Posts Tagged ‘Southern cooking’

Winter Greens Lasagna: great way to use up collard greens!

Winter Greens Lasagna: great way to use up collard greens!

One of the easiest ways to use of leftovers is to make a “lasagna.” I use the quotes because the term lasagna is used loosely here. Since coming back from  a recent trip to Florence, Italy I now know what authentic lasagna should taste like…but that is a topic for another post. I am back in the US and using the term “lasagna” to mean basically any baked flat noodle dish with sauce, filling, and cheese all baked together to result in a delicious casserole type meal.

After my New Year’s collard fix, I had leftover greens that were clean, chopped and needed to be used. In my search for how to use up the greens, I came across several lasagna recipes using spinach or swiss chard. So I thought, why not collards? I decided to take a risk and give it a try. It turned out to be a surprisingly tasty lasagna. The collards have a bit more bite than spinach, resulting in a lasagna that has a nice balance of flavor and texture. I added some chopped onion, red bell pepper, and kalmata olives to give the lasagna filling a Mediterranean twist. The end result was a delicious, healthy recipe that is a great way to use up leftover winter greens. The recipe below calls for collard greens in this version, but kale, swiss chard, etc. could be substituted. The key is to blanch the greens  for a few minutes to tenderize the them prior to baking in the lasagna. Oh yes, this is another vegetarian meal option that is hearty and flavorful enough for meat lovers to enjoy too!

Winter Collard Green Lasagna

9 lasagna noodles (no boil are ok, but I prefer regular)

1 chopped onion

1 chopped red bell pepper

garlic (optional)

1/2 cup chopped olives

4 cups fresh collard greens, washed and torn into pieces

one large egg, slightly beaten

salt and pepper

15 oz. whole milk ricotta

1 cup shredded low moisture mozzarella (feel free to use more, but I am watching my waistline…this is just enough for the perfect cheesy bite with each serving)

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (not the ready made canned/jarred stuff..but fresh grated)

tomato sauce (I used a homemade version that has garlic, basil, oregano, and dried chili flakes as seasonings that I always have around, but you can just use 1 jar of your favorite store bought brand if you don’t have homemade sauce on hand)

To Make:

If using regular lasagna noodles, place noodles in pan with hot water. Let the noodles sit and soften while you are preparing the filing.

Boiled collard greens in a pot of boiling water until just tender. Remove from water and drain well. Depending on the size of the torn collards, chop into a rough chop and place in a large mixing bowl. Sauté the onions, red bell pepper in olive oil until just softened. If you like extra garlic, add chopped garlic to the onions and peppers and sauté for another minute (the tomato sauce I used had plenty of garlic so I skipped this step). Place sautéed veggies in mixing bowl with collards, add olives and stir to combine. To this mixture add ricotta and egg; salt and pepper to taste–mix together so that all ingredients are distributed evenly for the filling.

Lasagna filling: collards, red pepper, onion, olives, ricotta

Lasagna filling: collards, red pepper, onion, olives, ricotta

Assemble the lasagna: in a 9×13 baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan to cover. Top with a layer of 3 noodles, veggie filling, portion of mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce. Repeat layers ending with a layer of noodles, sauce then cheese as the top layers. Add parmesan cheese as extra cheesy topping.

Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly around the edges, heated through. You can check the warmth of the lasagna by sticking a knife in the center–checking the warmth of the knife tip to see if the lasagna is fully heated. Remove from oven, allow to cool for a bit then serve and enjoy!

Ready to slice for a perfect bite of winter greens lasagna

Ready to slice for a perfect bite of winter greens lasagna


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It’s a New Years celebration…Black-eyed peas and Collard Greens!

Fresh collards...a New Year's must!

Fresh collards…a New Year’s must!

On a recent trip to Florence, Italy I came across one of my new favorite feel-good dishes–Ribollita. Ribollita is a basic, peasant-style thick soup that is perfect for the cold winter months. Traditional Ribollita is a vegetable and bread based soup that is served reboiled the next day topped with a dash of fresh olive oil. The original recipe calls for Tuscan kale and cannellini beans; however, my own traditions call for eating collard greens and black-eyed peas  on New Years day so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to adapt one of my favorite soups for ringing in 2013! Plus, my husband has yet to acquire a taste for collard greens and black-eyed peas, so each year I look for creative new ways to sneak them into our New Years day meal 🙂  This one is a winner! Plus, if you are making a New Year’s resolution to be “healthy” this is a hearty vegetarian, vegan (depending on the bread you use) dish that will please any carnivore or omnivore out there.

Tuscan tradition with a twist

Tuscan tradition with a twist

Note: The soup is traditionally made the day before serving then reboiled (hence the name Ribollita) the next day. If you are stretched for time go ahead and make it all in one day–it will still taste good.

