Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sorghum French Toast

Any cook worth his or her salt would undeniably say a cast iron skillet is one of the most indispensable items in the kitchen. Lodge has led the way for Americans to cook honestly and sensibly for generations. The family-run company has a long history of making good cookware and giving back to their community of South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

I am proud to be included in their new book, Cast Iron Nation. Two of my favorite recipes, Sorghum French Toast and Gooey Chocolate Skillets, are between the covers. I also wrote an essay about inheriting my grandmother's skillet and what that fine pan means to me today. Bursting with 200 recipes, this book keeps cast iron pans hot from sunup to sundown.

It's not often we see Made in America anymore and Lodge is keeping that homegrown tradition alive. As one of those that continues to heat their basic black screaming hot on top of the stove and sizzle away with it in the oven, I am thankful that cast iron continues on.

Sorghum French Toast

This fancy version of French toast is as comforting and rich as it is beautiful. Right out of the oven, it’s puffed high above the skillet edge calling for a memorable morning around the table.

1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
10 oz. challah bread
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 large eggs
1/4 cup sorghum syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground ginger  
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tsp. powdered sugar

1. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with butter.
2. Slice bread into 1-inch slices. Cut each slice into 6 pieces. Arrange in skillet, crust sides up.
3. Combine milk and next 6 ingredients. Pour over bread. Chill 45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Remove skillet from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
6. Combine cinnamon and next 3 ingredients. Sprinkle over top of bread. Dot with 1/4 cup butter.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
8. Remove from oven. Use a small sieve to dust sugar over top of bread. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8

Images and recipe from Lodge Cast Iron Nation, copyright 2014. Used and reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Green Up and Pray for Spring!

This winter has been a long and cold one, no matter where you live. Thank goodness it's almost over. With spring right around the corner, take a fresh look at salads to welcome in the new warmer weather. Salads don't have to be on a leafy base. They can be filled with vegetables and bursting with a light and refreshing zing. Finding fresh English peas can be tricky, so I use frozen peas for this recipe. Try it for the first picnic of the season.

English Pea and Radish Salad

1 (16-oz.) package frozen petite green peas
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes
2 green onions, sliced (1⁄4 cup)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint, plus a few sprigs for garnish
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
3⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1. Fill a large bowl halfway with water and ice. Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add frozen peas, and cook 1 minute; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. Combine peas and next 3 ingredients in a bowl.

2. Whisk together olive oil and next 4 ingredients until well blended. Pour over peas; toss to coat. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 8 servings

Hands-on Time: 10 min. Total Time: 30 min.

Recipe from Southern Living Around the Southern Table by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House, 2012)

(c) 2014 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Day Our Skillet Went Cold

Each year on January 27, I re-post my tribute to my grandmother Tom. She will be missed as long as I'm living.

It was on this day, only 11 years ago, that our family lost my beloved grandmother Tom. I’ve never written about that day. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve spoken of it with more than a handful of people. There are three days in my life that each and every detail live on so vividly in my mind and this is one of them. I was with her on the exact moment she no longer was on this Earth. It is equally as precious as the minutes when my children were born.
Tom was healthy her entire life, much more so than any other person I’ve known. She cooked daily until she was 100, never had a problem with arthritis, and often wore Nike running shoes the last few years of her life. Only weeks before her death, she was confined to a hospital bed, but still, uttered not one single complaint. Just like always, she never missed a moment to say, “I love you,” or to hold our hands.
I have always felt that Tom and I were connected on an even deeper level than that of a grandchild and grandparent. Our pure love of the kitchen bound us like nothing else could. It was her cast iron skillet filled with fried chicken that first taught me how comfort and love could be tasted and shared without saying a word.
For years, we cooked together, ate together, and talked for countless hours about recipes, cookbooks, and our loves of fat back, Coke in bottles, and Nathalie Dupree. One of her finest days was when Mama brought her to cook with Nathalie and me in the very kitchen she’d seen on television so many times. Simply by sharing a stove, she taught me how imperative the act of cooking can be to a state of real happiness. Being blessed with the gift of sharing the moment when her soul went Home seemed natural and was the ultimate last chapter in our long story together.
My parents and I were with her all day, talking of everything we could think to say. We tried to fill the empty air with subjects that would keep all of our minds off the fact that her death was eminent. We talked about food, work, family, friends, and memories of days gone by. The nurses kept coming in and out, checking Tom’s pulse and blood pressure, which of course reminded us of why we were all there.
A family friend, Jane Knowles, came in to visit Tom one last time. She held Tom’s hand, stroked her hair, and sang Holy Ground with a voice that was nothing short of an angel’s. It was during this magnificent song that Tom left us and went on to meet the Lord she so dearly loved. It’s as if she waited for Jane and her hymn to say goodbye to all of us. Recalling these few minutes of witnessing my Tom drift away leaves me short on words and overflowing with tears.
In memory of Tom and her life so very well lived, I share her fried chicken recipe that has brought me comfort hundreds of times. It is with her skillet that I cook on and never forget.

