Tom Thumb and Tradition…for you Mom

IMG_1627Happy New Year to all.. Personally, I am pleased 2014 has come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t all good either. So, to begin this new year of 2015, I have decided to take no chances! Paul and I plunged into the great Atlantic Ocean this afternoon with several hundred others at the great Penguin Plunge in Atlantic Beach. As I have learned being a Martha’s Vineyard Polar Bear, the cold water is quite restorative. So, we cleansed off the old and are ready for the new.

That accomplished, I returned home to prepare a traditional Southern New Year’s fare. However, this year, I am truly returning to my eastern North Carolina roots. Growing up, my Mom always cooked a Tom Thumb on New Years Day.  I decided to gift her with that this year. I can’t recall my friends ever eating Tom Thumb. If they did, they weren’t fessing up…just look at the beast! It proudly ladened our table every year.

Tom Thumb, for those of you not knowledgeable on  eastern NC food, is ground pork, laced with several spices and stuffed into the pig’s large intestine. It is wrapped with twine and hung to smoke or air dry. In southern Virginia ( I didn’t know this delicacy crossed state lines) it is called Dan Doodle. I’m assuming these funny names are a result of enticing folks to eat this monstrosity of a sausage.

In keeping with tradition, we are also enjoying sweet potatoes, collards and,of course, black eye peas. I did a new twist on the potatoes and black eye peas this year just to kick it up a notch. The finishing touch is fried corn bread. I am pleased to say everything on our table is produced on farms in eastern NC.

I know you are waiting with baited breath for the Tom Thumb recipe.  Here it is…boil it!  Yep, that’s it, just place it in a pot and boil till done.  I confess, after it’s boiled, I do slice it and pan fry it just like you would any sausage. I dare you to try it. You may start your own New Year tradition.IMG_1630

Here is a recipe I procured while visiting my hometown, Kinston, NC.  There was a cooking demonstration at the local farmers market and this was a recipe that was shared. I love the lemon and sherry flavor that permeates this dish. (for traditionalists, you may use Bourbon)

Lemony Mashed Sweet Potatoes

3 pounds medium sweet potatoes
2 Tbl. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup peach preserves
3 Tbl. dry sherry
1/2 stick butter, melted
finely grated zest  and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce the potatoes in several places and arrange them on the oven rack in a single layer. Place a sheet of foil on the rack below to catch the drippings. Roast until tender, about 40 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and mash until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients. Scrape the potato mixture into a prepared dish and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.   8 servings

You can make this dish up to one day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat them in the oven, covered, but increase the time to about 30 minutes.

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Eggs with a Twist Part 2. Or…… Time to Harvest your Basil!

I have discovered yet another twist to a tried and true recipe, actually, make that two, when they are combined.  Deviled eggs and pesto….yes, you read that correctly.  These two marry to create a delightful new taste to a couple of old favorites.  Besides, it really is time to harvest your basil, and pesto is the perfect way to freeze that fresh taste of summer.  Also, it’s tailgating time, and deviled eggs are an integral part of the pre-game feast. Use your favorite deviled egg recipe and substitute your pickled relish with pesto and, presto!, you have an appetizer or side dish that will command raves.  I use a roasted red pepper pesto because I’m not sure how to make a Carolina Blue pesto.  It’s your choice or your team’s colors.

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Pesto Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

6 hard boiled eggs
3 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons pesto

Preparation

Scoop out the hard boiled yolk from the eggs.  Using the tines of a fork, mash the yolk and add remaining ingredients.  Using a small spoon, dollop the ingredients back into the egg white halves.  Garnish with toasted pine nuts, petite basil leaves or paprika.

