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Happy Thanksgiving!

I didn’t want to continue my Mississippi report by skipping over Thanksgiving, and since I’m busy cooking I don’t have too much time to write. So, for those of you last minute types who are looking for a way to cook those sweet potatoes (or yams), here’s a recipe from my grandmother. I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to do some version of it tonight.

Fried Boiled Yams

4 lg. sw. potatoes or yams
8 tbsp. butter
1 c. sugar

Wash fresh sweet potatoes. Place in a pot with enough water to cover. Simmer until tender. Drain, cool, and peel. Slice lengthwise, set aside. Saute sliced potatoes in butter letting the edges brown. Sprinkle over with sugar. Serve warm as an accompanying dish. Serves 8.

In case you were wondering, it’s 12:30 and I’ve already made biscuits, bacon & eggs for breakfast, pear custard bars, and buttermilk bacon pralines from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. I was inspired by Kim at Yankee in a Southern Kitchen, who made them a couple of weeks ago. I’ve already tasted one and they are crazy good. Martha Hall Foose describes them as “ridiculous” in her cookbook, and I have to say that’s the right word. Up here in Mass. they would say “wicked good.”

We’re only going to have 3 1/2 (3 adults and a toddler) tonight so I’m not cooking a turkey. Instead we’re having chicken & dumplings, sweet potatoes (see above), green beans, and cornbread dressing. We’ll be eating leftovers forever, I’m sure, but that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.

Whether you are cooking or eating out I hope you have a great day!

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Well, we just returned last night from a week and a half of traveling all over the great state of Mississippi. I didn’t do any blogging from the road simply because I forgot the cable to upload pictures, and as we all know, a food blog is nothing without its pictures. When we arrived in Jackson my mom told me that she’d bought a smoked Boston Butt from a co-worker raising money for charity. For $20 she bought an entire pork shoulder that’d been slow smoked for many many hours. It was a delicious welcoming meal and the beginning of a week-long effort to clog all of my arteries. While there were many interesting Southern cultural moments I could write about, I will of course, focus only on the “eating” part of the trip.

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It didn’t take long for me to remember that Mississippi is a state whose food is without pretenses. This is a place where a gas station might serve some of the best food around, or maybe homemade cakes and pies are offered alongside bottled water right next to a fried burrito or pizza stick. It’s not about the presentation so much as the taste.

dsc02626It is an unfortunate fact that Southern food is not typically healthy fare. You can walk into a restaurant and see a buffet composed entirely of fried things and a salad bar that is only iceberg lettuce, pink tomatoes, cucumbers, and ranch. I’m not joking. While I do appreciate fried food, this is not the kind of restaurant I was looking for. If I’m going to eat fried food I don’t want everything else in the kitchen to share the grease. No, I wanted something more satisfying and, dare I say wholesome?

dsc02628Something like a meat and two veggies. Fortunately there are plenty of “plate lunch” places to choose from. The day after we arrived my folks took us to Binke’s, a restaurant in a metal building hidden in a neighborhood near downtown. Three people ate enough to last a week for something like $20; a meal comes with a meat, two sides, bread (or cornbread), tea, and dessert. I opted for the fried pork chop with gravy, collard greens, and black eyed peas. I finished it off with chocolate pie and washed all of it down with sweet tea. While the atmosphere left something to be desired, people don’t come here for the atmosphere; they come for the food, and I don’t blame them. It’s delicious. My dad got the oxtails, which I’d never had before. They were very tender and flavorful, and I’d definitely order them next time, although it’s hard to beat gravy on a pork chop

dsc02646Believe it or not, that same night we went to the fish camp. Although there are some chains that claim to be fish camps, the real deal is not much different from a clam shack in New England, only instead of clams, the main attraction is the catfish. It’s locally owned, and usually in a very small town.

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Long’s Fish Camp is in Enterprise, MS and is only open a few nights a week. The restaurant, in a cinder block building, is pristine and brightly lit. Deer heads, stuffed birds, and other animals line the walls as families sit at benches and enjoy fried catfish (although they do offer non-fried food it’s hardly worth mentioning).

After you order your drinks (the sweet tea is very good; sweet but not overly so), the waitress brings a bowl of cole slaw, a sliced onion, lemons, and some crackers to your table. This is what passes for vegetables, and is a tradition at fish camps in East Mississippi, and maybe other places as well (the cole slaw was actually really good on saltines). The drinks arrived, and so did three pitchers for each of us to fill our own drinks. I ordered the whole catfish platter, as opposed to the fillets I usually order. Although the menu didn’t specify, I ended up with four fish on my plate. They weren’t huge, but let me tell you, that’s a lot of fish. I could only eat one and a half, on top of all that cole slaw and onion. As you might expect, everyone was very nice, and the owner let me take his picture, even when he found out I live in New England.

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Next installment: The best cakes in Calhoun City, and tailgating in the Grove…

On Wednesday I head back down South for twelve whole days. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as I eat my way through Mississippi. I’ll be traveling all over the state to see family and am sure to eat some good food along the way. If you have any special requests for food you’d like to eat vicariously, please let me know. I plan to visit the fish camp in Whynot, MS where they serve each meal with a big bowl of cole slaw and probably consider hush puppies to be a vegetable. I’d love to try to find Jean’s Red Door BBQ in Meehan (or Savoy?). Where else…I don’t know, but I’ll also be going to Brookhaven, Jackson, Birmingham, Louisville, and finishing up in Oxford where we’ll tailgate with all the crazy Ole Miss fans. That’s a tradition that’s worth writing about. If I pick up any fun recipes I’ll be sure to share them with you.

I was going to post about caramel cake again, but I really messed up the icing this time. I think I over cooked it and it ended up as hard as a rock. I’ll keep trying. I made a pretty good potato kale soup the other day from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. I still have some kale in the garden, and had bought a ten pound bag of potatoes last week (for some unknown reason…I really don’t eat that many potatoes). It turned out well, but could’ve used more salt. I made the chicken broth with some chicken parts I had in the freezer and I think the recipe is written for store-bought broth. Also, I browned some turkey andouille and it went really well with it. You can add it in with the kale or keep it separate as I did so some people can eat vegetarian. I didn’t get a picture because I didn’t think I’d blog about it, but when the caramel cupcakes fell through I figured I’d better post something. Cook this and go vote.

Curly Kale and Potato Soup (From Alice Waters)

Remove the tough stems from the leaves of:
1 large bunch of kale, curly or Russian
Wash, drain well, and coarsely chop.
Heat in a heavy soup pot:
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
Add:
2 onions, sliced thin
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, tender, and slightly browned, about 2 minutes. While the onions are cooking, peel, cut in half, and cut 1/2 inch-thick slices:
1 lb. potatoes (Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold)
When the onions are cooked, stir in:
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Cook the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the potatoes and chopped kale. Stir, then add:
A large pinch of salt
Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour in:
6 c. chicken broth
Raise the heat, bring to a boil, then iimmediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the kale and potatoes are tender. Tast the soup and add more salt if necessary.