Tom’s Fried Chicken

1 (3.5 pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt and cover with cold water. Soak the chicken for 45 minutes. 
Remove the chicken from the salt water and drain on paper towels.
Heat the shortening in an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a large deep skillet to about 360 degrees.
Sprinkle the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper.  Coat each piece completely with flour, shake off the excess and gently place the chicken in the hot shortening.  Fry 10 to 12 minutes per side or until golden brown, about 25 minutes total. Fry chicken in batches to prevent the skillet from becoming crowded. 
Check the temperature of the oil occasionally.  If the oil is too hot, the chicken will be too brown on the outside but not fully cooked through.
Drain fried chicken on a cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet.

Serves 4

Copyright 2014 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Top 10 Quotes from Cooking Classes

After teaching hundreds of cooking classes over the last 12 years, I've heard quite a few interesting words from my students. I keep a small notebook in my office to record the most memorable. I came across the notebook recently and had several laughs reading over them. Here are a few of my favorites.

1.  “Do you have a good recipe for hedgehog stew?”

2.  “The chef is now firing up the big green apple.”

3.  When I was eight months pregnant with my first child, a gentleman in my class said,  “I’m surprised they let you in the kitchen with knives. Aren’t your hormones really up and down?”

4.  “I won’t cook without drinking.”

5.  “I didn’t know hot oil could burn you.”

6.  “I can’t cut up that chicken. It reminds me of a little baby.”

7.  “I need a left-handed skillet, please.”

8.  “I don’t cook because it makes me smell like food. How do you keep your clothes and hair from smelling like food all the time?”

9.  “If you start with cold water, it will come to a boil faster than hot water.”

10. “I don’t want to cook. I just came to eat.”

Copyright 2014 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making Merry with the Slow Cooker

The tree is glimmering in the night, the air is filled with hints of cinnamon, the gifts are ready to be wrapped, and the sweet joys of Christmas are everywhere. Those holiday perks also mean there's little time to cook supper on busy days. It's truly the most wonderful time of the year, but it often leaves the least amount of time for things like Wednesday night meals. The saving grace is simple. It's the slow cooker.

Instead of racing into the dreaded 5:00 frenzy, I choose to make supper while the mornings are fairly calm and the house is quiet. It's always amazing when the peeps come home in the afternoon and the smell of supper is already wafting throughout the house. It makes for a relaxed mother and one much more likely to be in the holiday spirit.

On several occasions I've turned to Kendra Bailey Morris' Carolina-Style Pork BBQ Sandwiches for nights when I could really use a few elves of my own. After trying these, you might just find yourself adding her new book, The Southern Slow Cooker, to your Christmas list.

Carolina-Style Pork BBQ Sandwiches

Serves 10 to 12 (about 8 cups of meat)

2 large onions, sliced
5-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider or apple juice

2 cups cooking liquid (reserved from the slow-cooked pork)
½ cup water
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper

Buns, slaw, and hot sauce, for serving
Spray the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray.
Put the onions in the slow cooker. Make slits in the pork roast and insert 
the garlic cloves. Rub salt, pepper, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes into the meat. Place the pork in the slow cooker fat side up and pour in the 
vinegar and apple cider. Cover and cook on low for at least 10 hours and up to 12 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender.
Transfer the meat to a large bowl and shred it with two forks. Set aside.
Pour 2 cups of the pan juices into a measuring cup; discard any leftover juices still in the pot. Let cool and skim off any visible fat. Pour this liquid into a saucepan. Add the water, ketchup, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, paprika, dry mustard, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker and add 1 cup of the sauce mixture (more if you like it wet). Give it a stir and set the slow cooker to warm until ready to serve.
Serve the pork straight from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon, along with buns, slaw, and hot sauce. Serve the additional sauce on the side.

