Camellia’s Celery Blossoms…

Celery is so common in Southern cooking that I would say it’s an unsung hero. What surprises me is that there are so few recipes where celery is the star! Oh yes, we must have in almost everything from soups, stews, casseroles and even our beloved salads from chicken , shrimp, mixed greens and even congealed- we tend to add the refreshing crunch of crisp celery. One of my favorite family stories is when my grandmother… who was meticulous in keeping her spice drawer up to date- tossed a handful of celery seed into her small kitchen garden and was rewarded by surprise! Her own home grown celery! She was delighted and never lived it down! I think she would have loved these fun appetizers!

 

Camellia’s Celery Blossoms

An excellent crisp appetizer of celery filled with a cream cheese mixture- great with Hot Wings or  a welcome appetizer anytime! 

  • 1 Large Bunch Celery (Organic if possible)
  • 1 8 oz. Cream Cheese (Softened )
  • 1/2 Cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Grated- not pre-shredded)
  • 1 Tablespoon Finely Grated sweet Onion (With juice included)
  • 1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper (Or to tastes)
  • 1 Tablespoon Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Green onion Tops (Optional )
  1. Separate Celery Stalks. Trim tops and bottoms of stalks and wash well, removing any heavy strings or bruises. While celery dries, combine cheeses and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Spread cheese mixture into center of each celery rib. Press 3 cheese filled ribs together with filling facing the center. Tie each celery bundle with kitchen twine or string. Chill filled ribs for at least one hour. * covered tightly this is a great make ahead recipe. Slice celery blossoms into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Arrange on large edible leaves, such as cabbage or collard leaves. Serves 12-16. 

These celery blossoms are wonderful with Hot Wings. Any leftovers should be chilled. They are also a wonderful snack alone or served on a party cracker! 

Camellia’s Celery Blossoms are easy to make and a nice alternative to celery sticks on a vegetable platter or even alongside your favorite hot wings . A pretty and delicious appetizer, too! If you’re watching the Super Bowl or managing the food table during the game…I think you’re gonna love them!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine.

* Health and Beauty Tip : Celery is loaded with fiber, high in Vitamin K, helpful in lowering cholesterol and of all things may reduce inflammation and inhibit the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines! That’s a lot of benefits, y’all ! And we all know healthy insides help us be good looking on the outside!

Camellia’s Classic Cheese Straws…

If there was a manual for Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society, there would be an entire section devoted to the proper menus for afternoon teas, bridal showers, various receptions and occasional celebratory parties. And, you may count on Classic Cheese Straws making an honorary appearance on each and every menu. Southern Cheese Straws have been the subject of hot debate for decades…every town has at least one sweet soul who takes great pride in producing the very best cheese straws. Okay, it’s not a hot debate, it’s more like a warm undercurrent. Someone remarked recently, ‘Why, I haven’t made a cheese straw since Captain and Tennielle sang Muskrat Love, I never could get them to crisp up like Gaynelle always could.’  I can’t say I blame her!

Here’s why:

  • Some say it’s too humid right now for making a decent cheese straw.
  • Others think it’s because a certain baker never shared her grandmother’s recipe on her momma’s side, I think it was a deathbed promise.
  • Then, some recipes survive, however the oven temperature tends to vary or a critical ingredient is missing.
  • Even the fact you must be in possession of a proper cookie press has mysteriously been left out.
  • In fact, it must be said-  Blessed is the bride who receives a fine metal cookie press at her kitchen shower and-
  • Far more than blessed is the southern hostess who has inherited her great aunt Bessie’s cookie press which had her famous cheese straw recipe hidden inside the tube.

I’m not exaggerating here. Classic Cheese Straws are highly prized and the one who literally pressed on through the ages- surviving even ‘Muskrat Love’ persists until this day! Still. I’m not going to tell you my cheese straw recipe is the best, I could get into a lot of hot water! I am going to tell you that this recipe is one of my favorites. And! I personally love southern cheese straws so much that I generally make a double recipe at least twice a year and they’re squirreled away in my freezer. I pull out what I need, put them on an ungreased sheet pan and allow them to thaw slightly and bake as directed. Winter is a great time to make cheese straws, but as my friend who probably does make the best cheese (because she does have a genuine handed down recipe) told me recently…’They won’t get crisp if you bake them on a rainy or humid day’. I agree. Try this recipe- I haven’t left anything out.

