Friday, July 4, 2008

If I Cooked, this would be the menu

Our power was out this morning, so immediately, I stopped thinking about cooking. It was back on by 8:30 a.m., but the thought had passed. Too bad, since it's a holiday weekend and a great time for some summer food.

I learned to cook at the elbow of southern cooks of legendary stature. First, my grandmother, we'll call her Granny, just for fun; my mother, we'll call her Mimi, just for fun; and Miss Essie Mae, the blessed woman who took me under her wing in the kitchen when I had my first real job at the Holiday Inn.Since it's a holiday, some might consider it my motherly duty to cook. Then, they would all leave for their festivities before the meal was ready. BUT...If I were to cook, I might cook this:
  • Barbecue chicken
  • Potato Salad
  • Squash Casserole
  • Corn Muffins
  • Watermelon
  • Fourth of July Cake

When I was a little girl, we almost always went to Granny's for the 4th of July. We went to 'the country club' for the buffet and fireworks, in a small town in the south. We stood in a long, long line, which stretched way out onto the golf course, to get our food. While we were in line, the men drank gin and tonic and played gin rummy. The women drank gin and tonic too and talked. The grandmothers saved the seats at the tables. And everybody smoked. Memories are jarred loose by smells.

Since we were standing in line, someone had to hold up her hands like a little table, for the draw deck. That someone was me. I got this job because I was standing in line, child-loser that I was. I didn't have anybody to play with, because I was older than the cousins, and we didn't live in the little town all year, so I didn't know a lot of kids. Also, I was haughty and chubby. Someone else had to fetch the gin and tonics. That was not me. It was however a child. This was a country club in the south, in the '60's. Children at the country club simply walked up to the bartender and said "I want two gin and tonics for my mama and daddy" and they got them, in glasses. And the bartender knew who they were and what their mama and daddy's club number was. No problem. Eventually, we used that to our advantage. No, actually not me. I am sure someone used that to their advantage. Definitely not me, I was haughty and perfect. Seriously. And I loved nothing more than to listen to the grown-ups talk. As the years rolled on, we still went to the country club, and I found my own teenage friends, and sometimes got set up on blind dates. Holding the cards for gin rummy was WAY more fun than the blind dates.

After the drinking and gambling and talking while in the line for the food, the grown-ups sat at tables on the country club lawn with white linen cloths and white linen napkins. Children were sent further out onto the golf course to sit in the grass. With the lightening bugs. I hated that part and often cried, so Granny let me sit with her at the table. I was some kind of brat. And then there were fireworks, set off by the teenage boys who worked on the golf course. All the younger boys ran to help. I don't think the term 'liability' had been coined at this point, between the gin and the fireworks. Blessedly, to stop the blind dates, I fell in summer - teenage love with a very cute boy who was NOT a country club boy, so I didn't want to go anymore. Wonder where he is today?

All that to say, I don't have a memory of a home-prepared 4th of July menu. We just didn't. We went to the country club, until we didn't. Eventually, I had to figure out what to cook.

Let's be clear, this is a NATIONAL HOLIDAY. I do not have to cook. Actually, I don't have to cook any day, but I am claiming holiday privileges probably for the whole weekend. On the religious holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter - I must cook, no I mean I LOVE to cook. These other non-religious affairs, that are mainly days off from work with department store sales, I claim that privilege too. I am plenty patriotic, I am just not required to cook.

IF, however, I were going to cook, I would put this on the stove early in the day, to provide hope for the hungry minions that there would be food:

Barbeque Sauce
1/2 cup vinegar (white, apple cider, any kind of vinegar)
1 cup water (OK, I subbed in V-8 juice today)
4 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons prepared mustard (your choice: honey mustard, dijon, plain yellow, any kind of mustard works
1 Tablespoon Season Salt (like Lawreys)
1 clove garlic, minced (feel free to use the garlic in the jar)
1 sliced onion
1 stick butter
Lemon slices, thin
Celery tops
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup ketchup
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