Reprinted with permission from The Southern Slow Cooker by Kendra Bailey Morris, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Photo credit: Erin Kunkel © 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving Cupcakes

In the true bounty of Thanksgiving spirit, I take pride in offering two desserts at the end of the meal. This year, we're pleasing each sweet tooth with Carrot Cake Cupcakes alongside my Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. Cupcakes make the children feel like they have a dessert just for them and they always get excited when it's time to make the batter. If there's one thing I'm thankful for, it's having my peeps in the kitchen with me.
No matter what dishes fill your table or which dessert you end the day on, there's only one rule to remember for Thanksgiving. Be Thankful! We are all blessed in some form or fashion. Be grateful for what you have and each and every gift you've been given. It's a little piece of this holiday that we should celebrate daily.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups peeled and finely grated (by hand) carrots (about 8 carrots)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 oz. box powdered sugar, sifted
Pecan halves, toasted

Preheat oven to 325°. Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners. Combine flour, allspice, ginger, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs until well blended. Add sugar, oil, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add flour mixture, beating just until blended.  Add raisins.
Pour batter into paper lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3 full.
Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until set. Cupcake tops will appear shiny. Cool completely on wire racks.
For frosting, beat butter and cream cheese until blended and fluffy.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Gradually add powdered sugar.  Beat just until blended.
Spread frosting evenly over cooled cupcakes. Top each cupcake with one pecan half.

Makes: 30

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Dennis McDaniel

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Funeral, a Pound Cake, and a Lesson on Manners

Photo by Jennifer Davick
To the man that was driving behind me on highway 316 headed out of Atlanta last week, I know you are not from here. There’s no way you are Southern and you acted the way you did. Your behavior is absolutely unacceptable.

I could spend all day writing about things in the South that we do better than anywhere else in the world. But if there’s one thing we can do with the utmost of manners and grace, it’s a funeral. As I drove out of the city several days ago, I heard sirens as I neared a red light. All the cars around me collectively slowed to see where the sound was coming from. With a glance in the review mirror, I saw blue flashing lights and the parting of traffic as if God himself had separated the sea. Behind the pulsing sapphire glow was a hearse.

I was in one of two lanes filled with cars headed home and we split. I pulled off the road to create an open area down the middle line for the funeral procession to squeeze through. Every car but one was doing the same. The car behind me never moved. It sat squarely in the middle of the lane. The procession had to inch around the rude driver. The blue lights passed, then the hearse, then a series of black town cars. I could then see a long stream of cars with headlights shining in the light of day to pay respects to someone who was no longer here.

I sat, just as everyone else did, waiting to see a car that no longer had headlights glaring. After only the third card following the hearse, the person behind me blew the horn and never let off. As the mourners passed, the horn continued to sound. The entire road sat still. Someone's life is over and their family and friends are grieving. Shouldn't we all be able to stop and wait a few minutes? There was no way my car and my manners were moving until the lights were no longer shining.

I’ve been in the procession of my fair share of funerals and there’s nothing quite like riding in a cloud of shock and grief and seeing absolute strangers pull to the side of the road as you pass by. It’s respectful and thoughtful.

As far as the man driving the car behind me, bless his heart. Maybe he was from far away and had no idea what was happening. A hearse is hard to recognize, right?

A sweet recipe is obviously in order. Again, bless his heart.

Pound Cake from Heaven

Perfect for a funeral or any other time. Pound cake makes all things better.

11⁄2 cups unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
1 tsp. baking powder
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 (5-oz.) can evaporated milk
2⁄3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Garnishes: sweetened whipped cream, fresh strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer, and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 6 minutes). Gradually add sugar, beating until blended. Beat 1 minute more. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition.

2. Combine flour and next 2 ingredients. Combine evaporated milk and cream; add to butter mixture alternately with flour mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch (16-cup) tube pan.

3. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 1 hour; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour). Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 12 servings

Hands-on Time: 15 min. Total Time: 3 hr., 30 min.

Recipe from Around the Southern Table by Rebecca Lang
(Oxmoor House, 2012)

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.