Red Beans and Rice

Ah, the national Monday food of Louisiana, red beans can be put on the back of an already hot stove (behind the wash water pots) and ignored all Monday. Toss in several handfulls of rice just before supper time, and all is ready. Plus you can add in any leftover bits of meat or ham bones and so on from Sunday dinner if you have them.

Last week, I found the tail end of a sack of red-beans-n-rice mix, chopped up some andouille sausage, and tossed in some other veggies toward the end of cooking. The flavor was good, but I think I found four red beans in three cups of rice. That’s not really red-beans-n-rice.

So if you are doing the old fashioned version, soak a pound of dried red beans overnight, changing the water once or twice. If you are doing a modern version, open and drain two cans of red beans (total of 30 ounces).

In addition to the beans you need:

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 medium green bell-pepper, chopped fine.

2 sticks of celery, chopped fine (or you can buy the frozen veggie blend in a bag if you live in a place where the Holy Trinity is in high demand)

6-8 cups of water (less if you use canned beans)


garlic to taste

1 bay leaf

thyme, dried parsley, other pot herbs to taste (I’d avoid sage, but that’s just me)

pepper sauce like Tabasco

leftover meat, or a pound of good, spicy sausage chopped into chunks. Or skip the meat.

1 1/2 cup white rice (or brown, but keep in mind that brown takes longer to cook)

Filé powder if so inclined (not traditional but I had cousins who liked to add it)

Sautee onion, bell-pepper, celery, and garlic in a heavy pot. I use olive oil with a bit of garlic flavor, but whatever you have on hand is good. You want the onions translucent, but not brown. Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, along with dried parsley, a bay leaf, thyme, and anything else you think you’d like. I add two shakes of chipotle powder (dried smoked jalapeno pepper). Other people use “Cajun spice” blend and two shakes of Tabasco sauce (Louisiana kind, not Tabasco Mexico kind). Stir until well blended, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium low, cover, and ignore while you do other chores.

Check on the beans and stir every so often. After an hour or so, add the sausage, bring it back to a boil, then return to a simmer and keep ignoring as you do more chores. I prefer my beans a little soupy, but you might like drier. If so, as the rice cooks, leave the lid off the beans and stir so they lose some moisture.

After two and a half hours, or longer, check everything, adjust water and spices as needed, and start the rice (if using white rice) cook rice until done. Serve rice with red beans, a shake of filé if you want some, and more pepper sauce.

Makes a lot.


Cheater’s Pasta Salad

So, this was one of those “It Came From the Cookbook and then got lost” sorts of things I used to make fairly often. Pasta salad kept well, as did chick-pea salads, and I could make it in advance. Also, both are cool, a boon when you stagger in from a flight drenched in perspiration, too exhausted to cook, and too broke to get carry out.

Curly pasta, or bow-tie-pasta, or what ever you want. One package (a pound or so)

Sliced little tomatoes, as many as you want

one small can of black olives, drained

hard cheese (Asiago, Parmashan, Romano, yes, either cut into small cubes or grated) OR

Cheddar or other semi-hard cheese, cubed

one bell pepper – green or fancy – minced

canned artichoke hearts or hearts of palm (if desired) – chopped

carrots – chopped or cut into small rounds

[in other words, clean the crunchies out of your veggie drawer]

something meat-ish if desired – summer sausage, bits of ham, slivers of pepperoni, cooked real sausage cut into rounds, left-over marinated chicken, left-over marinated pork-loin . . . You get the idea.

Cook the pasta to al dente. If you are going to be keeping the salad for a few hours before eating, or even making it the day before, I tend to cook it a little firmer than al dente, so that the dressing doesn’t make it too mushy. Rinse, pour into large bowl, and add everything but the cheese. Stir well.

Dressing – whatever your heart desires. I usually made a vinegar and oil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a bit of herbs (basil, savory, marjorum, Italian-type herb blend . . . Whatever you like. Brianna’s Blush White is good but might be a little sweet for some {one with strawberry on label}). Or you can use a packaged Italian or similar dressing. You want something that won’t drown the flavors of the other things. A chilled Asian dressing with sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and the like also works.

Put in fridge and chill until you return from your flight, or you are ready to serve. If you have used hard cheese, you can add it earlier. Softer cheeses seem to get “icky” so I wait on those.* Serve with warm bread, or more veggies, or leafy greens. This is a meal for when know that you will really need food but don’t want to heat the kitchen or even poke the microwave. (I never had a microwave.)

*I don’t like slick-textured or slimy foods. Other people don’t mind.

