Hearty Hoppin’ John

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Technically this is our second New Year’s Eve living in South Carolina, but the first one barely counts. We had just moved here, in a whirlwind month that not only included moving to a new state, but also getting married, honeymooning in Puerto Rico, and spending Christmas with Ally’s family. I’m pretty sure there were boxes strewn about, half unpacked, while we watched the ball drop to close out 2015.

This year we decided to put a little bit of effort in and make a New Year’s Eve dinner. I strongly considered going Asian and honoring their traditional New Year’s noodle dishes, representing longevity for the next year. But instead, I decided to pay homage to our not-so-new-anymore home with southern Hoppin’ John.

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In researching Hoppin’ John recipes, I learned that like pimento cheese (see similar ravings in that post), everyone’s own grandma prepares it the correct way, while everyone else’s grandma is doing it incorrectly. Here are the facts regarding Hoppin’ John as best I can tell: It contains black eyed peas, although certain specific areas substitute field peas or red cowpeas. The peas are what makes Hoppin’ John one of the lucky New Years dishes of the American South – the peas represent coins and thus, wealth in the new year to come. The dish also must contain rice and some form of pork product. The dish almost certainly originated with slaves brought to the US from Western Africa. And most agree that the dish’s American origins began in the Carolinas, more specifically in the South Carolina Low Country. Now for the controversies: Which pork product to use – bacon, ham, pork sausage? Which spices, if any, to use? Where did the name originate? Does the rice have to be cooked in the same dish?

Therefore, I make absolutely zero claims to the authenticity of this Hoppin’ John. In fact, I guarantee you that it is not authentic. I skimmed probably 20-25 different recipes for inspiration, but did not follow any one in particular. With the base of the aforementioned black eyed peas + rice + pork, people toss in all sorts of different additions. I certainly did. This is quite a stretch from the plain, historic version that only contained the three base ingredients. But to be honest with you, I doubt I’d really enjoy plain rice, peas, and bacon.

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Happy New Year! We’re looking forward to 2017 and hope everyone else is too!

Hearty Hoppin’ John

Ingredients: 
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepped, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of dry rice
  • 6 cups of stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 15 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 large spicy sausages, sliced
  • 4 cups of cooked black eyed peas*
  • 2 tbsp hot sauce (we like Frank’s)
Instructions: 
  1. Slice bacon into lardons. Toss into a large pan with tall edges. Cover and cook over medium heat until the bacon begins to release its fat, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the onions and carrots to the pan and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Re-cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Now add the garlic. Cook uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the next 10 ingredients to the pan (peppers through sausages). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover the pan. You want the liquid to be just slightly simmering while the lid is on.
  5. Uncover and stir briefly every 15 minutes. At the 30 minute mark, add the black eyed peas.
  6. The dish is done when the rice is fully cooked. This took us ~45 minutes. You may require slightly more or less time, and/or slightly more or less liquid.
  7. Before serving, stir in the hot sauce.

*You may choose whether or not to use canned black eyed peas or soak/prepare dried peas yourself.

Serves ~10 people.

Post dinner notes: We soaked our own beans, instead of using canned ones. We overdid it in the preparation phase, and the beans were fairly mushy. Next time, we need to be a little more attentive when preparing dried beans.

Scalloped Potatoes

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I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve never made scalloped potatoes before today. Maybe that’s not that weird for most, but growing up my mother made them at least a few a month, and they’re one of my favorite side dishes. I wish I had my mother’s recipe, but she didn’t include that one in the family recipe book. (Also, apparently I’m too lazy to call her…) So, in what is generally an aberration for me, the girl who loves following recipes, I sort of winged it. Therefore, if there is a “correct” way to make scalloped potatoes, this probably isn’t it.

The potatoes turned out just how I like them thought luckily! Creamy, with a little bit of sauce. Cheesy and flavorful! And an easy complement to most main courses. What more could you ask for?

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Scalloped Potatoes

Ingredients: 
  • 2 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, halved & sliced
  • 3/4 cup stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp flour
  • 3 medium Russet potatoes, peeled & thinly sliced
  • 6oz Pecorino cheese, shredded
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a medium-sized pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.
  3. Once the butter has melted, add the the onions. Stir to coat in the butter. Top with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper.
  4. Saute the onions over the medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until they are just beginning to brown, roughly 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, combine milk, stock, paprika, salt, and remaining 1 tbsp of butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a very low simmer.
  6. Whisk the flour into the liquid mixture. Add the flour very slowly and whisk vigorously and continuously.
  7. Allow to simmer until the liquid has thickened slightly, and reduced by roughly half. This will take ~10 minutes.
  8. Butter the bottom an oven-safe dish. Then place half of the sliced potatoes in the dish. Top with all of the sauteed onions. Next, layer half of the cheese. Follow this with the remaining potatoes. Pour the liquid evenly over top of everything. Lastly, top of the dish with the remaining cheese.
  9. Cover tightly and place into the oven. After 45 minutes, remove the lid/foil. Bake uncovered for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Serves 4

Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese

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South Carolina is known for many dishes in the world of all things culinary. Favorites include low country boils, boiled peanuts, shrimp & grits, sweet tea, cornbread, and of course… pimento cheese!  South Carolinians seem use a fair amount of mayonnaise in their pimento cheese, but instead of Duke’s or Kraft’s mayo we made garlic truffle aioli.  Cheddar is the standard cheese for a classic SC pimento cheese, but we swapped it out for some flavorful Italian classics, Asiago & Pecorino.  The aioli sounds fancy, but in reality, it’s just homemade mayo, and probably one of the easier things we’ve made along the way.

