The Champagne Bubble

Dinner and a Movie with a Classic Twist.

The Fried Green Tomato

The memory of my first fried green tomato is a vivid one.  My family was having dinner at the Cypress Inn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and my father insisted we order the fried green’s as an appetizer.  As a child, I hated tomatoes.  Hated them.  But I nibbled anyway, and I’m glad I did.

Flash-forward to this summer, I spent a considerable amount of time in Little Rock, Arkansas and on Saturday nights, at various restaurants, I found myself ordering these little green treats at every meal with a side of fries or grilled shrimp.  It became somewhat of a fattening tradition, but I don’t regret a single bite.

I flooded the local farmer’s market a couple weeks ago, and bought every last green tomato.  The rest is history…

The Fried Green Tomato:

Carton of green tomatoes

Two cups buttermilk

Two eggs

Two cups self-rising flour

One cup cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Two cups canola oil

One cup butter

Slice the tomatoes and place them in a colander.  Salt them (lightly) and let the moisture drain out as much as possible.  Rinse under water and pat them dry with paper towels.  Make sure you pat them well - you don’t want any access water on them when you place them in the pan to be fried.

For the wash, whisk the buttermilk and eggs together in a medium sized bowl.  For the dredge, mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, spices and salt/pepper) on a large platter.

In a cast-iron skillet, heat the oil and butter to 350 (and if you don’t have a thermometer, just wait until it starts to lightly bubble).  

Take each slice and work it individually, first by completely coating it in the wash, and then covering it with the dredge.  Make sure you cover ever wet spot with the dredge (I like to over-dredge as much as possible).  Fry about 3-4 tomatoes at a time, turning them only once with a spatula.  It should be about 4 minutes total cooking time.

Wait until cool to eat, otherwise the crisp coating breaks off and you don’t get the full benefit of the AMAZING flavor.  You can also make a simple remoulade as an added bonus, but they really don’t need it.

The Film Pairing: 

I think the obvious choice is, Fried Green Tomatoes, but frankly that’s not the film I think about when I picture classic southern tradition in my mind.  Therefore…

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Miss Scarlet and Rhett Butler (swoooooon).  Must I go on?  I will.  When I was a child, all I could say about this movie was, “WHY DOES SHE DRINK PERFUME??” but now I shout, “WHY DOES HE LEAVE?  DON’T LEAVE!!!” at the television.  As you can see, I’ve greatly matured.

These things aside, a this is the quintessential southern film, and one that - while it has absolutely nothing in common with food - could be even more enjoyable with a side of fried green tomatoes.

*recipe adapted from Garden and Gun magazine 

The California BLT

Listen.  It’s summer.  It’s hot.  And no one wants a ten-page tutorial on how to replicate some fancy recipe - no matter how much it might wow those sitting around your table.  Luckily, we can accomplish that end in a much simpler way.  

This is the classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich…with a twist (a very small twist).  Avocado.  Boom.  You’re sold.

The Sandwich:

Whole grain bread (I like Orroweat Healthfull)

Mayonaise

Fresh tomato (sliced)

Fresh avocado (sliced)

Lettuce

Bacon

Toast your bread and cover each side with a good amount of mayonnaise.  And don’t tell me you don’t like mayo…you do.  Lay the lettuce on each side and then put at least two slices of tomato on each side.  Season the tomato with salt and pepper.

Top each side with a few slices of avocado, and squeeze a little fresh lemon over it for a slight zest.  I think it brings the flavor of the avocado out.

Next, fry your bacon.  You can cook it in the microwave, but I much prefer the skillet.  Each sandwich should get about three slices of bacon.

Add the bacon and then conduct a brief marriage ceremony in bringing together both sides of that beautiful sandwich.  Slice in half (diagonal of course) and dig in. 

(excuse the cookie dough and ML in the background…unintentional photo-bomb)

The Film Pairing:

There’s something so simple and refreshing about summertime.  For me, it’s an auto-reverter back to my childhood and a reminder of the most wonderful highlights of my past.

(Beethoven 1992) 

I was in Target last week and scanned through the $5 rack of DVD’s.  I came across this movie, which was one of my favorites back in the day.

In short, this evening, I cracked open a cold beer, turned on Beethoven and enjoyed my summer.  It was as simple as B, L, T…

The King Ranch Chicken

My best friend growing up (and still today) is originally from San Antonio, Texas, which means that being a dinner guest at their home was always a treat.  A large majority of my Lone Star State dishes are inspired by her family recipes and King Ranch Chicken reigns supreme.

