There are go-to menus at our house. Easy and delicious. Yes, they sometimes involve Campbell’s condensed cream o’sumpin soup as a base, but, isn’t that a just a bechamel short cut? Isn’t that 20th Century cooking in a nut shell?
I’m going to say that it is and continue to hold my head up high when I serve the below bill of fare. People dog it. Crush it. Go back for seconds.
There are standard bills of fare upon which I was reared. Who among us doesn’t have the same menu every year for Easter? Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Year’s Day?
My parents used to host our extended friend group family for Easter dinner for years. O’Kelleys, Robinsons, Calhouns, Williams, Gibsons, Schwartzes, Jeters, and others who came in and out. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Williams used to host our extended friend group family for Thanksgiving dinner for years. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Jeters used to host our extended friend group family on Christmas. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Robinsons used to host our extended friend group family on New Year’s Day. Almost every year we had the same menu.
You get the drift.
There are just some standards that work well together and require little thought.
A staple of my growing up, and a Beaufort, South Carolina, dish if there ever was/is/will be one is Shrimp & Wild Rice. The version below belongs to my mother. She served it every Easter along with baked ham, asparagus, deviled eggs, macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese), butter beans, biscuits from The Palms in Ridgeland, South Carolina, which is another tale in and of its self.
A staple of my years entertaining here in Charleston is Nathalie Dupree’s Make Ahead Asparagus with Olive Oil and Lemon Zest. My mother-in-law taught me this one, and I use it all the time. I have taken it to dinner parties. I served it more than once to our now defunct supper club.
Another staple is my version of Zoe Sanders’ Preservation Salad from her Entertaining at the College of Charleston. Mrs. Sanders was the First Lady of the College of Charleston for years. Both she and her husband are talented cooks.
The roasted benne (sesame) seeds add a true South Carolina flavor.
These three play well together.
A recent guest whose legs were under our kitchen table asked for the receipts for all three.
“For these?” I questioned our guest. “Ain’t nothing special about this meal.”
“You’re flat out wrong about that,” came the reply.
“This is the best meal I’ve had in weeks.” The guest is a fine cook, has eaten all over the country, and knows a thing or three about good eats.
Hope y’all enjoy all three. We do.
Yancey O’Kelley’s Shrimp & Wild Rice
1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice mix (the 20 minute kind, not the instant kind)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
3 ribs celery, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and, if you must, deveined. (I use medium shrimp)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. sherry or white wine or dry vermouth (you choose)(or omit)
Cook the rice according to the package directions. While the rice is cooking, melt butter in large pan, and saute the onion, celery and bell pepper until soft, about 8 minutes, over medium to medium high heat. Add shrimp and saute until pink and just cooked through, another 5 minutes or so. There will be a lot of liquid from the shrimp.
In a large mixing bowl, combine soup, Worcestershire sauce, cheese, lemon, Tabasco sauce, sherry/wine/dry vermouth, and stir until blended. Add the cooked shrimp and vegetables, using a slotted spoon, to the bowl in order to make sure the mixture is not watery.
Mix all ingredients together and place in a buttered/greased 9×13 casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or “until bubbly” as my mother’s original card states. This is even better the next day. Also, it really does freeze well. “Until bubbly” remains a standard cooking direction at our house.
And, yes, Beaufort folks. I know y’all know this one. By heart.
Nathalie Dupree’s Make Ahead Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus, woody part of stems discarded (I just break it where it breaks naturally near the bottom of the stalk)
1/2 tsp. salt
Place trimmed asparagus in shallow frying pan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil until bright green and just starting to bend/wilt. (About 5 minutes or so)
Immediately, place asparagus on a serving platter. And, no, you don’t have to shock it in ice water. Using a micro plane or zester, zest the entire lemon over the asparagus getting all the zest over as much of the asparagus as possible. Drizzle with good olive oil to taste.
If you want to go crazy, you can even zest an orange over the asparagus.
You can make this and leave it for up to an hour ahead of folks arriving. Super easy.
Zoe Sanders’ Preservation Salad (as amended)
1 large head of Romain lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite sized pieces
3 tbs. benne seeds (sesame seeds)
Hunk of good Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic minced fine
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 cup mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
Toast benne seeds in 350 degree oven until just starting to brown and not burn. You’ll have to watch this. Best to do in a toaster oven and watch like a hawk. Or, you can toast in a dry pan on top of the stove, but, again, you have to watch as the oil in the seeds burns quickly. I have tossed more than one batch of burnt benne seeds. Let them cool completely.
For the dressing, place all of the dressing ingredients in a jar with tight lid and shake until combined. So easy. Store in the refrigerator until needed and shake a few times before serving.
For the salad: place the greens in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with the toasted benne seeds. It looks like a lot of seeds, but it works. Using a vegetable peeler, cut strips of Parmesan cheese over the salad to taste. I usually cover the top with a single layer of Parmesan strips.
Lightly dress the salad and toss gently so as to keep the Parmesan strips in tact.
You can do everything ahead of time with this one, too, except for adding the dressing.
The last time I served this menu, I made some old school ice box rolls to go with it. They didn’t quite work. I’ll stick with biscuits. At yeast I got that going for me.