Those of us raised by southern mothers might have grown up with Green Beans and Potatoes on the table come hot, dripping summertime evenings. Add a plate of heavy sliced tomatoes (well-salted, thank you) and a pan of cornbread with lots of butter, please, and that was dinner. Who needed meat? For the past few years, warm weather brings on the need to re-create that dish with my own twists and turns. Those often include tossing in whatever other vegetables I have on hand, turning it all into a salad, and whipping up a frisky vinaigrette I doubt my mom would ever have added. She might have thrown in a piece of chopped bacon or a tablespoon or two of bacon grease into the pot for flavor, though, now that I think about it. Oh, and that bacon grease never saw the inside of a refrigerator either. (We all lived.)
My post about the cookbook gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Days a couple of weeks ago resulted in a tasty stack of books hanging around my office and kitchen. While I cook off the top of my head for the most part, I also know the road toward growth and innovation is paved with reading, seeing, tasting, talking, cooking and testing new dishes. When I had a minute or two –and let’s face it, we’re pretty much still staying home, so I do have time — I kept flipping through those books, enjoying them more and more. Given ingredients are a bit scarce, even though I wanted to cook a whole bunch of different recipes, unless I wanted to wait a week for the next grocery run, I probably had to punt to put one on the dinner table.
“Cheap Eats” has a sort of nasty ring to it, but it’s a bit on the real-edgy side, too. I get it. I’ve been without a lot of bucks at the grocery store check out; I’ve had to feed six people three times a day for a lot of years. My stove has cooked many a meal for a big bunch of folks along the way. “Cheap,” though, is tricky to a serious cook; it’s not the thing we’re looking for. “Inexpensive?” Sure. That rocks. Who doesn’t like “inexpensive?” But “cheap” smacks of poorly made or tawdry (think cheapskate) — just not terribly positive, even in today’s world. But when I look hard at it, and we’re all looking hard at things right now, we might be in a place where we need to know exactly what cheap eats are. And I know. The thing is, they’re sometimes pretty good. In fact, if you know how to cook cheap eats that taste good, you’re a mighty special person. You know how to add a thick schmear of seasoned rice at the bottom of each bowl to stretch a few cups of chili. You probably are intimately acquainted with why God made potatoes fried in bacon grease. Or perhaps you can make a big platter of crispy butter biscuits served with a deep bowl of beans and a little chopped bacon and manage to feed 10 hungry people? In other words, you’re like a lot of people’s grandmas who knew from tough times.
And, if we look at what we think of now as beautiful, sophisticated dishes from any old country you want to name, they’re often the meals country people made out of what they had to feed everyone who was coming to the table that night. Tough old pieces of meat simmered for hours with whatever was in the garden or on the shelf or ancient hens cooked to smithereens and served over noodles…maybe vegetables with little other than an onion and some herbs to make them tasty. A few eggs stirred up with a bit of cheese served with yesterday’s bread grilled up with butter and served with jam. Kettle of lentils bubbling on the back burner. The meals made out of what was grown nearby, out of what was available, or out of what some smart cookie had preserved and stored from last season. The food made without a grocery store just down the street.
While Mother’s Day — yes it’s this Sunday, May 10, 2020 — is absolutely just around the corner, Father’s Day, June 21, 2020, offers a little more leeway for thought…and shipping. Shopping, I mean. Wedding or graduation coming up later? Even a zoom ceremony/celebration? Whichever. If some lucky duck needing a gift anytime soon has a yen for cooking, I’ve got a few ideas for you. Scroll down for some fun info, recipes, and pix of stunning new and newer cook and drink books I’ve come to eat adore. Yes, there’s this: if you’re looking to get mom’s present there on time (lots of brownie points for on time–otherwise get on the phone that day), it’s time to click and pay. Today. So take a look at a book and see what you think. Links to amazon included for fast ordering.