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Southern Thanksgiving

It’s almost that time of year. When everyone’s diets go out the window and I completely blow my grocery budget. The holidays. And I don’t know about other parts of the country or world, but in the South, we don’t skimp on the holidays. Everything has full fat butter, and most things have sugar in one way or another. It’s delicious, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Growing up, we normally had Thanksgiving turkey, but we also almost always had a ham at Thanksgiving. Definitely ham at Christmas. And frankly, I like ham better than turkey. It isn’t ever dry, and it normally has a lot more flavor.

Thankfully, my husband also has fond memories of sugar ham, so he doesn’t care if we have that instead of the more traditional turkey. We both have a favorite way for it to be cooked, the way our grandmothers made it. Seeing the crock pot with the ham, with rounds of pineapple and little red cherries, will always remind me of Christmas and my dad’s mom. 

I love having ham because it’s also pretty easy to make. All it needs is a few ingredients and to sit in the crockpot for as long as it can, which makes it a pretty hands off meal. I made us one this year earlier in November, and it was a great reminder of the holidays and what is to come. A ham for two people is pretty reasonably priced, and I found one for about ten dollars that lasted us for three meals, a total of six servings. To go with it I made macaroni and cheese and roasted asparagus. I was originally going to do fresh green beans, but the green beans at the store didn’t look good, so I switched last minute to asparagus.

I’ve shown how I cook asparagus before, but I just roasted them at 375 fahrenheit for about twenty minutes. I like to drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You could also add garlic and onion powder, or pretty much any other seasonings you would like.

I’ve been using the macaroni and cheese website from The Pioneer Woman for almost ten years at this point, and it has never let me down. I even follow it almost exactly, which doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I don’t include the egg, and it turns out fine. I also like to add a little smoked paprika and a few dashes of hot sauce at the same time as the other spices. It doesn’t make it hot or spicy at all, just gives a really good, almost smoky flavor.

Hams are sold with the fresh meat in the grocery store. They come in multiple sizes, so you kind of have to guess how much you need. I got a pretty small one, and it made about six servings, but if I was cooking for more than two or three people, I would go ahead and get one of the bigger ones. They sell some of them “spiral-sliced,” which I love. It makes it a lot easier to serve, and it means the brown sugar and juices can flavor more of the ham. The one I bought was labelled as a “Picnic Shoulder,” but unfortunately I don’t remember the weight.

Sugar Ham

Picnic shoulder, or spiral sliced ham

Brown sugar

Sliced pineapple

Maraschino cherries

Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper

Place the ham in a crockpot. If it is a really big ham, you may have to slice part of the top off for it to fit. Just work with it until you can fit the whole thing in the crock pot. Sometimes if the lid just won’t seal, I’ll use aluminum foil, then layer a towel over the top for added insulation. Be careful if you do this, as the aluminum foil will get hot.

Pack brown sugar onto the top of the ham, and as far down the sides as you can reach.

Lay pineapple slices around the outside of the ham, using toothpicks to keep them on the sides.

Dot cherries in the middle of each pineapple slice, and in any other gaps you may have, using toothpicks to keep them in place.

Pour 8 – 12 ounces of Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper over the ham. 

Cook on low for eight hours, or as long as needed, or on high for 4 – 6 hours. Periodically baste the juices over the ham.

Sugar Ham

Picnic shoulder, or spiral sliced ham (My 3.5 lb ham made six servings)

Brown sugar

One can sliced pineapple

Maraschino cherries

8 – 12 oz. Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper

Place the ham in a crockpot. If it is a really big ham, you may have to slice part of the top off for it to fit. Just work with it until you can fit the whole thing in the crock pot. Sometimes if the lid just won’t seal, I’ll use aluminum foil, then layer a towel over the top for added insulation. Be careful if you do this, as the aluminum foil will get hot.

Pack brown sugar onto the top of the ham, and as far down the sides as you can reach.

Lay pineapple slices around the outside of the ham, using toothpicks to keep them on the sides.

Dot cherries in the middle of each pineapple slice, and in any other gaps you may have, using toothpicks to keep them in place.

Pour 8 – 12 ounces of Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper over the ham. 

Cook on low for eight hours, or as long as needed, or on high for 4 – 6 hours. Periodically baste the juices over the ham.

Mustard Pork Chops; or, a Cure for Homesickness

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For the simple recipe cards of all the below recipes, click the buttons below.

