Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Bend in the Road: Spicy Barbecue with Creamy Coleslaw and Hushpuppies

I'm breaking a couple of rules with this post:

1. I mostly blog about what people cook in Nicholas Sparks' novels, not what they eat in restaurants. For A Walk to Remember, I didn't have a choice (click here and here to learn what I cooked, even though they didn't). Since barbecue is what A Bend in the Road's leading man Miles orders when he visits his favorite diner--and there's plenty of cooking in A Bend in the Road; the other night I made stuffed halibut and rice pilaf, stay tuned for that--I really didn't need to make this. But it was Larry's birthday, and he wanted barbecue. A perfect excuse, don't you think?

2. Miles probably ate North Carolina-style barbecue, cooked with tangy vinegar and a few seasonings, but it was Larry's birthday and he wanted barbecue sauce. Our favorite kind, KC Masterpiece. We'll pretend that the diner in New Bern, North Carolina fixed their barbecue Texas style. (See this post for more about the story of Miles and Sarah.)

I used this recipe from About.com, one I found the last time I wanted to cook barbecue. I love it because it's delicious, it doesn't require a lot of preparation, and the Crock Pot does most of the work:

•1 cup thick barbecue sauce
•1 medium onion, thinly sliced
•2 cans (4.5 oz each) diced green chilies
•3 tablespoons chili powder
•1 teaspoon ground cumin
•1 teaspoon dried oregano
•1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1 boneless pork shoulder roast, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, trimmed
•1/2 cup chopped cilantro


Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl. Place pork in crockpot; pour sauce mixture over the pork, lifting pork slightly so sauce will flow under the roast. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours, or until pork is very tender. Remove pork to a cutting board and chop or shred with forks. If sauce is very liquid, cook down on the stovetop until desired thickness and flavor is reached. Pour sauce into a serving bowl or leave in slow cooker; stir in the cilantro and the shredded pork. Serve with flour tortillas or split sandwich buns. Serves 8.

Pour this over the meat.

I like to season the meat with a little salt and pepper before covering it with the sauce.

Larry also wanted to eat his barbecue sandwich on a homemade bun. No problem; that's what a bread machine is for. I pulled out my book of bread machine recipes and followed the one I always use:


1 egg (or 1 1/2 tsp Egg Replacer and 2 tbsp water)
7/8 cup milk (I use soy and/or rice milk)
4 1/2 tbsp butter (I use a combination of butter and margarine)
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups bread flour (unbleached all-purpose flour works just fine)
1 tbsp yeast
3 tbsp milk
sesame seeds, optional

Put all ingredients except 3 tbsp milk and sesame seeds in bread pan in order suggested by your bread machine instructions. Set for white bread, dough stage. Press start. When dough is ready, remove from bread machine and punch down. cut smaller recipe into 9 equal pieces. Let dough rest 5 minutes while you butter two baking sheets. For hamburger buns, roll each piece into a ball and flatten it to form a patty about 3 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. For hot dog buns, roll each piece into a 6-inch rope and flatten it to 1/2 inch thickness. Place rolls on baking sheets. Cover loosely and set in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush tops of rolls with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired (I usually skip that part). Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted in a roll comes out clean. (From p. 127 of The Bread Machine Cookbook by Margie Lambert.)

When we had our fall picnic, I used my mother-in-law's coleslaw recipe. I wanted to try something different--something nice and creamy that would go well with spicy barbecue, and Bobby Flay came to my rescue:

1 head green cabbage, finely shredded
2 large carrots, finely shredded
3/4 cup best-quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons grated Spanish onion
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery salt S
alt and freshly ground pepper


Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, onion, sugar, vinegar, mustard, celery salt, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl, and then add to the cabbage mixture. Mix well to combine and taste for seasoning; add more salt, pepper, or sugar if desired.
See my Christmas present? I've taken to looking up and viewing my recipes with it.

The dressing


For most of my life I haven't been a huge fan of coleslaw, but after making this I am quickly becoming one. I'm making this one again in the near future.

I had just made hush puppies for New Year's, and I wanted something slightly different--more like the hush puppies we had at the Cook Out Restaurant where we stopped for lunch somewhere in North Carolina on our way to Atlanta for Christmas. I figured Paula Deen would know how to fix hush puppies right, y'all!

