I mean, really, how many of us have buttermilk hanging around in our refrigerator waiting to feel needed?
My love of cooking came from my maternal grandmother, who seasoned the meat, whipped the potatoes, and kneaded the dough with the precision of an Olympic athlete and the love of Mother Goose for her gander.
Yet some of my very favorite tricks of the trade came from my own local TV show, where I have featured chefs who mesmerized the viewers, and me, with magical helpful hints, and quick and easy meals over the past 47 years. After all, they had only sixteen minutes on the air, so advance organization was most important. And I am proud to say I was cooking up a storm on TV long before the Food Network was even born. Now doesn’t that make me sound old?
One of the tips I treasure, and use often, is using vinegar dribbled into milk to replace buttermilk. I mean, really, how many of us have buttermilk hanging around in our refrigerator waiting to feel needed?
I used to think that lard or canola oil was best for sautéing or stir-frying, but found out that grape seed oil or coconut oil is best for cooking fast on high heat. And did you know that storing herbs in a freezer bag in the freezer will keep them fresh and make them easier to chop? And, adding a paper towel in the container when storing lettuce, mushrooms, or other veggies will keep them fresher longer. Leaving bananas in the bunch, rather than separating them, prevents them from browning as quickly, and to keep brown sugar from hardening just add an apple to the bag or a slice of bread. And one more amazing tip is to store cottage cheese and sour cream upside down in their containers to help it last longer.
I could go on all day.
I even learned things like using rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball will help to remove stains on my stainless steel pots and pans, while ketchup can be rubbed on my copper pots to reinstate the shine. Or using an ice cream scoop makes decent and bigger watermelon balls.
However my favorite lessons from the chefs were about making tastier meals. Chicken and beef base are so much better to use for flavor than bullion cubes. Before I was a TV host, I did not even know such a product existed. Look for it in the soup section as it is simply amazing, especially in soups, gravy and chicken bog.
Speaking of chicken bog, I don’t want to brag, but I have perfected this dish, and it just may be my husband Chuck’s favorite, as he begs me to make it at least once a month. TV chefs all made it differently, but I have just the right formula. I used to spend hours boiling the chicken, waiting for it to cool, skimming the fat and cutting it up. Now I use rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, boxes of chicken broth, chicken base, hot sausage, smoked sausage, pepper and rice. No salt is needed as the chicken base makes up for it. I’d put it up against any of the winners at the Loris Bog-off!
The most popular item prepared on my TV programs has been shrimp and grits, perhaps because it is easy to whip up in sixteen minutes, especially if the chef brought the grits to the studio already made. But since every single chef made grits differently, I tweaked them to make the creamiest and most delicious grits ever, always using locally-made and award-winning Palmetto Grits, sold and shipped all over the world. My secret is using half and half and lots of butter. But, recently David Dorman, owner of Palmetto Grits in Gallivants Ferry, shared his secret to creamier grits with me during a TV appearance. He uses an eight ounce log of cream cheese, rather than butter. Try it. Even my husband, who does not like cheese, loves these grits for breakfast or dinner!
Of course there were chefs who made dishes on the show that I chose not to taste, like a visiting chef from India. Just the smell stopped me in my tracks. And then there were some I wish I had not tasted, like the Pawleys Island chef who hurriedly prepared a fish stew, but the fish was still frozen, almost gagging me. There was also a chef who cut himself during a live interview and was bleeding all over the place, but he wrapped his hand in one of his white dish towels which was red by the time the interview was over. Not very appetizing!
And, how about the chef who was frying up maple-glazed pork tenderloins and caused the fire alarms to go off, sending the fire department directly to us? I invited them to sit down and eat with us while they were at the studio for the false alarm – I’m sure the viewers got a kick out of it. And I’ll never forget a friend from the Greek Orthodox Church who came to demonstrate how to make baklava, but the phyllo dough melted so quickly under the strong studio lighting that it turned out to be one sticky mess. So we just giggled through the entire interview, and ate the baklava she prepared in advance, not the batch she tried to make on TV.
My very favorite chef, one I wrote about in a previous Sasee article several years ago, was Psaito the Japanese chef who accidentally set my panty hose on fire with a spark from his Hibachi. And my second favorite was little Mamma Lucia, of Villa Romana Restaurant, who was in her eighties making homemade pasta, but not speaking a word of English, only Italian, so I did my best to translate as we went along.
And just in case you are wondering what the weirdest of all recipes has been during my very rewarding TV career, it was Peach Enchiladas made by Donna Bundrick with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. The crazy ingredient is Mountain Dew! This has turned out to be one of my favorite and easiest desserts to make. First you grease a 13″ x 9″ pan, wrap fresh peach slices with sections of crescent rolls, mix one and half cups of sugar with one cup melted butter, and a teaspoon of cinnamon, and pour this mixture over rolls. Finally, top it all off with one 12 ounce can of Mountain Dew. I don’t even like Mountain Dew, but this is fabulous. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Yummy!
I’ve surely had a great culinary education, thanks to these local chefs who braved the airwaves with me. I may not have earned a culinary degree but should be “decreed” a culinary associate of some sort!