I won’t lie, as the weather has turned cool and the autumn has arrived, I’ve been a bit homesick. I’ve spent three of the last four autumns in the mountains of North Georgia, and you can’t beat a North Georgia Autumn. Watching the mountains turn from green, to seeing the first tree turn bright yellow, then slowly the rest of the forest changes to a beautiful mix of red, orange, and yellow. And when I get homesick, I make familiar food. I can’t tell ya’ll how much I enjoyed this recipe. It was delicious, and so much fun to make. It’s a variation on a meal that I had countless times as a kid, and it was the perfect cure for the little bit of homesickness that was creeping in. 

I used thick cut, bone in pork chops, but you can use whatever you want/can afford. I would normally use a boneless thin cut, but I wanted a little treat for myself and my husband. Just get what will work best for you, but remember that the thinner the cut, the quicker it will cook. My suggestion in that case is to increase the heat when you sear them so they will color more quickly. You want them to be undercooked when they go into the oven, so they won’t dry out.

For the greens, I used a half mix of turnip greens and collard greens. I like using a mix of different greens, and would have included mustard greens but I couldn’t find any in the store. I was ok with that though, as I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to find collards. Feel free to use just one type of green, or to use frozen if that’s all you can find. 

Black-eyed peas are the best with greens and cornbread, in my opinion. I suppose you could substitute them with pinto beans, if you really want to, but I would recommend at least trying black-eyed peas. Dry, canned, or frozen will work with this recipe, and just like the greens, they can stay simmering on the stove for however long you need. 

The cornbread is the most difficult thing for me to tell you how to make, as I don’t typically use any measuring cups. I’ve estimated measurements for the recipe, but feel free to use less or more depending on how many people you’re feeding. I really recommend using a cast iron skillet for this, as I don’t know that any other type of pan would give the same result. Don’t let any cast iron snobs dissuade you, Lodge or any off-brand of cast iron is just as good as a high-end brand. The quality of cast iron really depends on how well you care for it.

As far as the order of operations for this meal, it isn’t too difficult as the greens and beans can stay on the stovetop for as long as you need them to. I’ve known my mom to leave greens simmering on the stove for entire afternoons. But the very first step should be to make the sweet tea, if you’re going to include that, as it is best when it has time to cool down. Then get the greens and beans going. I recommend making the cornbread next, even though it will have cooled down by the time the pork chops are ready. The chops and cornbread both need the oven, but at different temperatures. So either make the cornbread first, or allow it extra time to finish cooking.

The recipes below are for six servings.

Sweet Tea (½ gallon)

Two large tea bags (I prefer Tetley, but I couldn’t find that brand so I used Luzianne instead)

About ¾ cup of white sugar

Fill a small saucepan with water, and boil. When the water begins to boil, add the two tea bags and turn off the heat. Allow to steep for at least 10-15 minutes, then pour over the sugar in a half-gallon pitcher. Stir to dissolve sugar, then fill the pan (with tea bags still) with water again and add to pitcher. Continue until pitcher is cool and put in fridge to cool.

Greens

Two bundles greens (I used one turnip greens and one collard greens)

One and a half yellow onions, diced

Four or five garlic cloves, smashed

Few dashes of hot sauce of your choice

One cup chicken broth, bouillon, or bouillon paste

A few pieces of ham, salt pork, or bacon

Two or three tablespoons butter

Rinse the greens very, very well. This is really important as if there’s any dirt or sand left on the greens it can cause an unpleasant texture.

Rip each leaf into several pieces, removing the tough center stem. Add all ingredients, plus a cup of water, to a large pot and set on high.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium to continue simmering. Simmer for at least twenty minutes, or as long as you want. You can eat them as soon as the greens wilt and become tender, but they’re better the longer they cook. Salt and pepper before serving, and strain before dipping onto a plate or bowl.

Black Eyed Peas

Half a yellow onion, diced

Two cans black eye peas, or a bag of frozen or dried beans

Two or three cloves of garlic, smashed

A few pieces ham, salt pork, or bacon

One or two tablespoons butter

Add everything to a saucepan and simmer for at least fifteen minutes, or as long as you want. You can eat it as soon as the beans are warmed through and tender, but they’re better the longer they cook.

Cornbread

Two cups cornmeal

⅓ cup vegetable oil

Two eggs

About two cups of whole milk or buttermilk

About two tablespoons of Crisco

Turn the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, put the Crisco in your cast iron skillet and place in the oven.