6 cups peanut oil (I used canola oil because Moe is allergic to peanuts)
1 1/2 cups self-rising cornmeal
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup buttermilk (since Moe is allergic to milk, I used a combination of soy and rice milk)
1 egg, lightly beaten (or 1 1/2 heaping teaspoons
Egg Replacer beaten with 2 tablespoons water)


Using a deep pot, preheat oil for frying to 350 degrees F. Using a mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the onion. In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Drop the batter, 1 teaspoon at a time, into the oil. Dip the spoon in a glass of water after each hushpuppy is dropped in the oil. Fry until golden brown, turning the hushpuppies during the cooking process. (source)

Now THIS is what a hushpuppy should look like. And the taste? Just how a hushpuppy should taste--crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with just a hint of onion flavor. YUMMMM!!!

A perfect birthday dinner! (We're a little slow getting our Christmas decorations put away. And where did that remote control robotic spider from Moe's Christmas stocking wind up on the table??)

Larry also wanted a banana cake for his birthday, and I was happy to oblige. Even though banana cake doesn't appear anywhere in A Bend in the Road, I was so proud of myself after making this one I just had to show it to you!

It was amazing; even better than the dairy-free egg-free one I've made for Moe's birthdays, and that one is pretty yummy, too. Click here for this fabulous banana cake recipe! I was so proud of myself because it looked just like the one in the picture. And like I said, it was to die for.

I don't know if or when we'll see any more barbecue in Nick's books. (Yes, I've read all of them, but my memory isn't that good.) No matter; next time we have a hankering for barbecue, we'll try cooking it North Carolina style, and I'll share that adventure with you here.

Next up: Stuffed halibut, rice pilaf, and spinach salad.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes: A Party To Remember

On New Year's Eve, our friends invited us to spend the evening at their house. My parents were with us and my mother helped prepare the food and drinks we brought. In my last post, I showed you the sea bass and avocado-orange salad we made ('cuz that's what Landon and Jamie had for dinner on New Year's Eve in A Walk to Remember); today I'll show you the extras we prepared, all inspired by events in Nicholas Sparks' third novel.

Landon isn't all that into Jamie at first, and frankly I don't think she's all that into him, either. Jamie always wears the same brown sweater to school, carries her Bible everywhere she goes, and is generally uncool. When it's time for the Homecoming dance, Landon is in desperate need for a date, and decides that going to the dance with Jamie wouldn't be nearly as humiliating as showing up alone or not at all. He convinces himself--reluctantly--to ask her out, and runs to her house after school one day in hopes of reaching her before the geekiest boy in school does, and thus ruin Landon's chance to be seen at the dance at all.

"Would you like some lemonade while we sit?" she asked. "I just made some."
"I'd love some," I said...
...A moment later Jamie returned with the lemonade, and we took a seat in two chairs near the corner of the porch. I knew she and her father sat there in the evenings because I passed by their house now and then. As soon as we were seated, I saw Mrs. Hastings, her neighbor across the street, wave to us. Jamie waved back while I sort of scooted my chair so that Mrs. Hastings couldn't see my face. Even though I was going to ask Jamie to the dance, I didn't want anyone--even Mrs. Hastings--to see me there... (p. 40-41)

During the summer one of our favorite treats is pink lemonade, and when we use fresh local strawberries to give it its pink color and delicious flavor, it's amazing. Even though strawberries are out of season right now, I decided to make this anyway because we love it. I use a recipe from my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries (about 6 ounces)
Zest of 2 lemons, peeled off in strips with a vegetable peeler (avoid the white pith)
2 cups fresh lemon juice
(I cheat with this one. I use the juice from the lemons I've peeled--which isn't much--and the rest comes from a bottle.)

Combine the sugar and strawberries with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the berries begin to release their color and soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest. Set aside and let cool completely. The berries will continue to soften and release their color while the syrup cools.

Pour the cooled syrup and berries into a fine sieve set over a pitcher or bowl. With the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, press lightly on the berries to extract most of the syrup. Discard the solids.

Add the lemon juice and 2 1/2 cups cold water to the syrup mixture and stir until well blended. The lemonade can be served immediately over ice or refrigerated for up to two days. Yields about 7 cups and serves six to eight. (From the September 2006 issue of Fine Cooking, page 58-59)

It was yummy, but I will admit that the summer version is much better; even the pink is brighter and prettier. Come June I'll be making some for sure.


For the grownups we made lemon drop martinis. I even went to Target and bought a martini shaker figuring that one of these days I'll learn how to make mojitos and appletinis and such with it; and besides, since I'm probably going to have to quit drinking beer soon (click here for my post on Musings of a Catholic Mom about that), a nice lemon drop martini would be an excellent replacement for a cold Sam Adams. Anyway, I experimented with a few recipes, and the one I liked was this:
•1½ ounce vodka
•½ ounce triple sec
•1 tsp superfine sugar
•¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
•4-5 ice cubes
•Superfine sugar, for the martini glass rim
•Lemon twist
Firstly chill the martini glasses in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before serving. Now take a cocktail shaker and pour vodka, lemon juice, triple sec, sugar and at least 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Rim the edged of the martini glass with lemon twist, after it is completely chilled. For a coated rim, dunk in a small amount of sugar. Now pour the strained drink into the chilled glass, garnish with a lemon slice and serve.