Chubs, Glugs, and Dollops

I was reading a recipe over at Cedar Sanderson’s blog. She calls for a glug of milk. Since she’s cooking by feel, I’d guess based on my limited experience with hand-mixing biscuits that it’s about a scant third of a cup. My glug tends to be about a quarter cup or a scosh [“skoh-sh”] less.

We agree on a chub of sausage or ground meat, however. And her dollop is almost the same as mine, give or take what we are dolloping. Note that this is dollop as a measuring term, not as a verb. Dolloping onto a surface is what you do with dough or mashed potatoes (or mashed turnips). You dollop an amount of something.

English, especially the Southern-Midwestern Cooking dialect, is a strange language.

A chub is the blunt ended, soft (unless still frozen) package of ground meat or sausage. It varies between 12 ounces and a pound or so. You can get a ten-pound chub, although at that point I think we are up to a log-of-beef or club (if still frozen) rather than a chub.

Original from Instacart, used under Creative Commons Fair Use.

Anyone who has seen meat sold in chubs knows instantly what “one chub of breakfast sausage” looks like and means. If you have a frozen chub, and don’t thaw it completely, you can make tidy slices for sausage or hamburger patties, then let it finish thawing. I’d say 9/10 thawed or so, bot rock hard. Unless you are using a band saw, in which case please clean the blade before and after cutting your frozen chub. Do not use a table saw. Just don’t. No.

A dollop means take an eating spoon (as opposed to serving spoon or stirring spoon) and scoop an amount of something into it, then plop the ingredient into the main dish. I tend to dollop garlic, flour if I’m browning it in butter (a very heaping tablespoon or so, ish), shredded cheese, and things like that, where amount-to-taste is more important than precision measuring.

A glug for me tends to be wine, or balsamic vinegar, and is probably less than a quarter cup, as I mentioned above. I don’t bake by feel. That way lies disaster, because I bake so rarely and most of what I bake is unforgiving of guestimates. I will use a glug of something the same way as I use a few shakes of this spice or that condiment.

When in doubt, measuring is always safe. When trying a new spice blend, measure. I got surprised by real Thai curry powder once. I was used to grocery store Thai curries, not “made in Thailand for Thai cooks” curry powder. My sinuses were clear for the rest of the semester, meaning Spring Break to late May.

If you’re not sure, here’s a guide to some other measurements:

Hungarian Goulash

In Hungarian, “gulyas” refers to certain traditional breeds of native cattle. So the dish made from parts of cow is also called “cow.” The Germans and others modified the spelling, and Americans call it goulash. It is a beef soup made with paprika, beef, onions, and either potatoes or flat noodles, and other spices. There are a large number of variations on the dish, some with tomato paste added, others with hot peppers (go easy on those), more or less garlic, and other vegetables. Viennese Goulash includes bell pepper, unless it doesn’t. Goulash as I ate it in Hungary was a hearty soup, not a thickened stew, but however you make it, you need meat, paprika, and onions. No, this is NOT an excess of onions. Trust me. They vanish.

two pounds good stew meat

two large onions, minced (I use white because that’s what’s been available)

two carrots (if desired) chopped

fat or oil for browning

1 T. good paprika, hot or sweet*. (I go heavier on the paprika)

2 C potato, chopped into chunks, OR one package flat noodles

1 dollop of garlic

beef broth

one or two glugs** red wine (optional)

In a large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil or fat to a shimmer. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the stew meat and garlic (if desired). Add beef stock and water to cover, and the wine if desired. Stir in paprika and carrot. Reduce heat to simmer and let cook for 90 minutes or so. Check the flavor after about half an hour and add paprika if needed or desired. Add water as needed, or more broth. If you are using very inexpensive (tough) stew meat, cook as long as needed to reach tenderness.

If using potatoes, add after 90 minutes and let simmer for another half hour or until potatoes are done. For pasta, turn up heat, add more liquid, and add pasta. Check pasta after 20 minutes or so. Alternatively, cook potatoes or pasta separately, drain, and add to goulash for the last 10 minutes.

Serve in bowls with good, hearty bread or sharp slaws and salads on the side. Or both.

*Hungarian sweet is traditional. Smoked or hot can also be used, but I prefer to start with the Hungarian sweet.

**A glug seems to be about a quarter cup, depending on the size of the bottle and the duration of pour.

Tex-Mex: A hybrid of hybrids

What a lot of people in my part of the world call “Mexican food” is actually Tex-Mex. Tortillas, spices from North America (and Europe), meats not native to the Americas (beef, chicken, domestic pig,) cheese (introduced), with veggies from the Old and New World . . . Which also describes a lot of Mexican food as well, unless you stick with 100% pure Native American dishes, if you can find them.

