Fried Dressing, a Family Tradition

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This special guest post is introduced by our cousin, Pam Upton Waters, of Rutherfordton, N.C. Her mom Betty Quinn Upton, our great aunt, started the fried dressing tradition years ago, and it’s a delicious meal staple we continue to enjoy today.

No holiday get-together would be complete without this treat.

People have asked for the recipe. My mother’s response is always the same. “I don’t have a recipe. I just put what looks right.”

“How do you know when it looks right?”

“I don’t know. I just know.”

Well, that is just as clear as mud to the rest of us. Anyway, several years ago we did put together a recipe of sorts for a friend. They loved it, so we use that one.

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Aunt Betty with her fried dressing

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • One recipe each of biscuits and cornbread, all baked, cooled and crumbled.
  • Broth—enough to make the breadcrumbs moist, about ¾ to 1 cup or so.
  • Onion, finely chopped. Two handfuls, about 1 small to medium or half a medium to large.
  • Meat, finely chopped. One turkey or chicken leg will do. Liver, gizzard and wings can also be used.
  • Sausage seasoning to taste. We start with ½ teaspoon per cup of breadcrumbs and go from there. You can start with ¼ teaspoon or so with the dry ingredients because it mixes better then. Just remember you can add more as needed, but you can’t take it out if you add too much.
  • Oil for frying.

Directions

  • Mix the crumbs together.
  • Add onion and meat. Mix well.
  • Add broth slowly to moisten while mixing. Hands are best used here, although a spoon will work, too.
  • Add sausage seasoning. Taste to make sure it is the heat level you like. Watch who you let be the taste tester if you have a relative with no taste buds.
  • Continue adding broth and mixing until it’s soft like play dough.
  • Pat out portions about the size of hamburger patties.
  • Fry patties in a pan in a low layer of oil until brown on each side.
  • Serve warm with gravy.

Recipe by Betty Quinn Upton

Flavor-Bursting Mexican Burgers

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My wife Molly and I love burgers, and we love Mexican food. This recipe is all about putting those two together.

Several years ago, before we got married and I learned Molly made delicious homemade tortillas, I cooked up a batch of tortilla-wrapped burgers with taco-seasoned beef, using store-bought flour tortillas. Recently, while browsing a burger cookbook in our library I thought, “Why not make a better Mexican-flavored burger with Molly’s homemade tortillas?”

Last year, we learned from a Rick Bayless cookbook how to make Huevos Rancheros, which include a mega-flavorful tomatillo sauce and queso fresco, two ingredients that add the perfect kick and cool to our Mexican burgers, too.

So, it’s as simple as that: homemade tortilla, seasoned beef, tomatillo sauce and queso fresco. We were blown away by the burst of flavor in every bite. First, you get the taste of seasoned beef and the soft heartiness of the tortillas, which serve as your bun. Then you get the fresh spiciness of the tomatillo sauce. Finally, the queso cools you off to close.

You can pick this burger up, but we’ll warn you that it is very messy. You can also eat it with knife and fork as an open-faced sandwich. Here’s how you make it, piece by piece, to serve four people. It will probably take you 60 to 90 minutes in the kitchen to prepare, but we guarantee you it will be worth it. Just crumble your desired amount of queso fresco, assemble the parts at the end of the process and enjoy!

 

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Tortillas

2 cups tortilla flour

2/3 cup water

Directions: Put the tortilla flour in a large bowl. Slowly add the water, mixing in with your hands until fully incorporated. Form into a large ball until all the flour is absorbed. If the dough ball is too sticky, sprinkle a little more flour in and mix in. Tear off and form small balls (slightly bigger than the size of a golf ball; you should end up with about 9) and sit them on a floured surface. Take each ball and flatten between a lightly-floured burger press. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat and cook each tortilla until lightly toasted on each side. (Watch carefully. Tip: You may want to use a fork or other utensil to flip the tortilla over since it will be hot.) You may need to flip the tortilla a few times to get it just right. Practice makes perfect! Stack on a plate until ready to use.

 

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Seasoned Beef

1 pound fresh ground beef

1 T chili powder

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ t crushed red pepper flakes

¼ t dried oregano

½ t paprika

1 ½ t ground cumin

1 t salt

1 t black pepper

Directions: Mix your spices together thoroughly in a small bowl. Tear apart your ground beef in a medium bowl. Pour your spices over your beef and then blend together thoroughly with your hands. Divide evenly into four parts, and roll each into a ball. Smash with your hands or a burger press and form into patties. You can cook on a stovetop, but we like to cook on foil on a pan in the oven. Heat to 375 and cook until done, about 20 minutes. We’ve found that cooking burgers in the oven produces done, tender, juicy meat, while the excess grease pours off.