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Ingredients
• 2 red peppers, halved and roasted
• 1 garlic clove
• ½ cup of basil
• ¼ cup shredded Parmesan
• ⅓ cup of pecans, toasted
• 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil
• salt & pepper

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Halve and seed the red peppers. Roast in oven for 15 minutes with the inside side down. Flip them over after 15 minutes and roast for another 15 minutes on the other side.
3. Remove from oven and place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes. {this will keep the heat in the bowl and make it easier to remove the skin}.
4. After peppers are finished resting, remove the skins and set aside.
5. Put pecans in a saute pan and toast until just fragrant. {about 7-10 minutes}
6. In a processor put, roasted red peppers, garlic clove, toasted pecans, shredded Parmesan cheese, basil, salt and pepper. Blend together.
7. Slowly start to add olive oil {depending on how you like your consistency} to the pesto mixture.

 This freezes well.  It is delicious tossed with pasta.

Cucumbers… the North vs. the South

Growing up in the South, I knew it was summertime when a big bowl of cucumbers in vinegar appeared on our table. Simple, sliced cukes (I like the small pickling ones) white or apple cider vinegar, salt, lots of pepper and a sprinkling of sugar. Nothing else like it! When the tomatoes are ripe on the vine, slice those along with some Vidalia onions and throw them on in with the cucumbers. The best trifecta.

This summer, on Martha’s Vineyard, the Northern version of summertime cucumbers shattered my Southern heritage a bit. I was invited to an outdoors jazz concert at Featherstone Art Center.  My friend provided the snacks, and I brought the wine. We put up our beach chairs and I opened a bottle of Vinho Verde, a light, perfect for summer, Portuguese white wine with a hint of bubbly. I recommend Casal Garcia. The label says “young and refreshing”….after a few glasses I certainly feel that way!

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Renee opened her bowl of cucumbers laden with dill. After the first bite my cucumber horizons were expanded! They were delicious. A little hummus with chips and some fresh fruit rounded out our picnic fare. Combined with the music and our beautiful surroundings, this was one of my most memorable evenings of the summer – it was really the cucumbers that made it so.

So you decide…the North or the South? Or maybe we can just call it a truce.


 Southern Cukes                                                               Northern Cukes

   3 or 4 pickling cucumbers                                              3 or 4 pickling cucumbers

 vinegar to cover sliced cucumbers                                Juice of 2 to 3 limes

s&p…lots of p                                                              s&p…lots of p

a pinch of sugar                                                              chopped fresh dill    

                                                                                          2 chopped green onions       

Slice and peel cucumbers and add remaining ingredients. I use kosher salt and  course ground pepper. I have also used English cucumbers. Much of this recipe is to taste, so it’s all about your culinary creativity! Remember, some of the simplest recipes are the best.

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The Spirit of Giving?

We all know that special time of year when people are feeling oh so generous. The spirit of giving is evident all around….at the office, the schools and most especially, found in plastic bags on everyone’s door knob, when they are returning from having just spread their own special cheer.

You know the season, right? Zucchini season!!! When it grows, it really grows. All sizes too, whatever your heart desires. What to do with these gifts of the season you ask?

Zucchini Bread. A good recipe can be found online, or in any church or junior league cookbook worth its reading. I bake and freeze small and large loaves for year round enjoyment. They make nice hostess gifts in a pinch, unless your hostess also has her freezer stocked from all of those generous gifts of bounty.

My “go to” zucchini recipe is fritters. They are delicious, and can be eaten as a side dish with most entrees. They are also a great appetizer, that I like to serve with basil mayonnaise.                                                                                                                Though the zucchini rush is summertime, this nice little veggie is the gift that keeps giving all year long.

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Zucchini Fritters

2 medium zucchini
2 Tablespoons grated onion
2 eggs
6 to 8 Tablespoons flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon pepper
butter & vegetable oil

Grate the zucchini and onion in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Heat 1/2 Tbl. butter and 1/2 Tbl. oil in the pan. Use medium to medium high heat. When the oil and butter are hot, drop heaping spoonfuls of batter in the pan.   Cook about 2 minutes on each side until browned. Continue to add oil and butter to the pan when needed, as remaining fritters are cooked.

Basil Mayonnaise 

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Combine  the basil, 1/4 cup of the mayonnaise, lemon juice and several grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the basil is finely chopped. Add the remaining mayonnaise and lemon zest and process again.

Store in a tightly covered bowl in refrigerator. It will keep for up to 3 days.