Join me in keeping this wonderful tradition alive- it’s an heirloom recipe. It’d be a shame for polite society if the tradition didn’t survive, especially if you live, like I do,  where cheese straws are always welcome and the sugar cane still grows.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

Camellia's Classic Cheese Straws

An old classic cheese straw for teas, showers, receptions or parties!

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated= *do not use pre-grated cheese! )
  • 1 stick salted butter (if you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to sifted flour)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  1. In a food processor, grate sharp cheddar and chilled stick of butter- doing this in batches if necessary. Put cheddar mixture in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and leave overnight to soften- do not refrigerate at this stage. Sift together flour, cayenne, paprika and salt (if using unsalted butter). With clean hands, mix dry ingredients into softened cheese and butter- mixing very well until mixture is smooth.  On ungreased sheet pan, in batches, put dough through a cookie press with a star tip in approximately 4 inch strips. (If you don’t have a cookie press- the dough can be rolled with a bit of extra flour and cut into narrow strips.) Placement is approximately 1/2 inches apart. When sheet pan is filled, chill the pressed dough briefly to retain better shape as they bake.

    Preheat oven to 350. Bake 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes. Cheese Straws should be dried out but not browned. Remove to a wire rack to cook. Keep in an airtight container. Makes 4-6 dozen.   

The best cheese straws are put through a cookie press, using the star plate. If you choose another design, adjust cooking time.

* all photographs are obviously mine. Williams Sonoma sells a wonderful sturdy cookie press. I also found several good all metal cookies presses sold on Amazon. *Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society does not exist- though it’s crossed my mind…

Southern Pecan Pesto…

3B6B2351-DEC0-47E3-B82E-63610434FED8We seem to have had a bumper crop in most of the things we’ve planted in the garden this year… I love to plant some basil to use in cooking, to dry and I’ve even been known to cut a big bunch and put in a vase just to enjoy the fragrance. This year, while vacationing in Virginia- we went to a restaurant on the York River- fittingly called Riverwalk Restaurant. Though it was terribly warm for most of the trip, on this particular night- with the breeze coming off the river out on a patio, it was pleasantly cool.  We watched a tall ship taking it’s own sweet time sailing by and could hear the sounds of a festival getting geared up. The restaurant was busy, our server brought our orders of iced tea and water… and to our surprise she also presented us with a platter brushed with Pesto and a whole loaf of fresh bread- our table of five finished it off quickly and it was one thing I knew I’d want to try to recreate later.

Recently, we were about to watch an Alabama Football game- we’d decided to get a pizza. I thought, why not make a salad, spin up some Pesto, bake a loaf of bread and present it just like we’d had on vacation!

5C020523-CD91-45C2-8AF0-450F4066CF7EI had all of the ingredients I thought I’d need…lots of basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil and …oops! no pine nuts or even walnuts. I literally put a Southern Spin on the Pesto. If I do say so myself, it turned out very well- I substituted Pecans. (Okay for all you non- southerners, please don’t say PEE-Cans… nope, that’s not how to pronounce it! For goodness sake who would even want to eat something that sounds so dreadful? Slow down now… here’s how you say it… Pah- cahn.  Don’t even think of making a long E sound!) Alright let me get right down to how you can make Pesto with a Southern Spin!

Camellia’s Southern Pecan Pesto 

You will need 3-4 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves- rinsed and shaken or spun dry. Just the leaves now- not the stems. Fill up the bowl of your food processor, generously.

74413BE2-4BF9-4D7F-A18F-ABE91915702BOne reason I love making pesto is that it is a recipe that isn’t precise! Spin the basil leaves until they are a rough chop, add one or two or three garlic cloves- I used one large clove and one small. Add a pinch or two of salt and spin again. Add 1- 1 1/2 cups of grated parmesan cheese. Spin again. Add at least 1 cup of chopped pecans- I added 1 and 1/4 cup. Spin again.