 

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Tomatillo Sauce

5 tomatillos

2 small garlic cloves

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup chicken broth

1 jalapeno

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

Directions: Use a food processor, if you have one, or chop your garlic, jalapeno, cilantro and tomatillos. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add chopped ingredients and cook on medium-high for 7 minutes until sauce thickens. Add chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in heavy cream. Taste and season with salt.

 

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Bonus Side Dish: Fiesta Fried Potatoes

4 or 5 small to medium potatoes

1 small garlic clove

1 tablespoon butter (for browning)

½ lime for fresh juice

pinch fresh cilantro

pinch salt to taste

Directions: Dice your potatoes and preheat them by cooking them in a microwave-safe bowl for 5 or so minutes. Add potatoes to a saucepan with butter, garlic, cilantro and salt. Stir from time to time, but don’t overstir to allow to brown. Cut lime and squeeze over potatoes to coat with juice. When potatoes are soft inside and slightly brown outside, they’re done. Serve up beside your Mexican burger!

Molly’s Easy Homemade Latte

Latte

It’s not often that we purchase expensive, chic specialty coffee drinks at shops like Starbucks. The major reason is we can make a treat just as satisfying with simple ingredients and equipment at home.

My wife Molly makes a “mean” latte in our kitchen! Seriously, who needs to hit the drive-thru window on the weekend when you can stay comfortable at home and still sip something sweet and smooth?

Molly starts by whipping 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in our stand mixer. (You can also use a hand mixer if that’s all you have. That’s the method she used before my parents gave us a wonderful Kitchenaid for our wedding.) She mixes the ingredients until they begin to thicken without forming peaks.

Then she divides the foam into coffee mugs, pours hot coffee over it and stirs. Just garnish (with nutmeg or other toppings) and serve. You can also experiment with adding pumpkin spice, cocoa or another ingredient to the cream to specialize your latte.

Folks spend a lot of money each week/month/year on grabbing constant cups of specialty coffee. If you like lattes, you can save a lot of those hard-earned dollars by making your own at home with this recipe. Just modify it to suit your taste. We hope you enjoy!

5 Affordable Foods to Help Your Health

Healthy food

Last year I dropped just shy of 70 pounds, simply with a better diet rich in healthy, less-processed foods and hundreds of miles of walking. No expensive weight-loss programs, gym memberships or personal health coaches were needed.

For my entire adult life, I’d had the same thought many others do around the holidays: I should resolve to lose weight next year to improve my health. Year after year, I’d plan to eat better and exercise more, but it didn’t happen until a major change in my career path and my life as a whole.

In April 2017, I started walking two or three miles every day of the week, just a brisk pace and a consistent routine. At the same time, I quit making regular visits to fast food restaurants, I started eating less overall red meat, I cut out all added sugar in my drinks (bye bye, sweet tea, concentrated fruit juices and sweet coffee, in other words), and I started allowing myself to fall in love with simple foods.

Here are five of those foods that I totally endorse for their digestive, weight management and overall health benefits, as well as their affordability. I hope they can help you reach your health goals the way they’ve enhanced my life. Best wishes to you on your journey, whether you’re making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or you’re midway through the year and find the same motivations I did to live a healthier life.

 

Oatmeal

I love to start most days with a simple bowl of whole grain oats. At my local grocery store of choice—the amazing Aldi—I can get a 42-ounce canister of dry rolled oats for about $2, which buys me at least a month’s worth of servings of a healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber, contains no sugar, doesn’t break the bank on carbs and is low in calories and fat. Through a lot of experimenting, I’ve found I prefer to cook my half-cup servings of oats in a cup of water for a minute in the microwave. The biggest health benefit comes from the simple oats, but when I want a little extra flavor I add a teaspoon of honey, a few shakes of ground cinnamon, a sprinkle of crushed almonds or a quarter cup of raisins. When I’m seeking an extra-special breakfast that stays healthy and mixes up the routine, I like to join the overnight oats trend, soaking oats in milk overnight in a mason jar in the fridge, topped with some combination of nuts or flax seed, yogurt, cocoa and sugar (I’ve only done that one once and shared it with Molly), or other toppings. My diet improvements really started and continue with oatmeal.

 

Eggs

Eggs are such a versatile dietary component, and I’ve come to rely on them throughout the day. Whether it’s a quick scrambled egg for breakfast, a boiled egg on wheat toast at lunch or a poached egg on a plate of smashed avocado, the options and benefits are both endless. AND I can get a dozen eggs at my local grocery store for as low as 26 cents some weeks! Eggs do contain a major portion of your recommended cholesterol, but they’re also protein rich, while not delivering significant portions of fat, sodium or carbs to your diet.

