We just arrived at our new place in Kentucky and were immediatly called to the fence by our new neighbor, Delford.
Yes, really, his name is Delford. And yes, he does drive a tractor.
He wanted to get a feel for us, remind us to always close the pasture gate so the goats don’t come over and eat his flowers and garden, and generally make small talk about the weather (him, not the goats…although that would make for awesome goats). He asked if we like fresh tomatoes (who doesn’t?!) and said he’d bring some by as soon as they are ripe.
The next day he showed up on our door step with a big bag full of squash and cucumbers. Tomatoes will be here in a few more days, he says.
Then he invited us to his home for a Fourth of July BBQ…
…this is where I have to back up a bit and explain a little something: I honestly thought I was a decent cook and baker until I got here. I can no longer claim to know my way around a kitchen with a straight face. Since arriving in Kentucky I’ve been blown away by true Southern Cooking. I have tasted greatness, and it tastes nothing like what comes out of my oven. Nothing.
I’m having a bit of an identity crisis, really. A delicious, homemade identity crisis. But I’m OK with that; I have big plans to learn how to cook and bake like the local ladies, and be better (and maybe a little fatter) for it.
So having just moved 36 hours earlier, I scrambled to find my cooking equipment and whip up something to bring to the BBQ. I made my Nana’s Chocolate Cake--the only thing I thought could hold its own when surrounded by so much culinary, home-made-from-scratch greatness on the potluck table.
I was wrong.
I totally botched it.
I didn’t have butter, so I used margarine (HUGE mistake no.1); then I forgot to add the cream to the fudge frosting, which resulted in crumbly, dry (though still tasty, if a little burnt) piles of…fudge. It was sort of legendary, really, in its total, complete and utter failure. I will always remember the poor chocolate catastrophe as “the thing that looked like woodland creatures shat on it, but still tastes OK”
Don’t even think about asking for a picture.
So not only was I already feeling self-conscious about my cooking skills, but then the first thing I made was…that.
I didn’t want to bring it, and certainly not to a party full of great home cooks. But the only thing worse than bringing a crappy chocolate cake is to not bring anything at all, which is when I remembered something my girlfriend Shelley had told me several years ago.
Shelley and I had started a traveling dinner party that met every other Monday, we talked a lot about food and Shelley was even reading Julia Child’s biography. Shelley told me that Julia Childs said to never apologize for your food, no matter how badly you screwed up. Not even when it looks like rabbits and goats shat all over it. Just smile and present it.
I’d never really needed that advice before, because, y’know, I’m a fabulous cook and baker…ha!
So on Sunday, when the Unfortunate Chocolate Cake Catastrophe came out of my oven, and no matter how hard I tried, the frosting just continued to crumble and look even more like animal waste, I heard Shelley, and Julia Childs, tell me to take a deep breath and put a smile on my face; to present my cake as if this was how it was supposed to be; no one would know the difference and telling them would just make them uncomfortable and call attention to exactly what I didn’t want any attention on.
Just present it with a smile on your face. No apologies, no excuses, just bring a smile and a plate full of…whatever the hell my Nana’s chocolate cake had mutated in to.
So I did.
And people ate it.
And had seconds. And were so kind about it.
God I love the South.
That’s a great story and all, but what the hell does that have to do with Summer Squash Casserole? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Seated right next to my Chocolate Cake of Doom was Delford’s Wife’s Summer Squash Casserole, made fresh from his garden squash that day.
And Matt raved about it. It was pretty freakin’ awesome. And since Delford brought us a big bag of the stuff, I thought, heck, I’m going to start learning to cook like a Southern Lady and make this, too.
So here it is, a fantastic southern recipe (the first of many to come, I hope). This specific version is from Paula Deen…who seems to have Savior -like status down here.
- 6 cups large diced yellow squash (and zucchini if you are low on squash)
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon House seasoning (1/4 cup salt; 1 Tablespoon black pepper; 1 Tablespoon garlic powder)
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1 cup crushed butter crackers (Ritz)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Saute the squash in a little vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it has completely broken down, about 15 to 20 minutes. Line a colander with a clean tea towel. Place the cooked squash in the lined colander. Squeeze excess moisture from the squash. Set aside.
In a medium size skillet, saute the onion in butter for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and mix all ingredients together except cracker crumbs. Pour mixture into a buttered casserole dish and top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.