Friday, July 17, 2009

Smoked Mullet

smoked mullet

Only mad men and Floridians eat mullet, or so I'm told.

Most people consider mullet a trash fish; it's bony and a bottom dweller, so most don't even bother with it, or use it for bait while catching crab. That's alright. We Floridians know what to do with it. More mullet for me!

I admit I never had smoked mullet until I met my future husband. Our first date, actually, was me going to his house while he smoked some mullet. Once I got over the heebee jeebees of having to drive through miles of dirt roads to get to his house, all the while hearing banjo music in my head, I was able to enjoy it - quite thoroughly, too, I might add.

I don't smoke it too often because well, it's a pain to pull out the grill, remember to get the charcoal, soak the wood, brine the fish, etc etc, and by the time you go through all that - well you might as well just pay someone at a local restaurant to make you some.

But it occured to me that some of you might not have a local restaurant you could just go to and get some smoked mullet, so I thought I'd show you how.

First stop - the fish monger. I bought two mullets - rather on the small-ish side, for $2.50/lb. It ended up being - oh about $5 for the both of them. Let them fillet it. It's messy and you really don't want to ruin your appetite before you eat now, do you?

Next - brine your mullet. I forgot to snap a pic of this so you're just gonna have to use your imagination! Get a gallon freezer bag, fill it about half full with water, add salt and seasonings. How much salt? Ummm I dunno - couple of tablespoons, maybe. Seal and stick in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

While that's brining, get your grill going.

I actually do have a smoker, which is ancient - but it doesn't have to look pretty to work well. Get your brickets going, and when they're good and caught - add your wet wood.


You can use wood chips bought in the store of course, but I prefer to use what's free - which happened to be fallen limbs from my oak tree, wet from rains and soaked for a few hours in the kitchen sink.

You can also use hickory or apple wood. If the wood is green you won't have to soak it, just add it on top of the fire.

DO try to avoid wood that has poison ivy growing on it. You laugh, but I've heard of it done before. Needless to say - this is not a good thing. If you don't know what poison ivy looks like, well buy your chips at the grocery store. It's cheaper than a trip to the E.R.

Next - spray the grill part with some PAM or brush it with oil, and add your brined mullet, SCALE SIDE DOWN. Sprinkle with paprika and brush with oil.


It should be about 6 - 8 inches from the fire. Cover, and let smoke!

We're smokin now, baby!

After 15 minutes or so, go back in, take your spatula and move them a bit, so they don't stick to the grill. Check them about every 15 - 30 minutes until it's golden on top and flaky. These only took about an hour; your mileage may vary, depending on your grill.


Now - this is how you EAT smoked mullet.

You eat it with your fingers, so go wash your hands! And you eat it with homemade tartar sauce and sliced onion.

Homemade tartar sauce = mayo, and pickle relish.

Scoop out some meat, dip it in the tartar sauce, stick it in your mouth - and take a bite of onion. Mmm! Good eat'n.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

shepard's pie

So I asked my daughter recently, which foods I cooked that she liked best of all while she was growing up. She thought for awhile before stating "I don't remember you cooking that much!"

I felt like banging my head on the table. My head or her head, I couldn't decide which.

Sure, her dad cooked a lot - he's the better cook, and really and truly, he's the only man I know who can go into a kitchen, where I SWEAR there's nothing to eat, and pull together an excellent meal out of random items in the pantry and leftovers. I just don't have that kind of talent.

But I did my fair share of cooking, too. I think she just blocks some of it because we did a lot of stir fry, and she didn't like that. But she did come up with one or three things she did remember, with Shepherd's Pie being one of them.

This tickles me to no end, because I never even considered it. Shepherd's Pie is just one of those things you can cook without even thinking of it. It's easy, fast, and yummy (see a trend in my cooking here?)

Now just like with any other recipe for a favorite dish, there are hundreds of different recipes, all of which include mashed potatoes and some kinda ground up meat, either beef or lamb - but I'm gonna tell you how I make it, sorta kinda like how my momma made it.

Mashed potatoes
1/2 chopped onion (I use vidalia)
1 pound of ground chuck
1 can of peas
shredded cheddar

preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Melt a pat of butter in a pan and cook your chopped onion until they're starting to turn brown, then add your ground beef. Cook until it's well, cooked.

While that's cooking - make your mashed potatoes.

You can use left over mashed potatoes, or start from scratch. But really and truly - I use a package of Idahoan Yukon Gold Instant Mashed Potatoes. I can't tell the difference between theirs and mine, to be honest, even down to the occasional lump and pieces of skin.

Cook it up according to the package directions - 2 cups of water to one package and stir - easy! Or, just use 2 cups of mashed potatoes.