Good Luck Ribollita

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme

2 russet potatoes peeled and diced

1 15 oz can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

1 15 oz can white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained

1 bunch (about 7 cups) fresh collard greens, washed, rinsed, and shredded/torn into bite sized pieces

6 whole tomatoes, peeled (can use whole tomatoes from a can, just the tomato, not the juice)

crusty bread

good olive oil

salt & pepper

Mirepoix: a classic combo for many great soups...carrots, celery, onion

Mirepoix: a classic combo for many great soups…carrots, celery, onion

Ribollita in the making...needs to boil then simmer for 2 hours

Ribollita in the making…needs to boil then simmer for 2 hours

Crusty bread on top of a bit of delicious olive oil...just top with the ribollita then bake

Crusty bread on top of a bit of delicious olive oil…just top with the ribollita then bake

Ready to bake in the oven

Ready to bake in the oven

To make:

In a large dutch oven or other heavy bottom pot head olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, onion, and celery and cook until soft–approximately 7 minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, 1 tsp. salt, potatoes, and cook for about 3-5 minutes, you can crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add the greens and beans. Pour 6-7 cups of water in the soup and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. About 1 1/2 hours into the cooking, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the soup to create a bit of thickness. Don’t over-blend–you want to the soup to still be rustic and chunky with a variety of textures from the vegetables and beans. Add 1 cup of torn stale crusty bread and continue to cook with the lid off to thicken the soup if needed. At this point the soup is pretty much done. You can continue the recipe at this point, but it won’t be real “ribollita/reboiled.”

To finish the ribollita, the next day bring the soup to room temperature. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using oven-proof soup crock or any other oven proof bowl add a little olive oil to the bowls to coat the bottom. Place a slice or two of crusty bread in the bottom of the bowl, then top with the soup. Bake in the oven until bubbly and heated through. To serve, add high quality olive oil to each bowl as a topping to the soup and garnish with fresh cracked black pepper.  I must admit…this soup is well worth the wait and I think it will be my newly established New Year’s lucky soup. Happy 2013!!

Lucy Ribollita

Lucky Ribollita

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Perfect Bites: Southern Pan Fried Okra

One of my absolute favorite foods is fresh fried okra. Not the over-battered kind, but the lightly dusted in cornmeal, pan-fried extra crispy (no goo) kind. This recipe is one that my mother passed along and it makes the perfect bite of fried okra every time. It is so simple and so delicious! I could eat an entire pan of this okra myself…but I practice self control and always make it when I have someone to share a few bites with 🙂

The trick to this recipe is the okra…only fresh summer okra will do. I have attempted to re-create the fried okra using frozen okra and it just doesn’t work out well. It actually ends up a soggy mess. So reap the benefits of your farmer’s market, CSA box, or garden grown okra while it lasts and fry up this Southern delight!

Mama’s Crispy Pan Fried Okra

  • fresh okra
  • cornmeal (white or yellow)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of cayenne (optional)
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying

To make:

Heat oil in a saute or frying pan (cast iron is best) over medium-high heat. I use just enough oil to cover the okra about 1/4-1/2 way. This is more of a pan fry method rather than a deep fry.

Cut the okra ends off and slice into rounds approximately 1/2 inch in length. Working rather quickly (to take advantage of the okra “goo”) place okra in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper (and cayenne if you are using). Sprinkle a heaping layer of corn meal on top of the okra and gently mix to coat the okra.

Lightly coat the okra in cornmeal, salt and pepper

If the okra is fresh enough there should be enough okra goo to make the corn meal stick. Carefully place okra in hot oil. Do not over fill the pan with the okra, you want only one layer of okra in the pan to ensure all of the sides of the okra get crispy. Cover the pan and cook for approximately 10  minutes, gently stir about 1/2 way through. Monitor the heat to prevent the okra burning or oil from getting too hot when covered. Remove cover and cook until okra has browned to your preference (another 5-10 minutes). I like a few pieces to be on the darker side (usually the smaller ones). Okra will crisp up more as it cools. Remove cooked okra with a slotted spoon from the oil and let cool slightly on a paper towel lined plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Just a little oil to pan fry this crispy summer treat!

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The past few months have been pretty dull on my blog…definitely reflecting the lack of cooking I have been doing lately. Between work, travel, school, and wedding planning my typical meal is either take out, cereal, or some other unexceptional quick meal. But, I did rally for Thanksgiving and managed to put together a simple meal of my favorites: turkey breast, dressing, gravy, broccoli salad, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie! With a little planning this traditional Turkey-day meal was “easy as pie”!

Easy as Pecan Pie Recipe


1 cup Dark Corn Syrup

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsps butter, melted

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

6 ounces chopped pecans–about 1 1/2 cups

1 (9-inch) frozen deep dish pie crust

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees–preheat a rimmed baking or cookie sheet as well. This will help with easy clean up and removal of the pie from the oven. It also will prevent a sugary mess in your oven it the filling bubbles over a bit (which sometimes does).

Pie Filling...nutty, buttery, sugary


Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans. Pour pecan mixutre into pie crust. Place pie on the rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 for about an hour.  To check if the pie is done lightly tap the middle of the pie, when it is done it will spring back. Be careful…hot sugar burns are no fun! Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving. If you make the pie ahead of time (up to a day or two before, store in the refrigerator). Take out and let pie come to room temperature before serving.

