Kat’s 3rd Annual New Year’s Day Dinner

Here’s the dish! I love to entertain, but I don’t do it much because I have small living quarters. For the past few years, I have had friends over on New Year’s Day for a traditional southern meal of Fried Chicken, Macaroni & Cheese, Collard Greens, Black Eye Peas, Cornbread, Chocolate Chip Pie, and the best Red Kool-Aid you’ve ever had. In southern culture, we eat Collard Greens to represent financial prosperity and Black Eye Peas for good luck in the coming year. The Cornbread, well that’s for sopping up all that southern goodness. After having a spectacular Thanksgiving with the Jenkinses, I thought I’d take to the blog to share with you all some of my family’s most delicious southern dishes.

My maternal grandmother, Susie Mae, was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known. When grandma cooked dinner for the family, every plate was clean, every stomach was stuffed, and a full onset of the itis came soon after we took our last bite. When my mom left her hometown of Florala, Ala., she would call my grandma and ask her how to cook some of her favorite dishes. She ended up being the next best chef in the family. Because I loved food so much, I started shadowing my mom in the kitchen at a fairly young age. She taught me the basics, and as I grew older and my palette became more sophisticated, I started experimenting more in the kitchen and loved the journey of making delicious food for myself, my family, and my friends.

The thing I loved about my grandma’s cooking was that it was simple and delicious. She didn’t come up with crazy spice concoctions (her staples were just salt and pepper) and the recipes were simple enough for a child (that child being me) to follow them. While I like to explore in the kitchen, when it comes to the southern staples, I follow her vision and keep it simple.

Cooking Up Smoked Ham Hocks

Smoked Ham Hocks are God’s gift to the world and an essential part of many southern-style vegetables. Essentially, the ham hock is the knuckle in the joints of the pig’s legs. They are meaty, fatty, salty, smoky, and just down-right delicious. Some people prefer smoked turkey in their greens instead of the ham hocks, either because they don’t eat pork or they are going for a healthier alternative to cooking with smoked meat, but around our neck of the woods, we prefer pork over turkey any day.

Growing up, my mom always cooked ham hocks in a pressure cooker. Because of its explosive nature, however, I skip the pressure cooker and cook mine overnight in a slow cooker. Check out the simplest way to cook up ham hocks, which will be the base for both the Collard Greens and Black Eye Peas.

Southern Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks

CollardGreens

Collard Greens might be one of my favorite greens. Whole Foods will try to convince you they are next trendy super green, but collards have long been staple at southern holiday meals, especially New Year’s dinner. The leafy greens represent financial prosperity for the new year, so you will most certainly find a pot of them simmering on stove tops across the south on January 1st.

People often do the absolute most to greens. Most of this is due to the fact that they cook them with smoked turkey meat, which, in my humble opinion, doesn’t pack the same flavor as a pork base. If you are still among the few people who eat pork, the best way to cook up Collard Greens is with deliciously Smoked Ham Hocks. They provide the right amount of smoky and salty flavor to make your greens delicious and tender. Now, I wouldn’t suggest cooking them with ham hocks throughout the calendar year, but that special stretch of holiday time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, ham hocks are the way to go!

My grandmother’s recipe contained only five simple ingredients and will have you hiding plastic containers of your collards before the family comes over and scrapes the pot clean! Check out this simple recipe for Southern Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks.

Black Eye Peas with Smoked Ham Hocks

Peas_Frozen

I only cook Black Eye Peas for the new year because of they represent good luck. The other 364 days (or in this year’s case, 365 days), I indulge myself with other legumes, usually from a can. The fact of the matter is, cooking dry peas and beans can be a laborious process. I just don’t have time to search for stones and soak them overnight. My grandma is in heaven looking upon me with disdain, but my mother and I have made this dish super easy by using frozen peas. Yes, you can purchase Black Eye Peas in your grocer’s frozen vegetable section! I’ve also seen them pre-soaked and in the produce section of different grocery stores. It makes life so much easier, but plan ahead for the new year because the prepped variety go fast!

BlackEyePeas

Use a Smoked Ham Hock and a cup of its cooking water as the base, and simply add the frozen peas (after rinsing, of course), cover with low sodium chicken broth (water will also work), and add salt to taste. Cook them for at least an hour until tender, and voila, you have perfectly cooked Black Eye Peas. As I mentioned in my recipe for Southern Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks, you can leave the ham hock whole or remove the bones and fat and only serve the peas with the meat. You can also serve them with rice for a southern delicacy we call Hoppin’ Johns. Either way, you’re in for a simple, delicious treat that will bring you luck in the months to come!

