Spicy Southern Collard Greens

collards

 

Lately I’ve been asked by several people, how to cook fresh greens, specifically kale and collards. I’ve already posted some kale recipes, so today I’ll share how I cook collard greens. One of the advantages of a grandmother that was raised in the country was learning how to cook all the vegetables that grew in the family garden. This recipe for collards is a little spicy, but that’s how I like mine, so if you want something with less kick, just let me know and I’ll share another recipe. This serves approximately 10 servings out of 1 pound of collards.

  • 2 qts chicken stock (can be canned, homemade or made from bouillon cube)
  • 1# collards, washed, stems removed and leaves chopped (you can eat the stems, however I tend to only eat the stem that’s near the leafy part as the stalk can be quite woody)
  • 1/4# (4oz) Applewood smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 cup red onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 3/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar

In a dutch oven, cook the bacon until crisp over medium heat. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and reserve. In the bacon grease over medium/low heat, sweat the onions until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrent, 2-3 minutes. Add the collard greens and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken stock, seasonings, tomatoes, sugar and the cooked bacon. Cook the collard greens over medium heat at a slow boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour and enjoy. Country folk call the liquid in the pot, pot liquor, and they crumble their cornbread up in it. I realize cooking the greens this long really cooks out a lot of the nutrients, so if you’re shooting for the vitamin factor, you can eat the greens after 20-30 minutes, but for a true Southern style pot of greens, you want to cook them to death. That’s when the flavors blend for the real deal.

Creole Coleslaw

creolecoleslaw

I was never a fan of coleslaw growing up, mainly because my grandmother didn’t make it and my Dad thought Captain D’s had good slaw. Sugar and mayonnaise mixed with murdered cabbage never appealed to me. It wasn’t until later in life when I had to cook for others that I grew to appreciate coleslaw, then and after I created my own version.

I have a lot of Louisiana influences in my cooking because part of my family is from New Orleans. Those flavors have always appealed to me and I use them quite often in a lot of dishes I prepare. At work we serve fish on Fridays and most people expect coleslaw with their fish, so I developed this recipe many years ago and it has become a “most requested” from my customers. Now they are begging for the recipe, so here it is.

If you’ve only eaten everyday coleslaw, give this recipe a try. It’s tart, not sweet, with just a hint of spice making it a perfect side dish for fish or BBQ.

  • 1 head of cabbage rough chopped (I prefer it chunky, not shredded like store-bought coleslaw)
  • 1 bell pepper, minced
  • 2 tbsp dill relish
  • 1 large tomato chopped
  • 2 tbsp Creole mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I use Kraft, if you’re used to eating mine at work)
  • 2 dashes Tabasco or Texas Pete’s hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seed
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, vinegar, sugar, celery seed and cajun seasoning. To the wet ingredients, add the cabbage, bell pepper, tomato and dill relish. Toss well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Roasted Acorn Squash

classic_baked_acorn_squash

I grew up eating delicious roasted fall squash, especially acorn and butternut. Because I love them, I often cook them at work for my customers. I also cook them to educate my customers, because there are a ton of people that grew up in the South that have never tasted a hard cooked squash. I’ve given out a lot of samples to get people to try them, people that now want to know how to cook them.

Cooking fall squash is really quite simple. You simply cut them, scoop out the seeds (fall squash have seeds like pumpkin which is in this same family), butter them and roast them. A good hour in a 400F oven will do the trick, but I’ve got a shortcut that I’ll share in this recipe. This recipe works for butternut or acorn squash. Either can be cooked by simply splitting in half, or you can cut them lengthwise as I do at work. Not only does this decrease the amount of time needed to cook them, it allows you more servings out of the squash, so it’s entirely up to you how you break down the squash depending on what you’re shooting for. You can simply half it and fill it up with butter and give everyone a half, or slice it up and give everyone a few slices. By slicing it, you simply cut down the cooking time.

slicedsquash

 

For two servings you will need:

  • 1 acorn or butternut squash, halved and scooped of seeds
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

In a glass baking dish, arrange the squash halves and add 2 tbsp per half of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on HI for 6 minutes. This will soften up the squash and speed up your cooking time. If you’re slicing the squash instead of halving them, microwave for 4 minutes.

Drain the water from the dish and flip the squash over, cut side up. Drizzle the butter over the squash and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in a 400F oven for 20 minutes, until the squash are caramelized and golden brown.

Country Gravy Potatoes

One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.

In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.

First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).

Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).

For the gravy:

  • 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).