Tex-Mex began when Anglos met Hispanic Texicans (the generation of 1820-1850)*. Southern food, and northern food, and European food, met what was available in Texas. Spices from the Old World – cumin, sage, paprika, garlic, black pepper – met different peppers. Beef and cheese encountered pinto beans and tomatoes, and tomatillos (little green not-exactly-tomatoes). San Antonio is often credited as the home of Tex-Mex, but it might just be the largest city where blending occurred. Chili-con-carne is native to San Antonio, that everyone agrees on. Usually. Mostly.

The term Tex-Mex wasn’t really used until the 1960s and 70s, when “ethnic food” cookbooks became more common, along with more exotic ingredients, and authors started trying to distinguish real Mexican food from the versions found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Until that point, people called it “Mexican food.” You know, crunchy tacos, burritos with refried beans in them, nachos, quesadillas and that “you’re doing what to corn chips” wonder, Frito™ pie. And canned chili, of course, be it Wolf Brand (the Redquarters staple, bought by the case), or Hormel, or other kinds. It tastes great, but . . . it’s most decidedly not really Mexican food. OK, guacamole is, until it gets “improved” or “adjusted” into Tex-Mex.

So, one of the “what is that?” regional favorites, Frito™ pie. You need:

Fritos™ corn chips (if you use other corn chips, it becomes a sort of nachos. Still good, just not authentic)

Canned chili, heated to the appropriate temperature (NO beans)

grated Cheddar cheese

other toppings to taste

Dump the corn chips in a bowl and spread around to make an even layer. Add chili to the chips. Cover with cheese. Add preferred toppings. Eat one chip at a time.

For a less “what we eat at high school foot ball games) version, you start by making your own chili:

1 lb ground beef, not too lean

Garlic and onion, chopped fine

tomato sauce, one can [or one can diced tomatoes OR one can RoTel tomatoes]

Tomato paste, one can (smaller can than sauce)

Chili powder to taste (this is a spice blend, not powdered chilis)

Brown the ground beef. Add garlic and onion, sauteing until the onion is transparent. Add tomato products and stir well. Add chili powder to taste (it tends to be mild, so you can go up to a quarter cup. I’d start low and add more as needed). Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so to allow flavors to darken and blend.

Proceed as with first version, perhaps top with salsa and sour cream if daring. Most of us stop with the cheese. It is not gourmet food, and is not supposed to be.

*Until the 1960s or so, it was customary inside the state to refer to the first generations of Texans as Texicans. Then came the Texians, and then Texans referred to those born after 1900 or so. You no longer see the different terms unless you are reading older books.

Cornbread: Baked Good or Religious Denomination?

Well, it’s that time of year, and “cornbread” seems to be the topic of friendly but intense argument in the blogosphere in 2021. It ranks up there with “dressing or stuffing” among Americans from certain regions as a topic that can be – and is – argued with religious fervor.

A note for my readers from outside the US and Canada, at least those who have not encountered this particular dish before. What Americans call cornbread is made from ground maize. It is rarely eaten outside North America, as best I can tell. The grind of the grain is different from that used for polenta, and the grain is not treated the way maize used for tortilla flour is processed before grinding. The resulting baked good does not rise like wheat bread, and is more crumbly because of the lower gluten content. However, it is a native food, and in some parts of the country, was (or is) the main starch that accompanies many meals. So cornbread is yellow, low-rising, and generally crumbly. You can’t slice it the way you do wheat breads. But we love it anyway.

When you start asking people about family cornbread recipes, the line falls on “sugar in the dough” and “no sugar in the dough.” Some people will allow a little wheat flour and baking powder added in, others add egg, there’s “rye-n-Injun” which is a rye-cornmeal bread, and others prefer fried cornbread to baked cornbread. All discussion of those topics seems to pale when compared with the intensity and fervor that accompanies “with sugar or without?”

Purists insist that “bread” means “no sugar.” Unlike wheat breads, where the sugar helps encourage the yeasts to do their thing and cause the dough to rise, or sweetened breads that are supposed to have sugar (or honey, or molasses, or . . . ) cornbread does not need yeast-food. The chemistry doesn’t require sugars. Hot-water cornbread, the ne plus ultra of minimalist cornbread has nothing but very hot water, cornmeal, shortening (lard, bacon-grease, or vegetable shortening) and salt. It can be baked or fried. Cornbread is for workin’ folks, farm folks, it’s not fancy. Light-bread is fancy, and for special occasions only. Cornbread is what you eat to fill the hole when you start running out of bacon or salt-pork to go with the beans and collards (or turnip greens). Or the New England version thereof, because New Englanders leaned on cornbread for quite a while, back when.