Golden Fried Chicken

FriedChicken

Similar to Collard Greens, people tend to over do Fried Chicken. People are usually surprised to find out, after biting into a perfectly golden brown piece of my chicken, that I only use Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and coarse black pepper to season the chicken. Yep, that’s it! Now my mother and I disagree on one thing when it comes to Fried Chicken, and that’s whether to season the flour you dredge it in or not. My mom tends to season the meat more heavily and use unseasoned flour, but I stick by seasoning the meat a bit lighter with the seasoned salt and using regular salt and pepper to season the flour.

It always baffles me at how intimidated people are by deep frying. You don’t need to have an actual deep fryer to achieve that crispy crunch. Instead of using a frying pan, use a large pot; I use a standard 6-quart stainless steel pot. The trick to achieving the deep fry is cooking with enough oil. When I’m frying up chicken for a large group, I just go ahead and purchase the gallon-size jug of vegetable oil. You need enough oil to fill 2/3 of pot you’re frying in.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What on earth am I going to do with all that oil when I’m done?! Well, you best not throw it away! There are certain things that are staples in southern homes, and a jar of chicken grease is one of them. Jars of bacon grease and fish grease (which should be stored separately because you normally dredge fish in cornmeal instead of flour) would be other staples, in case you are wondering. As long as you don’t burn your chicken, you can use the frying oil again and again and again. I don’t deep fry food often, so it’s good to have some on hand and not have to buy it every time I want to indulge myself. Just allow it to cool completely, and using a strainer, transfer it to a glass jar and store above your stove (you can really store it anywhere but that’s where my grandma kept hers, so that’s where I keep mine).

Kat’s Southern-Style Macaroni & Cheese

Mac_Cooked

One of the great debates of our time will be the proper way to cook Macaroni & Cheese. On one side, you have the people who prefer a cheese sauce-based recipe and, on the other side, a custard-based recipe. Being a southerner, I grew up eating a custard-based casserole. As I learned to cook using different techniques, I began to experiment in the kitchen. What I learned is, combining both cheese sauce and custard makes for the most deliciously creamy Macaroni & Cheese you will ever taste.

Some might be intimidated by the thought of making homemade cheese sauce, but it’s quite a simple cooking technique that can be used in a number of dishes. Check out my easy recipe for Kat’s Southern-Style Macaroni & Cheese. Try not to go around slapping your momma after you eat it.

Cornbread

Cornbread

Are you ready to revoke my southern card and never trust a word I tell you again? I’m not the biggest fan of Cornbread. There, I admitted it. I’ve always preferred a good yeast roll over cornbread. However, because it’s a part of the southern tradition, I cook it for the new year. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve served up some good ol’ Jiffy Cornbread in years past. I love its sweet, cake-like taste. But, let’s be real, I wouldn’t dare blog about serving up boxed cornbread for a holiday feast!

The first time I attempted to make cornbread from scratch, I used white cornmeal, and it didn’t come out as expected. It was going in some dressing, so it didn’t really matter anyway, but I knew I had to find the perfect yellow cornmeal for my New Year’s dinner. I scoured the store shelves, reading recipes on the back of the bags until I decided on Indian Head Old Fashioned Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal and its recipe. Check it out!

Patsy’s Chocolate Chip Pie

Pie

I’ve always preferred cake over pie. There’s something about the light fluffy layers and the perfect ratio of cake-to-frosting that makes me happy all over. Growing up, one of my best friends’ mother introduced me to a pie that would change my life. Patsy’s Chocolate Chip Pie is pretty much the love child of a cookie cake and a pie. When I come home for the holidays and visit with my friend and her family, we eat the pie. I laughed hysterically when my friend told me about her cousin’s rant the Thanksgiving there was no Chocolate Chip Pie. Now, I would never recommend you curse out your elders for not making your favorite dessert during the holidays, but know, it’s that serious. Check out this super simple and delicious recipe for Patsy’s Chocolate Chip Pie.