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Ally loves pimento cheese, and its abundance down here has made her quite happy. Every time we buy it though, we wonder why we don’t just make some ourselves. “It can’t be that hard… right?” Turns out, it’s not! There isn’t a standard recipe for traditional pimento cheese, because everyone’s grandmother has the original recipe that no one else’s grandmother can beat. But the basics boil down to cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimentos. What could be easier? Or easier to modify and fancify, like we did here!

[Note: this makes a large batch. Good for a big picnic, large party, or handing out in jars to several friends!]

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Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese

Ingredients: 
  • 2 lb Asiago cheese
  • 1 1/3 lb Pecorino cheese
  • 7oz jar chopped pimentos, strained
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 17oz truffle oil
  • 2 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
Instructions: 
  1. Shred all of the cheese and set aside.
  2. Prepare the aioli. (You can do this by hand or with a stand mixer like we did since we were making a large batch. The process is essentially the same.)
    • By hand: Separate out the egg yolks from the whites. Whisk together. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil. Whisk vigorously and continuously. Once the mixture has combined well, add the lemon juice and whisk until that has been absorbed.
    • With the mixer: Separate out the egg yolks from the whites. Place in stand mixer and turn on medium. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil, while the mixer remains on. Again, once the mixture is well-combined, then add the lemon juice.
  3. Combine cheese, aioli, and pimentos.
Makes 64oz.

Ramen Egg

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Winter is coming.

It comes slowly to South Carolina, but it’s been below freezing the past few nights and the high today was only 35. For South Carolina, that’s basically the equivalent of spending a few days north of the wall.

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(And if you don’t get that reference, you should go binge-watch Game of Thrones. I’m sure you have a few days off somewhere over the holidays.)

Anyways. Cold weather = soup weather. Selim wanted to use the stock we made from Thanksgiving bones to make ramen. It was delicious and the perfect dinner for tonight. We’re not 100% confident in the recipe, so we’re going to tinker with it before sharing the whole ramen recipe on here. But we did succeed with the egg that goes in the ramen!

I’m sure the delicious egg that is frequently found in big bowls of ramen has a real name, but we’ve lovingly been referring to it as “ramen egg.” Without further ado…

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Ramen Egg

Ingredients: 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Water
  • Ice
Instructions: 
  1. Heat a pot of water so it’s simmering, but not boiling.
  2. Gently add the eggs to the pot.
  3. Cook for seven minutes. You want the water to be simmering continuously, but do not allow it to come to a boil.
  4. Remove and place immediately into a bowl of ice water.
  5. Leave eggs in the ice bath for three minutes.
  6. Remove from the ice bath. Peel the eggs.
  7. Place eggs in a bowl with the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and 3/4 cups of water.
  8. Marinate overnight (or at least a few hours).
  9. Slice in half just before placing in a bowl of ramen.

Red Wine Braised Beef

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Now that finals are over, we have some time to make a delicious dinner and also catch up on some of our favorite TV shows, Top Chef in particular.  There was an episode where one of the chefs had an hour to make something, and she chose to use the pressure cooker to braise some meat.  We thought, “pressure cookers are cool, but you know, we actually have the time to really braise something.”  There’s something about braising – meat simmering in a rich liquid for hours on end – that always sounds good, and tastes even better!  Braising is also a lot easier to make than most people think, as there isn’t much technical skill or finesse that goes into the dish.

We made oven roasted carrots and beets and homemade truffle Parmigiano-Reggiano mashed potatoes.  The braising liquid is a great sauce that goes well on top of pretty much everything. You’ll definitely want to pair this with a starch that’ll soak up the delicious liquid so you won’t embarrass yourself by slurping it off your plate. Because you will not want to let it go to waste!

We did not use a bottle of wine out of our collection to cook with, but we did open one to drink with it. In a slightly belated celebration of our first wedding anniversary, we opened a bottle of our “wedding wine.” Our favorite vintage, of our favorite blend, from our favorite winery – King Family Vineyard‘s 2010 Meritage.

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Red Wine Braised Beef

Ingredients: 
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 6 carrots, roughly diced
  • 1 bottle merlot wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1.5 lb beef short ribs
  • 2.5 lb beef shoulder roast
  • 12 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions: 
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Cut the beef shoulder into smaller portions, roughly the same size as the short rib portions. Season all sides with the salt and pepper.
  3. Brown the beef on all sides briefly. Remove to the side.
  4. Strip the thyme from its sprig. Let leaves remain whole.
  5. Add onions, carrots, and half of the thyme to the Dutch oven. Stir to coat in the oil and scrape up any brown bits from the beef. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the garlic to the dish and cook an additional 5 minutes.
  7. Deglaze the dish with the entire bottle of wine. Adjust heat to a light simmer. Allow to reduce by half.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  9. Return beef to the dish and add the beef broth, bays leaves, and the rest of the thyme.
  10. Cover and place in the oven for 3 hours.
  11. Be careful removing from the oven. Serve over potatoes, rice, or another starch.
Serves 10-12.

