Husband’s sandwich.

I grew up eating the traditional sandwich: grape jelly and smooth peanut butter on white bread, cut into two triangles. I’d wager that most every kid, except for those who have nut allergies, eats at least one pb & j sandwich every week. And for those with allergies, there’s sun butter, a sunflower seed spread that’s tastes like peanut butter. Most of us, 94% of Americans, have at least one jar of peanut butter at home the Peanut Board says. Americans eat three pounds of peanut butter per person every year. (If you don’t eat your share, I eat enough for several people.)

There are recipes for deep-fried and oven-roasted and grilled pb & j sandwiches. Seems like a perfect lunch on a cold winter day. For now, I’m sticking with my new favorite: pb and thick, grainy molasses. And when I run out of it, I’ll try fresh molasses or whatever is in my pantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Corn from Farmer’s Market

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.04.07 AMHusband and I bit into ears of fresh corn. Peaches and cream. White and yellow kernels. Our first corn this summer and bought at Cookeville’s Farmer’s Market.

“It’s kinda’ crunchy. Maybe next time I’ll cook it a little longer,” I said.

Husband wiped his chin with a napkin. “This is about perfect.”

Yes, about perfect. There’s nothing like fresh from-the-field veggies and once again, I’m so thankful to those who grow crops and bring them to town to sell.

What’s the better way to eat corn on the cob? By the row or around the cob? Chomping from end to end by rows, I eat every single kernel. But some prefer to rotate the cob and start eating at the thicker end saving the most tender and smallest kernels for last.

Anyone use corn picks? Plastic, yellow, and shaped like an ear of corn, the corn picks I used as a kid are hidden away in the back of a kitchen drawer. And now bright colored holders with threaded prongs to screw into the cob or stainless steel corn holders are available to buy. Most times I forgo the picks. I really don’t mind a little corn juice running down my arm.

Butter? Salt? Butter for me, please, and roll the ear on the butter. The hot corn glides and the butter melts between kernels. Afterward, I’m left with a strange looking stick of butter, but it still spreads on hot cornbread. Salt? It depends on the sweetest of the corn. Really sweet corn just needs butter.

I grew up eating sweet yellow corn. Husband likes white Silver Queen. But neither of us are corn snobs – we like it all. The fresher, the better.   The moment an ear is pulled from the plant, its sugars begin to change into starches. If you like that starchy flavor, cook corn several days after it’s been picked.

Did anyone else’s mother boil corn for twenty minutes? It was well done. A bit chewy and starchy. To cook a few ears, I cut off the silks with scissors and stick the shucks and all in the microwave. Two minutes per ear for tender, crunchy kernels. Or try grilling corn in the shuck with the grill cover closed for about 15 minutes, turning the ears about every five minutes. Roasted brown kernels and delicious.

It’s easy to take off the silks and shuck warm microwaved corn. I saw an online video showing how to cut off the stem end and push the cooked ear of corn out of the shuck. It takes practice and patience and I haven’t mastered that trick. I slice off the thicker end and easily remove shuck and silks together.

As I’ve been writing this column, I’ve wonder why we say ‘ear of corn?’ Nothing about corn looks like an ear.  According to Wonderopolis, a national nonprofit organization to help adults and children learn together, ear comes from the ancient word “ahs” which meant husk of corn. So did the word ear mean corn before it referred to an organ for hearing?

I buy the freshest, sweetest corn offered at Farmer’s Market, even though the price, $5.00 per dozen, has increased this year. That’s only forty-two cents per ear, a serving, and I’m quite happy to pay. I’m really glad the farmers plow the ground, plant seeds, hoe plants, gather corn, haul it to town, and spend days selling it out of the back of their pick-up trucks.

Summertime is even better when eating a fresh ear of buttered corn.

It’s Just for Whipped Cream

urlMy most favorite newest kitchen gadget is fun and it makes delicious whipped cream. When I watched a friend pour heavy cream into a canister and seconds later squirt fresh whipped cream on strawberry shortcake, I was hooked. “Your Grands will love it!” Kathy said. “I can’t believe you don’t have one of these.”

So I put whipped cream dispenser at the top of my birthday wish list last summer. “What’s that?” Husband asked. “It’s just for whipped cream?”

“Lots of really delicious whipped cream and it keeps in the refrigerator for almost two weeks and our Grands and I will love it. They can squirt their own.” I tried to justify the cost.

“Whipped cream tonight!” I said, when I ripped open the package. I had bought a pint of heavy cream in anticipation of serving it with birthday cake. But that wasn’t to be. I’d neglected to notice that chargers were needed. Chargers filled with N2O, nitrous oxide, and sold specifically as whipped cream propellant.

I eagerly waited for the delivery of chargers and the day they arrived I was as giddy as a kid with a new puppy. That night I poured cream in the metal canister, added a little powdered sugar and vanilla, and Husband dispensed the N2O charger. Following the manual’s directions, he shook the canister exactly six times and then, as a test, I pressed the nozzle toward the kitchen sink.

Whipped cream splattered the sink. Husband’s turn. More splatters. On the next page of the manual, the directions for operation were specific. “The whipper must be held “headfirst” (with the decorator tip facing vertically downwards!) and the lever must be operated gently.” It worked! Holding the canister vertical, not at a 45-degree angle, I sprayed whipped cream into a big serving spoon and licked it clean.

We’ve eaten whipped cream on brownies, ice cream, banana pudding, cake. All desserts are better with real cream. A little cream makes my morning coffee perfect. And the Grands do like my new gadget. A lot.

Last week, our five in-town Grands ate lunch with Husband and me, and after lunch Lou, age 6, asked, “Can we have a treat?”

“Well, we still have some ice cream cake,” Husband said.

“With whipped cream?” David, age 10, asked.

“Sure.”

“Can I do my own?” eight-year-old Lou asked.

Husband nodded and put slices of the frozen cake on plates. He shook the whipped cream canister and helped Lou hold it straight down. David stood close waiting his turn to squirt cream.

And as Lou told her mother later, “I squirted the whipped cream and there was a giant whipped cream explosion and it went everywhere.” Yes, a whipped cream explosion.

I was at the kitchen table with my back turned, helping the younger Grands put away their lunch plates. I heard a loud swoosh and Lou scream, “Oooohhhh!” Husband, Lou, and David were covered with white blobs. Face, hair, clothes. The floor, the stove, kitchen counters – everything within a few feet was splattered.

The shocked looks on Lou’s, David’s and Husband’s faces quickly changed to surprise chuckles and then to hysterical laughter. What a mess! And what laughing!

“I don’t know where to start,” Husband said. David and Lou licked whipped cream off their arms. Eventually, the mess was cleaned up and the Grands ate their ice cream cake, sans whipped cream.

Like I said, the gadget is fun and makes yummy real whipped cream. But when it’s almost empty, watch out.