Food & Friends

Hosting can be a bit overwhelming, especially in a small space. However, I managed to pack 13 friends into my tiny, 600-square foot condo, and we enjoyed this delicious New Year’s Dinner together. I was excited to share some of my family’s traditions with them, many of whom came from regions where this tradition was not celebrated. I managed not to take one single photo of the group, but after our dinner, we partook in a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity, which I happened to win. This inappropriate game is becoming just as much a part of my dinner’s tradition as the food.

Thank you to everyone who joined me this year. May 2016 be bountiful and prosperous for all!

Until next time, folks! Keep dishing!

Show Me What You’re Cooking Up in #Blizzard2016

Here’s the dish! I love being snowed in! My snow days are filled with Netflix and great food. Show me what you’re cooking up by using #SnowedInWithKat and check out what I’m cooking by searching that hashtag. Be sure you’re following me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

I hope you’ll join me for this virtual food fest!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Thanksgiving with the Jenkinses

Here’s the dish! Relocating to another city means sometimes you won’t be home with your family for the holidays. Last year, I went home to Atlanta for Thanksgiving and stayed in D.C. for Christmas. After spending a Christmas away from my family, I knew in the years to come, I’d be home for Christmas (instead of Thanksgiving).

Here’s the thing about the winter holidays—you eat a traditional feast at Thanksgiving and turn around one month later and pretty much eat the exact same menu, give or take a few dishes, for Christmas. I love when people think outside the traditional box with holiday meals and introduce new traditions. Enter my friends Charaé and Darin Jenkins.

CookingGreens
I stopped by the day before to serve as Sous Chef to Chef Charaé, seen here stirring a pot of Collard Greens.

Charaé and I attended American University together (#EbonyEagles) and share a love of preparing and enjoying delicious food. She told me started cooking with her mom at the age of six, but she didn’t really start being adventurous in kitchen until she met her husband in 2008. Since then, she’s grown to become an amazing home chef. I sometimes scroll through her Instagram page salivating over the meals she makes for herself and D.J. She’s a culinary creative who does what I love most—thinks outside the box and starts her own traditions. The Jenkinses are known for their festively themed Thanksgiving dinners, and this year, Chef Charaé, as I affectionately call her, allowed me into her kitchen for a glimpse at how she pulls off an amazing meal for her family and friends.

It’s All About the Food

Chef Charaé decided to cooked an Asian-inspired Thanksgiving meal this year. She began researching recipes, and one day over Google Hangouts, we finalized a menu and details. She only received three simple requests from her hubby: Turkey (as opposed to the individual Cornish Hens she opted for), regular Collard Greens, and Macaroni & Cheese. Accounting for all of this, she decided on the following menu:

Let’s Get it Started

I nearly entered my food coma off the appetizers alone! I ate a half dozen Collard Green Wontons before I decided to stop counting because I wasn’t going to stop eating them. Chef Charaé’s recipe was simple: she gingerly loads prepared collard greens (drained thoroughly), cream cheese, and a special blend of seasoning into wonton papers and deep fries them until golden brown. The Cranberry Chutney ended up being the perfect accompaniment to these little triangles of deliciousness. Seriously, it’s one of my new favorite treats. I ate the ones I took home with me the next morning for breakfast. The Srirarcha & Wasabi Deviled Eggs marinated over night and packed a lot of flavor without being overpowering, which wasabi can sometimes be. And the meatballs. Oh, the meatballs. Succulently juicy and presented with individual appetizer forks, they were a hit with everyone, even the Jenkinses’ four-legged fur baby, Saki, who managed to snag a few of her own for tasting.

So Meaty

The Soy Sauce & Honey Glazed Turkey blew me away! Mid chew I admitted that, all these years, my mother has been roasting some pretty dry turkeys (sorry, mom!). Chef Charaé served her turkey with traditional gravy and an assortment of Asian dipping sauces, but to be perfectly honest, it didn’t need a thing. They key to achieving such a moist bird, according to the chef, is roasting it breast side down and continually basting it, then finishing it off right side up. I will definitely use this tip whenever I decide to be brave and cook a bird on my own. The jumbo Garlic-Ginger Shrimp came straight from the heart of D.C.’s seafood district—Captain White’s Seafood City on the Southwest Waterfront. I love that we had the option of a traditional turkey and and the shrimp, which ended up pairing perfectly with the Fried Rice.