 

Spinach

The whole bag of flat-leaf spinach I regularly purchase contains 50 TOTAL calories and ZERO fats and sugars! That’s a major victory, at just $2 a bag for three or more servings. Spinach is a great base for a fresh salad, but I love it even more when it’s seasoned with a little salt and pepper and cooked—wilted with just a water base—alongside a juicy grilled chicken breast. Each serving provides the benefits of fiber, potassium and even a little protein.

 

Tuna

Many American restaurant menus have a salmon option, but fewer seem to offer a tuna dish. Of course there are options to buy more expensive fresh-caught tuna, but on the regular we can get a package of light tuna in water—no oils, please—for 64 cents at the grocer. Each package recommends two servings, but I often eat both at once, which means I still only consume 100 calories, while eating nearly no fat, no carbs whatsoever, just 8 percent of my recommended daily sodium (not bad for canned meat) and 11 grams of protein. Tuna goes great with some saltines or wheat crackers, on wheat toast with a sprinkle of pepper, or cooked alongside some fresh spinach.

 

Greek Yogurt

Count me among the many eaters scared of Greek yogurt for many years. Then I found the flavored 100-calorie, 55-cent cups at Aldi and made a new close friend. I love the simple strawberry, blackberry, blueberry and peach flavors, and each cup gives me 12 grams of protein, NO fat, just a few carbs and only nine grams of sugar. (You have to remember there are sugars in food, and all sugar is not bad. The enemy is dumping that granulated stuff into your drinks and dishes.) Yogurt is great by itself for a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but it also goes great in a jar of overnight oats, or alongside other breakfast, lunch or dinner items. Like everything on this list, it’s incredibly versatile, affordable and beneficial to your health!

 

To be clear, these aren’t the only foods I eat, but they start my grocery list each trip, and I build my entire diet around them. You can have that cheeseburger or that slice of pie—and I still do—but like we’ve always heard, eat those kinds of foods in moderation.

I realized late in 2017 that I have a much easier resolution to make now, heading into the new year. Instead of “lose weight,” I can just say “keep the weight off.” Instead of “get healthy,” I get to target “stay healthy.”

I’d love to hear your story and any go-to foods that help you. Just share below, comment on one of our social media channels, or email me.

Foodie Travels: Best We Ate in 2017

Best We Ate 2017

2017 has taken us to more than half of America’s 50 states with more than 8,000 miles on the road, which means we’ve enjoyed a lengthy list of amazing #FoodieScore Travels experiences. In this second annual “Best We Ate” edition, we’ll share a few of our favorite food finds from this year. We must tell you that many of these picks were tough, and several categories were almost impossible to select! We’ve noted a few runners up where possible, and you’ll have to stick with #FoodieScore throughout the new year to learn about the rest.

BEST MEAL

Cattlemen's Steakhouse

Matthew – Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City, Okla. – This 100-year-old steakhouse is commonly ranked among America’s best, and we now know why. The steaks are flavorful, juicy and come from beef in the adjacent National Stockyards. But this great meal doesn’t end with the meat. The fresh salad with a special house-made dressing, the soft and savory dinner rolls, a filling and delightfully topped baked potato, a creamy baked macaroni and cheese, and the fresh and fruity blackberry cobbler all played a role in this being the greatest meal I ate in 2017. Perhaps the greatest course of all: The check didn’t break the bank after dinner! HONORABLE MENTION: Dinner, The Dillard House, Dillard, Ga.

Tuna Tacos

Molly – Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – Every time I tried to decide on the best meal of 2017 – which was a Herculean mental effort, mind you – I couldn’t get Webb Custom Kitchen out of my head. Not least in my mind were the incredible array of options from the beginning of a meal – the Duck Cigars I picked as my favorite appetizer of the year – to the end – the multi-layer chocolate mousse cake that melted in our mouths. But first in my mind was a dish with such delicious, fresh flavor and texture that it truly made Webb Custom Kitchen rocket to the top of my list: the Raw Ahi Tuna Tacos. I’m a fish taco person anyway, but rarely eat anything that isn’t fully cooked. Yet the sound and description of these on the menu made me take a chance, and I am so glad I did. The rich tuna flavor, the firm, steak-like texture and the fresh toppings all nestled in a soft, light flour tortilla = fish taco perfection. So much so that I have wanted to get them again ever since.

BEST BURGER

Kim's Kitchen

Matthew – Kim’s Kitchen, Stanley, N.C. – I grew up eating Kim’s Kitchen cheeseburgers and even had them delivered to other cities and states in which I lived, so I was saddened in 2013 when Kim’s closed. Fast forward to April 2017. That’s when Kim’s reopened under its longtime management, and the cheeseburger I loved so much in my youth returned. You won’t find a better burger with fresher meat, meltier cheese and a softer, hearty bun than Kim’s, and I didn’t all year. HONORABLE MENTION: Smoke Stack, Montana Ale Works, Bozeman, Montana

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Molly – Breaded Burger, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – A breaded burger might sound like an odd option for best burger of the year, and we certainly did have some amazing options for this title. But something about this homemade, hometown burger just really hit the spot for me. The soft, slightly crispy breading as you take a bite of the burger is just pure Southern comfort. Kitchens across the South in America in former generations made plenty of unique burger creations during the Depression era, in order to save on and stretch the hamburger meat. The method of adding bread to it is one my great-grandmother, Banny, passed down to my mother, who passed it down to me. Banny’s method is a bit different than Snappy Lunch’s, but both result in a simply delicious burger. Maybe that’s why it made my Best Burger of 2017.

