Saturday, December 30, 2006

It Wouldn't Be New Year's Without Beans, Beans, Beans . . . .

. . . . For more, more, more of these beans:

Just about every culture in every country has a New Year's traditional food, that includes some kind of bean (legumes, plentiful and thus cheap), although whatever is seasonally abundant will do.

In my circle of family and friends, starting the new year without eating a large bowl of black-eyed peas is like driving without insurance - Sure, you might not get into an accident, but what if you do? Black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is an old southern tradition that is supposed to bring good luck and better fortune. We also open all of the windows and doors at the stroke of midnight (between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day), to usher out the old year's energies and spirits and invite in the new year's luck and fortune.

I cook a rich, savory cassoulet-like black-eyed pea stew with pork (ham hocks), and serve the peas (for luck, although some say they also represent coins) with cornbread (for gold) and sauteed leafy greens (for paper currency, like greenbacks).

Begin this recipe on December 30th (about an hour before you go to sleep), by soaking the dried black-eyed peas overnight. Change the water after the first hour.

The next day (December 31st), cook the rest of the dish before you start your New Year's Eve reveling and refrigerate for New Year's Day:
Black-Eyed Peas

1 lb. black-eyed peas, dried
2 Tbl olive oil
4 oz diced Tasso ham
1 C onion, diced
2 Tbl garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 small ham hocks
2 qts chicken stock, preferably homemade

Salt and pepper

In a large stock or soup pot, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the diced Tasso ham and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and saute for another couple of minutes, until the onions are transluscent. Add the minced garlic, bay leaves and ham hocks. Season with salt (lightly) and pepper. Drain the soaking black-eyed peas (discard the water), add them and the chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook between 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peas are tender.

Remove the ham hocks from the pot, pull the meat from the bones in mouth-sized chunks, discard the bones and return the meat to the pot. Fish out and discard the bay leaves.

It's ready to eat. Or refrigerate it overnight - it's even better the next day. Taste and adjust the seasoning just before serving.

This recipe doubles (and triples, quadruples, etc.) easily and well.

Don't forget the Bean-O™.

Now, for the best cornbread you will ever taste:
Maeven's and Mary Steenburgen's Corn Spoon Pudding

1 (8 1/2-oz) box of corn muffin mix
1 (7 1/2-oz) can of whole kernal corn
1 (7 1/2-oz) can of creamed corn
1 C sour cream
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 C melted unsalted butter
1 C grated Swiss cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT 1/2 C of the cheese in a large mixing bowl. Pour into a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes.

Sprinkle the rest of the Swiss cheese on top and bake 10 minutes more. You will know it's done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm.

Ok, I have a confession to make.

With the exception of the amount of Swiss cheese (she calls for 1/2 C of Swiss cheese) and putting it in the batter (she puts it on top of the cornbread for the last 10 minutes of baking), this is just Mary Steenbergen's recipe.

I don't know Mary, I've never met Mary, but I feel as if I do given the number of times that I've (mis-)made Mary Steenbergen's corn spoon pudding* for my family and friends.

I have never, ever, made this recipe the same way twice, or the way that it was written. For some reason (because I prepare it at the last minute, after guests have arrived, and I start yakking away and don't pay close attention), I always realize too late that I've put the cheese into the batter. I have to grate more if I want to put any on the top - and trust me, you do want to put more on top because it becomes like a frico, caramelizing as it melts into, and becomes one with, the browned crust on the cornbread's top and edges. And I certainly wouldn't want to leave it out of the batter. I have put as much as 1 cup of grated Swiss cheese into the batter and another cup on top, and not a crumb of this cornbread has ever remained on anyone's plate.

It is that good.

[* Lifted directly from "Potluck at Midnight Farm: Celebrating food, family and friends on Martha's Vineyard," by Tamara Weiss (with a foreward by Carly Simon). I wouldn't pay any attention to the reader reviews; I found it to be a charming reflection of the lives and tastes of the people who collaborated in making the book, with some fabulous recipes, in addition to the one for cornbread. William Styron's description of Bill Clinton's apparent passion for Daphne Lewis's fried chicken is worth the price of the book alone had the book not included the recipe. But it does. I've made it and it is a very good fried chicken. And if anybody knows who made the tea service on page 35, or where I might find one like it, please drop me a line.]

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