Every Hero Needs a Sidekick

Sides should always complement the the meal, and Chef Charaé’s sides did just that. We laughed at the fact that we both struggle with cooking rice (I know, I know), but her Fried Rice, which included carrots, onion, eggs, and scallions, stir fried with homemade garlic butter and soy sauce came out perfectly. The Hot & Spicy Green Beans packed a flavorful punch and provided a new twist on what can sometimes be a mundane vegetable. I usually have to force myself to eat my green beans (because I’m a 5 year old at heart), but I scarfed down these beans down like it was my job, and technically, it was. Her traditional Collard Greens featured a smoked turkey leg and onions, which simmered slowly in chicken broth until tender. I had the honor of being the taste tester for her Million Macaroni & Cheese; it wasn’t a tough job at all, and I was happy to do it. It boasts seven different cheeses—yes, SEVEN—including Gruyere, Muenster, White Cheddar, Smoked Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, Colby Jack, and Ricotta. Do yourself a favor and add a smoked cheese into your next pan of mac & cheese; you won’t be disappointed. The smoky goodness of the Gouda and Cheddar takes the flavor to another level, and I loved every bite of it.

Always Eat Dessert

There was barely room left for dessert, but I dug deep and found the space in my expanding stomach to eat some pie; I would expect nothing less from myself (lol). Chef Charaé whipped up homemade Sweet Potato Pie (sorry, Patti… no store-bought pies around here), and another guest brought a Havana Dream Pie from Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, which was served with dulce de leche, strawberries, and fresh whipped cream (not pictured). And because it’s all about the details, there were also Fortune Cookies for guests to enjoy. We cracked them open after dinner and read aloud our fortunes. It was a great way to end a wonderful meal and reminded us all that we have plenty to be thankful for.

The Art of Entertaining

Entertaining is an art form. It’s one thing to invite people over for food and fellowship, but quite another to provide them with a memorable experience they won’t soon forget. I think what I appreciated most, aside from the food, of course, were the little details that made this evening magical and memorable. Chef Charaé is definitely the hostess with the mostest and meticulously thought through the experience she wanted to provide her guests. She looked beyond just the menu for her Asian-themed Thanksgiving. Some of my favorite details included providing guests with chopsticks to use instead of the traditional knife and fork. She went as far as to order Chinese take-out boxes for guests to take food home in. I live for details like that! The main color for her tablescape was red, which represents good luck in the Chinese culture.

While a fully stocked bar was available for guests, Chef Charaé also offered a delicious seasonal cocktail—a concoction of Ginger Beer, Apple Cider, and Tito’s Vodka. It was perfect for a guest like me who doesn’t drink enough to figure out my own mixed drink, but still likes to partake in a libation or two (or three because it was really smooth and delicious). The final thing I’ll note that I really enjoyed was the use of real serving dishes and plates. My mother is somewhere saying “I told you so,” and shaking her head (lol). I’ll be the first to admit, I will use disposable items when entertaining for more than 10 people in a heartbeat because it just makes clean up easier. Because we were a small, intimate gathering of family and friends, Chef Charaé made good use of her fancy entertaining pieces—from porcelain platters, to chaffing dishes, to a multi-pot slow cooker. She made sure her deliciously prepared food was well-presented to all of her guests.

With Many Thanks

 

I’m really fortunate to have friends I can spend holidays with when I’m away from my family. It’s always fun to create and experience new traditions. I wanted to send a very heartfelt thanks to Charaé and D.J. for opening up their home and kitchen to me! <hint>Since I’ll be around for Thanksgivings to come, I’m looking forward to many more memorable Thanksgivings with the Jenkinses.</hint>

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Cooking Chicken Tortilla Soup with Kat

Nothing comforts you when you’re under the weather like a hot, hearty bowl of soup. When I woke up last Sunday feeling a bit under the weather, I knew I wanted some chicken soup to warm my soul. I didn’t want to go for the traditional Chicken Noodle Soup I ate as a child when I was sick. Instead, I fancied some spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup, something that would open up my sinuses and tickle my palate. Here’s how I created my tasty culinary creation.

Ingredients

Ingredients
Everything you need to make this deliciously spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
1 Can of Black Beans
1 Can of Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (Rotel works great)
1 Carton of Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 Medium Bell Pepper (any color will do)
1 Medium Red Onion
1 Ear of Corn
1 Lime
1 Jalapeno
1 Avocado
1 Bunch of Fresh Cilantro
1 Pack of Taco Seasoning (try to pick one with no added salt)
1 Tbsp of Tomato Paste (try and find this in a squeezable tube that you can refrigerate and use again)
2-3 Corn Tortillas
1/4 Cup of Shredded Cheese (a Mexican blend works well, but whatever you have on hand will work)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

To start, I heated a large pot of water. Once it was boiling, I added a generous helping of coarse sea salt and added the chicken breast. Boil the breast for about 10-12 minutes and place it in a bowl to cool off.