BEST SANDWICH

Snappy Lunch

Matthew – Pork Chop Sandwich, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – Being the unofficial “state sandwich” carries a lot of pressure! The famed Pork Chop Sandwich at Snappy Lunch in Mt. Airy absolutely lives up to the heralded billing. It all starts with a milky-sweet fried pork chop that’s topped with a flavor explosion of zingy chili and cool coleslaw. Just as the restaurant name says, you’ll get it snappy, and you’ll get it cheap.

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Molly – Half and Half, Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C. – I hadn’t been to Shake Shop in years, though it is a famous institution in my hometown of Cherryville. When we went this year, which was Matthew’s first visit!, I got one of my classic picks: a half and half. The sandwich carries different names everywhere you go, but the description is simple: a long, hoagie-style bun with a cheeseburger on one side and a ham sandwich on the other. For me, you can’t get much more satisfaction than going back and forth between a melty, salty ham and cheese sandwich, to a hearty, cheese-covered burger, both topped with slaw and tomato, of course. And Shake Shop does both sides right.

BEST APPETIZER

Garage on Beck

Matthew – Mormon Funeral Potatoes, Garage on Beck, Salt Lake City, Utah – Outside of Utah, you won’t find many Mormon Funeral Potatoes, so you have to make such an experience count. Garage on Beck’s dish is like a crispy jalapeno hash brown hushpuppy. They’re so expansive you could make them your meal. Accent on COULD. Don’t miss everything else Garage on Beck has to offer, including the funky ambiance that’s part biker bar and part outdoor brunch.

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Molly – Duck Cigars, Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – What a delightful, egg-roll experience Webb Custom Kitchen’s Duck Cigars are. Not only are they perfectly fried in a crispy spring roll shell and perfectly filled with a surprisingly delicious duck confit, they are accompanied by three impeccable sauces, including a house-made soy sauce. Try them all, repeatedly, and you won’t regret it!

BEST SWEET TREAT

Lulu's

Matthew – Cinnamon Roll, Lulu’s Bakery & Cafe, San Antonio, Texas – This cinnamon roll is 3 pounds. Do I need to tell you more? If so, it’s made of fresh-baked bread, delicious cinnamon spices and a rich icing that remarkably stay fresh for almost a week. We know because we ate a few bites with our meal and then took the rest on the road. After enjoying bites in San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City, I think we finished it all somewhere near Little Rock, Ark. It was delicious to the last ounce. HONORABLE MENTION: Pie Flight, Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina

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Molly – Reese’s Donut, Wake N Bake Donuts, Wilmington, N.C. – Luck was with us in Wilmington as we strolled down a quiet street, just happening to pass a donut shop we hadn’t previously heard of. This is highly unusual for us well-researched foodies, but Wake N Bake was a highly unusual, phenomenal find. The donuts in the window lured us in and let me just say, we were glad to be caught by this donut shop! My favorite was the Reese’s donut, with a creamy, whipped peanut butter filling, chocolate icing, and a Reese’s cup on top. (Top left in the photo above.) There was no wrong way to eat this Reese’s. HONORABLE MENTION: Key Lime Cheesecake, Mayworth Public House, Cramerton, North Carolina 

BEST BREAKFAST

HenDough

Matthew – HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C. – Get it all, and savor every bite! But certainly don’t miss the fried chicken biscuit, the biscuit with cheese and local bacon and eggs, the doughnuts, the smoked gouda macaroni and cheese, the sweet potato salad, or the locally made Dynamite Roasting coffee. HenDough also gets points for atmosphere, with its seating inside and outside of a house converted into a restaurant. HONORABLE MENTION: Breakfast Menu, Causeway Cafe, Wilmington, N.C.

BLET

Molly – BLET (Bacon, Lettuce, Egg & Tomato), Brunch, Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack, Belmont, N.C. – What a Southern combination Peace-N-Hominy has put together in this BLET! The bacon is thick and crispy; the tomato is fresh and the lettuce has that fresh crunch; the egg is fried (or cooked any way you want it) to perfection; the bread is so buttery-toasted; and the cheese is – this is where the OMG comes in – pimento cheese. This sandwich is everything you need and nothing more. HONORABLE MENTION: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit, Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, North Carolina

BEST SOUL FOOD

Shirley Mae's

Matthew – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – You’re family when you eat at Shirley Mae’s, even on your first visit. Isn’t that the definition of soul food? This place serves up the best pinto beans Molly has ever eaten. The fried chicken wings are meaty and crispy. The macaroni and cheese is creamy and filling. And don’t get me started on the hot-water cornbread wrapped and kept warm by a foil blanket in its own little cup. You’ll wish Shirley Mae’s was in your town, and you’re in luck, if you live in Louisville.

