With August gone, baking can resume
by Gay Lyons
I don’t cook in August. My oven hasn’t been used since I baked a key lime pie and some biscuits on July 21. I’ve whipped up a couple of omelets, but that’s it. My stove has enjoyed a month-long summer vacation.
We’ve eaten out a couple of times a week. I’ve picked up barbecue to bring home. We’ve ordered pizza. We’ve nibbled on cheese, and we’ve munched on raw vegetables and hummus.
I don’t expect my friends to cook in August either. Last Saturday we hosted a large annual gathering, which is always a covered dish supper. There were almost no baked dishes and far fewer desserts than usual. Instead, most guests brought salads—layered salads, tossed salads, congealed salads, marinated salads. There was gazpacho, and there were several platters of homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, but there were no rolls, which may not seem like an important omission, but this group includes some world-class roll bakers, myself most definitely not among them.
One woman who traditionally brings a big batch of her delicious yeast rolls did not attend this year. Another friend, whose rolls are also famously good, was present, but she brought chips and salsa. I thought about asking her to bring rolls instead, but I decided it’d be unreasonable to ask her to turn on her oven in August. I’m just not that cruel. The five or so guests who brought home-baked treats clearly have a masochistic streak.
Now that it’s September, it’s time to fire up the stove again. It’s time to bake corn bread and simmer soups. The first thing I’m going to make is picadillo, a Cuban stew-like dish, which is one of my favorite things to make any time of the year—with the exception of August, of course. Here’s a recipe for it from a nifty cookbook called A Man and His Pan.
Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Add one chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add one chopped green pepper and two minced garlic cloves and cook two minutes. Add two teaspoons cumin, one teaspoon oregano and a generous dash or two of red pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so longer. Crumble one and a half pounds of lean ground beef into the pan and cook, stirring to break it up into small pieces, until the meat is browned. Add a can of diced tomatoes along with their juice, one tablespoon balsamic vinegar, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in a half cup of raisins, a third-cup slivered almonds and a third-cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in a quarter-cup medium-dry sherry and simmer five minutes more. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Picadillo is traditionally served over rice, but I discovered a great way to make a picadillo “pizza” when I was creating dishes for a tapas party a couple of months ago. I reduced the amount of liquid to create a thicker mixture, spread the picadillo onto a pizza crust, topped it with shredded queso blanco and baked it until the crust was done and the cheese was melted. It was delicious.
Another thing I’m going to do now that the dog days are over is check out a series of seminars at Maryville College called “The Whole Enchilada: The Culture, Politics and Science of Food.” In addition to addressing serious issues related to food production and world hunger, the series also includes what promises to be an entertaining performance on the topic of Low Country culture,
On Sept. 6, Dr. Chad Berry, associate professor of history, will present “Setting the Table: Being Mindful about Food,” an overview which will introduce complex issues surrounding food, including world hunger, industrial agriculture, food additives and organic food.
On Sept. 22, Vertamae Grosvenor, cultural correspondent for National Public Radio, will present “Nyam: A Food Folk Opera,” a performance incorporating rhymes and rhythms, proverbs, songs, sayings and beliefs about food in the Low Country of South Carolina.
On Oct. 13, Doug O’Brien, director of public policy and research for America’s Second Harvest, and Elaine Machiela, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, will present “The Politics of Hunger and the Recipe for Change.”
On Nov. 15, in “Alternative Approaches to the Production and Consumption of Food,” a four-person panel representing a broad range of areas will discuss farm-to-table food issues.
All of the events begin at 7 p.m. and are free of charge and open to the public. For more information, including locations, go to www.maryvillecollege.edu . I hope to attend all four of these. I’m just sorry the description of “Nyam” doesn’t mention samples of Low Country cuisine. After all, according to my sources, “Nyam” is the Gullah/Geechee word for “to eat.”