Serve as is at room temperature or top with your favorite whipped cream. This is such a simple dish to make and is classic Southern Thanksgiving treat!

Easy as Pecan Pie



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I absolutely just love barbecue/barbeque!

Living in the city certainly limits my ability to make my own versions of barbeque. I am partial to real smoked barbeque that has been cooking slow for hours in an outdoor smoker. Needless to say that is not an option for me in a shoebox apartment. So…I have to explore other options. This is a decent version of “BBQ” pulled pork that is easy to put together, easy clean up, and feasible for anyone who has a crock pot–no need for the outdoors or smokers. Even though the recipe is in a crock pot, I find the pork can get dry pretty easily if you get a leaner cut, which is recommended for crock pot cooking because there is no real place for fat to drain. So…have your favorite homemade or store bought BBQ sauce handy to really make this recipe your favorite option for indoor “BBQ”!

Crock Pot Pulled Pork “BBQ”

3-4 lb pork shoulder roast

1 large white onion roughly diced

1 carrot, peeled and cut in med-large pieces (this is to absorb some of the acidity…not really for flavor)

salt & pepper

sauce base

For the “sauce” base:

5 cloves garlic chopped

4-5 Tbsp brown sugar or molasses

1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp liquid smoke

2 tsp dry mustard

2 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 cup beer (one that has flavor…not light beer) –quantity divided in half   (alternative: beef broth or water)

Mix all ingredients together–except beer.

To Crock:

Place onions and carrot in bottom of large crock pot. Generously salt and pepper pork on both sides. Slowly pour sauce base onto meat. Add 1/2 of beer to crock pot. Cook on low for 8 hours–there should be enough liquid in the pot; if for some reason evaporation occurs, feel free to go ahead and add the remainder of the beer now (or use water or beef broth if you do not want to use beer).

Remove cooked pork to platter and shred with fork.

Return shredded pork to crock pot (there should be some sauce/liquid in the pot) and mix with sauce and remainder of beer.

Cook on lowest setting an additional 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Assemble a sandwich with your favorite type of bread (I used potato buns) and top with additional homemade or store bought BBQ sauce to make a delicious pulled pork sandwich!

Open-face BBQ sandwich...my favorite!

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Pimento cheese sandwiches are a classic Southern food that you often see a picnics, cookouts, and other casual dining venues. Pimento cheese itself is great spread on crackers (my favorite), celery, or a variety of breads to make an easy bit to eat with no cooking needed. There are several recipes that combine different cheeses, relishes, or spices. This recipe here is the basics: mayo, cheese, pimento, and pepper. I don’t add extra salt to my recipe because I find between the mayo and sharp cheddar there is enough salt. Another variation is smooth vs. chunky–I go for chunky. I like the texture of the cheese and it makes a better consistency if you want to make a grilled sandwich. Making the smoother texture just requires combining and mixing in a food processor rather than by hand, or using a finer grate level when shredding the cheese.

Pimento Cheese Spread

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (approx 8 oz.)

All the ingredients you need for the perfect bite!

3/4 cup light mayonnaise

1 tsp lemon juice

1 (4 oz) jar of pimento, chopped

dash of dry mustard

ground pepper to taste (I like using ground white pepper, which give a nice pepper taste without the black specks)

To make:

Mix mayo, lemon juice, and dash of dry mustard in a medium sized bowl. Add shredded cheese and pimento–mix together. Taste…add pepper to your liking (and salt if you’d like).  Cover spread and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (if you can wait). The flavors will meld together. Cover the cheese in an airtight container (I like to also place plastic wrap direction on the spread to keep air out) and it will keep refrigerated for up to a week–do not freeze.

The ultimate cheesy perfect bite!

Serving options: on crackers, on celery sticks, on a sandwich (try with raisin bread–this it really good) cold or toasted, or just grab a spoon and eat plain!

Enjoy 🙂

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My all time favorite sandwich–a garden fresh ripe tomato sandwich. This sandwich is a true Southern staple to get through those hot summer days. Unfortunately, my current Northern city life has prevented me from having my own garden to harvest fresh tomatoes, but I do try to seek out the farmers market to try to get some tomatoes with flavor–the supermarket variety are often tasteless. When it comes to the art of making this classic summertime sandwich I am a purist.

All you need is….

  1. Ripe summer tomato–sliced to your preference of thickness
  2. 2 slices of bread (white or whole wheat)
  3. Mayonnaise–spread on the bread to your taste preference (you need a good layer to help prevent the tomato from making the bread too soggy but some people prefer thicker layers than others–I think I am somewhere in the middle, I typically use about 2 Tbsp; one for each slice of bread)
  4. Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Assemble the sandwich, add a nice diagonal cut and voila–The perfect sandwich for a hot summer’s day!

Note: There are many options for spicing up this summertime favorite. You can add balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, use exotic heirloom tomatoes and toast on crusty bread, etc. But at some point all of these fancy add-ons turn the classic Southern tomato sandwich into something else. Give it a try…bread, mayo, tomato–keep it simple!

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