Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Growing up in North Carolina, we always ate black-eyed peas and greens at my grandmother's house on New Year's Day. We moved to Wisconsin when I was 10, and I don't remember if my mom continued the tradition for a while but at some point it stopped and I forgot about it. As I got older and more interested in cooking and food history, I remembered and decided to return to this tradition.

Now, every year I make Hoppin' John, collard greens and cornbread on New Year's Day. Hoppin' John, at its most basic, is a mixture of black-eyed peas (or in some traditions, field peas) and rice. According to this history, the dish is primarily associated with the Carolinas, but can be found in Georgia as well and, I believe, Louisiana. The dish is thought to have Caribbean roots, and was most likely created on Southern plantations by slaves originating from that area. According to Wikipedia, the dish dates back to at least 1847, when it was published in The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge. The black-eyed peas in the dish are thought to bring luck and money (the black "eyes" of the peas resemble coins) and the greens are thought to add an extra financial boost. I like to say that we eat Hoppin' John for luck, collard greens for money and cornbread because it's good.

I stole this year's recipe from Emeril, so it has a bit of a Cajun influence. It starts with the Cajun trinity, onions, celery and bell pepper, and incorporates cayenne, which I substituted with a Cajun spice blend. I think Hoppin' John was originally flavored with bacon, and while I used bacon fat to start both the beans and the greens, I used a ham hock as the main flavoring in both. To make these dishes meat-free, you could substitute smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

So far, I don't know that making these dishes on New Year's has made me any richer, but it's fun and makes for a good hearty meal on a chilly January day.


1 Tablespoon bacon fat, or vegetable oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, medium dice
½ cup celery, medium dice
½ cup green pepper, medium dice
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup green onion, chopped for garnish
¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped for garnish
3 cups white rice, pilaf or steamed

Heat fat in a large soup pot and sear ham hock on all sides (approx 4 minutes).

Add the onion, celery, green pepper and saute for approximately 4 minutes.

Add garlic, saute until fragrant.

Add vinegar and reduce to au sec (almost dry).

Add black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme and Cajun Seasoning.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes or until the peas are creamy and tender. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock.

Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. You can also chop up the meat from the ham hock to add to the dish if you like.

Garnish with green onions and red pepper. Serve over rice.



1 Tablespoon bacon fat, or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 quart chicken stock, or water
salt and pepper , to taste
pepper vinegar (or cider or white wine vinegar and tabasco), to taste for garnish

In a large soup pot add bacon fat or oil, then sear ham hock on all sides (approx 4 minutes).

Add onion and saute until translucent.

Add garlic and saute until fragrant.

Add vinegar and reduce to au sec (almost dry).

Add stock or water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Gradually add greens to pot, allowing time between additions to allow them to soften into the liquid.

Return to a simmer over low heat and cook until tender, approximately 55 minutes.

Season to taste and serve with pepper vinegar or vinegar (cider or white wine) and tabasco. You can also chop up the meat from the ham hock to add to the dish if you like.

You can serve a bit of the liquid, called 'pot likker,' as a dip for cornbread. You can also reserve the liquid to add to a future batch of greens, or add it to an appropriate soup (freeze it if you won't use it right away).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Red Velvet Cake

After a long hiatus (no good excuse really, just busy), I hope to be a little better about updating in 2008.

I'm just now returning to the real world after a wonderful holiday. I love the Christmas season—I think it may be my favorite time of year. I can even appreciate winter and snow when it's part of Christmas (past January, though, I could really do without it).

My boyfriend and I always spend the Yuletide season with my mom and stepdad. My mom is a fabulous cook and the house is always filled with good things to eat, things much too good to turn down, and I tend to eat myself silly. I currently feel like a little stuffed sausage, and at least 25% of my wardrobe doesn't fit. Ah well, but it was fun.

One of our traditional family desserts at Christmas is Red Velvet Cake, and it's been my favorite Christmas dessert for as long as I can remember. My mom's is still better than mine, although I watched her this year and realized she was doing a lot more mixing than I was. I made the cake pictured above as a post-Christmas treat for my dad, but I haven't heard back yet as to how it turned out.

My mom has said that this recipe was published in a North Carolina paper years ago. I'm not sure whether it was first adopted by my mom or my grandmother, but I'm guessing it was my mom.

No one seems to be quite sure where Red Velvet Cake comes from. It's generally considered a Southern recipe, although it was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria in the 1920's (though they, too, called it a Southern dessert). This New York Times article from February '07 gives a great overview of the history. They surmise that the cake may have evolved from the practice of adding beets to chocolate cake to enhance color, or from the fact that the cocoa powder used before Dutch process cocoa became standard created a reddish color that people felt the need to replace (that reddish hue may have been the origin of the name 'Devil's Food' as well).

The cake recipe the article lists is similar but different, and the frosting (from the Waldorf-Astoria recipe) is completely different. I may give it a try for a post-holiday dinner that a friend of mine is throwing. I like our frosting recipe, but I wouldn't mind lightening up the texture of the cake a bit (it's a very dense) if I could do it without changing the overall flavor.


2.5 cups all purpose white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa
1.5 cups sugar
2 cups oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 recipe cream cheese frosting (below)
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Preheat oven: 350 degrees.

Prepare 2 9" cake pans with butter and flour.

Sift dry ingredients and set aside.

Cream sugar and oil.

Add eggs and beat well.

Add dry ingredients alternatively with buttermilk in 3 additions, mixing well inbetween.

Add buttermilk.

Mix vinegar, food coloring and vanilla. Add to batter and mix well.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until set.

Cool, then frost with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with toasted pecans.



8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces butter, softened
16 ounces powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together cream cheese and butter.

Add powered sugar a little at a time until well blended.

Add vanilla and mix well.

Frost cake!