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Basic Mixed Poultry Stock

We have a very specific Thanksgiving tradition… We like to steal the turkey bones. All of the bones. We gather them all up like little squirrels to take home. Sounds a little weird, but it’s the best freebie leftover you can grab! Hide those bones away in your refrigerator until you’re ready, and then you can create some stock that puts the ones you buy at the store to shame.

This is mixed poultry stock, not pure turkey stock as we’ve done in the past, because we had the bones of several smoked chicken quarters too. The same principles apply whether you have a whole turkey carcass, a bunch of chicken bones, or a combination of both.

In even better news, making homemade stock is one of the easiest things ever! It sounds a little bit daunting, but it really isn’t. Time consuming? Sort of… It’s a long process, but it’s mostly hands-off.

What You’ll Need

  • A large, deep pot
  • A large bowl
  • Bones
  • Water
  • Colander
  • Large piece of cheesecloth

How You Do It

  1. Place your bones in a large, deep pot.
  2. Cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil, but then immediately reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer, uncovered, for 6-8 hours.
  4. Cool, overnight if necessary. Skim fat and debris off the top.
  5. Return to the stove, over low heat. Once warmed through, remove the bones.
  6. Double-fold cheesecloth and place in a standard colander.
  7. Pour liquid from the pot, through the cheesecloth, into the large bowl. Do this slowly! (Two person job!!)
  8. Shake out the majority of the debris caught in the cheesecloth and return to the colander. Pour the liquid from the bowl, again through the cheesecloth, back into the pot.
  9. Repeat steps 7 & 8 indefinitely, until you feel like the liquid has completely cleared.
  10. Return the pot to the stove and bring to a light simmer.
  11. Simmer, tasting intermittently, until the flavor has concentrated to your liking.

Note – many people add fragrant, flavorful herbs and vegetables (onions, celery, etc) to the pot for the initial simmering. This will still create a lovely stock, but we really enjoy the flavor of the pure, bones only, stock.

Smoky Risotto

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You know that phrase “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? That basically describes me in a single sentence. I’d like to argue that this can be extrapolated to group pot luck settings. You know what I’m talking about… Eight friends are each bringing a contributing dish for the meal/party. No one wants to be that person who doesn’t contribute enough/as much as everyone else. But in reality, everyone is bringing a dish (or two, or five) that feeds many people, and everyone wants to taste some of everything. So at the end of the shindig, for better or worse, you’re always left with a smorgasbord of leftovers.

This raving does have a point. We were predictably victims of the too big potluck eyes for Friendsgiving. Our friend Brandon smoked our Friendsgiving turkey in his Big Green Egg. Based on the size of the egg, the boys were a little worried that the size turkey that would fit in the egg, might not be large enough to feed everyone. So we brought some chicken quarters over in the morning and smoked them after the turkey was done. [Side note: smoked Thanksgiving turkey is amaaaazing!] Shockingly, we didn’t finished the turkey, and Selim and I found ourselves in possession of an absurd amount of chicken.

Hence, we have smoked chicken in abundance for this dish. I personally would not go out and smoke a chicken just to make this recipe. Save it for a time when you have leftover smoked chicken, or snag a rotisserie chicken at the store for a substitute. Please note though, the way this is prepared, raw chicken will not be sufficiently cooked. Pre-cooked chicken is needed.

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Smoky Risotto

Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 3-4+ cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 10 oz fresh green beans, snapped in half
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 1/2 cups smoked chicken, chopped
Instructions: 
  1. Using a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, warm the stock.
  3. Add the onions and garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes. They should be soft and fragrant.
  4. Lower heat to just a bit. Add the arborio rice. Stir a few times to coat the rice in any remaining oil.
  5. Begin adding stock to the pan by the ladleful. Stir frequently until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.
  6. Add spices and stir to coat well.
  7. Repeat step 5 over and over, until the rice has softened, but is still a bit al dente for eating. It took me ~30 minutes to get to this point.
  8. At this point, add the vegetables and chicken. Stir in a double ladleful of stock and cover. Leave covered for 3 minutes.
  9. Return to your previous routine of adding stock by the ladleful and stirring until rice is soft and creamy. (Your stirring may be a bit more difficult now that there’s other stuff in the pan.)
  10. Once the texture has softened to your liking, add the cheese. Stir to combine.
  11. Taste for and add salt & pepper as desired.
  12. Serve topped with an extra pinch of cheese on top.
Serves 5-6.

Post-dinner notes: I think next time I’d add more chicken. It kind of got lost amid the rice and vegetables. I also meant to use this fancy Smoked Olive Oil, but forgot. Next time!