Chopped
Left to right: whole cilantro leaves, lime zest, finely chopped red onion, finely chopped jalapeno, small diced jalapeno, small diced bell pepper, roughly chopped cilantro, small diced red onion, corn kernels, and lime wedges

While the chicken cooks, prep your veggies for the soup. Small dice (smaller than bite-sized) the bell pepper and onion; take a portion of the onion and finely chop it then set it aside for a soup topping. Remove the husks and silk from the corn and cut the bottom off the corn. Use the flat surface of the corn to hold the cob steady as you cut around it to remove the kernels. Zest the lime (this is totally optional, but it will add a more intense citrus flavor to the soup) and quarter it. Pick the cilantro leaves off and discard the stems. Roughly chop most of them but leave some whole for a soup topping. Stack the tortillas and cut them in half; stack the halves and cut into strips about a quarter inch wide. Lastly, remove as many of the seeds and ribbing of the jalapeno as you see fit; the more you remove, the milder the flavor, and the more you keep, the spicier the flavor. Take a portion of the jalapeno and finely chop it then set it aside for a soup topping. After handling the jalapeno, thoroughly wash your hands, knife, and cutting board. Whatever you do, do not touch your face and eyes after handling the jalapeno; you do not want any remnants of the pepper getting into your eyes.

Once your veggies are prepped, it’s time to start cooking. Preheat your oven to 375°. Heat a large pot on the stove to medium-high and add two to three circles of EVOO to the pot. Add your aromatics—the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno. You want to cook them until they are softened and fragrant; add salt and pepper to taste. Add about three quarters of the taco seasoning packet (I really like the one from Trader Joe’s because it’s does not have a lot of sodium in it) and the tablespoon of tomato paste. Cook for a few more minutes to thoroughly combine them with the aromatics. Add the whole can of fire-roasted tomatoes, juice and all, and the entire carton of chicken broth. Bring this to a soft boil and taste it for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed. Drain and thoroughly rinse the black beans, then add them to the pot with the corn kernels. Add the chopped cilantro, lime zest, and juice from three of the lime wedges. Continue to let these flavors meld in the pot while you work on the chicken.

Shred the cooled off chicken into bite-size pieces. There are a few methods I use for shredding chicken. If it’s a small amount, such as this one breast, you can use your fingers or two forks, pulling them in opposite directions to shred the chicken. If you doubling this recipe or just need to shred a bunch of chicken, use a hand mixer if you have one. I recently stumbled upon this kitchen hack via a Facebook video, and it’s changed my life. Check out this YouTube video to see the magic! Add the remainder of the taco seasoning and salt and pepper to taste, then add the chicken to the pot of soup.

While the soup simmers, prep your soup toppings for garnishment. Spread the cut tortillas on a baking sheet and drizzle with EVOO and salt and pepper. Toss them until they are all generously coated and seasoned. Spread the strips into one layer (you don’t want them stacked on top of each other) and bake them in the oven for about 12 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Take your knife and run it lengthwise around the avocado; twist the two halves until they separate. Use your knife (if you know what you’re doing) or a spoon (if you don’t know what you’re doing) to remove the avocado pit. Use a knife to make scores of bite-size pieces in the flesh of the avocado; be sure not to cut through the skin, and especially sure not to cut your hand. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and squeeze the juice of the remaining lime wedge on the avocado so it doesn’t oxidize (turn brown).

Soup2
Enjoy!

Now it’s time to plate! If you’ve followed me on social media, you have an idea how seriously I take my plating. Scoop a few spoonfuls of the soup into a bowl. Sprinkle cheese on top so that it melts into the broth. Add the finely chopped raw onion and jalapeno. Garnish with a few whole cilantro leaves. Stack a few of the toasted tortilla strips in the center, then top it with a few pieces of jalapeno.

The only thing left to do is enjoy the homemade soup you just created! Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, and it’s even better the next day. It will keep in your fridge for about five days and you can place it in gallon-sized plastic bags and freeze it for later.

I hope you enjoy this Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe as much as I did! Happy cooking!