The Ladies of St. James' Cheese Straws
Cheese straws have been served at every known occasion. Nothing compares with home-baked cheese straws. Cheese straws baked at home are to store-bought ones as fresh asparagus is to canned asparagus.
Delta cooks are incredibly protective of their recipes; nowhere is this more apparent than with cheese straws. One matron insisted we come to her house for a private lesson before she'd share her late mother-in-law's recipe.
Most cheese-straw recipes are pretty similar. The success depends on the cook's technique. Fortunately, proper technique is not that difficult; it rests on scrupulosity with regard to two basic rules: Always melt your butter before adding, and watch how you add the flour. Don't put it all in at once. Put it in slowly. Don't knead the dough, work it lightly with your hands-just enough to blend. Purists may omit the Worcestershire and Tabasco.
4 cups all-purpose flour, measure before sifting
2 scant teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
approximately 4 sticks salted butter, melted
4 (10-ounce) packages of extra-sharp cheese, finely shredded
5 dashes Tabasco
5 dashes Worcestershire (Lea & Perrins)
Sift the flour, salt, and cayenne together. Work the melted butter into the shredded cheese (with your hands!). Note, the recipe reads 4 sticks of butter, approximately. Use the amount of melted butter to produce a consistency appropriate to your cookie press. Incorporate the flour mixture a little at a time (still using your hands). Add the Tabasco and Worcestershire to taste. Fill the tube of the cookie press. Using the ribbon disk produces a real bite, while the smaller disc produces the familiar squiggle.
Bake at 350° for approximately 12 minutes, or until firm to the touch and slightly brown around the edges. Squiggles take only about 10 minutes.
Makes about ten dozen.
Mason-Dixon Curried Chicken Salad
You don't want the table to be monochromatic. There are about a thousand chicken salad recipes floating around the Delta. Not only is this one delicious, but because of the curry, it also adds a certain color to the table. Our curry powder south of the Mason-Dixon tends to be generic and weak, but it still adds a delightful zing. Three tablespoons of it is fine.However, 1 1/2 of the real thing is quite sufficient. Remember, the taste amplifies as it chills.
4 to 5 pounds chicken breasts (dark meat is a no-no in chicken salad)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups homemade mayonnaise
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons curry powder
1 (10-ounce) package slivered almonds
2 cups sliced celery
2 (5-ounce) cans sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
White seedless grapes, optional
Preheat oven to 350°.
Wipe the chicken breasts with butter, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and place in a shallow pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Cool and cube the chicken. Mix the mayonnaise, soy sauce, lemon juice (a nice squeeze of fresh lemon), salt, and pepper. Start by adding 11/2 tablespoons curry powder-gradually add more as you go.
Using a baking sheet, spread the almonds in a single layer, coat with butter, and toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Add the mayonnaise mixture, water chestnuts, sliced grapes, and toasted almonds to cubed chicken. Correct seasoning and chill well.
The Methodist Ladies' Chicken Lasagna Florentine
For once, we're at a loss for words. Pecans and lasagna? But this is the quintessential Methodist death dish, and it's so good it'll kill you.
6 lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 (10-ounce) package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (about 3 medium breasts)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 can (10 3/4-ounces) cream of mushroom soup
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
1/3 cup homemade mayonnaise
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or to taste)
Butter Pecan Topping (see below)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook the noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside. Drain the spinach well, pressing between layers of paper towels. Combine the spinach, chicken, cheddar cheese, onion, nutmeg, salt, pepper, soy sauce, soup, sour cream, and mayonnaise in a large bowl; stir well to blend.
Arrange half the lasagna noodles in a lightly greased 11 x 7 x 1 1/2-inch baking dish. Spread half the chicken mixture over the noodles. Repeat this procedure with the remaining chicken mixture and noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Butter Pecan Topping. Bake, covered, for 55 to 60 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.
Butter Pecan Topping
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup chopped pecans
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat; add the pecans and cook for 3 minutes. Cool completely.