Bless Your Spoon — On good ol’ country fare – food for stars

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Many cookbooks in my collection were gifts from loving friends, calling for a double dash of sentiment. On top of my favorite gifted books is “Naomi’s Home Companion, a Treasury of Favorite Recipes,” compiled by Naomi Judd. My friend, Linda, with whom I worked in home healthcare, gave me the book. Feeling a small kinship to Naomi, Linda and I shared a common thread with her — we were nurses. Quality food, nourishment, and comfort are of importance to us.

I was particularly fond of Naomi and shared another connection. Born and raised in Nashville, of course, country music is a favorite music genre. At one time, I lived south of Nashville, right in the heart of the quaint town of Franklin, Tennessee. Naomi established her home in Leiper’s Fork, a small community adjacent to Franklin. It wasn’t unusual to see Naomi pursuing fresh veggies at Earl’s Fruit Stand or having lunch next door at Dotson’s Restaurant — a hole-in-the-wall, meat and three kind of diner. Once inside, glossy, black-and-white autographed composites of iconic music stars hung wall to wall. You could have found yourself eating beside a famous country singer on any given day.

Naomi’s cookbook has been valued for her Southern recipes and kitchen wisdom, wit, and food for thought peppered throughout the pages. Her values were as sage as the food she prepared old-fashioned, down-home and down-South. The cookbook was dedicated to two matriarchs who ruled from their kitchen kingdoms; her mother and grandmother. Naomi believed the solution to the country’s problems was to be found at our kitchen tables. Who would lead the family was more crucial than who would head the country. She found wisdom and truth in the adage, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Mothers could teach more fundamental lessons to children than teachers — around their kitchen tables. Naomi’s answer to societal woes? A high chair and not the electric chair. That was a good place to start.   

Naomi’s selected recipes for her cookbook represented what she enjoyed most — a straightforward, homemade meal accompanied by an honest, plain conversation. The recipes are indicative of an era in the South — that of our mothers and grandmothers. Naomi’s recipes are similar to what I grew up on, and probably you. Simply put, good ol’ country cookin’ recipes were chosen to take advantage of the season’s garden bounty.

Christians have always enjoyed sharing meals due to the rich Biblical symbolism, an expression of love and unity. Our table is a place we connect, an opportunity for true fellowship with all kinds of folks.

When teaching a lesson on seeking honor, in Mark 14:12-14,  Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, our brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

May you continue to enjoy special moments in your kitchen, where old and new friends are welcome, and your door is always open, as was Naomi’s.

Stuffed Pepper Cups

• 6 medium-colored bell peppers

• 1 pound ground beef round

• 1 diced onion

• 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 14½ oz. stewed tomatoes

• ½ cup tomato paste

• 2 cups white or brown rice

• 11 oz. drained corn kernels

• 1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning

• ½ tsp. salt

• 6 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese

In bottom of large pot with steamer colander inside, bring 1-inch of water to a boil. Slice tops off green peppers. Cut away and remove ribs and seeds. Place peppers upside down in steamer basket. Steam while covered for 4 minutes or until peppers soften. In a skillet, brown the meat and onion for 4 minutes. Drain off fat. Add Worcestershire sauce, stewed tomatoes, and tomato paste, stirring to blend. Reduce heat to low. Stir in rice, corn, Italian seasoning, and salt. Heat through while stirring. Cool and stir in shredded cheese. Place peppers upright in a casserole dish and fit in snugly. Fill peppers with meat mixture. Cover loosely with foil. Bake in a preheated 275-degree oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle tops with shredded cheese. Bake uncovered 10 minutes.

Naomi’s Favorite Bus Meal

• 2 Tbsp. peanut oil, plus

• ½ lb. thinly sliced flank steak

• 2 sliced onions

• 1 thinly sliced carrots

• 1 cup broccoli pieces

• 1 cup green beans

• 1 can drained sliced water chestnuts

• 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

• 1 chopped onion

• 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger

• 1 cup snow peas, strings removed

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• 4 oz. fresh spinach leaves

• 2 cups cooked brown rice

In a large wok or skillet, heat oil. Add meat and stir-fry 1 minute or until no longer pink. Remove meat and set aside. Add carrots, broccoli, green beans, water chestnuts, mushrooms, onion, ginger, and additional oil if needed. Stir fry 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Return meat to wok, and stir in snow peas and soy sauce. Cover all with spinach leaves, cover wok, and heat 2 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Serve over cooked brown rice.

Michael Bolton’s Fresh Marinara Sauce

• ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 4 cups coarsely chopped onion

• 4 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

• 8 cups pureed fresh tomatoes

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. ground black pepper

• ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano

• 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

• ½ tsp. salt

In a saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and garlic and cook 10 minutes until softened. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes or until thickened. Working in batches, puree the mixture in food processor and then return to saucepan. Add fresh chopped herbs and salt. Continue to simmer partially covered for another 30 minutes or thickened to your preference. Serve over penne or favorite pasta. Use 3-4 ounces of uncooked pasta per serving.

Naomi’s Avocado Sandwich

• 2 slices whole wheat bread

• 3 Tbsp. premium mayonnaise, plus

• 6 slices fresh avocado

• 1/3 cup sliced, small fresh mushrooms

• 3 slices fresh tomato

• 3 Tbsp. shredded mozzarella

• 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds

Spread one side of each bread slice with 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise or more. On one slice, layer the avocado, mushrooms, tomato, cheese and sunflower seeds. Broil the layered avocado half of sandwich 4-6 inches from the broiler for 3-4 minutes or until cheese melts and seeds are toasted. Top with other slice of bread and cut in half diagonally.

