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My Mama’s Mealtime Favs: A Dedication to Her Life and Love for Food

My mom was a foodie long before loving food was “cool”.  A South Tampa native, she grew up with her very own mother’s southern kitchen fixins’ and her grandmother’s authentic Spanish specialties.  She adapted many of these family recipes into her very own kitchen, where she’d show my brother and me the ropes around the stovetop.  Never into baking, her signature dishes were drool-worthy dinners.  When complimented on her scrumptious culinary combos, she would laugh and shake her head, not knowing why on earth anyone would praise her for a skill she deemed mediocre.  Although I did not inherit her modesty, I certainly inherited her trim waistline, allowing my love for food to flourish over the years.   I’m going to let you in on some of her tried and true recipes, her simple supper secrets and her all-time favorite things to eat.

                                                                                                               Lorraine H. Floyd 7/15/1949- 5/18/2012

Recipe #1 Crabmeat Spaghetti

This is a family staple-especially during our beach week family vacations. Effortlessly prepared in mass quantities, it is a crowd pleaser. It is one of the simplest recipes I’ve ever “followed” but the result is darn right delightful. However, I must warn you- there are crabmeat spaghetti rules; serious rules. If my mom caught anyone attempting to “destroy” this classic, she’d surely slap their hand and whatever spice, sauce or cheese that was in it. The crabmeat is so delicate and sweet; it can easily be overpowered by unnecessary ingredients. Please follow my mama’s rules when preparing this gem. It is minimal for a reason.

1 can crabmeat (the real stuff)
½ large yellow onion, diced
3 tbsp. Canola Oil or Light Tasting EVOO
1-2 tbsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
1 28. oz. can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
Salt to season
1 box Spaghetti (I bend my mama’s rules and use angel hair).
1 cup drained lump crabmeat for garnish (optional)

With medium large pot on medium heat, sauté the onion in oil. When translucent, add the tomato sauce, paste, oregano and bay leaf. Add a few dashes of salt and simmer for 25 minutes. Now, add the crabmeat and carefully fold throughout. Simmer for another 5-7 minutes and remove from stove. Spoon thoroughly drained al dente spaghetti on a plate with a heaping serving of sauce on top. Top with 1-2 tablespoons warmed lump crab and serve.

Family Secrets #1: Arroz Con Pollo

(Yellow Rice and Chicken).
*** These secrets also apply to Paella, Yellow Rice and Shrimp, etc.***

No, I will not give you the recipe for this Tampa classic. Most of you have likely prepared this simple Spanish favorite before. You have probably also feasted on it at one of the many fine Spanish/Cuban eateries Tampa has to offer. I have had Arroz Con Pollo more times than I can count. Not one time, has any restaurant or Hispanic family friend made it quite like my mom. My mom, though humble, even craved her own Arroz Con Pollo. I can’t blame her. Chicken thighs were her favorite chicken "pickin" alongside her ridiculously moist and intense yellow sticky rice. This was the one meal where my family always received seconds.

3 Little Secrets:

1) Use LOTS of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). Restaurants skimp you because it is pricey. Recipes underestimate the importance of this ingredient for silly reasons unknown to me. Most recipes serve 6-8 and call for an 1/8 cup. Double this! Use ¼ cup when sautéing the onions, bell peppers and bone-in/skin-on chicken pieces.
2) Go crazy with Saffron. This stuff is not cheap but man it is luscious. Use the whole container…you will not be disappointed (though your wallet might be).
3) In addition to the natural yellow coloring from saffron, go on ahead and add a solid dash of Badia yellow coloring. Yes, this is a secret based on appearance but the saffron alone barely tints the rice. This is what the famed Spanish restaurants do; yet it is never listed in any recipes.

Recipe #2 Collard Green Soup

Many food lovers and soup buffs may turn their noses to a soup that contains a vast amount of collards. May God bless their naive souls; for Collard Green soup is simply spectacular. This was the single homemade dish that possibly had my mom secretly tooting her own horn after preparing. Guided by the Gasparilla cookbook’s recipe, she made her own meaningful modifications to make this Spanish soup her own. It is so tasty in fact; close neighbors were known to beg for a mere bowl when they found out it was on the stove.