Mix the other ingredients in your mixing bowl, saving half the milk to the side for now. When the oven has preheated, or after five to ten minutes if your oven, like mine, doesn’t have a preheat notification, mix the rest of the milk into the batter. It should be the consistency of cake batter, and when it rested it will have absorbed some of the milk, which will make the end result more soft and tender.

Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, the oil should be very hot. Add the batter to the pan, carefully as the oil should bubble and fry the outside of the cornbread.

Return to oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to rest for a few minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge and flip onto a plate. Be careful as the pan will still be hot.

Pork Chops

One cup mustard bbq sauce (the recipe is linked in a button above)

A few tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Six pork chops

Sear the pork chops in a hot skillet and vegetable oil. You want the pan to be on pretty high heat so the pork chops will sear well but quickly, as you want them to be raw when they go into the oven. Work in batches if needed, as they will sear best if they are not touching when in the pan.

Place on a rack on a baking sheet, brush with mustard sauce, then place in the oven. Bake for twenty to thirty minutes, brushing on more mustard sauce every eight to ten minutes.

They are done when a thermometer, inserted into the thickest area, reads at least 165 degrees.

Greens

This is the recipe card from my post about Mustard BBQ Pork Chops. For the entire post, click the button below.

Two bundles greens (I used one turnip greens and one collard greens)

One and a half yellow onions, diced

Four or five garlic cloves, smashed

Few dashes of hot sauce of your choice

One cup chicken broth, bouillon, or bouillon paste

A few pieces of ham, salt pork, or bacon

Two or three tablespoons butter

Rinse the greens very, very well. This is really important as if there’s any dirt or sand left on the greens it can cause an unpleasant texture. Rip each leaf into several pieces, removing the tough center stem.

Add all ingredients, plus a cup of water, to a large pot and set on high.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium to continue simmering. Simmer for at least twenty minutes, or as long as you want.

You can eat them as soon as the greens wilt and become tender, but they’re better the longer they cook. Salt and pepper before serving, and strain before dipping onto a plate or bowl.

Black Eyed Peas

This is the recipe card from my post about Mustard BBQ Pork Chops. For the entire post, click the button below.

Half a yellow onion, diced

Two cans black eye peas, or a bag of frozen or dried beans

Two or three cloves of garlic, smashed

A few pieces ham, salt pork, or bacon

One or two tablespoons butter

Add everything to a saucepan and simmer for at least fifteen minutes, or as long as you want. You can eat it as soon as the beans are warmed through and tender, but they’re better the longer they cook.

Cornbread

This is the recipe card from my post about Mustard BBQ Pork Chops. For the entire post, click the button below.

Two cups cornmeal

⅓ cup vegetable oil

Two eggs

About two cups of whole milk or buttermilk

About two tablespoons of Crisco

Turn the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit, put the Crisco in your cast iron skillet and place in the oven.

Mix the other ingredients in your mixing bowl, saving half the milk to the side for now. When the oven has preheated, or after five to ten minutes if your oven, like mine, doesn’t have a preheat notification, mix the rest of the milk into the batter. It should be the consistency of cake batter, and when it rested it will have absorbed some of the milk, which will make the end result more soft and tender.

Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, the oil should be very hot. Add the batter to the pan, carefully as the oil should bubble and fry the outside of the cornbread. Return to oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to rest for a few minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge and flip onto a plate. Be careful as the pan will still be hot.

Mustard Pork Chops

This is the recipe card from my post about Mustard BBQ Pork Chops. For the entire post, click the button below.

One cup mustard bbq sauce (find link above)

A few tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Six pork chops

Sear the pork chops in a hot skillet and vegetable oil. You want the pan to be on pretty high heat so the pork chops will sear well but quickly, as you want them to be raw when they go into the oven. Work in batches if needed, as they will sear best if they are not touching when in the pan.

Place on a rack on a baking sheet, brush with mustard sauce, then place in the oven. Bake for twenty to thirty minutes, brushing on more mustard sauce every eight to ten minutes.

They are done when a thermometer, inserted into the thickest area, reads at least 165 degrees.

Red Beans and Rice

Sofrito cooking base

Chicken bouillon or broth

Rice – I did the two measurement on my rice cooker

Red Kidney Beans (really any type of bean you want) – I used two cans

Bell peppers – I used two yellow

Sweet onion – I used one medium size

Smoked Sausage – I used eight from the Sunset Farms Brand (https://sunsetfarmfoods.com/)

I planned for this to last my husband and I for four meals, eight servings total, and it has worked out perfectly. Of course you can adjust to however much you need to make.

