This week we celebrated what would have been Taylor’s dad, Arthur Smith’s, 69th birthday in true Southern style. Here’s Taylor to recap this week’s dinner and to tell you about the love for food and friends her father instilled in her.
Eating together is an art I learned at an early age.
And if you spend any time around me, you know that it’s a subject that I can talk about for minutes upon minutes – big hand gestures and shouts of hallelujah included.
This love of the family table helped start Friday Night Dinners. In more ways than I would have expected, it has also shaped me as a person. I owe it, largely, to dear old Dad.
This week, our dinner was a tribute to him, a Southern celebration in honor of what would have been his 69th birthday.
While I’ve spent a majority of my life in the Northwest, my dad came from deep Southern stock, born and raised in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Late nights fighting against my bedtime, I’d beg him to tell me stories of his childhood. Some of my favorites were about the breakfasts his mom –my nana- would make on weekend mornings.
I loved this story so much because he carried on that same tradition for our family. We were a grits household and my friends loved coming over to eat foods with his Southern spin.
As I got older, I saw my dad work his magic in the kitchen for weekly dinner parties. One by one, the good old boys would arrive, bearing loaves of bread, bottles of wine, and shirt sleeves rolled up, ready to chop onions, mince garlic, or whatever tasks were needed for the culinary adventure my dad had planned. I would pause from my homework to listen to their laughter, poke my head over the railing to watch steam rise out of pots and pans filled with braised beef and rich ragu.
It was all so beautiful to me, like edible poetry.
Even though my dad is no longer on this earth, I am reminded of him when my friends and I gather around the table each week for Friday Night Dinner. It is such a blessing and I don’t take it lightly.
For this week’s dinner, from 5 p.m. to half-past midnight, I was nourished with Joy. Opening the tattered pages of my dad’s Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, I called out the ingredients of the “poor man’s jambalaya,” the three of us chopping and dicing, a stream of 90s hits playing in the background. Everyone knows the best chefs listen to the Backstreet Boys.
We celebrated with toasts and prayers of thanksgiving. Our popovers, golden pillows rising out of muffin tins, made us scream with excitement. And as we dished up spoons of jambalaya, I couldn’t help but think that this meal would have made my dad so proud.
Hours of baking and frosting turtle pecan cupcakes was a sweet way to finish our meal, but even sweeter were the conversations, the giggles as we twirled our hair in buns for a “team high bun” photo shoot.
While our meal was delicious, the food was only a fraction of the night. That’s how it is every Friday Night Dinner. We enrich each other’s lives through our time, energy and love – turning off cellphones and tuning in to one another.
I guess that’s what my dad was after, too – that someday, those he cooked for might be inspired to do the same for someone they loved — to share in a meal, in this deep form of communion.
Thanks, Dad, for the food, for the love, for the fun. I hope we’re doing just that.
Thanks, Taylor, for sharing your story with us. Those of us that spent time with your dad are lucky to have known him. I have no doubt he looks down on us every Friday night with a big smile on his face.
- 4 small bay leaves
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- 1 tsp. dry mustard
- 1 tsp. ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 6 oz. tasso (about 1 1/2 cups) or 6 oz. of another smoked ham, diced
- 6 oz. smoked andouille sausage (about 1 heaped cup) or 6 oz. kielbasa, diced
- 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups celery, chopped
- 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 cups uncooked rice
- 4 cups beef or chicken stock
- Seasoning Mix: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Jambalaya: Use a large, heavy skillet, cast iron is best; over high heat melt butter; add tasso and andouille, or ham and sausage, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add onions, celery, bell pepper, seasoning mix and garlic; stir and cook 10-12 minutes until well browned, scraping the bottom of the pan well.
- Stir in rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan again; add stock.
- Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender but still a bit crunchy; stir a bit towards end of cooking time; remove bay leaves and serve.
- 3 tbsp. melted butter, divided
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk, warmed 30 seconds in microwave
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Using a pastry brush, coat 8 muffin cups with 1 tbsp. of the melted butter and put tin in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a blender (or by hand) until light yellow. Add the warmed milk and blend. Add the flour, salt and remaining butter and blend until smooth.
- Pour the batter into the warmed muffing pan and return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
Salty Chocolate-Pecan Candy:
- 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
- 3 (4 oz.) bittersweet chocolate baking bars
- 3 (4 oz.) white chocolate baking bars
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt (or 3/4 tsp. kosher salt)
- Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, until toasted
- Line a 17×12-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. Break each chocolate bar into 8 equal pieces. Arrange in a checkerboard pattern in jelly-roll pan, alternating white and dark chocolate (pieces will touch).
- Bake at 225°F for 5 minutes or just until chocolate is melted. Remove pan to a wire rack. Swirl chocolates into a marble pattern with a toothpick. Sprinkle evenly with toasted pecans and salt.
- Chill for 1 hour or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cups dark unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2/3 cups regular unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp. baking soda
- 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 5 eggs, at room temperature
- 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 6 tbsp. corn syrup
- Pinch salt
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2lb. bag powdered/confectioners/icing sugar
- 1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 tsp. vanilla extract
- dash of salt
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Prepare 2 cupcake pans with greaseproof liners.
- Sift together cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients (sugar, brown sugar, salt, butter, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs) and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.
- Fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 2/3 full.
- Bake 16-19 minutes or until firm on top. Remove from tins and allow cool completely on a wire rack.
- Melt the chocolate and butter very slowly in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring frequently until combined.
- Meanwhile, heat the water to boiling in the small, heavy saucepan. When the butter and chocolate have melted, stir the mixture into the boiling water.
- Add the sugar, corn syrup and salt and mix until smooth.
- Turn the heat up and stir until mixture starts to boil; adjust heat so that sauce is just maintained at the boiling point, stirring occasionally.
- Allow sauce to boil for nine minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth and creamy.
- Add powdered sugar, cream, salt and vanilla extract. Beat on low until incorporated.
- Increase speed to medium, and beat for 4-5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add more cream if necessary to reach desired consistency.
- Place cooled hot fudge sauce into a small piping bag fitted with a small star tip or filliing tip.
- Carefully fill each cupcake with a small amount of hot fudge. Reserve remaining fudge for topping.
- Pipe a large dollop of buttercream on each cupcake.
- Using a spoon, remove a small indentation of frosting out of the top of each mound of frosting.
- Combine caramel and chopped pecans in a small bowl, stir to combine and completely coat.
- Spoon a generous amount of caramel/pecan topping into each frosting indentation. Be messy. Messy is good.
- Top each cupcake with a drizzle of the remaining hot fudge.