3D38E6F6-647F-47F6-A2C2-88D2F690378ANow remove the spout cover of the food processor and pour in enough good olive oil to make a paste, then add about 1/4 cup more! Pour Pesto in a sealed container and chill unless you plan to use it right away. It seems to keep fresh in the refrigerator for a good while.

70C96E0F-D8D0-47EE-B824-6970047F40F1I brushed a long platter with a generous amount of Pecan Pesto and topped it with a loaf of fresh baked bread (Now that is the important part- make or better yet, make it easy on yourself and do like I did- buy frozen bread dough and bake it yourself! It really does make a difference!)

52F225E4-4A87-4D53-A924-244AA5AFA5FBThe presentation is lovely and just like the pesto and fresh bread in Yorktown- this too was a hit! For an appetizer, an accompaniment with a platter or Italian sliced meats, cheese and assorted fresh fruits and vegetables, you know one of charcuterie boards- Pecan Pesto would be beautiful alongside one of those and…of course it’s great alongside a spaghetti supper or as an addition to a spread of tailgate food even if it’s at home!  Southern Pecan Pesto is a new Cottage favorite. Okay- if you have pine nuts or walnuts- that would be great too! Here are few Annabelle Hydrangeas from down near the York River- quite a beautiful spot! 4D324BC7-B05A-49A9-AB7C-7C77AC5597C1

For more photos of some of our trip to Yorktown and Williamsburg check us out Instagram (just tap that little icon at the bottom of the page) Right now, we have an historic vegetable garden with heirloom vegetables and a bee skep! I would highly recommend any part of Virginia for a nice Fall trip!  And of course there’s nothing like watching SEC Football! Hope your team wins unless they’re playing mine!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *You can find out more about Riverwalk Restaurant at http://www.riverwalkrestaurant.net.

Shoepeg Corn Salads…

5583D0B2-C0D4-4D83-931D-D6EBFB498397It’s a truth, the closer you live to a corn field the better your life will be. Okay, I know the corn stalks around here are just knee high to a scarecrow- still, there’s nothing like the taste of fresh corn. I recall the very first time this city girl tasted corn just pulled from the stalk- I have never forgotten it. It was a life altering experience. Honestly, fresh in the field corn is almost as sweet as candy! As soon as it’s pulled, believe me when I say- the sugar starts turning into starch, no comparison to fresh pulled.

There are old tales about folks who would send someone out to the corn field and tell them to stand ‘right ready’ for pulling ears of corn. Not one minute before the water starts to boil, someone else would holler from the house- ‘Pull the corn! now!’ And some were so crazy about fresh corn- they managed to get a big kettle dragged out to the field, hoist it over a wood fire, get the water to a rolling boil and actually cook it field side!

You won’t find that happening too often these days- but the truth is… Southerners do love our fresh vegetables- you’ll find us talking food, funerals, family events and fuming about the weather- especially this time of year! Now, soon there’ll  be family gatherings and celebrations, covered dish and potluck suppers coming up and we’ll need to take something special. I was fiddling around, trying to figure out a special dish to make while also working down the freezer; I came across a bag of shoepeg corn. Flash frozen uncooked corn- especially if it’s shoepeg corn is always a good substitute for fresh while we wait on this year’s crop! Shoepeg Corn is generally white uncut corn- the whole little kernels look like old timey shoe pegs, actually I always think of a little child’s offering to the Tooth Fairy when I see the kernels!  You might find shoepeg corn under the unremarkable name of ‘Uncut Corn’. What a shame! Not nearly as descriptive as shoepeg! Okay, so I couldn’t decide between making a Shoepeg Corn Salad or it’s variation- Cornbread Salad to send to a covered dish supper. Both salads have the little kernels of corn in them, I just made both, one to send and one to keep!

I made both from memory, but if you’re looking for a recipe in Southern cookbooks? The only ones I found were in old regional Alabama cookbooks. Not to be deterred- I realized that Corn Salads are an uncooked variation of the old recipes for Macque Choux, found mostly in the coastal South. The story behind Macque Choux is this- Native Americans showed the French Settlers how to make a mixture from corn, onions and tomatoes cooked quickly in fats or butter. Folks started adding other stuff, like lima beans, field peas; even bits of ham or tiny bay shrimp to the mixture depending on the region. Oh my! that sounds good too. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent here- let me just tell you how I made it!

