In my book cooking takes effort, and there are definitely nights after working 10+ hour days that I don’t want to plan, prep, cook, and clean. I want to let my hunger lead me to the first fast food sign that I see, and in those instances where I do just that—consume a fast food hamburger or taco—I immediately spew, “Expletive gripe gripe groan expletive groan grumble EXPLETIVE.” You get what you pay for, right?
There are two reasons why I kick myself in the ass to cook: my grandmother and taste buds.
Throughout my childhood my grandmother always prepared home cooked meals, mostly because she and my grandfather had little money and had to feed four hungry mouths. But granny loved to cook, and that woman’s cooking could make your taste buds dance like a happy muppet. So, for her, it was not in vain. I cannot count the number of days when I would walk into the house after school, immediately stop and inhale deeply, trying to guess what was baking, simmering or sautéing in the kitchen. The food was not always healthy but it was immensely flavorful. Great-tasting food pampered my 10,000 taste buds, and today, if it comes down to it, I would rather spend money on a great meal than buy myself a new outfit.
I’m thankful for and inspired by the devotion my grandmother had to preparing and cooking homemade meals. Even before going to work every day (M-F, for 10+ hours), as a dishwasher and pastry maker at a small truck stop cafe, my grandmother would have already prepared numerous pie crusts (for pies which she would finish making at the cafe) and a meal that my grandfather could re-heat or finish preparing for me and my siblings. Sunday was my favorite day as a child because my grandmother did not work on Sundays, which usually meant a big down-home meal like fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, buttermilk biscuits, chocolate pie … you get the idea. Love was abundant in our small kitchen. My grandmother LOVED to cook, and we LOVED to eat her food.
Between the memories of my grandmother’s meals and my job—I write about food for an advertising agency—there is always a dish floating around in my mind that I want to prepare.
Tonight’s meal starred the Vidalia onion. I love the Vidalia onion, and even more than loving the actual Vidalia onion, I love the fact that they are only produced in 20 counties in southeast Georgia. Vidalia onions are truly special and I daydream about going to the Vidalia Onion Festival. Some kids want to go to Disneyland to meet Mickey Mouse; I want to go to the Vidalia Onion Festival to meet Yumion, the official mascot.
Here is a photo of my meal tonight, with the recipe for Buttermilk Shoestring Onion Rings following. My hamburger wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; I seasoned it with salt and pepper then pan-fried. Even a simple, homemade hamburger tastes more flavorful than a fast food one. I toasted a Kaiser roll, slapped on a piece of leaf lettuce, added the burger, then topped the burger with Stubb’s Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce before placing the onion rings on top. Right now I am typing this blog post and looking into my kitchen. I’m not looking forward to doing the dishes and cleaning the flour off of the counter but my taste buds are happy, and that makes the clean up worth the work.
Buttermilk Shoestring Onion Rings
- 1 quart peanut oil
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1-2 Vidalia onions, trimmed, peeled then sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices, rings separated
Place peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed, large stockpot; heat over medium heat. Line a large plate with paper towels; set aside. While peanut oil heats, pour buttermilk into a large bowl; season with salt and pepper then set aside. Place flour in a large bowl, season with salt, pepper and cayenne then divide flour between 2 large plates. Working in batches, dredge some of the onion rings in the flour of one of the plates; tap excess flour off. Dip dredged onions rings in buttermilk, allow excess buttermilk to drip off then dredge the onion rings in the second plate of flour, evenly coating the rings. Tap off excess flour then carefully place dredged onion rings in the hot oil. Fry rings, turning every now and then, until tender and golden, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer cooked onion rings to paper towel-lined plate; season immediately with salt. Repeat process until all of the onion rings are cooked.