Love, Loss and Southern Food

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Sometimes life seems to come at you all at once.  Ups and downs are a constant of life but sometimes we get gobsmacked by both of them at the same time. Last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of welcoming a daughter into the family as my oldest son (and frequent GMD guest chef), Eric, got married in Charleston, SC.  I was filled with such joy that I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Only another parent could understand the pride and pleasure that my husband and I derived from watching our son and his lovely new wife exchange their vows in an old 1706 stone church, and seal their union with the traditional breaking of the glass followed by the birdseed ‘gauntlet’ to the get away car. We danced all night in celebration and witnessed the bride and groom depart late at night through an incredible tunnel of Sparklers!   I have three wonderful sons but I knew if I waited long enough I would finally get a daughter (hopefully eventually there will be three).  Eric could not have made a better choice.  Hannah Grace is beautiful inside and out.  My heart was full.

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The following day, my Mother passed away in Seattle just shy of her 88th birthday.  I had been planning on taking the new bride up to Seattle right after the honeymoon to meet Mom, Dad and my rather large family and celebrate their new marriage.  As one of eleven children, I realize that this would be intimidating for anyone under the best of circumstances. Now, instead we will be going to say goodbye.  I am deeply sad that my Mom won’t get to meet Hannah Grace, a fellow educator and advocate for children and those in need, but even more so that HG won’t get to meet the person that had such an influence on who I am today and who also helped to shape the man with whom she chose to spend the rest of her life.  I have to remind myself that I am lucky that I got to know Mom for part of her life. She was fearless and selfless in so many ways and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She and my Dad took in dozens of foster children, including an entire family that escaped from Cuba in the 60’s.  She raised chickens and had an organic garden before they were trendy.  She was definitely ahead of her time, although she was incredibly humble and would be the last to call herself beautiful or a leader, yet she was both. It is from my Mom that I have the passion for gardening and experimenting with healthy food. Most likely without her wealth of knowledge and hands on experience, there would be no goodmotherdiet.  It’s hard to believe she is gone; that I can’t pick up the phone to chat about what to plant next to my kale this Fall or how to make her famous Oatmeal Waffles with Strawberry Goop.

My friend, Del, sent me a card that poses the idea; “Perhaps they are not Stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the Love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are Happy“. I find a small measure of comfort in this theory.  Although I bounce between sorrow and joy and back again, I am grateful that I am blessed with a loving family and I hope Mom is watching from her opening in Heaven as the newlyweds begin their life together. I know I will forevermore smile at the stars.

So what does this have to do with Southern Food?

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Alas, I realize that this is actually a food blog, so steer myself away from Memory Lane for a bit to think about food and how it might relate. It is known that food can make us happy.  You have no doubt heard of comfort food which is often food that reminds us of our childhood or happier times, or at least makes our bellies feel happy and satisfied. I tend to go for a big bowl of buttered (non-GMO of course) popcorn cooked on the stovetop just like Mom used to make.  For Southerners, like my new daughter in law, Cheesy Grits might be your go to dish.  As I continue to bask in the glow of the Charleston wedding, with thoughts of my Mom tucked safely away in my heart, I have compiled several blog posts of delicious Southern specialties that I made after my pre-wedding trip to Charleston last spring, like Charred Okra and Tomatoes, Shrimp and Cheesy Grits, Fried Catfish and the famous Fried Green Tomatoes (which could be the perfect solution for those unripe tomatoes still on the vine when the weather gets cold).  There is a reason why some of these are classic dishes! Click through the links below for the full recipes. I will get back to cooking soon, but I’m taking a bit of a break right now to spend time with my family.  Thanks for reading…Joyce

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Charred Okra with Tomatoes – Even those who are not fans of okra may change their minds with this one which combines smokey okra, charred onion and garlic, along with sweet wilted tomato and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and lemon zest.  You just may be pleasantly surprised!

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Grilled Shrimp and Cheesy Grits – Need I say more?  Creamy grits with sharp white cheddar and parmesan topped with grilled shrimp with a honey, black pepper glaze and topped with loads of fresh herbs and lemon zest.

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Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Lime Sauce – This is the recipe from Fanny Flagg and her novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe”,that made ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ famous around the whole country and not just in the South.  Yum!  This is the perfect answer for what to do with the last green tomatoes of the season as the cold weather sets in…

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Fried Catfish Over Napa Corn Slaw-We’re talking Southern style fried fish (wheat and gluten free) over a light and spicy slaw.  Delicious!

 

 

Wheatless Wednesday – Fried Catfish over Napa Corn Slaw

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Do you ever just crave some crispy fried deliciousness?  Good news!  Now that fat is no longer the enemy, It’s okay to eat fried foods as long as you use a good oil and serve with a healthy side dish. My regular readers all know that I have been on a Southern kick for the past couple of weeks following my trip to Charleston.  I was greatly inspired by the old, tried and true classics that have lived on in the South for generations (for good reason).  Well, no list of Southern favorites would be complete without Fried Catfish.  This Fried Catfish is the last recipe that was a direct derivative from my SC trip.  I’m all fried out for the time being, except maybe for trying Fried Pickles (Yes, that’s a thing!)  I’ll let you know…

In the South, Fried Catfish is usually served with hushpuppies, a yummy fried cornbread-type appetizer.  I personally can only do one fried food at a time and decided to balance the fried fish with a light and flavorful slaw made with napa cabbage, fresh sweet corn, red onion, bell pepper and jalapenos drizzled in an oil and vinegar dressing. My corn was sweet enough to eat raw, just cut off the cob.  Older corn may need to be steamed or boiled for a few minutes to soften.  I love the combination of steamy hot crispy fried fish with the cool and spicy slaw.  Add a good tartar sauce or aoli and you’re done!