Molly – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – The best soul food places serve Kool-Aid. Shirley Mae’s is one of the best, and I got grape. How good and how pleasant it is for food to be accompanied by Kool-Aid! Not only that, Shirley Mae’s gave me one of my favorite food items period on our 6,000+ mile road trip this summer: the pinto beans. Flavored with real pork, these pintos were the star of my meal, which also included delicious fried tilapia. Don’t miss this place if you ever go through Louisville!

BEST MEXICAN FOOD

Chico's Tacos

Matthew – Chico’s Tacos, El Paso, Texas – We enjoy an array of Mexican food each year. It’s one of our favorite cuisines, so you’d think this would be a difficult choice. It’s not. Chico’s was by far the most authentic Mexican food experience I’ve ever had, not because of the type of food but because of the delivery and the clientele. Sitting just a couple of miles from the Mexico border, Chico’s serves up a boat of rolled-corn, beef-filled, taquito-style tacos that you won’t find at any other taco shop. They’re cheap, so eat up! HONORABLE MENTION: Lunch Buffet, El Pinto, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Molly – Puffy Tacos, Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio, Texas – Ray’s Drive Inn’s Puffy Tacos are the stuff of legend – literally, they are credited with inventing the “Puffy Taco.” What is it? A soft, puffy (because the word just fits), fluffy, thick taco filled with the absolute freshest ingredients – lettuce, tomato, and any meat you want, including fish, beef, carne guisada, or chicken, just to name a few. To give you a good idea of what they’re like, here’s an analogy: these Puffy Tacos are to Taco Bell chalupas as a rack of Memphis’ restaurant Charlie Rendezvous’ Ribs are to a McDonald’s McRib. It’s the original, high-end, mouthwatering version that you’ve got to have, even if you can’t have it all the time. (Although, if we lived in San Antonio, I would!)

BEST ITALIAN FOOD

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Matthew – Cristina Pizza, Moon Pie Pizza, Pasta & Bakery, Dillard, Ga. – We don’t eat pizza out very often, so when we do it’s a testament to how promising a pizzeria’s menu looks. Similarly, there are few pizza shops we reference in our household as memorable, because we hold a great pizza in high regard more than just something to be scarfed down like a Ninja Turtle would. (To be inclusive and to show you we’re not crazy here, we hold great pasta and stromboli in high regard as well, so Italian isn’t just pizza to us, but it’s a big part of the Southern food experience when it comes to Italian cuisine. Molly actually worked as a server at an Italian restaurant in Cherryville, N.C., for a while, and pizza wasn’t close to her favorite menu item there.) So it means something big to us when we enjoy a pizza enough to include it in this list. Moon Pie’s pizza dough was soft yet crackly from the oven, the cheese was ooey gooey perfect, and the prosciutto, spinach, mushrooms and truffle oil on top were both fresh and completely complementary. Delizioso!

we have the meats

Molly – Meat Lover Pizza, Portofino, Gastonia, N.C. – Portofino’s has been a favorite Italian spot of mine for years, less due to its proximity in nearby Gastonia, and more due to the satisfaction its rich, authentic dishes bring during every meal there. I have never been disappointed at Portofino’s and their pizza is truly to die for, hearty and full-flavored. This year, we got, for the first time, the Meat Lover Pizza. Matthew doesn’t typically love all-meat pizzas, but with the inclusion of Italian meatballs, he was all for it. If you’re near Gastonia and in need of a pizza, skip all the national chain spots and go straight here. I know you won’t be disappointed either!

BEST BARBECUE

Arthur Bryant's

Matthew – Burnt Ends, Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, Kansas City, Mo. – I’ve eaten a lot of barbecue throughout the Southern United States (and I ate more great barbecue in 2017 than any year ever before), but I’ve never had barbecue like this, quite literally. Kansas City is known for its burnt ends the way Texas is known for its brisket and the Carolinas are known for pulled pork. Arthur Bryant’s offered a delicious first experience with burnt ends, which were almost like a combination rib-brisket bite, covered in a barbecue sauce that was more tomatoey than I’ve ever had. And my plate of burnt ends came with pieces of plain white sandwich bread (just the way I like getting my barbecue) and a load of hand-cut fries. It was a true #FoodieScore! HONORABLE MENTION: Pulled Pork Plate, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Charleston, South Carolina

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Molly – BBQ Chicken with White Sauce, Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham, Ala. – Oh, white barbecue sauce, how I love you! Could any barbecue sauce be more perfect than one with a mayonnaise base? My answer to that is now a definitive no. There are many sauces in the world, but Saw’s BBQ’s white sauce is the quintessential, unique sauce for me, and it goes perfectly on a roast chicken sandwich with a pickle, which is how I first tried it at Saw’s in Alabama. If you’ve never heard of it, or simply haven’t tried it, maybe this year is your time to be adventurous! If you can’t make it to Alabama, you can order white sauce in a bottle, as I did this year for Matthew, so we could include it on our own dishes at home. I can’t wait!

