June 2010

You can’t have a quintessential southern meal without black-eyed peas. This is just one of those times where I’m going to state an opinion like it’s a fact because I refuse to believe there is any other way things could be. My dad taught me to do this, so it’s not my fault. Black-eyed peas were one of my favorite foods growing up and continue to be one of my favorite comfort foods.  If you’ve only had canned b-e peas, let me tell you they are nothing compared to the ones made from scratch (but I guess that’s always true, now isn’t it…?).  

Another great thing about making these peas is that all the work comes up front. Most of the time the peas are cooking they are just simmering and you can tend to cooking other dishes. Add to this the fact that the peas can sit for a while before they are served and you have the recipe for a perfect side dish. The recipe I used comes from a cookbook I found on sale at a used bookstore that has been surprisingly handy.  Recipes are organized into menus for entertaining during different seasons or holidays.  This recipe comes from the “Sunday Soul” menu, which also has recipes for fried chicken, skillet cornbread, and mississippi mud pie.

The original recipe in the cookbook is for black-eyed peas and braised cabbage, but I left the cabbage steps out (steps 2 and 3 below). I included the whole recipe below just in case folks would like to try it out.  If you are a meat-eater, the bacon in the recipe is essential. If you are vegetarian I feel sorry for you right now, but you could make this without bacon and just add some oil to the skillet before cooking the onions. I’ve never made this without bacon, but the onions, cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes add enough flavor that I bet it would still be delicious!

Black-Eyed Peas and Braised Cabbage
adapted slightly from California Bistro: Menus for Entertaining

Serves 4.

1/4 pound sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch julienne
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1 stalk celery, minced, with some leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 pinches hot red pepper flakes
1 cup (about 7 ounces) dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 tsp cider vinegar
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
Approximately 1 cup water
1 head green cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch shreds
1 tsp sugar

1. In a large saucepan, fry half the bacon over medium heat until it begins to brown; add onion and celery and continue to cook for a few more minutes, until wilted. Add half the garlic, then a pinch of hot red pepper, the black-eyed peas, and the vinegar. Saute for a moment longer, then add 2 cups of the chicken broth and the salt. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Add 1 cup water and simmer for another 40 minutes, or until peas are tender, adding more water as necessary, stirring occasionally. When done, season with salt to taste and set aside. There should be very little liquid in the pan, but the peas should not be dry.

2. Just before serving or after peas are cooked, prepare cabbage by rendering remaining bacon in a large pot. When brown and crispy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and remaining garlic. Cook for a moment, then add cabbage, sugar, and remaining cup chicken browth. Cover and steam the cabbage until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Add the peas to the cabbage and toss well. Arrange in a large bowl and serve hot.


Cooking for yourself just isn’t that fun and I’ve been doing a lot of it lately.  That’s why, DAYS before leaving for Davis, I had come up with an entire menu to cook for housemates when I went home last weekend.  For whatever reason, I was craving southern soul food, so the menu that unfolded turned into a somewhat of a southern feast!  Rather than giving you the whole menu now, I’ll post it dish by dish.  That way I’ll leave you in suspense!  Right…

First I’ll start with the main course, spicy blackened catfish.  I know it’s not the world’s most glamorous fish, but it’s a southern classic and I like it.  I like blackened catfish better than fried and it’s a little healthier, so that’s what I went with.  This was my first time attempt at cooking fish this way and I found a recipe online that looked promising.  The whole process, start to finish doesn’t take very long and since it wasn’t critical that my other dishes be piping hot, I made the catfish last–just before I was ready to serve the meal.

You probably noticed that my catfish didn’t turn out very black.  I think the oil/butter mixture in the skillet wasn’t hot enough, but I’m not sure.  It still tasted good, but it didn’t quite deliver on spiciness.  Next time, even though I’m not very tolerant of heat, I would add more cayenne pepper to the seasoning mix.  If you know you like things spicy I might double the amount this recipe calls for.  I would just be careful not to go overboard on adjustments since the heat of different cayenne peppers can vary a lot.

