Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Lesson on Southern Sweet Tea

First of all, it is called Sweet Tea, not sweetened tea. Let's get that right straight out of the gate. When you are below the Mason Dixon line and you order tea in a restaurant, it is just understood that it will be sweet. When you are above the Mason Dixon and have a hankering for sweet tea, order hot tea and a glass of ice. Sweeten the hot tea, then pour it over the ice, because sugar will never melt in a glass of cold tea, and the pink yellow or blue stuff just does not taste the same.

I have often heard that we Southerners drink our tea syrupy sweet and too strong for the Northern palette. Let me explain a little something about sweet tea. Sweet tea is best served while still hot from making it. When you pour it over ice, it dilutes the tea and you have tea that is perfectly sweetened and not too strong. There is nothing better than that first sip of tea that is part hot and part cold. The way it swirls around in your mouth is almost intoxicating. No wonder they call it Southern table wine. Now, if you were to take that same pitcher of tea and put it in the fridge before serving, it would be awful to drink. It would be so sweet it would make your teeth hurt. But, real Southerners never ever put their tea in the fridge. It is made in a pitcher and more times than not, the pitcher of tea is gone before the liquid has even had time to cool. None the less, that pitcher will sit out on the counter til it spoils, rather than going in the fridge. Lemon is optional, as are mint, raspberries, etc. But really, we don't like our tea all gussied up.

Below is my method, or recipe for making sweet tea. If you don't like the way your tea at home tastes, give my method a try. You might just find that your tea tastes good afterall.

One pitcher of Southern Sweet Tea:

4 qt. size tea bags

1 1/3 c. sugar

2 cup glass measuring cup

3 cups boiling water

Place the four tea bags into the measuring cup. Boil 3 cups of fresh water (don't let water sit around in a tea kettle and use it over and over, it affects the way your tea tastes). Pour the water over the tea bags as full as you are comfortable filling the measuring cup. Allow to steep for 5 minutes (a minute less it will be too weak, a minute longer and it will start to get bitter). Pour the hot tea over the sugar that you have put into a pitcher. Stir well to melt the sugar. Refill the measuring cup twice with cool water with the tea bags in the glass, and add this to the pitcher. DO NOT squeeze the tea bags, as this also makes for bitter tea. Throw the tea bags out, and fill the measuring cup one last time with cool water. Add this to the pitcher, stir well, and enjoy over a full glass of ice!!!

Please note that you can use whatever brand of tea you like. I try to use Dixie Crystals sugar because that is what Nanny always used.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not so Meatless Monday

Some friends have been asking me for this recipe for a while now, so I am finally going to post it. It is really a delicious dip for those of you out there that like a good BLT sandwich.


1 cup of mayonnaise
1 cup of sour cream
1 (3 oz.) package of cream cheese (softened)
15 quartered grape tomatoes or 3 large Roma tomatoes diced small
2 chopped green onions (both white and green part)
1 cup of chopped or crumbled bacon (I use the real bacon pieces that are in the salad dressing section at the store)

Combine all the above ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Tastes great on crackers or garlic bagel chips.

Last week, in the midst of all my cooking, I find myself not wanting to eat a thing. Does anyone else ever go through this? Some times I can sit and think of all the food in the world, and nothing sounds good to me. Of course other times everything sounds good to me, so I guess that is just nature's way of balancing things out.

Problem is when you are trying to formulate new recipes and nothing sounds good, it kind of messes up the creative process. I was trying to come up with new versions of chicken wings the other night, just mental lists of flavors I thought would be good, and I could not come up with anything. Normally this is how my creative process kind of goes. I decide that I want to work on new twists on meatloaf (just for example). So my first thought is usually what all different kinds of ground meat I can make meatloaf from. Then I will start to think of how different cuisines of the world relate to meat loaf. That part goes something like this...
Mexican Meatloaf - ground beef, taco seasoning, chopped chiles, topped with salsa, bake then cover with cheese to form a crust
Thai Meatloaf - ground chicken, red curry paste, shredded carrots and eggplant baked in a coconut curry sauce
German Meatloaf - new take on Sauerbraten - ground beef, pickling spices, sweet and sour like with a gingersnap gravy

You kind of get the idea. But when it came to coming up with these chicken wing ideas, I just had a total mental block. Normally when I think of ingredients for a recipe, I can taste them mentally (for lack of a better way of explaining it), and I can tell what will pair well together and what won't. I was at a point with the wings that I could not have told you if they should be dipped in peanut butter or rolled in jalapenos.

