On Cooking Southern: Hispanic-Flavored Finger Foods Make Everything More Bearable

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato/briar/persimmons: A countenance that may be misleading, indicative of something more sinister. A possum’s sharp teeth cause it to fix its face in a permanent grin. Couple those teeth with something astringent or prickly and that critter will be making sure the mouth is open wide. Looks most definitely can be deceiving.


Three weeks ago The Old Bride went to war against Mother Nature.

It happened after we discovered standing water in a yard where the irrigation had been turned off. A trusted team of experts – including plumber and landscaper – sank up to their ankles as they traversed the yard. To say that the sod was adrift over nothing was like Seinfeld saying his show was about nothing. Something most definitely was going on below the surface.

Can we spell moles, boys and girls?

It was time to call in the expert. Yes, we have a guy. Any self-respecting metro-suburban Southerner living near a wooded area has a guy.

Mike Merchant of Wildlife Resolutions has been my go-to critter guy for almost nine years. He’s as necessary for our ongoing home maintenance as quarterly pest control and seasonal HVAC troubleshooting.

After nailing the first mole, Mike assumed that our troubles might be over. After the second mole, he started to doubt. After the third mole, he promised to let me know before blowing up the yard a la Caddyshack.

But there was more going on than mere moles. Those guinea-pig-sized creatures were just the advance team attempting to wrest the Triplette yard back to the wilderness.

There was the first raccoon. There was the armadillo. There was the big-*** squirrel. There was the first possum. There was the black cat (an omen, perhaps???)… then came the second possum, followed by the second raccoon. Nothing is creepier than a trap containing an irritated raccoon. They stare at you without moving a muscle. If looks could kill, I would be dead dead dead.

At the same time, we had the Waterworld wildlife events happening. Larger-than-usual water moccasin in the skimmer … two turtles … to date.

I’m now leery of checking those pool skimmers. I’m leaving that up to the pool guy. Yeah, a pool guy. Get over it. The kids are grown, and we believe in supporting the economy.

Upon the advice of all our experts, my hubby is building an Ark. Our LSU daughter is heating up the gumbo pot.


MAKE GAME DAY EASIER

Hotty Toddy Nation may be slipping on the gridiron in this season of perpetual frustration. But nothing should get in the way of our ranking as No. 1-in-Tailgating.

That’s why, this week, The Old Bride thinks it important to remind football tailgaters how to prep for Game Day with minimal effort. Good cooks and great culinary fakers alike know that tasty dishes often are composed of multiple mini-recipes requiring hours of pre-event preparation. That’s certainly true for many of our most popular Mexican-influenced Game Day finger foods.

Ready-made versions of those mini-recipes abound. So take advantage wherever possible, and plan to have more Game Day fun off the field. Use slow cookers and warming trays as needed.


OPEN FACED PULLED PORK QUESADILLA

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If you have the time, go ahead and make it all from scratch. http://hottytoddy.com/2013/11/07/on-southern-cooking-pork-barbecue/

Large flour tortillas
Peanut oil
1 lb chopped or pulled smoked pork shoulder
Barbecue sauce
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped green onions
Shredded cabbage slaw, optional
Pickled jalapeño rings, optional

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high heat for about a minute. Carefully add about a half-teaspoon of oil, spreading out evenly across the pan bottom with a silicon spatula. Position a large flour tortilla in the pan and flip after about 10-15 seconds. Repeat several times until air pockets begin to form in the tortilla. Continue, adding more oil as needed until desired number of tortillas have been prepped.

Place fried tortillas on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle each with a generous layer of cheese, covering to edges. Spread with a layer of pulled pork, tossed in BBQ sauce of choice. Leave a one-inch margin uncovered around the tortilla edges. Bake in the oven about 5-10 minutes, until tortilla edges start to curl. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped green onions, and optional slaw and pepper rings. Use pizza wheel to cut into wedges.


CLASSIC TOSTADAS
Here’s a link to the scratch-made components. http://hottytoddy.com/2013/01/29/on-cooking-southern-chili-pico-de-gallo-and-cornbread/

15.5-oz can of refried beans
Herdez salsa (mild or hot, to taste)
1 c shredded Mexican three-cheese blend
Homemade chili
Shredded iceberg lettuce
1 c diced fresh tomatoes
1 c diced green onions
diced avocado, guacamole or pico de gallo
6 to 8 hot tostada shells

Heat the refried beans in a medium saucepan set to medium-low. Stir in just enough Herdez to season and transform the beans into a spreadable paste. To assemble the tostadas, spread first with refried beans. Layer in succession with dots of hot chili, pico or guacamole, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and green onions. Serve while hot.


BLUE CORN NACHOS WITH BLACKEYED PEA PICO

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This is an interpretation of what we experienced at the most recent Southern Foodways Symposium.

15.5-oz can of black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
6 tomatillos or 3 unpeeled green tomatoes, big seeds removed, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c fine-chopped red onion
4 to 5 sweet mini-peppers, deseeded and chopped
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt, to taste
Juice of 2 limes
Blue corn nacho chips
Queso fresco, shredded
1/4 c radish, thin sliced
1 thin-sliced sweet onion
Green onion, chopped

Combine first eight ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to blend.

Spread a single layer of nacho chips in a baking pan. Ladle a teaspoon of pea pico over every chip. Sprinkle with cheese and add a slice of radish and sweet onion to each. Sprinkle chopped green onion evenly on top.

Bake about 15 minutes in oven preheated to 350˚F until cheese melts. Serve while hot.


BUFFALO CHICKEN SOFT TACOS

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Many versions of this popular dip abound. I’ve added more chicken to make the dish more robust for taco purposes.

16 oz (2 pkgs) cream cheese
3/4 to 1 c Frank’s Redd Hot Buffalo Sauce
12 oz blue cheese dressing (I use Marzetti’s all natural)
1 c Mexican three-cheese blend
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese
2-1/2 c chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie roast chicken or frozen fajita strips, thawed)
Crumbled blue cheese
Nacho chips or soft flour tortillas or tortilla boats

Combine first five ingredients in large mixing bowl. Use hand mixer to blend. Fold in the chicken and stir until completely blended. Pour into a 3-qt baking dish. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese evenly over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes in preheated oven set to 350˚F, until bubbly. Serve hot with warm nacho chips, spoon into taco shells and dress with shredded lettuce; or roll by the tablespoon in heated soft flour tortillas.


MEXICAN RICE

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2 c rice
28-oz can of petite diced tomatoes
3 T chopped green chili peppers (about half a small can)
1 c chopped green onion
1/2 tsp salt
2 c water

Combine all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a low rolling boil, stirring at regular intervals to prevent sticking. After boiling for 5-7 minutes, cover and turn off heat. Stir a few times. If rice appears too al dente, add a little water and cover again. If cooking via rice cooker, reduce water to 1 cup. Stir once as rice nears end of cook cycle.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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