Hoe Cakes with Black Eyed Pea Salsa

Remodeling a house can sometimes feel like Christmas. You pick out that special gift you want, let’s say it’s a flooring tile, and mark your calendar for the day that it’s going to be installed. The days drag by slowly as you imagine a shiny new bathroom, and the dirty old broken tile will finally be forgotten as you gaze at the new. And then suddenly – the big day is here! You wake up giddy with excitement knowing that TODAY IS THE DAY that your new floor will be installed!

Unfortunately, some of these days do not go exactly as planned, like yesterday, when halfway through an installation I checked on the progress only to realize that they were installing the wrong damn flooring. I then had to sheepishly tell the workers that, “ummm, excuse me, but it seems as though you’re installing something ugly and could you please take it up and come back another day with the flooring I actually wanted? Please and thank you.” And then I realized that Christmas had not come early for me, and I have house guests coming this week that are going to have to use a bathroom with exposed broken tile, and then I wondered exactly how inappropriate it would be to have a vodka tonic at 11am.

But instead, I’m turned to the next most comforting thing besides vodka: pancakes. Well, a version of them. Hoe cakes are a simple Southern classic, where essentially you take your favorite cornbread batter and instead of baking it in skillet, you fry it up like a pancake. And let’s be clear – this is Southern style cornbread, not that weird sugary stuff the Northerners eat. To top it off I loved this black eyed pea salsa – it’s fresh, light and adds a bit of crunch to the soft hoe cakes.

Look, the lesson here is when life doesn’t go your way, don’t turn to vodka. Turn to pancakes. They don’t have rehab for pancakes. Fact.

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Smoky Pepperjack Potato Soup

I know, I know. This is another “smoky” soup that owes it’s flavor to smoked paprika. What can I say? That shit is awesome and I just can’t get enough of it. I intend to make regular old soups, but then remember that everything is better after you’ve added smoked paprika. I have spice jars in my cabinet that have remained full for over 5 years, but I’m on my 3 bottle of smoked paprika this year alone. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t be upset if Santa put some in my stocking.

Speaking of spices – I cleaned out my spice cabinet this week and threw away anything that I knew had been there for too long. The determining factor was if I could remember having bought the spice in college, and I’m not going to say how long ago that was but it’s enough time to make me feel old. And to want to throw those spices out stat. I’m struggling to remember why I bought cumin seeds (the bottle is so full it’s almost overflowing), and I also cannot comprehend why I have 2 bottles of ground ginger and 3 bottles of curry powder.

Until I can figure out what to do with all that ginger & curry, please enjoy this soup from the Smoked Paprika files.

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Super Simple: Penne Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers

There is something about this dish that will forever invoke pure nostalgia for me. As I mentioned when I posted this a few years ago on A Cozy Kitchen, this is one of the first dishes I learned to cook while working as a prep cook in high school at Saluda Grade Cafe. That is, it was one of the first things I could prepare that didn’t involve reading the directions on the back of a box. It was the dish that opened my eyes to the fact that all you need to make a delicious meal is a few simple, but quality, ingredients cooked in just the right way to make them sing on the plate. The roasted red peppers and garlic sizzling in olive oil create a subtle but heavenly sauce to toss the pasta in, and when combined with some fresh basil and parmesan cheese it is impossible not to just do a face plant in the bowl.

This recipe has made regular appearances in every kitchen I’ve ever had – in my college apartment, my first home in LA and the apartment that Chase and I share now. The fact that the ingredients are cheap and easy to keep on hand, and when paired with a glass of wine and side salad can become and elegant meal, probably means it’ll be around for quite a while longer.

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Vegetarian Gumbo

I really wish this gumbo was prettier.

If this dish was a person, it’d be the kind you would describe to someone as having “a really great personality” when you tried to convince them to take him/her on a date. Seriously, I get it. You’re looking at some darkened vegetables swimming in a murky tomato broth and thinking “there’s no way I’m going to make this, I wish she’d posted a recipe for cookies instead.”‘

The thing is, I’m not a big fan of vegetable soups myself. Whenever I inquire at a restaurant about their soup of the day, I’ll normally jump on it if it’s something like “corn chowder” or “broccoli cheese,” but tell me it’s “vegetable stew” and I typically go with a sandwich instead. I’ll admit, I can be a bit judgmental.

But this gumbo breaks the mold. First of all, it has okra in it, and okra always makes things better. Always. Second of all, it is absolutely DELICIOUS. All that stuff about it having an amazing personality? In this case, it’s 100% true. You NEED to give it a chance; just take it out for dinner one time. I promise you’re going to fall in love.

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Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

If I ever cook for you, I suggest you clarify as to whether this is a recipe that I’ve made before or not. If I tell you it’s the first time, please proceed with caution. I tend to be a bit lackadaisical when trying a new recipe, meaning the process goes something like this:

I find a recipe like this one and then skim through the instructions. Notice I said skim. Picking up key phrases like “red peppers” “place on baking sheet” and “roast in oven”,  I then take a couple red peppers, place them on a baking sheet, and slide it in the oven. It’s possible I’ll go check the recipe to see how what the oven temperature should be set at, but I also might just guess.

After a little while, I check on the peppers, which seem to be getting pretty dark. I wonder to myself, “Should I be turning these over or something?” I go back to the recipe, which inevitably says, most likely in bold print, “turn at least once while roasting.”

Honest to goodness, why does anything I cook ever turn out? I like to cook alone in the kitchen not because I enjoy solitude, but because I don’t want people making fun of me, or asking pesky questions like “should that pot be boiling over like that?” What a buzz kill.

A note – this original recipe had pine nuts in it. Did I use pine nuts? No, because I didn’t notice they were included until I was about to blend the sauce. And I don’t keep things like that on hand, since it would make life way too easy. If Chase had been around, I would have asked him to go to the store for me, which is why he’s taken to wearing headphones or jumping in the shower whenever I’m cooking.

Seriously, I do cook really tasty dishes. After the 2nd or 3rd try. Although, it should speak volumes that even my first attempt at this recipe was fabulous. Imagine what you’ll be able to do with it.

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