Combine vinegar, water, sugar, mustard,garlic, butter, seasonings. Add celery tops, lemon slices and sliced onion. Heat to boiling, then turn down, cover and simmer for 30 minues or so.
At this point, it looks nothing at all like bbq sauce; fear not. It smells divine even though it is yellow, or yellowish. So.... add ketchup and worcestershire sauce and bring back to a boil. (This can actually simmer for a good while, covered. The simmering sauce can fill your home with the smell

Use as a sauce for any meat or chicken, grilled or baked. Just pour it over your meat, before, during or after the cooking. Really good with brisket or pork roast, as well as chicken. Use some today and freeze some for another day, when you don't need your house to smell good quite so early in the day.

ON to the barbequed chicken - oven style. I am not a griller of chicken. Don't ask questions about "burned on the outside, raw on the inside." Praise the Lord for Miss Essie Mae and her basic baked chicken.

We're going to use chicken pieces, and because of our "critical numbers," let's just pull the skin off those chicken pieces, Or not. Rinse well and pat dry with paper towel. Smell them and make sure they smell like chicken. Check the package and the newspaper and the internet to make sure they have not been subject to some huge recall. Kidding . . . sort of.

Put the chicken in the baking dish and go at it with salt first (salt directly on the chicken, per Miss Essie Mae.) Then come back with worcestershire sauce, some seasoned salt if you like, and lots of pepper. Then flip the chicken pieces over and go at it with the salt, worcestershire sauce, season salt, and pepper again. Go gently with the salts, since there are two of them. Put it in the oven @ 350 and bake it. After 30 minutes, add your sauce/additional seasoning - or not - and cover with foil. Bake 20-45 minutes more with covered.

Stop right here, after about an hour or so of baking, and have lovely baked chicken pieces, moist and coming from the bone easily. Before covering with foil, make some changes, depending on your menu. If you like rosemary, jab some sprigs of that stuff amongst the chicken. Wine and mushrooms? Go ahead! Go another direction with Greek Seasoning, shake some on, maybe some lemon. If you like Italian cuisine, pour a jar of Prego on top - or whatever. This is the genius of Miss Essie Mae. You can cook chicken over and over again, and add a little something different, and have a whole long list of different chickens to cook. I don't think I would add ALL those things at the same time, but you might and be a very heroic cook at the end of the day.

Today, if I were cooking, to fake out the children that we might be having a southern-style picnic meal, we would make ours barbeque chicken. At the 30 minute mark, I would ladle some of that hot bbq sauce over my baking chicken, cover it with foil, and bake for another 30-45 minutes. Then you have something delicious. Bbq Chicken. Bless you , Miss Essie Mae.

I got some nice little squash at the farmer's market, oh...maybe a week ago, or maybe it was 2 weeks. I put it in the fridge and forgot about it. Lucky for me I'm not cooking today.

Both Mimi and Granny would also make deviled eggs. But that would make this meal way too yellow, not to mention the plethora of mayonnaise, even the Duke. So, if I were cooking tonight, considerng the color palette and the layering of flavors, I might save those for another day. Or not.

The 4th of July Cake is an internet recipe, from the Pioneer Woman, also a legendary cook. Don't tell PW, but we DID use the low fat cream cheese and sour cream (not fat free). Bless you all who taught me to cook, for allowing me to improvise. And PPP, daredevil that she is, actually piped that icing onto the cake. And subbed strawberries for raspberries. She's learning improv-cooking too!


CS said...

Thanks for the comment left on my Humor and Doings site. As to your country club experience.... that pretty much spoke to me too. We always waited and had dinner at the club in picnic form and enjoyed fireworks there.

The wonderful flag cake you are decorating was one I asked Ree about last night. I told her I needed to look in her freezer to see if she had one hiding in there to eat later. She pointed to cupcakes with blueberries on top and said that was her version this year. I hope to encourage her to make the full version again next year.

Kaza said...

What a cool post. Such vivid memories! I was able to picture it all (particularly now that I live in the South). The kids getting the drinks at the bar part is hilarious (and unthinkable now!).