There are some foods that bring you back in time. Maybe it’s a meal you have every year for your birthday or every year at Christmas. I have both of those things– beef stroganoff for the former and spaghetti (followed by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) for the latter. But the most poignant transport in time is homemade ice cream, bringing me back to the Fourth of July. Like the peanut butter balls, this family tradition comes with a lot of griping about what a pain-in-the-rear it is to make. It started with my grandfather back in the 1960s with a hand-crank ice cream machine. My mom remembers having to crank the machine when she was only a few years old–must have been around the same time she had to walk 6 miles to school. About 20 years ago, they switched to an electric machine in what may be the most delayed adoption of progressive technology ever. Either way, the recipe and pain-in-the-rear comments haven’t changed. Switching it up between banana, strawberry, and peach is the extent that we step out of the culinary box. That is, until a few weeks ago.
I love sandwiches. My mom hates them. Probably because I made her make me a sandwich every single day of middle school and high school. And I required my sandwiches to be toasted due to the unfortunate fact that I was born with an un-toasted sandwich bread gag reflex. Since high school, I have remarkably learned to make them for myself. And have realized that I never fully appreciated the amount of love it took for my mom to do this for me. Packing lunches (especially sandwiches) is what Michael and I have termed “The Dreaded” in our house. And sometimes weekends are celebrated soley because we don’t have to do The Dreaded.
Naturally, my love for sandwiches has grown exponentially now that I’m pregnant and cannot eat deli meat. #ALLIWANTISASANDWICHDAMMIT. I’d do The Dreaded on weekends if it meant I could have a sandwich. Even more telling is the fact that my dreams have switched from blue Gatorade waterfalls to quench my drunken thirst to dreams of deli sandwiches.
So I have resolved to get creative in my sandwich-making. This includes the Italian Sausage and Pepper Burgers from Katie Lee’s Endless Summer cookbook. While technically a burger, I convinced myself it was a sandwich. I mean, it fits my definition of the quintessential sandwich: a sauce, melted cheese, meat, peppers/onions/pickles, and toasted bread. Also, it deeply troubles me to call anything a burger unless it is on circular bread, and my bread was not circular. Verdict: call it a burger or call it a sandwich but call it amazing.
They were so amazing that I actually had a night of sandwich-less dreams. Instead, I found myself dreaming about a week in Santorini. I told Michael this and he threw away every piece of bread in the house so that I would go back to dreaming of sandwiches. Not the response I had hoped for.
pickled banana peppers
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pepper is tender, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. Combine both sausages in a bowl. Form into 4 patties. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. Top each burger with some of the onions and peppers and two slices of cheese, cover the grill, and cook until the cheese melts. spread the rolls with pesto, add the burgers and banana peppers, and serve immediately.
Charlotte Tip: the best sandwich I have had recently is the Beef Short Rib Baguette from Cafe Monte (with caramelized onions, provolone, and arugula salade).
the only problem with shrimp and grits is that they disappear too quickly. in general, i am a fast eater– a fact that i hate but openly admit. if i admit it then it’s not a problem. i try to combat this by chugging glasses of water right before i eat so that i am physically too full to eat fast. most of the time though, i forget to do this and am done before the blessing has started. it is especially bad with casseroles, pasta, grits, soups, etc. basically anything other than massive hunks of meat. i mean, there’s minimal, if any, chewing. what’s the hold up?
As was the case the other night when I made gouda grits with smoky brown butter shrimp from How Sweet It Is. Per usual, Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi took over my body. For those of you that don’t dream about winning Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and staying as skinny as he is on a daily basis, he is a professional speed eater. No dreams are dumb dreams.
As a lover of all shrimp and grits, this one was spot on.The crisp corn gave the perfect little crunch and the shrimp provided me the opportunity to not only chew, but to have my mind blown at the flavors. It was the (massive) amounts of gouda mixed into the grits that rendered all efforts to eat slowly useless. I paused once– to think if it was possible to make a quantity large enough to swim in–but other than that, it was go time.
Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.
Gouda Grits with Smoky Brown Butter Shrimp
TOTAL TIME: 35 MINUTES
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup quick-cooking grits
8 ounces gouda cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 ears grilled sweet corn, cut from the cob
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives
1 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add the grits and whisk constantly until they are fully mixed into the stock, about a minute or two. Reduce the heat to low and cover, stirring once or twice more, until the grits are thicker and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Taste and season more if desired – this will depend on the salt in your stock and cheese.
Pat the shrimp completely dry with paper towels. Once it’s dry, season it with the salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder and cumin. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once it’s melted and begins to sizzle, add the shrimp in batches (don’t overcrowd it!) and cook on both sides until pink. The butter will brown as the shrimp cooks and you can whisk it occasionally to prevent it from burning. When the shrimp is finished, stir in the garlic (I stir a little in each batche of the shrimp) and cook for a second then place the shrimp on a plate. Repeat.
To serve the grits, spoon them into a bowl and add the shrimp on top. I like to drizzle any of the butter in the pan on top too. Cover with spoonfuls of grilled corn (you can toss it in butter, salt and pepper!) and a sprinkling of chives. Eat immediately.
The three words that scare me most in life are not heights, airplanes, and death. rather, they are cast iron skillets. I dream, often, about my great-great-great grandmother’s perfectly-seasoned cast iron skillet that has been passed down from generation to generation. I dream, because this is so far from reality. In fact, I’ve never seen any one in my family use one.
Do you know how to change a tire? I do. 1-800-AAA-Help.
And i can sew a button…by taking it to an alterations place.
These embarrassing revelations–and skills lack thereof–lead me to the question: where the f*** was home economics in high school? Hysterical that the tigres-euphrates river system is deemed more important than lug nuts and jacks. Or, the limit of a function as x approaches minus infinity is more important than hemming a pair of pants.
But, since middle-eastern tributaries and asinine derivatives trump life, my friends and I are talking about starting a grill-camp for guys (patent-pending). How fun would a weekend of learning how to grill with a bunch of friends be? We can even throw in whiskey tastings. Because, every guy should know how to grill. And every guy should know his whiskey.
As luck would have it, he-who-shall-not-be-named in my house can’t grill. We try to have lessons in, you know, putting meat on and flipping it until it appears done, but we just aren’t there yet. Even so, we teamed up a few nights ago to make the most flavorful, easiest chicken by using Carolina Table Salt. Even a Jack-of-no-home-trades could put the rub on the chicken and plop it on the grill. It’s tasty, easy, local, and it can be used on “‘most anything”–from veggies to meat to chex mix.
It must be said though, that what he lacks in grill skills he makes up for in whiskey skills. Our latest discovery is Defiant. It’s one of the best we’ve ever tasted, and just like the Carolina table salt, it’s tasty, (goes down) easy, and local. I can’t describe it more than this, for I would be a fraud making up whiskey terms, but I can tell you to pour it over a few ice cubes and voila! you will taste why its winning so many awards.
So, even though grill camp is, like, the best.idea.ever, i’m still pissed about getting rid of home-ec classes. really, it’s no problem that i don’t know how to iron because i (used to) know the atomic mass of hydrogen. And while learning to cook together is fun, nothing will ever make it ok to pay $85 dollars to hem a dress. And nothing will ever be ok about wannabe Susie Homemaker stranded on the side of the street with her husband dialing AAA. Let’s just pray he brought the whiskey.
really important question, you guys–why are the seasonal Reese’s peanut butter easter eggs (and christmas trees) so much better than the original reese’s peanut butter cups? they have to use the same ingredients, right? but there’s just no way…it’s like saying the dumpy grey burgers topped with white lettuce you are handed at a fast-food restaraunt are the same as the ones on the commercials.