2 cans Northern Beans 2 potatoes, diced
2 quarts water 2 packages frozen collard greens
1 small ham bone (chopped fine)
1 bay leaf ½ onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt ½ green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 chorizo sausages*, sliced in ¼ inch rounds

In a large pot, put water, ham bone, bay leaf and salt. Bring to a boil, removing foam with a skimmer. Lower heat and simmer approximately 30 minutes. Add beans, potatoes and collard greens. In a separate sauté pan, sauté onions, green pepper and sausage in the EVOO. When onions and peppers are soft, add to collard greens. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. (This eliminates bitterness from the greens). Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes and greens are done.

*It is important to get the “dried” chorizo sausages from the Ethnic food aisle. Do not get the fresh chorizo from the meat section- it is not the same and will make quite the difference.

Family Secret #2 Scrambled Eggs Done Right

I know, I know. It seems awfully silly to have secrets for scrambled eggs...but when you’ve been a fried, scrambled, boiled and poached egg connoisseur your entire life, you can have secrets- crucial egg cooking secrets. I never could match my mom’s, no matter how many attempts, but I’ve come damn near close after watching her whisking ways time and time again. She made her majestic fluffy yellow breakfast goodness with such ease- ease that made me quite envious over the years. As always, she’d get so tickled when my brother and I praised her for eggs of all things but they were always just that good.

Secrets for the best damn eggs you’ve ever tasted:

1) Use water, not milk to assist in “fluffing” your eggs. Only use a little too. For instance, if you were preparing 6 eggs, you’d be good with ¼ cup water. Water keeps the eggs from becoming to heavy or dense as they can sometimes do with milk.
2) Do not over-whisk. If making an omelet, you can never whisk enough. The same does not apply for scrambled eggs-I can’t quite explain it but I’ve made this mistake before- it almost makes them to “airy”. Oh, and my mom always used a fork, no matter how many whisks we owned. I do the same.
3) Cook the eggs on medium low heat and stir the entire time. Use a big spoon so the eggs stay in larger clumps. Take the pan off the heat when they still look just the slightest bit “wet”. Moisture is key. Only weirdos like their eggs cooked “well,” thus dried out. (Sorry Lauren).

Some of her best-loved indulgences:

Five Guys “little burger”...all the way (sans the cheese)- she loved nothing more than to get down on this greasy mess. At 5’2” and 105 lbs. she devoured these things to every last morsel.

Flank Steak Dinners- Most carnivores and steak connoisseurs are unimpressed with this glorious cut. These people are truly missing out on the goods. My mom, a dainty lady, knew how she liked her steaks. Best marinated with Good Seasons Italian dry dressing packet and a few tablespoons EVOO, this simple rub was her go-to for a flavorful flank steak. Grilled ‘til medium rare and then beautifully sliced against the grain, she favored this meat with a fully loaded baked potato. Meat and potatoes? Yeah, she was the kind of girl too.

Café Con Leche and Cuban Toast- Comfort food for my mama, this combination would bring a smile to her face in just about any circumstance. She was pretty pleased with all of the West Tampa Cuban joints when it came to this little “pick me up” mid-day snack.

Shrimp, Scallops and Snow crab- steamed, sautéed, fried, you name it! Seafood (particularly shellfish) was near and dear to my mom’s food lovin’ heart. I most certainly have followed her taste buds in this way.

French Toast (Ahem, my brother’s French toast, that is). Crusty French bread was an absolute must for this breakfast beauty. Coated with plenty of egg wash and cooked with real butter preferably in a cast iron skillet. Real maple syrup drizzled generously on top with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Pillsbury Orange Rolls- Yep, I’m most definitely talking about those processed breakfast buns in a can. She loved them and so do I. That ooey-gooey orange glaze covering those soft, melt in your mouth curled up doughy buns. They are killer, absolutely killer.

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