This is one of the most popular casseroles in the south (alternatively named “Mexican Chicken” by some).  The original recipe was thought to be originated by a ranch-hand on Texas’ famous King Ranch - but apparently that’s not the case.  Regardless of where it started, I’m glad it made it out of that home and onto to my kitchen table.

*Note: the recipe I used is “from-scratch” and adapted from the Homesick Texan’s blog, but I believe the popular version using canned soup is just as good if not better.

The Base:

1 1/2 pounds of chicken, without skin and bones
4 teaspoons of lime juice
1/4 cup of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 an onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 10oz. can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained (or you can use a can of regular diced tomatoes and a 4 oz. can of diced green chiles, or if tomatoes are in season, can use two cups of diced fresh tomatoes with 1/4 cup of diced green chiles, such as a jalapeno)
4 teaspoons ancho chile powder (or chili powder)
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 cup of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of half and half
1/3 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped

Season the chicken with the lime juice, 2 teaspoons of ancho chile powder and a dash of salt. In a skillet heated on medium, cook the chicken in the olive oil on each side for about 10-14 minutes.  

When chicken is done, shred it with two forks and set aside. Season with salt and pepper and a little more lime juice.

Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium, and add the onions, red bell pepper and poblano pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or until the peppers and onions are soft.  Then, add the garlic, flour, cumin, cayenne pepper and 2 teaspoons of ancho chile powder, and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the chicken broth and cook on low until mixture is thickened, a few minutes. Stir in the half-and-half and Ro-Tel cover the pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Uncover the pot, and add the sour cream, 2 teaspoons of lime juice and 1/4 cup of cilantro, and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat.


Putting it Together:

3 cups of grated pepper jack and cheddar
12 corn tortillas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat up the tortillas (see my enchilada recipe below for how to heat tortillas in an oiled skillet).  Then, ladle 1/2 cup of the sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish.  Layer half the tortillas along the bottom of the pan (on top of the sauce).  Add half the chicken, half the remaining sauce, half the remaining cilantro and 1 1/2 cups of grated cheese.  

Repeat the layering, leaving the cheese layer on top.  Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. 

The Film Pairing:

This is a good man meal - or as my mother would say, it’s a fat pill.  Naturally, the movie pairing has to be somewhat rugged…and frankly, I usually don’t enjoy “guy” films, but I always make an exception for this one:

The Man From Snowy River (1982)

Wild horses, roughneck cowboys and a beautiful leading lady provide all the makings of a classic western.  Wrangle in that special someone, whip up some KRC, push play on this film and you might just find yourself #winning.   

The Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cake

For Thanksgiving, we had the usual pumpkin and pecan pies, but I wanted to add something new to our family menu this year.  I love rum cake and my father likes pineapple upside-down cake (and because this is the season of giving) we met in the middle and I combined the two.

If you’re not a pineapple fan, you can easily leave it out and it will still be just as delicious, if not more so.  Frankly, I prefer this cake without the pineapple, but I’m such a good daughter…

And I’m going to assume everyone likes rum.

 

The Cake:

1 can pineapple rings

A few maraschino cherries

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1 box yellow cake mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup cold milk

1/2 cup gold rum

4 ounce package of instant vanilla pudding

Grease and flour a bundt pan and set the oven for 325 degrees.  Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly across the bottom of the bundt pan and lay the pineapple rings around the center evenly.  Put a cherry in each of the pineapple holes.

In a large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth.  Pour the batter over the pineapples in the bundt pan and bake at 325 for an hour.  When you remove the cake from the oven, cool it before turning it over onto a platter.  

The Glaze

1 stick butter

1/4 cup water

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup gold rum (although I always add a little more…)

This is to be done when the cake has been baked and cooled.  In a saucepan melt the butter until completely liquid.  Add the water and sugar until it comes to a rolling boil and continue to boil for five minutes.  Remove the pan from the stove and add the rum. 

Make sure the cake is on the platter from which you will serve it on and poke the cake with a fork, making holes that will allow the glaze to soak in.  Pour the glaze evenly over the cake.  Allow the cake to soak in the rum mixture for at least 3-4 hours before serving so it is nice and moist.