these Reese’s eggs are so coveted in our house that we had many-a-fights about them growing up. for example, one time i had a party in high school, and though i was verbally berated by my parents for weeks, it was nothing compared my sibling’s ire that some idiot at the party ate the last Reese’s easter egg in the freezer. i seriously thought that we might not speak again until the next easter until the damn eggs came out again. i had to slap myself every time i had the sheepish thought of dear God, you did it once. please resurrect these eggs.
i tell you all that, only to tell you that the reese’s easter eggs have nothing on my family’s peanut butter ball recipe. unlike Bush’s baked beans–where no one wants to know the secret to those pre-canned barf beans, yet the family feels the need to make it more clandestine than our country’s torture methods–you want to be in on this secret.
for us, peanut butter balls are more synonymous with christmas than say, “santa” or “pass the wine”. when i think back on christmas pasts, the only visions i have are peanut butter balls at my parents’ christmas party and the under-rated Creepy Crawlers that santa brought me one year.
it’s the crisp bite into the chocolate followed by the creamy peanut butter mixture that scream’s All I want for Christmas is You. they make the Reese’s (and the Pillsbury slice and bake christmas cookies) look like amateurs.
i must warn you though, it’s a multi-day, multi-person process. the past few years, it’s been my mom, my dad, and me. how cute. my mom is the batter maker, microwave operator, freezer/fridge runner, and clean-up crew. my dad alternates between fridge running duties and ball-roller. and i am a ball-roller and the master dipper.
Day 2: Roll the peanut butter balls. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 3: dip the peanut butter balls. again, only microwave a little bit of chocolate at a time. Henry Ford would not be impressed by the inefficiency of this recipe, but go with it.
yes, this recipe takes longer than most, but at the end of the day, it’s more than a recipe–it’s Christmas, it’s family, and it’s memories made together. enjoy–all of them–because they are too good to hide in the freezer for an over-served partygoer to steal.
3 sticks of butter
2 pounds of powered sugar
2 packages of chocolate flavored almond bark
dinner downtown followed by the christmas symphony has quickly become one of my favorite christmas traditions. it’s festive, it’s delectable, it’s ear(th)-shattering.
it’s also a chance to eat downtown. though I’ve lived in charlotte my whole life, my knowledge of downtown roads and relative locations is probably on par with a drunk in corn maze. for the life of me, i just can’t figure it out. but it doesn’t stop me from entering addresses into uber. this year, we chose 5Church. and as many times as I said, oh my god, after taking a sip or a bite, it’s quite possible i thought i was in an actual church.
rather than an app, we went the “snack” route. split, it was just a bite a piece. but it was the perfect bite. the prime meatball slider (michael’s favorite) and the crisp szechuan pork belly (my favorite) left us wanting more long after the plates were cleared.
funny story about the entree. i was between the wasabi-crusted salmon and the mahi-mahi with hoppin’ john and greens in a ham broth. somehow though, i must have asked the waiter whether he preferred the salmon or the trout. he said “definitely the trout”. so, when I got my plate, i was like hmmm this is odd. these greens seem like kale. and where is the hoppin’ john? and i don’t taste the ham broth. I justified these thoughts by assuming that my mom probably uses more fatback than regulated establishments are allowed to use, and, since there were some black-eyed pea size things around the edge of the plate, i was all like, this place is fancy. they must have done hoppin’ john all fancy and dried the black eyed peas. so i kept eating…and eating…until literally the last bite… and it finally hit me that I was eating trout.
on to the symphony. simply put, the Magic of Christmas is one of the most beautiful sounds i’ve ever heard. it makes you feel good, feel hopeful, and feel thankful. hearing Joy to the World, it almost seems as if the whole world will soon feel joy.
but the night wouldn’t be nearly what it is without conductor Albert-George Schram. i. love. Albert-George Schram. no shame. his jokes are hilarious. his dance moves are top notch. and his enthusiasm and love of music and of life are contagious.
so it is my hope that I continue to celebrate the christmas season with such joy and such love. Because, maybe if we all give a little love, it is possible to bring joy to the joyless.