 

Camellia’s Shoepeg Corn Salad

In a large bowl combine-

  • One 12 oz. bag of Shoepeg or Uncut White Corn (thawed slightly)
  • 1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 small purple onion diced
  • 1 cup of diced cucumber (I like mine unpeeled, if the seeds are large, remove and discard before dicing)
  • 1 cup of bell pepper cut in medium dice (I used a green one, if you prefer a more colorful salad, feel free to use yellow bell pepper)
  • 3/4 cup of medium dice celery

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sour cream
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of good mayonnaise (if lemon juice is not in the ingredients- add a generous squeeze)
  • Dash or two of Red Pepper Flakes
  •  * I like to add 2 Tablespoons of Ranch Dressing if I have it on hand. If not, add a bit of garlic powder. Mix well.

Gently toss the dressing with the shoepeg corn and cut vegetables – then salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill. Can be served almost immediately but is better if made ahead so the flavors can meld. It sure looks pretty sprinkled with chopped parsley on a bed of  lettuce!DCAA2A2D-89E9-4493-967D-A24992CE2666

*Variation for Camellia’s Cornbread Salad 074FF050-A35C-46E8-8BB5-5E538C3917B2

  • Reduce the amount of shoepeg corn by half, feel free to add more cherry tomatoes, cucumber, peppers or celery, even a bit more sour cream. Then, mix as directed for Shoepeg Salad, chill.
  • The vegetables will give off extra liquid as they sit, so don’t be surprised by this- the Cornbread will soak up that extra liquid.
  • Before adding the cornbread, add up to a Tablespoon of Hot Pepper Sauce to mixture, depending on how spicy you like it- however- the quantity is large enough to handle more than you think- just add it to taste.
  • Crumble up to a half a pone of Cornbread tossing gently into the Shoepeg Salad. I rarely throw away cornbread- instead I wrap in foil and slide into a heavy plastic freezer bag for other uses like this!

Y’all, this is delicious! Cornbread Salad is a great way to stretch a batch of Shoepeg Salad. Both stand up to being served as a picnic food but both are best served chilled.

Okay, here’s how I served Shoepeg Salad- on a lettuce cup alongside a baked sweet potato and with- oh my goodness, another wonderful treat!7D1DD4F8-2665-4A04-856E-FA063D89A37E

Bacon wrapped Jalapeno Hushpuppies! Now, I want to tell you how to make homemade Hushpuppies sometime- but in the interest of time and working down the freezer, I had a small bag of ready made Fisherman’s Wharf® Jalapeno Hushpuppies- before I baked them on a parchment lined baking sheet- I wrapped each of the hushpuppies with a third of a slice of bacon and baked with the seam down! You may need to increase baking time until the bacon is done. Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Hushpuppies  are so good, I would serve them as an appetizer! Dipping Sauce could be Jezebel Sauce or Cocktail Sauce. So. Good. as an addition to any meal! One of my new favorites!

 

I hope you’ll try out the easy uncooked Shoepeg Salad! Now, I have to tell you- Somebody’s always getting on me about how much of this or that ought to be in there- well…I just make it like I like it! Please feel free to make Corn Salad anyway you like best! I would say if you add baby lima beans or field peas to it- please blanch them first! Diced ham or cooked baby shrimp would be a great addition also, though I would keep it chilled for any  addition of meat!

 

Now, keep in mind- the salad must have tomatoes, onion and corn to have true Macque Choux flavor! I’m taking either Shoepeg Corn Salad or Cornbread Salad to a Memorial Day Picnic that someone has decided to have early so it won’t be so hot and also, who wants to miss Coot’s Picnic on the actual Memorial Day in May! Oh me…

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

*Fisherman’s Wharf® is a registered product. You should be able to find their hushpuppies or other brands at your local grocer’s.

*Hot Pepper Sauce is the vinegary liquid found in pickled hot peppers.