The Film Pairing:

When I see this cake, Bing Crosby’s Hawaiian-themed “Mele Kalikimaka” comes right to mind, along with Clark Griswold’s fantasy about the glistening new pool he would buy with his Christmas bonus…

Christmas Vacation (1989)

I could literally watch this movie every night between now and Christmas day if I had to. In fact, it’s hard to believe that I had never seen it until a couple of years ago - how did I miss out on this for so long?!  

"And WHY is the carpet all wet, Todd?"

"I don’t KNOW, Margo."

Tis’ the season, Bublettes!

The Buffalo Wing

The first time I ever tasted a buffalo wing, I was a freshman in college and my friends dragged me to a downtown bar to watch the big Sunday game.  I quickly realized that no matter how un-ladylike it may seem, there’s nothing quite like wings, beer and football on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wings aren’t necessarily something I whip up at home for a weekday meal or dinner-staple, but they sure beat the pants off of any kind I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant.  And not to worry, they are somewhat easy to make.    

Today I had friends over and made my first batch of the season complete with oven-baked fries and Pumpkin Ale.  

Cheers to a beautiful fall and may the best men win out there on the field!

The Wings

1 package fresh chicken wings

1 bottle Frank’s Hot Buffalo Sauce

1 stick butter

Celery and Carrots for garnish

Olive Oil as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

Set the oven to 375.  Wash and dry the individual chicken wings.  Toss them in olive oil until each wing is fully coated, then arrange on a lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You can also choose to fry the wings - but why shorten your life-span if you don’t have to?  Baked tastes just as good!  Bake for 45 minutes, but watch them.  They may need longer or shorter depending on the oven.

Next, heat a large skillet and melt the butter until completely liquidized.  Add half of the bottle of Frank’s (or more if you like a lot of sauce) and stir together until smoothly combined.  If you like a sweeter wing, you can add a little maple syrup.

After removing the wings from the oven, put them in a large bowl and toss with the sauce.

The Film Pairing:

I could suggest Rudy or Remember the Titans or something of that nature - but this time I recommend the big game of the day.  NFL or College Football alike, there’s nothing like watching it live and rooting for your team.

Here’s who I will be cheering on this season (and always)

So Tigers, fight for Ol’ Mizzou! 

The Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken

This is the hottest summer I can remember in years.  I have temporarily relocated to a public transporation-centered city and I long for the days of my nice air-conditioned vehicle, not feeling like I need a wardrobe change three times a day and not having to always carry liters of water around with me….but I digress.

I couldn’t be more ready for fall and cooler temperatures, so I thought I would give it a (way early) kick-start in the kitchen!  Roasting a chicken reminds me of all the autumn evenings I came home to the wonderful aroma of herbs, lemon and olive oil filling the neighborhood.  

This is my mother’s recipe and truly, it is much easier than one might think when contemplating how to prepare a whole chicken.

The Chicken:

1 whole chicken

4 lemons 

Olive Oil to taste

1 bundle Rosemary (chopped)

1 bundle Sage (chopped)

4 cloves garlic (chopped)

Handful of Fingerling Potatoes

1 large Yellow Onion (rough chopped)

Pat the chicken dry after washing it and removing the insides.  Then, place it in a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 450.  

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary and sage and add a generous portion of olive oil and the juice from all four lemons.  Next, stick the lemon halves around the chicken and put three or four of them inside the cavity of the bird.  

 

Now, take the herbs from the bowl and coat the chicken.  When you have used all the herbs, pour the juice over the chicken and into the dish.  

Next, slice the potatoes in half and arrange them in the baking dish with the chopped onion.  Drizzle the bird generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake it at 450 for an hour.  If it’s a large chicken, you may need an hour an a half - keep an eye on it.

When it is cooked fully, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.  The skin will be brown and crispy and the inside will be full of juice and flavor.

The Film Pairing:

A roasted chicken is a timeless classic - and although there is no mention of food whatsoever in this movie, it too is certainly one that time will not forget.

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

The eye-liner in this film is phenomenal - as is the wardrobe.  A little racy, even by today’s standards, but the original author, Jacqueline Susann, wanted to write a novel based on the lives of Broadway / Hollywood’s best talent.  Of course, she changed the names to protect the not-so-innocent.

Neely O’Hara, Anne Welles and Jennifer North take their audience on a wild ride full of pills, booze and men…and I couldn’t take my eyes off it for a minute.    

The Caprese Salad

I don’t care much for raw tomatoes, but when accompanied by olive oil, mozzarella and basil, I can easily make an exception.