I think that I am past the mental block now. So, hopefully today I will be able to get back to the creative process. Of course I won't be making peanut butter dipped wings rolled in jalapenos (at least not yet). I think that I am in a baking mood.

Any tasters out there for home made cinnamon rolls?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Grocery Stores of Old

Do you remember a time when you went to the grocery store, and the meat market spanned the entire back wall of the store? Can you remember actually watching the butcher cut meat, and being able to ask him for special cuts?

Well, thanks to my good friend April telling me about Doscher's, I was able to experience that again. We walked into the store on Savannah Highway Saturday, and I was taken back to my childhood, and the small country grocery store we shopped at (that would be Casey's). There were cuts of meat that my city boy husband had never actually seen in the grocery store. Being the first of the month, there was meat piled up like crazy. My poor husband had never experienced such a thing, and I think he was a little shocked by it all.

Well, Doscher's has found a new customer in me. Can I tell you that for $27 and some change I was able to purchase enough meats to feed my family for 2 weeks. We bought enough ground beef for 4 meals, chicken tenders ($1.99/lb) for 3 meals, pork chops for 2 meals, whole chicken breasts for 3 meals. The pork chops were not separated out by center cut that cost more. They were packaged up exactly the way they came off the pig. I must say that these were the juiciest chops that I have eaten in years. The chickens breasts were not those huge ones that take an hour to cook, but rather the smaller size ones that you can remember your grandmother frying up in the kitchen.

If you live in the low country and you are not shopping this store, do yourself a favor and at least check it out. I know some of you are afraid to go there because you don't blend in, and I say shame on you. We are all entitled to shop where we choose and can get the best deals. If you are scared to go by yourself, lets make a group outing of it.

I have been known to frequent Asian markets where I can not even read the labels, and the owner's look at you like you are crazy when you walk in and are as pale as I am. Then, after they see you shop there a few times, they actually start to like you. They will point you in the right direction of what you are looking for, and sometimes throw free stuff in your bag for you to try. People of different cultures are always happy to share their culture with you, all you have to do is show a little interest.

Go buy a pastry from the local Panaderia (that is a Hispanic bakery), you might just like it. Even if you don't you are out all of maybe 50 cents. If you see the taco stand on the side of the road, don't be afraid to try it. Order tacos de lengua. I will tell you what they are after you have fallen in love with them. Just step out of your shell a little. Charleston is an awesome melting pot of different cultures, don't be afraid to get out and try new things. You may just find something that you love!

Today's recipe:


16 oz. dried macaroni pasta
½ c. butter
½ c. all-purpose flour
½ t. cayenne pepper
2 t. garlic powder
3 c. heavy cream
1 c. chicken broth
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. velveeta
4 c. shredded sharp cheddar

Put water on to boil macaroni according to package directions. Make sure you salt the pasta water prior to boiling the pasta. While the water is coming up to a boil, melt the butter in a medium stockpot or large sauce pan(do not allow the butter to get brown). Once the butter has melted, add the flour. Use a whisk to incorporate the butter and flour. Whisk in the cayenne pepper, and the garlic. Increase the heat to medium high, and whisk in the heavy cream and chicken broth. Continue to stir until mixture starts to thicken. Once the mixture begins to thicken reduce the heat back to medium and add the cream cheese and Velveeta (they will melt faster if you cube them up). Once the Velveeta and cream cheese have melted and are well incorporated remove the mixture from heat. Add the cheddar cheese in two batches. By this time your pasta should be done, and you should have drained it. Pour the sauce over the pasta in the pasta pan. Stir together and pour into (1) 9x13 pan or divide into up to (3) 8x8 pans. Top with crushed crackers or a little more cheddar cheese if desired. Don't do too much cheese or your dish will be swimming in oil. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. You can make the mac-n-cheese up to 2 days ahead and refrigerate it without baking. When you are ready to serve it, bake for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees if it has been chilled.