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So what is a good oil too cook with anyway? Recommendations keep changing, who can keep up?  Butter is now a ‘good’ fat for cooking but not for high heat cooking as it contains small amounts of sugars and proteins which makes it burn when overheated.  When it comes to high heat cooking, coconut oil is a great choice. Over 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated, which makes it very resistant to heat. Avocado and olive oil are good choices too.  Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats should be avoided for cooking, as are fats (even good fats) that go through extreme processing measures. We have an amazing number of choices at the market, no wonder we are confused.  Click HERE for a breakdown on fats and oils, including a list of oils to avoid.

TIPS:  Prepare the slaw first, if serving, as the taste only improves if it is allowed to sit while you prepare the fish. This recipe calls for catfish, which is so prevalent in the South, but any mild white fish will work as well, like cod or haddock.  Just make sure it’s from a Sustainable Seafood Source  Use a good quality oil like avocado, coconut or olive oil and you will have a good result.  Drain cooked fish on a rack lined with paper towels or newspaper to keep the fish crispy and  for easy clean up.

I wanted a true Southern fried fish so went to the Food Network and adapted the recipe for Southern Fried Catfish by Alton Brown to make it wheat/gluten free.  For more Southern inspired recipes check out Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Lime Sauce Grilled Shrimp and Cheesy Grits or  Charred Okra with Tomatoes.

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FRIED CATFISH

2 cups high heat oil (avocado, coconut or olive oil)
1/2 cup stone-ground fine cornmeal
1/2 cup coconut flour (or all purpose)
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
6 (7 to 9-ounce) Wild Caught or US farm-raised catfish fillets, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup  buttermilk)

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  • Heat the oil in a heavy large saucepan or dutch oven over high heat until it almost reaches the smoking point.  If you are using a fryer the temperature should be 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Adjust the heat to maintain the temperature. While the oil is heating, whisk the cornmeal and flour together in a shallow dish.

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  • Combine the seafood seasoning, kosher salt, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl.

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  • Season the catfish fillets evenly on both sides with the spice mixture.

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  • Pour the buttermilk into another shallow dish. Dip each fillet into the egg/buttermilk, flip once to coat both sides, hold over the pan and allow the excess to drip off. Coat both sides of the fillets in the cornmeal mixture. Set the coated fillets on a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

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  • Gently add the fillets, 2-4 at a time, to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the fried fillets to a cooling rack set over a newspapers or paper towels.. Repeat method with remaining fillets.

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  • Arrange the catfish on a serving platter and serve immediately with slaw and tartar sauce.

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NAPA CORN SLAW

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6 cups Napa cabbage (Savoy, green, and/or purple), cored and shredded
2-3 ears sweet corn
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion
1-2 Tbsn fresh jalapeño(or other hot pepper),minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsn red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and set aside.

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  • Cut the kernels off the corn with a sharp knife.  If they are sweet enough to eat raw, just add to salad.  If they are tough, steam them for a few minutes to soften, then let cool.

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  • Combine the cabbage, bell pepper, and onion.and toss with the dressing. refrigerate until ready to serve. (Slaw tastes best when it’s allowed to rest for an hour or so to allow the flavors to blend.) Just before serving, toss with the parsley.

Fried Catfish with Napa and Corn Slaw

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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2 cups high heat oil (avocado, coconut or peanut)
1/2 cup stone-ground fine cornmeal
1/2 cup coconut flour (or all purpose)
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
6 (7 to 9-ounce) Wild Caught or US farm-raised catfish fillets, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup  buttermilk)

  • Heat the oil in a heavy large saucepan or dutch oven over high heat until it almost reaches the smoking point.  If you are using a fryer the temperature should be 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Adjust the heat to maintain the temperature.
  • Whisk the cornmeal and flour together in a shallow dish. Combine the seafood seasoning, kosher salt, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl. Season the catfish fillets evenly on both sides with the spice mixture.
  • Pour the buttermilk into another shallow dish. Dip each fillet into the buttermilk, flip once to coat both sides, hold over the pan and allow the excess to drip off. Coat both sides of the fillets in the cornmeal mixture. Set the coated fillets on a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Gently add the fillets, 2-4 at a time, to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the fried fillets to a cooling rack set over a newspapers or paper towels.. Repeat method with remaining fillets.
  • Arrange the catfish on a serving platter and serve immediately with slaw and tartar sauce.

NAPA CORN SLAW

6 cups Napa cabbage (Savoy, green, and/or purple), cored and shredded
2-3 ears sweet corn
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion
1-2 Tbsn fresh jalapeño(or other hot pepper),minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsn red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Combine the cabbage, bell pepper, and onion.and toss with the dressing. refrigerate until ready to serve. (Slaw tastes best when it’s allowed to rest for an hour or so to allow the flavors to blend.) Just before serving, toss with the parsley.