If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.

Mushrooms Au Gratin

Thanks to Betty Crocker, most people associate the words “au gratin” with cheese sauce, but in the culinary world, au gratin is a cassoulet with a browned crust on top, usually breadcrumbs and cheese. This recipe is delicious but not low fat. It’s great with a grilled steak or a beef tenderloin so it’s usually a dish I reserve for dinner parties or holiday gatherings. Nothing like a nice piece of beef tenderloin with this dish and some truffled mashed potatoes to impress your friends and guests! If you love mushrooms like I do, give this one a try!

  • 3 pounds sliced crimini mushrooms (sold in grocery stores as Baby Bells)
  • 1 pound thinly sliced red onion
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 8oz butter, quartered and melted
  • 8oz heavy cream
  • 8oz Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a baking dish with PAM. Add one layer of mushrooms to the bottom of the dish. Top with 1 layer of onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with some parsley. Drizzle with 2oz of melted butter and 2oz of cream. Repeat the layers 3 more times. Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown.

 

Garden Vegetable Breakfast Casserole

 

About this time of year, anyone with a back yard garden is looking for creative ideas to use up the abundance of zucchini, fresh tomatoes and herbs. Here’s a wonderful Saturday morning recipe for breakfast casserole, loaded with color straight from the back yard and a perfect recipe for a brunch. This makes for 12 servings, so cut it down as needed for a smaller family.

  • 1 12oz package of bacon, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 6 eggs lightly beaten
  • 4 cups frozen hashbrown potatoes, thawed
  • 2 fresh zucchini, grated
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp Tabasco sauce

In a saute pan, cook the bacon and onion until the onion is tender and the bacon has browned.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the hashbrown potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes and toss well. Add the bacon and onions along with the pan drippings to the potato-vegetable mixture, then mix in the cheeses, Tabasco, beaten eggs and the fresh basil.

Spoon mixture into a 9″x13″ glass baking dish sprayed lightly with PAM. At this point I usually salt and pepper the top of the casserole as well.

Bake in a 350F oven for 35-40 minutes, until casserole has “set” and is just beginning to brown.

Serves 12 but can easily be cut down to 6 or 4 by equally dividing the ingredients.

California Swiss Casserole

 

At work, I feed about 400 people each day and I try to have as little repetition as possible in my vegetables during the week, so I have to get creative and come up with different, less common recipes. The inspiration for this casserole came from one of my grandmothers, who always made her broccoli casserole with Swiss cheese. This is more of a “mixed vegetable” casserole. If you don’t have the fresh vegetables on hand, you can substitute 2 bags of California Blend mixed vegetables, available frozen at most supermarkets. That’s where the name of this recipe comes from.

California blend is a common foodservice vegetable blend of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that I’m sure you’ve had, or seen, at catered dinners, luncheons, etc. Usually, the vegetable blended bags contain “less than superior” cuts of vegetables with a lot of stalk and stem, so I try to make this with fresh vegetables whenever I have time to plan ahead.

  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 1# bag of baby carrots
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 can Cream of Celery soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onions
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 cup French Fried Onion pieces (like you put on a green bean casserole)

Cook broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in a pot of lightly salted simmering water for 10 minutes or until tender but still colorful. Drain. Add the onions and Swiss cheese to the vegetables.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, flour, soup, milk, melted butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mix well. Fold in the vegetables.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased (I spray with PAM) 9″x13″ pyrex baking dish.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then sprinkle with the French fried onions and bake 10 minutes more, until casserole is bubbly and onions are browned.

 

Bacon Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but work has been terrible lately and my creativity has been zapped by the time I get home!

At the local street market this past week, we picked up some cute little patty pan squash, so for dinner tonight, I decided to stuff and bake them. There are several ways you can stuff squash.. with vegetables, rice, meats, you name it, but since I was cooking these as a side dish, I went easy on the filling. Many people see these squash but have no idea what to do with them, so give this recipe a try if you’ve got some patty pan laying around.

  • 4 small patty pan squash
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup PANKO breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

In a small glass baking dish, add 2 tbsp olive oil and set aside. Prep the squash by cutting the top 1/4 off (reserving tops), then using a melon baller, scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/4″ all around. Finely chop the squash centers.

In a saute pan, cook the chopped bacon until brown and slightly crisp. To the bacon, add the onion and squash and cook 4-5 minutes, until onion and squash are tender. Add the wine, garlic powder, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more, deglazing the pan.