If you decide to make this, I hope you enjoy it!  The side dish (and dessert!) recipes will be up soon!

Spicy Blackened Catfish
from Gourmet (via epicurious.com)

Serves 2.

2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (I would try 1/2 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 catfish fillets (about 1 pound)
1 large garlic clove, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
lemon wedges as an accompaniment

1. In a small bowl combine the paprika, the oregano, the thyme, the cayenne, the sugar, the salt, and the black pepper, pat the catfish dry, and sprinkle the spice mixture on both sides of the fillet, coating them well.

2. In a large skillet sauté the garlic in the oil over moderately high heat, stirring, until it is golden brown and discard the garlic.

3. Add the butter, heat it until the foam subsides, and in the fat sauté the catfish for 4 minutes on each side, or until it is cooked through. Transfer the catfish fillets with a slotted spatula to 2 plates and serve them with the lemon wedges.

Okay, I know breakfast burritos aren’t gourmet food by any standards, but I never claimed to be a gourmet cook, so I’m okay with that.  While I’m at it, I’ll also add that most of the food I will write about over the next couple of months will be meals-for-one, since I’m now living at a research station near Mammoth Lakes, CA, where I do my summer field work.  Here’s a picture of the mountains (the Eastern Sierra) I get to look at every day while I’m here.  Pretty nice, huh?

Oh right.  Back to cooking…  The kitchen setup where I am now is actually pretty decent.  There’s a gas stove and a good assortment of pots, pans, utensils, etc.  However, there’s no blender, or food processor, or stand mixer, or…(you get the picture, right?), so I will be sticking to the basics this summer.  But basic can still be really tasty, and I plan on proving that!

To start things off, I’m going to tell you about my favorite field food of all time...the veggie breakfast burrito!  Okay, okay, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I make this at home a lot too.  This is the fourth summer I have spent cooking for myself at field stations, so I’ve had many, many chances to practice and perfect the execution of this burrito.  There are obviously many variations that you can make, but I’ll just tell you about the combination of ingredients that I’ve found to work really well.

First of all, this burrito is essentially a scramble wrapped up in a tortilla, so if you’re on some kind of low carb kick or something, you can nix the tortilla altogether.  I happen to love tortillas though, and this only reminds me of how much I miss Micaela’s whole wheat tortillas while I’m in the field. If you’ve never had them, these tortillas are to DIE for.  They come in white and whole wheat flour and  are thick and a little doughy, so when you cook them they don’t totally dry out.  Best of all, they are made in Woodland (near Sacramento) and delivered fresh to Davis grocery stores like the Nugget and the Co-op.  SO…if you live in the Davis area and have not tried these tortillas, go out NOW and get them.  They are the Best. Ever. (especially the whole wheat).

Okay, now for the tortilla fillers/scramble components. I’m not a vegetarian, but somewhere along the way I tried Lightlife’s vegetarian sausage and was totally impressed with the flavor.  If you HAVE to have meat, you can also use bacon or real sausage, but the veggie stuff really does deliver on taste and is a little kinder to your arteries.  Other ingredients I have included along the way (depending on what vegetables I had on hand) are: broccoli, peppers, carrots, potatoes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, blackbeans, and avocados.  I’ve also played around with types of salsas and have found that Trader Joe’s tomato-less corn salsa is a terrific match with the vegetarian sausage.  I imagine any other sweet salsa or a tomatillo salsa would also work really well.  Oh!  And you can’t forget CHEESE!  I use the sharpest cheddar I can find, but you should use whatever you enjoy.

Finally, before I present my “recipe,” a little disclaimer.  I mention in the tag line of this blog that I’m a perfectionist, and in the preparation of meals like this it tends to show.  How much time could a breakfast burrito take, after all?  Well…if you want to end up with each vegetable cooked just right and have the texture of the eggs turn out perfectly, I admit it takes more than just a few minutes.  But no more than 30.  I promise.

*I didn’t include a picture of the burrito here because burritos just aren’t pretty.  It pretty much looks like a rolled up tortilla with this stuff in it.