Fresh Green Beans and Potatoes

• 8 slices, ½-inch cut, bacon

• 4 lbs. trimmed, snapped green beans

• 2 quartered onions

• 3 cups water, plus

• 12 halved, new red potatoes with skins

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a pot, cook bacon to render the fat. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Or heat ½ cup bacon fat you already have until sizzling. Or you can use ¼ cup bacon fat and ¼ cup vegetable oil. Stir in green beans and onions and cook until beans have absorbed some fat and are bright green. Add water to cover beans. Cover and cook 1 hour on low heat until almost done. Add potatoes, salt, pepper and more water if necessary. Cook 15 minutes until potatoes are done. Crumble and scatter bacon pieces over top.

Two Squash Casserole

• 3 trimmed, sliced ¼-inch zucchini

• 2 thinly sliced medium onions

• 3 trimmed, sliced ¼-inch yellow squash

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 12 wrapped slices American cheese

• 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (2 slices)

In a 13 x 9 baking dish, arrange layer of zucchini slices on bottom. Top with layer of onions. Then add layer of yellow squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Layer with slices of cheese or 1 cup of shredded American cheese. Repeat layers, ending with the cheese. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour and browned. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Green Beans with Bacon

• ½ cup canola or other vegetable oil

• 4 lbs. trimmed, snapped fresh green beans

• Water as needed

• ½ lb. diced 1-inch smoked bacon

• 1 tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, add oil. Add green beans and stir until coated with oil. Add enough water to depth of 1-inch. Stir in bacon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 30 minutes until beans are tender while occasionally stirring. You can half this recipe. This is her oldest family recipe.

Grilled Vegetable Salad

Dressing

• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ cup lemon juice

• ¾ tsp. sugar

• 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Salad

• 1 trimmed, diced 3/4-inch zucchini

• 1 seeded, cut in squares, red bell pepper

• 1 seeded, cut in squares, yellow bell pepper

• 2 ears scraped fresh corn kernels

• 1 cup diced eggplant

• 6 trimmed, cut bite-size, stalks asparagus

• 3 tsp. olive oil

• ¼ tsp. salt

• 4 cups torn mixed lettuce leaves

• 1 diced tomato

• 1 peeled, pitted, sliced avocado

• 1 lb. grilled shrimp or chicken

Prepare the grill. For the dressing, in a bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, sugar, basil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate. For the salad, make a basket by folding up edges of a piece of heavy-duty foil. In foil bowl, combine zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, corn, eggplant and asparagus. Add oil and toss to coat. Spoon vegetables into foil basket. Place basket on grill and cover. If using oven, place 5 inches from broiler. Cook while occasionally stirring for 15 minutes or slightly tender. Season with salt. Arrange lettuce leaves in bowls. Place tomatoes and avocado slices on top. Add vegetables and the cooked/grilled shrimp or chicken. Whisk dressing again and pass at the table.

Fried Green Tomatoes

• 1 lb. firm green tomatoes

• ¼ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1/3 cup white cornmeal

• 2¼ cup bacon fat or Crisco shortening

• Sugar for after frying

Cut each tomato into 4½-inch slices. Season with salt and pepper. On waxed paper, spread cornmeal. Dredge slices in cornmeal, coating well on both sides. In skilled, add enough shortening or fat for ½-inch depth. Heat on high until oil begins to smoke a little. Add half tomato slices to skillet. Lower heat to medium-high. Cover and cook 4 minutes or until bottoms of tomatoes are browned. Turn over with slotted spatula. Cover and fry other side for 2 minutes. Tomatoes should be slightly soft around firm edges. Remove tomatoes with spatula to paper towels to drain. Taste, and if too tart, sprinkle with sugar while still hot. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve hot.

Parmesan Poblano Cheese Grits

• 2 cups water

• ½ tsp. salt

• ½ cup regular grits

• 1 tbsp. seeded, chopped, fresh poblano chile

• ½ stick salted butter

• 1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

• ½ cup heavy cream

• 1/8 tsp. white pepper

In a saucepan, bring water and salt to rolling boil. Slowly stir in grits. Reduced heat and cover pan. Cook while occasionally stirring for 15-20 minutes or until thickened and smooth. Stir in chile, butter, cheese, cream, and white pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes.

Cucumber Onion Salad

• 3 peeled large cucumbers

• 3 medium sweet onions

Dressing

• 1 cup water

• ¾ cup Wesson oil

• 1/3 cup sugar

• ¼ cup cider vinegar

• 1 tsp. dried tarragon

• ¾ tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. white pepper

Slice cucumbers and onions ¼-inch thick. Combine in a large bowl with lid. To make dressing, in a pot, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil while stirring over medium heat for 3 minutes. Immediately pour over cucumbers and onions. Cover and refrigerate. Serve well chilled.

Blackberry Cobbler with Pastry Crust

Filling

• 1½ cups water

• 1 cup sugar

• ¼ cup cornstarch

• ½ cup water

• 6 cups fresh blackberries

• ½ stick cut up salted butter

Crust

• 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ cup vegetable oil

• 2 Tbsp. cold whole milk

• 1 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• 1 tbsp. sugar

For the filling, in a saucepan, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil. In another bowl, stir together cornstarch and water until smooth. Stir into boiling water mixture. Return to boil and constantly stir. Reduce heat to simmer for 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in berries and butter until butter melts. Pour into a 9×9 baking pan. For the crust, in a bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add oil and milk while stirring until dough comes together. Press into a ball. Roll out on lightly floured surface into a square to fit your baking pan. If it cracks, patch together with your fingers. Place dough over filling. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with large granule sugar. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until browned and filling is bubbly. Allow tool. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Naomi’s Smoothie Shake

• 16 oz. low-fat plain yogurt

• 1 sliced banana

• 1 cup fresh sliced peaches, strawberries, other fruit

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour into tall glass over ice.