  1. I cooked the rice the day before with a spoonful of Sofrito and a little bit of chicken broth base. I keep a jar of broth base in the fridge constantly. It lasts longer than buying broth and can really elevate plain rice.
  2. Slice the sausage into discs or cubes, depending on personal preference. Saute sausage in a little butter in a large skillet. 
  3. Dice the bell pepper and onion, how much you use is up to personal preference, but it’s a good way to add some veggies to this meal. Add to the pan with the sausage once the sausage is browned enough for your liking. Saute until the bell pepper and onion are tender. You can add a little water and cover the pan to speed this process up. I also like to add salt and pepper at this point.
  4. Add the rice and beans to the pan and stir to combine everything. I normally add a little bit (maybe ½ – ¾ of a cup) and cover to let everything combine and warm through.
  5. If everyone likes hot sauce, you can add it to the pan. You can also just put a bottle of hot sauce on the table for whoever might want some.
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Comfort Food and Collard Greens

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The idea of “comfort food” is interesting to me.

I grew up in West Georgia. My dad’s family has lived in the same hundred miles going back over two hundred years, and my maternal grandmother grew up in the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia. So one might say we’re a Southern family, and certainly a Georgian one. And the fact is, what most Americans consider “comfort food” or “Soul food” to us is just weekly and daily occurrences. Cornbread, black-eye peas, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens – or just “greens”, as it’s often a combination of several different types of leafy greens- were made, consumed, and enjoyed regularly. Fried steak with gravy, pork chops, salmon patties, and hamburger steaks are entrees I ate with gusto several times a month. Meatloaf was reserved for Sunday’s after-church dinner, as was pot roast. It’s just always odd when I see common childhood meals referred to as “comfort food,” as though you can’t eat those foods as often as you want.

This topic crossed my mind when I went to supper with a dear friend of mine. Neither of us had been to that restaurant before, a place in downtown Austell, GA called the South Cobb Diner. The food was superb. The company was fantastic of course, an old friend I had fallen out of touch with and proceeded to spend two hours catching up. But the food. It was amazing. Sometimes at restaurants one or two things on the plate will taste sub-par or even canned, but everything was clearly fresh and homemade. Fried steak, Vidalia onion gravy, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens.

I have had a love-hate relationship with greens over the course of my life. Apparently when I was very young I would happily drink “pot likker,” which is the term I’ve always heard for the liquid left after the greens are cooked. I had low iron so that was probably really healthy for me. Then for most of my childhood I hated even the sight of greens, along with most boiled vegetables (unfortunately, vegetables in the South either come fried or boiled, so there were frequent grumblings and arguments about how many boiled things I had to eat). Now, greens and I have a tentative agreement that hinges on the presence of Franks hot sauce (as they say, I put that sh*t on everything, sorta).

All that to say, greens don’t often stand out as something I particularly enjoy. But these greens. Ya’ll. I think they changed my life. I would love to figure out how to make them. The only issue with greens is this; the recipe. No one I know is particularly fond of using a recipe if they don’t need it, and I come from a long line of women who glance at a recipe and then mostly ignore it and do what they want. So my concern is that there probably aren’t very many written recipes for greens, and they’re probably all just a list of ingredients.

My first foray into the world of collard greens (henceforth just “greens”) came on a Monday afternoon. The menu for the night was greens, hoppin’ john, and cornbread. I have made the latter two dishes more times than I can count, but as stated above, it would be my first try at greens.

I used the list of ingredients I was given, tried my best, and… they were ok. Not the best, not inedible (I guess), but just, eh. I think greens might just have to be the thing I can’t cook. And honestly, that’s ok with me. I can cook plenty of other dishes that are delicious, so I think I’ll manage without knowing how to cook greens. But if you want the other recipes, click the links below.

Hoppin’ John

The amounts will depend on the number of people you want to serve. I suggest going by the package suggestions for the black eye peas and rice, then one bell pepper and one onion for every four or five people. Adjust the seasonings according to taste.

Black eye peas

Rice

Bell pepper

Onion

Garlic powder

Water

Salt pork or other seasoning meat

  1. Cook the rice in your normal method, but I think a rice cooker is the best kitchen gadget.

2. Boil the black eye peas with the pepper, onion, salt pork, and garlic powder.

3. Once both are done (bell pepper, onion, and peas should be fork tender), pour off some of the juice from the peas and stir in rice.

4. I like to leave some of the pea liquid to flavor the rice.