Southwestern Style Tuna Salad

Mom agreed to host a neighborhood Christmas party the day before 40+ people are scheduled to arrive at her house on Christmas Eve for our annual family dinner. She called me for suggestions on finger foods; she’s already making my “fancy” chicken salad with apples and dried cranberries and I offered to whip up a batch of jalapeno-pimiento cheese and Southwestern style tuna salad.

We make this tuna salad every day at work, along with regular tuna, regular chicken, fancy chicken and cajun chicken salads. This has turned into one of my customer’s favorites and it’s my favorite way to make tuna salad for sure! Don’t let the name, or the ingredients fool you. This is not a super-spicy salad. The addition of honey and the dairy in the Ranch cuts the heat, so you’ll just have a zesty after taste. Give it a shot the next time you’re looking for something different than a plain old tuna fish sandwich!

tuna

 

  • 2 6oz cans quality tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
  • 2 T pickle relish (we use sweet at work, I use dill at home, so it’s a matter of preference only)
  • 4 pickled banana pepper rings, minced (you can get these in jars on the pickle aisle)
  • 1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (don’t touch yourself after seeding the pepper without first washing your hands!!!)
  • 2 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/3 cup + 1 T buttermilk ranch dressing (it’s best to use Hidden Valley made from a packet, but any will do)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I normally use Texas Pete’s at work and Tabasco at home)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Taste and season to your liking. If it’s too hot for you, add a little sugar. Chill well before serving. Great on sandwiches, wraps or just to scoop and eat on a bed of lettuce.

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Homemade Cornbread

Until I was asked by a reader, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never shared my recipe for homemade cornbread. I never realized so many people use a pack to make cornbread (not that there’s anything wrong with a pack, but if you don’t have one in your pantry you can easily make cornbread out of stock pantry items).

I’ve been making cornbread since I was a kid. I’ll never forget the recipe my grandmother gave me over the phone to make hers. It was, 2 handfuls of cornmeal, 1 handful of flour, 1 egg, a pinch of soda and enough buttermilk to make it wet. I’ve added butter to my recipe for a richer cornbread but I still use my grandmother’s recipe when making cornbread for dressing at Thanksgiving.

The trick to good southern cornbread is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I have several, but the 2 I use for making cornbread are an 8.5″ diameter pan (for enough for 2 people) or an 11″ diameter pan when I need enough for a few people. This recipe is using the smaller pan but I’ve made notes for the larger.

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make cornbread using a muffin pan, sheet pan, etc. The advantage to the cast iron is you get a nice brown crunchy crust where a sheet pan or muffin pan will yield a more “cake like” cornbread.

First, put 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil in a room temp skillet. Put the skillet into a cold oven and preheat to 400F. While the oven and pan are preheating, mix up your cornbread as follows:

  • 2 cups hot-rise (self-rising) cornmeal (I use white but yellow works just the same)
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I have always used non-fat cultured buttermilk because my grandmother did)

Whip up well using a wire whisk.

When the oven has preheated, remove the pan and pour the hot oil into the cornbread mix. Stir well to incorporate. Sprinkle bottom of skillet with cornmeal, lightly. This will ensure the cornbread won’t stick in the case that your iron skillet is not well seasoned. Pour the batter into the skillet. You will hear it sizzle as the batter is poured in.

Bake at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and set.

If you’re using a larger pan, double the recipe. Also, if you don’t have self-rising flour and cornmeal, put a pinch (about a teaspoon) of baking soda in for a small pan or a couple of pinches for a large pan.

I’ve got a pan in the oven right now to go with the fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and fresh green limas I have cooking on the stove. Nothing like a good country Sunday dinner!

 

Southern Fried Chicken

 

This week, I’ve been enjoying some time off from work, so for dinner tonight, I decided I’d cook up a big “country” style dinner. Nothing says country like some fried food and nothing fries food as well as my great-grandmother’s iron skillets. I have no idea their age; she received them as wedding presents in the first decade of the 20th century and they weren’t new when she received them. They were passed to my grandmother and then to me, and I treat them like they were gold plated! They NEVER have seen the inside of a dishwasher, and only when I cook something like creamed corn, do I even put soap in them. Normally, they get a swish of hot water when the pan is still hot, then they are wiped out and dried off for the next use. Because of years of this kind of use, they are slicker than any non-stick pans available on the market today.

Tonight’s dinner consisted of fried chicken, fresh lady peas, fried fresh okra, boiled heirloom potatoes with a little garlic butter, a pan of cornbread (must for a southern dinner) and a pitcher of sweet iced tea.

Since I am constantly asked how I make fried chicken with such a delicious crust, I thought I’d share that recipe with you this week. There’s really nothing special about my fried chicken, but my customers love it. Some people double bread their chicken, and I’m know to do this when making homemade chicken tenders, or frying boneless skinless chicken breasts, but for good ole’ bone-in chicken, simply follow this recipe:

1. Find a bowl (or a pot if you don’t have a large enough bowl) that’s large enough to hold the amount of chicken you’re planning to cook.

2. Wash the chicken and place it in the bowl. Cover chicken with non-fat cultured buttermilk, and let it soak for at least 20 minutes.

3. Find a second large bowl or pot. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and put into the second bowl. Using a 5# bag of flour (all purpose or self-rising, whatever you have on hand), pour the flour over the chicken. You need to use enough flour to totally incase the chicken. The chicken has to be embedded in this big bowl of flour, so yes, you’re going to end up wasting a good bit of flour in the end. Toss the chicken to coat well, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss some more and then let the chicken stay in the flour for at least 20 minutes before frying.

4. To fry the chicken, use either an iron skillet, large teflon coated skillet (if that’s all you have), a stock pot or a deep fryer if you have one. Get the grease good and hot. On the stovetop, I usually cook on medium high. In a deep fat fryer, 375F is ideal. To test and make sure your oil is hot enough, sprinkle a little flour in and see if it fizzles and bubbles. Cook the chicken in one even layer (if using a pan) for 8-10 minutes, then flip and cook 8 more minutes (actually your cooking time will depend on the thickness of your chicken and if it’s white or dark meat). White meat cooks faster than dark meat, so to make sure your chicken is cooked thoroughly, invest in a digital meat thermometer.

White meat chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165F. Dark meat requires an internal temp of about 180F or it will be pink on the bones.

Tip # 2.. DO NOT drain the chicken on a paper towel/plate. This makes the crust soggy. To keep the crust crispy and allow the grease to drain off, place a cooling rack (like you use for cookies) over a plate with a paper towel on the plate (in between the rack and the plate). Drain the chicken on the rack. That’s how we keep chicken crisp in the restaurants while holding for service and that tip works with anything fried with a crust.

For fried okra, follow the same steps, but use cornmeal instead of flour!