On Sunday evening, I hosted a small Italian dinner party and served Caprese as my first-course.  As a rule, June evenings are so brutally hot that people barely want to eat anything.  The mozzerella and tomatoes are filling, cold and leave people feeling refreshed on sultry summer nights. It was a perfect start to a wonderful evening with friends and family. 

Mangiare!

The Salad:

3 large tomatoes on the vine

1 large package fresh mozzerella

8-10 leaves fresh basil

Olive oil to taste

Balsamic vinegar to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Slice chilled tomatoes in thin rings and arrange them nicely on a big platter.

Next, slice the mozzarella into medium thick slices and layer them evenly below the tomato slices on the platter.

After your platter is prepared visually to your liking, rinse and dry the basil and rough chop it.  Then, sprinkle the herb evenly across the tomato and mozzarella.

(Look at that gorgeous basil!  It filled my kitchen with the most beautiful aroma…)

Finally, drizzle a fair amount of olive oil and half that amount of balsamic vinegar over the Caprese.  Season with salt and pepper.

The Film Pairing:

To Catch a Thief (1955)

When I nibble Caprese, I often think about the European coastline and wonder why I’m not there cutting fresh basil out of my garden…but I digress.

I realize that the names Grace Kelly and Cary Grant are alone enough to entice you to watch this film, but the scenery isn’t too bad either.  Grant plays a thief trying to - you guessed it - catch a thief.  And Kelly stuns from her wardrobe to her classic ability to be a true leading lady.  

Hitchock takes a slight break from his usual terrifying suspense to take on a bit of a lighter project with this film.

The North Joplin Special

As you know, Joplin, Missouri was tragically affected by a tornado that ripped through town nearly two weeks ago.  What you may not know, however, is that Joplin is my home town.  Joplin has my heart.

Sunday, the day of the storm, it was unusually muggy. Tornado sirens are so common in our part of the country, we go to the basement “just in case,” but never expect much to happen. That day, we were wrong.  

The sky turned a black like I’d never seen before.  Day felt like night.  We saw the image of a MASSIVE tornado on one of the local news stations, and at that moment, the power went out.  This was serious.  We sat, impatiently, and waited for it to pass.  My ears started to pop and we heard a tremendous wind storm.  It was truly terrifying.

When the storm was over, and we went outside - our neighborhood looked completely normal aside from minor debris.  We would soon learn that we were very few of the lucky families who’s lives and property were spared. 

Growing up, my friends and cousins would gather at the pool during the summer and order “North Joplin Specials.”  We drank them, our parents drank them as kids growing up in Joplin and my kids will likely do the same whether they live in Joplin or not…

On that terrible Sunday afternoon, North, South, East or West, Joplin faced grave devastation.  Some areas of town were demolished, and some were fine - but our town came together just like I knew we would.  During the past several days, neighbors have helped neighbors, enemies have worked together, families have become closer, and friends have provided an amazing support system for one another.  

I am officially re-naming this special concoction: The JOPLIN Special.  I am so proud of my town and of people from around the state and around the country who have made recovery a reality for those who lost everything.  

The Kid-Friendly Cocktail:

2 parts orange juice

1 part Sprite 

A dash of Rose’s grenadine 

Fill a highball glass with ice and pour the orange juice first.  This isn’t rocket science, but it’s close…

Next, add a splash of Sprite.  No other lemon-lime soda with do, so don’t even try it!

Finally, pour a fair amount of grenadine in and stir.

*Note: it has to be Rose’s grenadine.  No negotiations.

The Charity Pairing:


North, South, East, West, we come together to grieve, renew spirits and rebuild.  

To make a donation, either financially or through supplies or services, please visit www.rebuildjoplin.org

The Shrimp Scampi

Yesterday, I went to a graduation party and left with a huge bag of leftover shrimp cocktail.  I had no choice but to make pasta, right?  I like to think so…

I firmly believe that there are at least three ingredients that can make any dish delectable: olive oil, garlic and lemon.  Add butter, shrimp, white wine and some pasta and voila!You have shrimp scampi.

If only everything were this easy… 

The Shrimp Scampi:

1 lb shrimp (cleaned, de-veined)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 large cloves garlic (chopped)

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped parsely

Salt / pepper to taste

Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet at medium heat.  Put the garlic in the skillet and cook until fragrant (but don’t let it brown.)  Add the white wine and let simmer for a minute or two.  