If you want to fill your martini glass to the brim, you might want to try doubling the recipe; although truthfully half a martini is probably enough for me on most days.

This one I made from limoncello and vodka. Quite yummy, but too strong. I couldn't finish it. But doesn't it look good? (click here for these recipes and more)


I was out with Eric on Saturday night following Beaufort's third consecutive state championship in football, about a week after rehearsals had started. We were hanging out at the waterfront outside of Cecil's Diner, eating hushpuppies and watching people cruising in their cars, when I saw Jamie walking down the street...I turned my back to her and pulled the collar up on my jacket, but even Margaret--who had banana pudding where her brain should have been--was smart enough to know who she was looking for.
"Landon, your girlfriend is here."
"She's not my girlfriend," I said.
(p. 83-84)

I used the recipe for Beer Battered Hush Puppies I found on p. 71 of my favorite cookbook, The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook:

1 1/2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup self-rising flour
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 medium sized green pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
(since Moe can't eat eggs, I used Egg Replacer instead--1 1/2 heaping teaspoons mix with 2 tablespoons water)
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 cup beer
Vegetable oil

Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; stir well. Add onion, pepper, and tomato. Stir n egg, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Add beer, stirring well.
Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a small Dutch oven; heat to 375 degrees. Carefully drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into hot oil; fry hush puppies a few at a time, 1 to 2 minutes or until golden, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Yield: 3 1/2 dozen.

I'd never made hush puppies before, and had never heard of putting green peppers or tomatoes in them, but actually it made them quite good. I think next time I make these particular ones, I'll chop the tomatoes, peppers and onions in the food processor to make the pieces smaller.


We even made Christmas cookies because on Christmas Eve when Landon and Jamie visit an orphanage where Jamie volunteers, they're having a party and cookies and punch are served. Once again, I used a favorite recipe from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook (p. 144):

Rolled Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
(again, I substituted Egg Replacer)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Decorator sugar crystals

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually ad 1 cup sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla, beat well.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Shape dough into a ball, cover and chill 1 hour.
Divide dough into thirds. Work with 1 portion of dough at a time, storing remaining dough in refrigerator. Roll each portion to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 3-inch cookie cutter and place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool slightly on cookie sheets, remove to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: 20 cookies.

I didn't make punch. (I could have--there was punch at Landon and Jamie's homecoming dance, too, and someone spiked it unbeknownst to the teachers.) When we arrived at my friend's house, we found she had provided sangria for the grownups, and Hawaiian Punch for the kids. Problem solved.


Okay, here's the thing. I know I could have gotten away with just the sea bass and salad from my earlier post. This blog would be quite tedious if I cooked every type of food that Nick mentions in his books. Since it was New Year's, and we were going to a party, I decided to cook a few extra things this time around, like the lemonade and the hushpuppies and the Christmas cookies. In fact, I think someone eats hushpuppies in practically every book, and I even made them again the very next weekend with yet another Sparks restaurant meal--thus breaking my no-restaurant rule once again. I used a different recipe the second time--and I liked it even better than the one in Take #4. I'm looking forward to sharing that one with you in my next post.


My friend made chicken Brunswick stew, a delicious seafood pasta salad, a yummy fruit salad, a to-die-for chocolate cake, her famous "Dump Cake" (which is a sweet dessert with a fruit filling, kind of like a really sweet cobbler. Which reminds me, I keep forgetting to get the recipe from her.) It was truly a feast to remember!


Now I'm about to do something else I haven't done on this blog yet: tell you what I did with some of the leftovers. I thought it was at least worthy of a Quick Take. So, I present to you...drumroll...Beef sausage and sea bass gumbo with strawberry-apple salad!

I wanted to use every bit of leftover sea bass (since it was SO good; and besides, it's not cheap), and after browsing for some stews, bisques, and soups, I settled on a gumbo of sorts. I didn't use any particular recipe; in fact, the way I prepared it was similar to the beef stew I blogged about.
There wasn't much sea bass left, and since I had some local grass fed beef kielbasa in my freezer, I decided to use it as well. I cut the sausage into chunks and browned it in a pot along with some chopped onion and celery and minced garlic. I added a can of diced tomatoes with the juice (Does this sound like the beef stew yet?), carrots, some chicken broth, cajun seasoning, and a half cup of uncooked rice. I brought this to a boil, and after it had simmered for about 10 minutes I added a peeled and chopped potato. About 40 minutes later--my very first gumbo!