Liberally butter a pie plate, and dump the mashed potatoes in, using a spoon to flatten it out and work it up the sides, making a thick mashed potato crust. Dump the browned beef in the middle, piling it up in the middle. Drain a can of peas, and pour them between the mashed potatoes and the mountain of ground beef, like a ring.

If you're feeling Martha Stewart-ish, you can grow & use your own peas & potatoes, and it will taste fantastic - but I wasn't feeling very motivated today.

Shred some cheddar over all of it, and stick it in the oven until the cheddar is melted and the peas are hot; shouldn't take more than 15 - 20 minutes. Take out, and serve. Salt & pepper to taste. It should feed four people generously, 6 if you're scraping by.

That's it! Cost me - MAYBE - $5 to feed 4. Not a bad deal.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blueberry Buckle


This has enough sugar to put you in a diabetic coma. So all you diabetics out there, don't look.

Most recipes for cobbler call for pints of blueberries, and that's all well and good if you have an army to feed. But most of the time, it's just me, myself, and I, and I would get sick of it long before I ever finished it. I have a poor attention span when it comes to food. Leftovers, even blueberry cobbler leftovers, bore me after one or two servings.

But this will feed two or three happily, before it's all gone.

Why is it called "Blueberry Buckle?" I don't know, but I suspect it's because the berries underneath cause the crust to "buckle" when they start to bubble up.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take a pie pan, spray it with PAM.

1 pint of blueberries
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of flour

Mix them up well, and pour them in the pan. Using the bowl you used to mix up the blueberries, combine:

1/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2 stick of butter, softened

Take your fork and work the butter into the sugar/flour mixture, until it's about the size of peas. Pour over the blueberries and set in the middle of the oven, and bake until it looks like something you want to eat - about 30 minutes.

Best served warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not-Your-Momma's-Pasta Salad


It gets hot in Florida. REALLY hot. And the last thing you want to even THINK about doing, is cooking a lot of hot food, then EATING a lot of hot food, in the hot hot summertime. It's enough to make you want to grab an ice cold mint julep and give up on the whole idea of food for awhile.

But fear not! There is salvation yet. Pasta Salad to the rescue!

Pasta Salad is incredibly easy, and if you buy a box of "Pasta Salad" to make it, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Save your money and do it from scratch.

What will you need? Well, whatcha got? The basics of any pasta salad are - some kinda pasta, some kinda meat, some kinda cheese, and whatever you have leftover in your refrigerator. Mix with oil & vinegar & a few spices, stick it in the refrigerator for a bit, and it's done!

But for purposes of the blog, I'll tell you what I did to make THIS particular Pasta Salad.

1 box of bow-tie pasta
about 1/4 - 1/2 cup canola oil
coupla tablespoons balsamic vinegar
garlic powder
4 oz cubed sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz cubed monteray jack cheese
a few tablespoons gorgonzola cheese
a few tablespoons shredded parmesean
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 small green pepper, diced
2 garlic-herbed chicken breasts, grilled in the pan & diced & cooled (about 2 - 3 cups)

Cook the bow-tie pasta according the directions, drain, and place into a large bowl. Before it starts to get sticky, pour in the oil & vinegar and toss well, coating each piece. Sprinkle liberally with the garlic powder, and toss again. Place in the refrigerator to cool it down for a few minutes, while you chop up the cheeses & pepper & chicken.

Take it back out again, and add the cheddar, monteray jack, and gorgonzola cheeses; add the chicken, kidney beans, and green pepper. Toss well! Finally, top with the shredded parmesean.

This will feed a crowd; it's a lot of food. It serves well as a main dish, and keeps well in the refrigerator.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Firecracker Cookies

firecracker cookies

These innocent looking sandwich cookies come with an explosive surprise - Pop Rocks hidden in the center!

I used to make these for my daughter when she was little for the Fourth of July. I'm betting once she sees this post, she'll be willing to take them off my hands again!

Here's the recipe:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening (I use butter)
1 egg
1 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
food coloring
Pop Rocks, and/or crushed Red Hots/ Atomic Fireballs
Twizzlers for the fuses

In a bowl combine flour, powder, and salt.

In your mixer bowl, beat the sugar and shortening until it's fluffy. Add the egg, milk & vanilla and beat well. Add the flour mixture, beating until well combined. Add the red food coloring.

Stick it in the refrigerator and chill for an hour or so.

Roll the cookie dough fairly thin on confectioner's sugar, NOT flour. It's a sandwich cookie so you don't want it too thick. A little thicker than a pie crust is about right.

cookie cutterCut out your cookies, place on a cookie sheet that's been sprayed with PAM. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 6 - 10 minutes, or, just as they start to brown around the edges. They bake quick! So keep an eye on them.

Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight containers until you're ready to put them together. They don't really last well, once you add the Pop Rocks; the Pop Rocks will pick up the moisture after a bit and get soggy.

I'd like to give you a recipe for the frosting, but really all I do is just beat a softened stick of butter with a box of confectioner's sugar, a tablespoon or two of milk, and a wee bit of vanilla. Beat it until it's the consistency that you want.

Outline the cookies with frosting, and sprinkle the candies in the center. Don't overfill, or the top cookie won't stick. Put another cookie on top, smoosh down a little, and then turn it on it's side and "caulk in" more frosting to help seal it.

Decorate the tops with more frosting however you like, plate them. I'd suggest not telling folks about the Pop Rocks; let it be a surprise!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Vegetable Pizza


Nursing is a hard job, with small rewards, but one of those rewards comes around the holidays, when everyone and their visitors brings us goodies. Cakes, cookies, candies galore abound at the nurses' station for oh, a week or two before Christmas.

It's wonderful, and gratifying, but it gets to the point when there's sugar overload, and you just can't look another brownie in the eye.

Such was the case one year, when one of our visitors brought in this lovely gem of a food: Veggie Pizza! It was such a lovely, welcomed change of pace. It didn't take much prodding for me to get the recipe. Of course, it's all over the place now - and with good reason. It's fabulous; yummy; looks great; and it's EASY.

Need to bring something to an office party? Bring this, and they'll be begging for you to bring it everytime. I know. I get asked to make it time and time again.

Here's the ingredients:

2 - canisters of Crescent Rolls (they make a "recipe creations" variety now that works great)
2 - 8 oz boxes of cream cheese, room temperature
1 small bag of raw pre-washed broccoli and cauliflower mix
2 Roma tomatoes
Shredded Cheddar cheese

Spray the cookie sheet with PAM, unroll the crescent rolls out of the canisters and fit them onto the sheet to form the pizza dough. If you want, you can sprinkle the edges with herbs and/or garlic powder. Bake it in the oven according to the directions - except, the "recipe creations" says to bake it almost 20 minutes; they lied. Ten minutes would be more like it. You want it brown and done, but not burnt.


Bring it out of the oven, and spread the cream cheese over the dough. Then it's just a matter of adding the toppings!

Cut the broccoli and cauliflower into smaller pieces, spread them throughout the pizza. Chop up the tomatoes, seed, and add those. Top with shredded cheese. Cut into slices. Try to keep yourself from eating it all before the party. MMM! Good stuff. And relatively healthy for you, too!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fried Okra

fried okra

My Great-Aunt Alice, who was really my first cousin twice removed, once lamented to me that "young people just don't know how to do the BASICS of cooking anymore. I had a young lady ask me how to snap beans, once!"

I sympathized, but I couldn't say anything. I sure knew how to snap beans - I think my grandmother taught me how to do that on her front porch when I was three years old - but at one point I didn't know a whole lot about cooking, either. My mom used to run us out of the kitchen!

So when I can, I'll include "basics of cooking" - such as, fried okra. It's one of those things that's really easy to do, but unless you've ever been shown it - you just don't know how to do. So I'm going to show you.

First of all - don't get the biggest okra you can find. As okra gets bigger, it generally gets tougher and bitter, and no one will want to eat it. The only caveat to this is - there ARE some varieties that are short and squat that are really sweet and good, but unless you grew them yourself or got them from someone who grew them themselves, you're not likely to run into them. So - buy some okra that is relatively small, like these. They're about - oh, I dunno, 4 or 5 inches -

raw okra

Rinse them well, then trim off the heads and the tails; discard those.

About this time you'll need to get your oil ready; I just use a large frying pan with about 1/2 inch of oil. I use canola oil. You'll want the oil hot, so I set the burner between med. high and high. When it starts to pop, it's ready.

Cut the okra up into about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch pieces. If it's a large piece of okra, cut them thinner. As you're cutting, throw them into a bowl of corn meal and coat well. The insides will be gooey like snot.

bread the okra

Now the fun part - fry those suckers up! Shake off the excess corn meal, and add them to the oil - few pieces at a time. Add them fast, but don't get burned!


Turn them as they start to brown. It shouldn't take more than 5 - 10 minutes, each side. When they're brown, take them out and put them on paper towels to drain.


This is when you add salt to them. Doesn't have to be much, just enough to enhance the flavor. You can now stick them in a warm oven while you finish cooking the rest of your dinner - but be sure to pop a few in your mouth, too! All good cooks have to taste test.

Fried okra, if done right and done with the right sized okra, is almost sweet. Serve it with your favorite meat & side dish. Tonight we had it with panfried pork chops and mashed potatoes.