If your shrimp is fresh (not boiled) add the shrimp with the wine.  If you’re using leftover, boiled shrimp, add it in at the last minute for just enough time to let it warm.

 

Above all else, don’t over-cook the shrimp.  This is a fatal mistake.

Boil your pasta according to the package directions (I use angel hair.)  Toss with the shrimp and serve immediately with a salad and a fresh french baguette.  Sprinkle parsley over the pasta for garnish. 

The Film Pairing:

Like I’ve said before, Hitchcock films have a grand ability to terrify me.  Not in the grotesque way that most scary movies do today - but instead, he uses dramatic suspense to scare his audience.  It works. 

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Hitchcock’s usuals include films like Vertigo, The Birds, and North by Northwest. These are classics that we all know and love, however, some of his early works are just as wonderful.  

While browsing Hulu, I stumbled across The Lady Vanishes.  It was late at night and I needed something mindless I could turn on while I fell asleep.  Needless to say, I didn’t close my eyes once!  It was fascinating.  With Hitchcock, I should have known… 

When a young socialite travels Europe, she meets an elderly woman on the train who disappears with no explanation.  Her trip is spent trying to find old Mrs. Froy and uncover the mystery behind the vanishing lady.

The Cakeball

When I was living in Dallas, a co-worker introduced me to a little morsel of sugary magic; otherwise known as the cakeball.  I had never seen or heard of such a thing, but I welcomed that delightful confection with open arms (and an open mouth.)  

Cakeballs are perfect for times when you’re entertaining for a shower or cocktail party and an actual piece of cake or a cupcake becomes too difficult to enjoy while keeping your manners intact.  And just think…if you’re a dieter, it’s a little bit of a cheat - but not enough to really count!

I made vanilla cakeballs with chocolate coating.  Some are topped with sprinkles and some are topped with toasted coconut.

There are a trillion different varieties for this recipe - so get creative!  My personal favorite are the red velvet cakes with white chocolate coating and the carrot cake with cream cheese icing…

The Cake:

Your favorite homemade recipe for cake or a boxed mix

1 batch of homemade icing, or 1 can of pre-made icing

Frankly, homemade cake and icing is always going to taste better - but boxed mix tastes good too.  Simply use the recipe you have time for.  You can find my recipe for vanilla cake and icing here.  

Prepare the cake recipe and bake it according to the directions.  Let the cake completely cool before moving to the next step.

Once cooled, crumble the cake into tiny pieces by hand or with a mixer.  I prefer by hand because I believe it to be more thorough.  Next, add the icing to the crumbles and mix well until the cake becomes moist and dough-like.

Get a cookie sheet and line it with wax paper.  Roll the cake into little balls by hand (to the size you desire) and place on the wax paper.  I think the best size is one that can be eaten in almost one bite, but not quite.

Place the cookie sheet in the fridge and let the balls harden for about two hours.  This make them easier to dip in the chocolate when the time comes.

The Coating:

1 package chocolate almond bark; or

Melted dark/milk chocolate bars

The almond bark easily melts in the microwave - and I usually use it when I’m in a time crunch.  Melting chocolate with a double-boiler is more time consuming (but if you have the time, it’s a great taste.)  

Melt half the bar of bark at a time and put it in a small bowl on regular power for one minute.  

Remove the cakeballs from the fridge and use a fork or toothpick to dip each in the chocolate individually.  Rather than submerse the cake in the chocolate, I hold the cake over the bowl of chocolate and spoon it over until the cake is covered.  Then, simply place back on the wax paper.  Immediately garnish the top with toasted coconut or sprinkles (or whatever.)  The chocolate dries very quickly.

Place back in the fridge for about 20 minutes and let the cakeballs set up properly.  You may serve, freeze or keep at room temperature for 3-4 days.

The Film Pairing:

As mentioned, cakeballs are great for entertaining because of the ability one has to eat without performing a balancing act.  Delicately biting into a cupcake is simply impossible.  

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Holly Golightly has been the inspiration behind several of my parties.  Her objective seems to be simple: eat, drink, go from zero to ninety in a matter of bourbons, and when things get uncontrollable - just sneak out the bathroom window.

While this film will be perpetually coined as girly, it’s truly moving and filled with an abundance of implicit story lines that make it relatable to members of both sexes.  

"I don’t think I’ve ever drunk champagne before breakfast before.  With breakfast, on several occasions, but never before, before.” Paul Varjack, Breakfast at Tiffany’s