Saturday, March 1, 2008

Comfort Food

My mom was a TexMex-Southern cook (read: the best there is). Some of her meals were so simple and sublime, using very humble ingredients. Some were what we now call ‘a-heart-attack-on-a-plate”, her Frito Pie probably being at the top of THAT list.

One meal my mom used to cook often was one that, as a child, I did not particularly like. She called them simply ‘Navy Beans’. Today I am making Navy Beans because as an adult I now love what I thought was yucky as a kid.

Salt pork - the recipe calls for salt port. Well, in the suburbs of NYC, there is no salt pork to be had. But I amazingly found this morning at my ShopRite, pork fat! I was amazed that there in the meat section were several packages labeled ‘fresh pork fat’ (would they sell not-fresh pork fat??). I believe this is New York’s version of salt pork. It cost less than $2.00 for a whole package- it’s a mix of meat and fat. I cut off most of the fat and tossed the meaty parts into the pot.

So my house if filled with the wonderful smells of my childhood. It takes hours of simmering on the stove.

Today is my birthday. Hmmm…I wonder if that is significant to my wanting some of mom’s cooking today. ;-) When we were all kids, part of our birthday celebration was that we got to pick anything in the world for our birthday dinner – and my mom would cook it for dinner on our birthday. (Funny, we never even considered eating out back then!) Me, I ALWAYS chose my mom’s macaroni and cheese. To this day, there is none better! My brother always chose Enchiladas (which was quite exotic in New Jersey in the 60's!). I can't remember what my two sisters picked for their dinners. I'll have to ask them. I am guessing enchiladas.

But today it's Navy Beans. Later I'll bake corn bread in my cast iron fry pan. To eat Navy Beans- you take a square of warm corn bread and split it open and butter each side. Put it on the plate. Spoon on the beans, which are now mushy and sooo good, on top of the corn bread. Then add some of the shredded meat. Top with a little bit of fresh chopped onion. And then, sprinkle the whole thing with vinegar. Some add a few shots of Tobasco at this time too. YUMMMM...real southern cooking. Real Comfort Food!

Navy Beans
8oz. white beans
celery tops
one onion, chopped
Tabasco sauce
salt pork

Wash and pick over the beans. Put in a bowl and pour 2 cups cold water over the beans. Soak overnight. (or follow the directions on the package for 'quick cook'. Rinse the beans the next day and put in large pot. To this add the chopped onion, celery tops, salt (I would not add salt if I had used salt pork), the pork fat, a few dashes of Tabasco and cover it all with a fair amount of water. Cover and cook til beans are mushy. (My mom's exact words here!). I've used the stalk of the celery too, but the leafy part does have a lot of flavor- so you need more celery if not using the leafy part of the tops.

Serve with corn bread, chopped onion and vinegar.

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