The leftover hushpuppies were great with it, especially crumbled on top.

I'm told (actually, I read on the internet) that REAL gumbo has okra as a main ingredient. Since we're not okra eaters (although I cooked it for our crab feast because I wanted to be true to The Notebook) we naturally don't have it in stock. I also don't know if it's a faux pas to make gumbo with potatoes AND rice (I found recipes with one or the other but not both) but I don't care. Both went in.

I also had some carmelized nuts left over from the avocado salad, as well as more strawberries; these went into an apple salad along with some clementine sections, a little mayo, and a squirt of honey.


Soon I'll share with you what I cooked for Larry's fourteenth birthday dinner--and yes, hushpuppies are involved! Stay tuned to Cooking Nick's Books for that, and check out Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Walk To Remember: Baked Sea Bass and Avocado-Orange Salad

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know that it's all about cooking the meals that Nick's characters prepare together (or for each other). Since no one cooks in A Walk to Remember, and I don't want to skip any books (except maybe Three Weeks With My Brother, we'll see), I changed my focus a little bit and found things that Landon, Jamie, and their friends enjoy in other places--a restaurant, a diner, a party, on Jamie's front porch. Until now I've managed to skip these types things, but I'm willing to bend my own rules just a little bit from time to time.

Jamie and Landon are teenagers in 1950s North Carolina. (For a brief summary, read Quick Take #6 here.) On New Years' Eve, Landon takes Jamie to Morehead City for dinner at a swanky eatery there. (That must be a happening place, Morehead City; lots of Nick's characters go there when they're looking for a night on the town. My parents took me there on our first trip to the beach when I was five; the only thing I remember about it is swimming in the motel kiddie pool.) Landon and Jamie both order the same thing: sea bass and salad.

I've never cooked sea bass before, and I don't really know if I've ever even eaten it. I wanted to find a recipe that would be both delicious and simple to make:


Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cajun/Creole seasoning
Chilean sea bass fillets (4)

Begin by heating the oven to 425° F. Then use some olive oil to oil a baking pan and place the Sea Bass in the pan. Sprinkle the fish with some seasonings on both sides.

Bake it at 425° F for around 20 minutes. You can adjust the time needed for the baking process as per the thickness of the fish. While serving, use some Salsa or an interesting sauce of your choice. (source)

After the fish was cooked, we cut the filets into smaller pieces to make appetizer-sized portions.

I put my mother in charge of cooking the sauce:

Seafood sauce

1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. sage
1/4 tsp. cumin, rosemary, onion powder, thyme
1/2 tsp. white pepper
3/4 c. half and half milk or cream
3/4 c. white wine or Chardonnay
Dash of Cajun seasoning

Melt butter in skillet and add seasonings, stir constantly and blend over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Add half and half continue stirring and heat slowly until bubbly as you slowly increase heat (5 to 10 minutes). Add a dash of Cajun seasoning and wine stir until well blended and smooth and thick texture (2 to 3 minutes). Do not overcook. (source) The sea bass was delicious, and the sauce went well with it, even though it's designed to serve over catfish.

For the salad, I asked my mother for suggestions. We chose a green salad that she makes from time to time. There's no recipe, really, but I'll write it down here for you:

A head of Green Leaf Lettuce
One bunch of green onions, washed and chopped
Mandarin oranges, drained
Pecan or walnut halves (carmelized or plain)
Italian viniagrette dressing (click here for the recipe I used for this)

About two or three hours before serving, wash and tear the lettuce and chop the green onion. Mix the onion with the lettuce and let it sit for a couple of hours. Right before serving, add the dressing, avocado slices, mandarin oranges and nuts. My mother suggested carmelizing the nuts because doing so made the salad oh-so-much better. I did this a couple of days ahead of time--I just mixed sugar and cinnamon and heated it in a skillet with melted butter and the nuts. Mine were funny-looking, kind of like nuts with a grainy sweet-tasting substance all over them. They were still delicious, and made a great topping for Mom's salad (click here for the easy-peasy recipe and a photo of what they're supposed to look like). I should call them "crystallized" pecans since the sugar never dissolved completely. When we arrived at my friend's house for the party, my mother put their teenage daughter to work helping her put the salad together. Mmmm....I had two helpings of this! (I don't see any mandarin oranges, do you? They're in there...) Their New Year's date isn't the only time Landon and Jamie eat and drink together, and I decided to fix a few more things as well. Guess what? I'm going to make you wait until next time to find out what they are. I don't want to make this post too long, after all.