Why Christmas Always Reminds me of Blueberry Pancakes

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This Christmas foodie adventure started in the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once all the wrapped and tightly taped gift boxes and bags were inside the car, I climbed in the back seat behind grandpa Lee and grandma Vember, and away we went. It was early one Christmas Eve morning in the 1990s.

My grandparents lived in the small textile mill community of Caroleen in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Some years I’d stay with them for a few days during my Christmas break from school, and this year I’d spent a short time with them prior to the holiday. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d gather with my mom and dad at our house in the Gaston County community of Alexis for dinner, gifts, goodies and time together. Grandpa was also known to go shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve itself—he was calm, cool and collected enough to do such a thing—and I accompanied him at least a couple times. Grandma and grandpa would spend the night in my room, which meant I slept in our third bedroom on a different side of the house. The change of venue for that one night each year always produced a magical quality for me.

But this isn’t a story about the usual Christmas experiences of my youth. Rather, it’s the memory of one exceptional year when our Christmas Eve journey from grandma and grandpa’s house had a special stop on the way to mom and dad’s.

I always remember my grandma as one who enjoyed eating breakfast in restaurants. She didn’t eat eggs, grits, bacon and toast at home when she helped make it for grandpa and me. But get her in a restaurant and it was a different story. So it’s no surprise that we stopped for breakfast at The Pancake House in Shelby, North Carolina—coincidentally less than a mile from where my wife and I now live—on the way to mom and dad’s this particular Christmas Eve.

What honestly is a mystery is why I ordered a massive stack of Pancake House blueberry pancakes that day. I was known for, as the Southerners say, “having eyes bigger than my belly.” I often tried to eat more food than I could actually hold as a child. (I’m so sorry, Mom!) And it won’t surprise my close friends to read that I’d order blueberries. If anything, I’m over-known for my love of blueberries. Yet, I’ve always been one to prefer my pancakes with only butter and hot, hot syrup, which The Pancake House serves quite well!

So, the blueberry pancakes arrive, and I remember grandpa, grandma and me gawking and fawning at how they were hanging off the plate in front of me. I ate pancakes, and I ate pancakes. Then I ate some more pancakes. (If you’re familiar with the movie or book “Matilda,” perhaps imagine a situation figuratively similar to Bruce Bogtrotter eating the massive chocolate cake, but far less repulsive!) The blueberry pancakes were incredibly delicious. Grandpa finished his breakfast—what it was, I don’t remember exactly—and then he took bites of my remaining pancakes.

We couldn’t finish them.

We tried anyways, and a sizeable portion remained.

We were stuffed, and my mom is known for her Christmas goodies, so I don’t think we took them with us. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we took leftovers, which would in no way happen now. I’ve developed firm beliefs in not wasting any food if at all possible.

For years, we talked about the size of those pancakes and how grandpa and I couldn’t finish them together. It became food legend in our family, and I don’t think it will ever leave any of us.

My grandpa and grandma Quinn have passed on now. Grandpa died in 2013, and grandma passed away this year (October 2017). But they’ve supplied me with an estate of so many fond memories, including treating me to those blueberry pancakes.

On one recent morning, I had a hankering for blueberry pancakes. Maybe it was something grandpa and grandma put into my head from Heaven. So I got up and went for an extra long walk in my neighborhood to prepare myself, took a shower, got dressed and drove a mile up the road to The Pancake House. I sat down in a booth by myself, imagined grandma and grandpa side by side across from me, and I ordered a plate of two blueberry pancakes, a side of sausage links and coffee when the server arrived at my table.

For a half hour, I sat there slowly indulging in the pancakes and the memory of my childhood visit to the very same restaurant. This time, the pancakes didn’t seem quite as large, but then again I’ve grown much larger myself in the years since that adventurous day years ago. And somehow I remember the blueberries being cooked into the pancakes before, while these pancakes had a tasty blueberry compote on top. But with all of the differences between the memory of the past and the reality of the present, I still know grandpa and grandma were enjoying the Christmastime breakfast with me.

