A Four-Wooden-Spoon Night

To be fair, I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that, but tonight was, in fact, a four wooden spoon night. I just counted the freshly washed wooden spoons and put them back in the holding place until they are called to duty once again in a stock pot, skillet, or saucepan.

I don’t know why, but lately I have been in a Southern state of mind. Maybe the new book I got on Cajun and Creole cooking and culture, maybe by watching certain butter-loving, sweet-as-can-be celebrity cooks, or maybe just remembering great summers I’ve spent with my family and long weekend trips to the steamy New Orleans summers.

I remember my mom making black-eyed peas, and I remember loving them. I remember one black-eyed pea night in particular. I always, and let me emphasize always, wanted to help cook – at least as far as I can remember. She was making black-eyed peas and I wanted to help oh-so-badly. She acquiesed and let me stir the pot. Oh, boy was that a thrill! (I was like five, guys.) It’s one of my favorite memories.

I remember my dad making black-eyed peas on two distinct occassions. Once, I believe the first time, they were a tad bland – assuming my memory serves me. The second time I believe they were a bit spicy for my mild palette. (Which, to my surprise, I actually have. Tonight I commented how the collard greens were a bit too spicy and everyone looked at me in confusion. And I thought I was such cool stuff when I sucked salsa up through a straw that one time…) The first time, however, I remember us dinner guests passing around a bottle of Tabasco to liven our plates and palettes up. I thought that was such a big deal; mostly because, as is blatantly apparent now, I wasn’t one to handle my heat that well. I believe he made his with tomatoes. Of course, much of these beliefs could be cleared up just by asking him, but then that might interfere with my story, and I couldn’t have that now could I?

Tonight I made up my own black-eyed peas recipe with the help of at least four different recipes for everything from Dirty Black-Eyed Peas to Hoppin’ John. And here it is:

1 lb. black-eyed peas

1 lb. bacon

1 medium yellow onion

1 green bell pepper

1 Bay leaf, thyme, oregano, celery salt, salt, pepper

2 cloves of garlic

Crystal hot sauce, or other hot sauce to your preference

1. Soak or quick-soak black-eyed peas.

2. Rinse peas and drain pea water.

3. Heat pea pot (Dutch oven) over high heat.

4. Chop bacon, add extra-virgin olive oil to pot, drop bacon into pot.

5. Cook on high till bacon starts to crisp slightly.

6. Add peas, onion, pepper, spices and herbs, 4 cups (1 quart) of water, add few dashes of Crystal. Cook on high for about an hour.

7. Crush 2 cloves of garlic and add to pot, stirring.

8. Adjust seasonings if needed, and consume!

Now I admit that’s probably not the best way to do it. I might not cook it on high for an hour next time, but I was runnin’ low on time, or so I thought, so I wanted to get those puppies cooked. I was very worried that the beans wouldn’t become soft enough. Also, I would probaly correctly crisp the bacon before adding the other ingredients. However, when I envisioned the recipe in my mind I did not envision eating crispy bacon, which is probably pretty accurate as if I were to crisp it and then cook it for an hour it would probably not remain crispy. But trust me, the bacon was still very tasty and lended great flavor to the dish overall. So, crisp bacon, add vegetables sans garlic, add beans, add seasonings, add water and Crystal, put the top on, and call it a day. I would have probably also cooked the pot over medium heat. I noticed the peas cooked rather quickly and the veggies softened quickly and adequately as well. I guess high boilin’ heat will do that to whatever you put in it.

But mighty me, were those some tasty black-eyed peas. I was actually rather impressed, a bit surprisingly I am not afraid to admit. I am actually looking forward to having them as left-overs for lunch tomorrow, which says a lot, for as those of you who know me, I do not usually favor left-overs.

Black-eyed peas boilin' away.

Black-eyed peas boilin' away.

I served braised collard greens and corn bread alongside. The greens were pretty good, but the corn bread could have definitely seen a better night. Greens:

1 large bunch of collard greens, cleaned, and stems removed

1 1/2 lb. smoked ham hock

8 cups of water

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Crystal

1. Boil water with seasonings and ham hock for one hour.

2. Add greens and 1 Tbls. of butter and cook for 45 – 60 mins.

3. Drain and serve.

Now I like a little liquid and I am sure there are many things you can do with the liquid, but I discarded most of it.

I deemed tonight a four wooden spoon night as I dirtied that many and who knows how many other kitchen utensils as I also made apricot beignets with chocolate sauce. Verdict? I think I am more of a purist. I like traditional beignets better and I think these would have fared better sans chocolate sauce, with only powdered sugar. I know, right?! I  love chocolate, but I think in that sense, I can be a bit of a purist. I mean, I do love my Holiday Hot Chocolate after all…

Next time I look forward to trying black-eyed peas as my mother, aunt, and (I think) my dad have – with tomatoes, that is! And I do still have three ham hocks in the freezer…so maybe one of those will find its way into my pot o’ peas… Only time will tell.

(January 12, 2009)

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