Other people add a pinch of sugar, just because. The result should not be sweet. Others make a sweet cornbread, just like some people add canned corn to the mix, or cheese, or jalapenos, or other things. Flour can make a soft, not-crumbly cornbread, more of a fluffy quick bread with corn in it. But that’s not “real cornbread.” One of the blogs I frequent almost had a knives-out argument recently over sugar or no sugar. This is a place where we can talk religion, politics, handgun caliber, domestic or imported motorcycle, you name it (other than cornbread) without resorting to violence. Cornbread . . . is a sensitive topic among a group of Southerners, or at least people who grew up on “poverty food.”

At RedQuarters, we add a bit of sugar.

1 cup yellow corn meal

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (not self-rising)

1/4 C. sugar (can be omitted. We leave it in.)

1/2 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder.

1 egg

1 C. milk

1/4 C shortening.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, and shortening. Beat until smooth. Bake in greased 8″ square pan in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm with butter and honey, or molasses, or sorghum syrup, or apple butter. Or served with butter to go with something that has a sauce that needs to be sopped up (collards, turnip greens, bean soup . . .)

To me, it does not taste sweet.

Note: this recipe does not keep well. It goes rancid in as few as three days if you do not eat all of it, refrigerate it, or use it in other things (dressing for the turkey/duck/goose/ham).

Edited to add:

“Jiffy” is a brand of cornmeal with flour and other things pre-mixed in. It’s like Bisquick™ for rolls, pancakes, and biscuits, except you use “Jiffy” for cornmeal-based baking.

A “chub” of sausage is the small, blunt-ended cylinder of ground sausage (breakfast sausage), usually packed in a soft wrapper so you can either trim off the end and squeeze the sausage out like toothpaste into a bowl or pan, or you can use a sharp knife, cut the chub into slices, and remove the wrapper from each slice. Then you have home-made, thick, sausage patties.

Summer Squash Casserole

Yes, squash season is wrapping up . . . sort of. This casserole also works with patty-pan squash. You know, the little flattish white ones that look a bit like tops, and that everyone else uses to decorate with? Those. This is fairly simple once you get all the prep done, and you can make it the night before, refrigerate it raw, then bake it the next morning and take it to a brunch or the like.

Instead of saltines, I used Ritz™ crackers. You could also get fancy and use panko, or something similar.

Three pounds summer squash, sliced fairly thin*

Three red bell peppers (or orange and yellow), sliced into strips

1 C. finely chopped onion. The original calls for yellow. I used white, because the yellow onions have been past their prime recently.

Four cloves minced garlic (a large dollop)

1T plus 1t salt

4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, orange or white, your choice.

3 cups crushed crackers (or breadcrumbs)

1 tub of sour cream (16 ounces)

1 lightly beaten large egg

2 T fresh thyme

black pepper to taste (I omit)

5 T melted butter

Preheat oven to 350, and grease a 13X9 baking dish.

Combine squash, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and 1T salt in a large pot with water to cover (I use less water, because the squash have a lot of water in them). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes or so, depending on altitude, until the veggies are tender. Drain very well. You don’t want overly soggy veggies.

Combine squash and friends with 3 cups of the cheese, the sour cream, egg, and thyme, two cups crushed crackers or breadcrumbs, and 1t salt. Mix well, and put in the baking dish, spreading to make an even surface. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top.

In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter with the rest of the crackers and blend. Put casserole into the oven. After ten minutes or so, cover the top with the cracker-butter blend, then bake for, well, supposedly 30 minutes, but I’m at 3600′ of elevation, and 45 was closer to the mark. Until it is fairly firm in the middle. You know, proper casserole consistency. It will be a little moist, but shouldn’t be too drippy.

It is rich, savory, and filling. This is an old school casserole, not one of your light-and-healthy ones. You know the ones, the kind your grandmother made to take to brunch, or delivered to the family of the deceased (if you are in the South or parts of the Midwest). It serves 10-12 people, or fewer if they like it and the meat isn’t too filling.

You could probably add a little bacon, but that might be gilding the lily. Or perhaps not.

*Fear not, this isn’t really as much as it sounds once you cook, then drain it.

Original recipe found at:

Season of the Squash

One of my coworkers set a large plastic bag on the table with a firm thump. “Would you like some squash?”

“I brought more squash!” a choir member announces as he placed the cardboard box of gourds, squash, and zucchini on the floor beside the piano.