Mrs. Vickie’s Simply Divine Cherry Cobbler

Divine Cherry Cobbler

Each December, my financial advisor hosts a Christmas open house at his church in Denver, North Carolina. We always look forward to having a chance to see him and his staff and to enjoy the barbecue and fixings he graciously serves his clients. We also anticipate a DIVINE cherry cobbler that’s always present on the dessert end of the food table. For years now, our family has swooned over this cherry dessert and how melt-in-your-mouth delicious it is when a new batch arrives all hot and fresh. The cherries are juicy, slightly tart and perfectly sweet, and the top is so buttery and crumbly!

Well, this year, I decided I finally had to ask my advisor Patrick who makes the cherry dessert we love so much. He referred me to the serving staff, and when I asked them I learned Patrick’s mother, Vickie, is the baker responsible for the delicious dish.

After enjoying a brief visit and tasty lunch, I sought out Vickie to see if I could obtain the recipe. She first told me the dessert contains “a little of this and a little of that.” After a few smiles and laughs, she proceeded to dish on the contents of our beloved cherry concoction. I couldn’t wait to share it with you and make it at home. Here it is!

Mrs. Vickie’s Simply Divine Cherry Cobbler

Ingredients

2 cans cherry pie filling

1 small can crushed pineapple

1 box yellow cake mix

2 sticks butter

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix your pie filling and pineapple and add to a 13×9 oven-safe pan.
  3. Spread your yellow cake mix atop filling mixture.
  4. Top with the butter, spreading pats evenly across top.
  5. Bake until cake topping is “done.” We baked ours about 45 minutes to get a nice bubbling filling and a slightly buttery-brown topping.
  6. *Mrs. Vickie recommends adding pecans or another preferred nut to the topping, but that step is optional and can be avoided in case of nut allergies.

Foodie Travels: Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Charleston, S.C.

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When we travel, we like to maximize our foodie opportunities to visit great local restaurants. You won’t find us eating at a chain establishment in a faraway city. But you might find us driving slightly out of the way to test out a restaurant we’ve seen or heard great things about.

On a recent trip to Charleston, one of the greatest and most diverse foodie cities in the Southeast and all of America, I faced a major dining dilemma. For months, I’ve been hearing about a place called Scott’s BBQ in the small community of Hemingway, South Carolina, a 90-minute drive from Charleston and way off the beaten path on my journey from and back to Charlotte, North Carolina. Scott’s, I’m told, is one of the best places anywhere to eat whole-hog, pulled-pork barbecue because of the emphasis on quality wood and slow smoking. But how could I sensibly add three hours to my trip for one meal, even if meant sampling some of the best barbecue out there?

A little restaurant research solved my quandary. (I recommend you always thoroughly research restaurants and cities before making your dining plans. Spontaneity can lead to great foodie adventures, but I’ve seen many Yelp and Trip Advisor complaints that could’ve been avoided with a little planning and scouting.)

Apparently the people of Charleston also wanted to enjoy Scott’s BBQ, enough that Rodney Scott has opened a location on Upper King Street to sell his delicious barbecued meats and sides. So, I got to go to Charleston and have my barbecue, too. And what an amazing barbecue experience it is!

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Scott sells ribs and chicken in his Charleston spot, too, but I had to try out his renowned whole hog pulled pork because that’s what I’ve heard so much about. (When we say whole hog, we mean the whole hog is cooked slowly for about 12 hours in the barbecue pit.) I’m proud to say I watched a Southern Foodways Alliance feature on Scott that reveals he shares my belief in the power of perfectly cooked meat that doesn’t need to drown in sauce. He offers his own spicy, thin barbecue sauce, but his meat is so masterfully and flavorfully smoked that you don’t even need it.

What you do need is to get a pork plate with sides of cornbread and macaroni and cheese. The moist cornbread appears to be brushed on the top with honey and comes with a cup of fresh cream butter. The mac and cheese is hot, gooey and oh, so creamy, too.

If you get cornbread on the plate, you will have double bread, as two slices of white sandwich bread come with the pork as well. I always love that style of service, as it’s what I’m familiar with from eating barbecue in Alabama and Kansas City, too. You can make a sandwich with some of your pork and your bread, and you might consider your sweet cornbread a dessert of sorts. That’s what I did.

Rodney Scott’s BBQ is like an alternate double world within Charleston, a city known so much for its culinary prowess, particularly food with lowcountry flair. Scott’s serves pork that I imagine mirrors the product in his hole-in-the-wall old joint up in Hemingway, but it comes in new-age digs that I found to be neat, tidy and without unnecessary frills. From door to counter to table, the service was incredibly friendly, too.

I’m sure glad I did my research before traveling through Charleston. If I hadn’t, I would’ve missed this prize in a city full of great food. For the barbecue lover, Rodney Scott’s is, as advertised, the must-visit BBQ spot in all of South Carolina, whether you’re in Charleston or can make it to Hemingway for the original.

Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, 1011 King Street, Charleston, S.C.