Pour vegetable mixture into a bowl and add the PANKO, chopped spinach and Asiago cheese. Toss well to combine. Spoon breadcrumb/vegetable mixture evenly into the patty pan squash “cups”. Place the saved tops back on the squash (to keep the stuffing from getting too brown while it bakes). Bake at 375F for 30-40 minutes.

Caramelized Onion & Tomato Tart

With the abundance of delicious tomatoes coming to market these days, I decided to dust off an old recipe from my “Secrets of the Chefs” days when I worked for Bruno’s Supermarkets as an in-store personal chef for customers. This was one of the recipes I created that was featured in weekly store promotions and one of the dishes I prepared on Good Day Alabama. It was my take of the traditional Pissaladiere pastry. It’s really quite simple to make and it can be tweaked to your specifications. Although not in this recipe, I will usually brown and crumble some really good Italian sausage on top of the tart if I’m in the mood for meat, but the recipe is wonderful as written. It really showcases the flavors of fresh summer Alabama tomatoes!

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed enough to work with
  • 3 pounds red/purple onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 jar Kalamata pitted olives, sliced lengthwise
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced (or 2 pints grape tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise if making when fresh garden tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • Sprigs of fresh Thyme

Start by cooking the onions over low heat in the olive oil in a large skillet, until soft (this takes about 30-40 minutes). Be careful to not brown the onions. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and continue cooking until the water from the tomatoes has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large cookie sheet (with sides) with parchment paper.

Working on a lightly floured surface, form the puff pastry sheet into a rectangle the size of your cookie sheet. Work a little of the dough up the sides of the pan to create an edge once it bakes. Dock the dough (pierce the surface all over with a fork if you don’t have a rolling docker).

Put the onion, tomato mixture in the sheet of pastry, smoothing it out to cover the entire surface (but not the sides of course). Sprinkle top with cheese (and cooked meats if so desired). Finish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and cook for 20 minutes more. Tart will puff up as the pastry cooks and will turn golden brown.

Enjoy the tart either warm out of the oven, or at room temperature if you prefer. You can also cut the tart into multiple bite-size pieces and use as an hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party.

Sauteed Swiss Chard

Yesterday, we hit the farmer’s market at Pepper Place, which specializes in locally grown, organic vegetables, eggs and meats along with a variety of baked goods and offerings from local artisans. For those of you unfamiliar with Birmingham, Pepper Place is the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant that was saved from the wrecking ball and turned into an assortment of artisan shops, antique stores, architectural stores, design firms, etc. Needless to say, we stocked up on all sorts of wonderful organic vegetables. Included in our haul were heirloom tomatoes (which I have a great salad recipe for that I’ll share in a future post), rattlesnake beans, yellow wax beans, lady peas, fresh okra, silver queen corn, heirloom potatoes and some beautiful Swiss chard.

I’ve never eaten, or cooked, Swiss chard before. Hard to believe as a chef but it’s not something I grew up eating, and a lot of my cooking revolves around memories of time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen. She grew up on a farm and fresh vegetables were a staple, but chard was never one of them. Since I’m an expert at cooking greens, I figured I could come up with a tasty way to cook this chard. For those of you that don’t know (I didn’t until I started cooking it), chard is in the beet family. The roots are inedible, but the tops are one of the best sources of vitamins and minerals of all the vegetables grown today. As I was chopping up the chard, I smelled that earthy fresh beet smell, so I knew I’d like it. Here’s what I did, and it turned out wonderfully:

  • 1 bunch of fresh Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves
  • 1/2 of a Vidalia onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp bacon grease or olive oil (bacon grease would have added to the flavor but since I didn’t have any bacon on hand, I used olive oil, which is healthier)
  • 1 cup semi dry white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio I had on hand)

In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Chop the stems of the chard into small slices, like you’re chopping celery to make chicken salad. Once the olive oil is hot, add the chard stems and the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes or until chard stems and onion are tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, then add the chopped chard leaves and cook one more minute to wilt the leaves. Sprinkle with salt, then pour in the white wine (which will flash off the alcohol) and cook 1 minute uncovered, then loosely cover the pan (a fitted top tilted to let out steam works just fine) and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

That’s all I did and it was delicious. The taste profile was more like fresh spinach than other cooked greens, which is why you don’t have to boil this on the stove for hours on end like you do with turnip greens, collards, kale or Poke Salad. Yes, here in the south, we cook that wild weed called poke salad. The only thing I’ve never seen anyone cook (although I’ve heard some people do) is kudzu!