DadRed glanced out at bedtime to see if the UPS truck had been by (they tend to leave the box and run). He opened the front door and brought in a plastic grocery bag full of squash and zucchini. And two onions.

Apparently, this cool, wet summer has been as good for squash and their cousins as it has been bad for tomatoes. The lack of heat and direct sunlight really set the tomatoes back, and they just haven’t done a lot. Too much smoke and too many overcast days don’t help tomatoes or cotton. However, the weekly rain and temperatures in the 80s-low 90s seem to have encouraged other things to go forth and multiply. Not just exponentially, no, we’re talking logarithmic increases in produce here. Anyone who goes and buys squash from the grocery store right now? They must have really cheezed off their neighbors.

So it’s time to start with squash-n-onions and go from there.

1 or 2 summer squash (two if they are small) cut into 1/2″ thick rounds, or thinner.

1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped or sliced (your preference)

olive oil (I like garlic or basil flavored)

Spices to taste (basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme . . . Rosemary doesn’t do much for me in this context, but you might give it a try)

  1. Drain the squash slightly by letting it “rest” on paper towels.
  2. Heat the oil to a slight shimmer.
  3. Add onion and cook until translucent.
  4. Add squash and spices.
  5. Sautee uncovered over medium heat until the squash is tender.

That’s it. Fast, fairly easy, and it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. You don’t have to drain the squash, but I prefer a firmer vegetable. Tossing it straight into the pan tends to make for softer veggies, as does turning the heat down to low and covering the pan.

Sesame Toast

This is a throwback recipe, one that dates to when cocktail parties were more common, and having a small, fatty nibble in order to cushion the stomach wasn’t seen as death-by-heart-attack. The way I made it served 20, with a little of the herbed butter left over.

2 T butter

2T sesame seeds

4T butter

1/4 teaspoon each marjoram, rosemary, and oregano

very thinly sliced bread

Melt 2T butter over medium heat, add the sesame seeds, and brown the sesame seeds. This is a bit like making a roux, in that it quickly goes from “not quite ready” to “dang it, start over,” so watch closely.

Heat the oven to 250 F (a moderately slow oven)

As the hot, seedy butter is cooling a little, cream the remaining butter and add in the herbs. The exact blend is up to you, as are the amounts. Be sure to use minced rosemary or powdered – fresh won’t work. Now blend in the sesame seeds, or stir them in if you’re leery of the mixer sending greased-up sesame seeds flying across the kitchen.*

Depending on your creativity, you might want want to get out cookie cutters and trim the bread slices into shapes suitable for the occasion, making sure to omit the crusts. Or just trim the crusts off the bread, saving them for a different use, and spread the butter on the bread. Set the bread on baking sheets and gently toast for 20 minutes or until crisp. Let cool.

These are rich and buttery. I used commercially made, mid-range brown bread, and had good results.

*No, I didn’t use too-shallow of a bowl for creaming the butter. Not at all. Nor was I trying to find errant sesame seeds on kitchen counters and backsplashes that exactly matched the color of lightly browned sesame seeds.

Marinated Pickled Mushrooms

I like mushrooms, especially cooked in a stew or pickled. When I had to come up with a relatively simple-to-make hors d’euouvre, I went through one of my many cookbooks, found a starting place, and set to work.

The original recipe also calls for some salt, but we don’t use that in anything other than baking.

You need: two pounds baby mushrooms (little white ones. Four boxes the way the local stores package them)

2/3 cup [red] wine vinegar

1/2 cup oil [I used basil infused olive]

2 cloves garlic, crushed [a small dollop]

1/2 cup parsley chopped [I used three Tablespoons dried flakes]

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard [I used German]

2 Tablespoons brown sugar.

Clean the mushrooms and trim off the ends of the stems if needed. In an medium-sized, acid-proof pot, bring vinegar, oil, garlic, parsley, mustard and sugar to a boil. Add the mushrooms and return to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or a little longer, depending on altitude. Allow to cool in the liquid. The mushrooms will shrink a lot, so the liquid will probably cover them. That’s good. Store in the fridge in a sealed container until time to serve. Drain and serve with toothpicks or allow guests to help themselves.

Makes a lot. Could be halved, but remember, mushrooms shrink. These keep well, and really are better the next day. Feel free to tinker with the spices and the type of wine vinegar and oil.

Original recipe from: Savoring the Southwest: A Cookbook and More from the Land of Enchantment Published by the Rosewll Symphony Guild, Roswell, NM. 1983. (The book is part of the long tradition of fund-raiser cookbooks that go back to the original Charleston Receipts by the Charleston SC Junior League.)