Simple Scratch-made Chocolate Crackle Cookies

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A great cookie is all about texture. Whether it’s the crunch of chocolate chips, the crackle of sugar or just the soft gooiness of the center, the texture makes and breaks (in a good way) any cookie we eat. And it’s that texture I’ve always loved about these Chocolate Crackle Cookies.

I also love that all of the ingredients for this cookie recipe are always in our pantry and fridge, and they’re likely in yours, too, which means no need to run to the store! On a recent Saturday afternoon, I scoured a few cookie sites for popular recipes, came up with this combination, and walked right into the kitchen and started mixing and baking. The result was about 30 chewy morsels of sweet, chocolatey goodness that we enjoyed throughout the following week.

One of our #FoodieScore Facebook friends even suggested adding a little green food coloring to the recipe around the holidays to create Grinch cookies. Great idea! That’s what we love about cooking: You can always take a recipe and adapt it however you want.

It won’t take you long to mix the dough and watch these cookies bake and crackle on top, so we hope you enjoy the rest of the time you spend on the best part of the homemade cookie process: Eating!

Ingredients

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease baking sheet(s)
  3. Add powdered sugar to bowl and set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
  5. In an electric mixer bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Add one egg to the mixer bowl and mix until blended. Then add the second egg.
  7. Add the dry flour-cocoa mixture and mix on low speed until blended.
  8. Once all ingredients are blended, rest cookie dough in freezer for about 10 minutes. This will help cookies be less sticky when you form them for baking, which is important because you have to ball them up and roll them in the powdered sugar.
  9. After dough is cooled, use a spoon to scoop dough and roll into spoonful-size balls using your hands.
  10. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar in your bowl until each is covered well.
  11. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet(s), about 2 inches apart, and bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until crackled and puffed.
  12. Let cool on a rack and then enjoy!

Time-Honored Christmas Treats Our Family Loves

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In this special guest post, #FoodieScore blogger Matthew Tessnear’s mom, Chris Tessnear, recalls the inspirations for the holiday goodies she makes each Christmas season and shares the recipe for a favorite family tradition. Discover her blog, where faith and art unite, at CreativeInspirations.Blogspot.com.

Celebrations in the South always involve food, and Christmas in the South means special food and treats. Growing up I remember my mom’s orange cake made with oranges from the treat bags received from the textile mill where my dad worked. I also remember my grandmother’s sweet potato pie. She, like my mom, made biscuit dough for pie crust as well. She added very little to her cooked sweet potatoes, and the pie was very thin (not deep dish). She put mini marshmallows on top and ran them under the broiler to melt and brown. I could go on, but I think I’m supposed to share some of the treats I make.

Like my mom and grandmother, I picked up ideas from other places over the years. My Nutty Fingers I first learned to make in Home Economics in the Seventies. The White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz crackers (never found a short title) was learned when dad brought some home the girls in the office made at work. Back then, we used real white chocolate and added paraffin to the mix for easier flow and gloss. This was in the early Eighties. I guess we had not learned about Almond Bark yet.

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The Spinach Balls I make came from a former pastor’s wife, Ann Dodd. They are easy and a little healthier than most holiday treats. Peanut Butter Fantasy Fudge was always mom’s favorite. I made it more often than Christmas.

I always make good old slice-and-bake sugar cookies. It’s hard to improve on that. I make traditional Party Mix but often use the store brand cereals. Homemade Sausage Balls are a staple each year. The once handmade Cheese Ball is now bought to save time.

One of my family’s favorites is my homemade Oatmeal Cakes, similar to a familiar purchased kind and sometimes called Little Chrissy Cakes. I developed these from a recipe I already hadI made them once and it became a tradition. I made them for a church fall festival and everyone wanted the recipe.

I’ll share that recipe here.

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Little Chrissy Cakes (Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies)

Cookie:

1 1/4 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup soft butter or margarine

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 package instant vanilla pudding mix

2 eggs

3 1/2 cups oats

Combine butter, sugars, pudding mix in a bowl. Beat until creamy. Add eggs and mix. Gradually add flour mixed with baking soda. Stir in oats. Roll into 2-inch diameter log and chill. (Can be frozen up to one month).

When ready to bake, slice log into 1/4-inch slices and place on lightly sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned. We like ours a little chewy, and 10 minutes is usually enough. Cool on wire rack, then add filling and wrap individually.

Filling:

1 pound of confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and add sugar slowly, then beat until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and mix well. Spread a good amount in between two cookies. (I admit to using canned icing mostly now. It’s all about enjoying the cookie soon and not being worn out by Christmas Day.

Yields about 18 cakes depending on the size of the cookies.

Food and Christmas go together. Traditions are important, especially at the holidays. Here’s to wishing you a wonderful Christmas filled with all the tasty hope of the season.