Several years back I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with the legendary Sylvia Woods on a cookbook. It was her second book, but the intention this time was to tell her incredible rags-to-riches story. That story would be incomplete if it wasn't all about family and friends, which is why we called it Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook. The interesting thing about the project is that I got to know so many members of the Woods family as a result. I remember the cover photo shoot like it was yesterday -- dozens of aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews all dressed up for portraits. I also vividly remember the book launch party at Sylvia's. I made a speech, which I almost never do. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but I said that the book was about love and bringing family and friends together. I was inspired by the Woods family then, and I still am. I've dined at Sylvia's in Harlem more times than I can count now, often for special occasions like birthdays. And I've worn out that cookbook, making the recipes so many times. I can think of no more fitting tribute than to cook up a few of Sylvia's recipes.Amazingly, I'd never tried making her bbq pork before. The truth is, I don't have much experience roasting pork shoulder, but as you can see from the first photo, it turned out quite beautifully, not that I should have expected anything less. After the roasting, you chop up the pork, discarding the bone (and try to resist snacking the whole time).I won't spoil the recipe for the bbq sauce which you make from scratch (hint, it has applesauce in it -- trust me, buy this book!) while the pork is roasting. You toss the pork, bbq sauce, and some chopped onions together.Then you roast everything for another 30 minutes, and you get this. Your kitchen will smell heavenly.Sylvia's black-eyed pea salad has been a favorite in my household for years now. It's sweet, just like you might expect from a Southern-style dish, and the longer you let it marinate before eating, the better it gets.Then there's the tomato-okra stew. At least to me, this is what Southern cooking is all about. Every time I make a dish with okra, I wonder why I don't do it more often. The key to this recipe is the bacon, a half pound of it, chopped and cooked until crisp. Then you cook 1/2 cup of chopped onions in the bacon fat and stir in a tablespoon of flour (I used cornstarch) to thicken things up. Next you add a 15-ounce can of stewed tomatoes, 10 ounces of frozen, cut okra, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. I used fresh okra, the same measure -- 10 ounces -- and loved the results. The recipe says to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, but if you're using fresh okra like I did, you might want to cook it a bit longer until the texture seems right.So what did I do with all that great food? Zokos and Cookstr were holding a benefit potluck for City Harvest, so I brought all three dishes along with me. Besides the event being for a great cause (I think they raised about $1,000), lots of friends came out: Jackie, Margaret, Melody, Sara, Hazel, Emily, Yvo, Melissa, and more. There were quite a few raves for the stewed tomatoes and okra. My only regret is that I didn't make a bigger batch!
As my Twitter friends know, I tried my hand at canning for the first time recently. Fortunately Jen is canning all the time, so she already had all the tools I'd need. Then I stocked up on jars. We'd signed up for a Brooklyn Swappers event, which was also new to me. So of course I went totally overboard because I wasn't sure if anything would turn out right.I made two kinds of okra, both from Canning for a New Generation, which I can strongly recommend. This is the hot pepper okra. I tried these the day before the event and wow, they're amazing. Looking at this photo, I guess I could have packed a few more into each jar, but they didn't float up until later on, after the okra had softened a bit.This is the Creole-spiced okra, which was also fantastic. It's a tough call which recipe I liked best. I'd urge you to try both.These are pickled figs, a recipe from A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson. This recipe called for letting the figs sit in the jar for about a month before tasting them, so I honestly can't vouch for them yet. Needless to say I'm curious because I'd never heard of pickling figs before. Well, they look pretty, right? I sure hope they taste good because I swapped someone for a jar of them at the event.I tried a couple of recipes which weren't really "canned," meaning that they're meant to be refrigerated, with a shorter lifespan, and I didn't go through the whole jar-sealing process. Both recipes came from a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living -- this one was for vermouth-rosemary olives. I'm not a martini guy, but I have to imagine these are a treat if you are a fan of the classic cocktail. From the same issue of the magazine, I also made a batch of the bourbon-soaked cherries, which are perfect for serving in Manhattans. They pack a lot of punch if you eat them just for snacking. The jars "sealed" themselves because the liquid was so hot when I poured it in, but they didn't have the acidity needed to make them safe at room temperature for a long period of time.As if those 5 different jars weren't enough, I made some spiced nuts too -- the chipotle pecans from Lisa Fain's The Homesick Texan Cookbook. These were great too.I packed them in little 3-ounce baggies. Cute, right? Of course I saved myself half the batch to eat at home because these were so tasty.