This is another of my favorite cookbooks. There are half a dozen recipes I often make out of this cookbook, but the two recipes I’m sharing with you today are the ones I use all the time. Oddly, though, they come from two different sections of the cookbook – from The South and from Louisiana – but for me? They’re absolutely perfect together. The corn bread is sweet and soft and amazing, the red beans and rice are warm and spicy and sexy. A great party meal because you can make most of it ahead of time (which is a rule of mine for company – I HATE cooking when I have guests, I want to be at the table enjoying myself, drinking wine, and laughing).
Southern Corn Bread
Corn bread is always best when it’s fresh out of the oven and that’s easy to do when you’re having company. Put it in the oven just in time to take it out and put it on the table. You can reheat the leftovers in a 350 degree oven until they’re warm.
Butter to grease pan
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
3 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter (you could use shortening, but butter is better!) at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10 inch cast iron skillet (I use an 8 by 8 inch baking pan instead) and place it in the oven to heat.
2. In a large bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use a pastry blender (my first choice), two knives, or fingers to cut in butter to make a coarse but even meal.
3. In a medium bowl beat together egg and buttermilk and pour into cornmeal mixture. Stir strongly but briefly, scooping from the bottom, just until thoroughly blended.
4. Pour mixture into heated baking pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until top is lightly browned and corn bread shrinks from the side of pan.
Serve warm. (Makes 16 squares or 8 large wedges)
Red Beans and Rice
You may already know this, but this is a traditional Monday night meal, probably because everyone spent all their money on the weekend and needed something cheap and filling, though I always seem to make it on the weekend to share with friends. The beans have to be soaked overnight and when cooked should be refrigerated at least for another night (or up to four nights). So if you’re having company on Saturday night, start prepping the beans as far ahead as Tuesday or as late as Thursday night.
1 pound dry red beans
4 quarts water
2 meaty ham hocks
8 cups beef or chicken (I always use chicken) broth
4 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 pound andouille sausage (if you can find it, if not, any spicy coarse sausage will do)
1 1/4 pound tasso (it’s unlikely you’ll find this unless you’re already in Louisiana – I use smoked ham)
2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 chopped bell pepper
1 bunch green onions (chopped)
1 tbsp minced garlic
salt and black pepper to taste
cooked hot rice
hot pepper sauce, to taste (I always have Tabasco, but sometimes use others as well)
1. Wash beans and soak overnight in the water. Next day, drain beans and wash well under cold running water. Place beans, ham hocks and stock in a heavy 6- to 8- quart stockpot or Dutch oven. The beans should be covered by about 2-3 inches of liquid so add more if you need to. Bring to a boil, skim any scum that collects on the surface. Reduce heat to simmer and add bay leaves, thyme, cayenne, and black pepper. Simmer for at least 30 minutes (or however long it takes you to prepare the vegetables).
2. Chop the andouille (or other hot sausage) into 1/4 inch pieces. Place it in a frying pan (cast iron is best) with tasso/smoked ham. Fry for 5 minutes to render the fat and brown the meat. Add chopped onion and celery and cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add bell pepper, green onion and garlic. Cook another 5 minutes then add to the simmering pot of beans. Continue to cook beans until they are soft and some begin to fall apart, about another hour. Allow the beans to cool, refrigerate, covered overnight or for up to 4 days. (This is one of the reasons this is such a great company dish – all the work is done way ahead of time and you can just sit back and relax with your guests.)
3. When ready to serve, bring beans to a simmer. You might want to add a little extra andouille (or other hot sausage) to the beans at this point for about 10 minutes (but I cook it all at once). Taste the beans for salt and pepper to taste, add if necessary. I also add a little vinegar at this point.
Put rice, cornbread, red beans, and hot sauce on the table. If you’re serving it with wine, use a robust red like a Cabernet, maybe a Shiraz or a rich Merlot, or any of the big Italian wines. I personally like it with a Portugese Vinho Verde – maybe Casal Garcia (it’s been available for years in North America).