Veggie Breakfast Burrito

Makes one burrito (but can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.)

olive oil
2 veggie sausage patties (Lightlife Gimme Lean Sausage is great!)
1 cup broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/2 cup chopped sweet peppers (e.g. bell peppers) the more colorful the better!
1 clove garlic, minced
2 eggs, whisked in small bowl
1 tortilla
cheese (as much as you like)
salsa (I like Trader Joe’s corn salsa)
cilantro, small handful, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Steam or blanch broccoli for a minute or two until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from water and/or steam basket, place in a bowl and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil (2 tsp or so) over medium heat in a pan. Fry sausage patties until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from pan and soak on paper towels to remove excess oil.  Then chop into bite sized pieces.

3. Add more oil to the pan if it is too dry, then add chopped peppers and saute for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Remove the peppers and garlic from the pan once the garlic becomes aromatic and before it browns (after 30-60 seconds). Add to the same bowl as the broccoli.

4. Reduce the heat under the same pan to low. Add the eggs and do not stir until the they begin to set on the bottom. Once this happens I like to gently and occasionally push the eggs around with a spatula to let the runny parts on top spill over underneath. I try to stir as little as possible so that large chunks of egg remain in tact.

5. Somewhere around this point, you can start heating your tortilla. If you like your tortilla crispy, you can toast it on both sides in a large pan in a little oil. If you prefer a pliable tortilla, you can nuke it in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds with a damp paper towel over it to steam it.

5. Once eggs are close to done, add the reserved sausage, broccoli, peppers and garlic and stir into the eggs. Continue cooking for one minute or so to allow the eggs to finish cooking and everything else to heat through.

6. Immediately transfer this scramble to your tortilla, and add cheese, salsa, and cilantro. Wrap that puppy up and enjoy!

I attended my 3rd and final Memorial Day weekend barbecue yesterday and was at a bit of a loss when trying to come up with a side dish to bring.  After digging around in the fridge for a few minutes, the only thing I came up with was half a head of red cabbage.  My obvious next thought was coleslaw, right?  Well, I should explain that coleslaw and I have a complicated past, mostly caused by miscommunication.  You see, I’m not a fan of mayonnaise, and all of the coleslaws I encountered growing up had LOTS of mayo in them.  I was either oblivious to the vinaigrette-based coleslaws at the time or people in the south don’t make those much.

Anyway, my first year in Davis someone brought a Thai coleslaw with red cabbage, cilantro, and peanuts to a potluck.  I was (thankfully) brave enough to try it and discover that it was delicious!  I had no idea cabbage actually tasted GOOD.  Since then I have thought about trying to replicate that recipe, but have never gotten around to it.  I decided that this Memorial Day would be a great time to try.  I went searching for recipes to use, but couldn’t find one that sounded just right, so I ended up mixing and matching ingredients from several sources!

First, I used the Joy of Cooking’s method to sweat the cabbage (remove excess water) before assembling the salad.  After you slice the cabbage, you put it in a colander, toss it with 1 tablespoon of salt, and weight it for 3 hours.  I put a bowl on top of the cabbage and then weighted it with bags of dried beans, but you could also use a plate and/or anything heavy to press the cabbage.

After a few hours I rinsed the cabbage and then added chopped green onions, sliced red pepper, chopped peanuts and a rice vinegar-based vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette was very similar to one that comes from a Thai chicken salad recipe in my friends’ mom’s cookbook for novice cooks, Life After Ramen.

This slaw was both pretty and tasty in the end.  It got lots of compliments at the bbq and I would definitely make it again.

Thai Peanut Coleslaw

Serves 6-8 as a side.

½ head of red cabbage, thinly sliced into short strips
5 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cut into short strips
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped basil
¾ cup coarsely chopped peanuts

¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes

1. Place shredded cabbage in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of salt.  Place a bowl or plate over cabbage and weigh it down with cans, dried beans, etc.  Allow to sit and drain for 3 hours.

2. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients, set aside.

3. Rinse the cabbage and pat dry.  Add onions and red pepper and toss with the vinaigrette.  Stir in cilantro, basil, and peanuts before serving.