Some promiscuous playoff fun this week, as Football for Foodies moves to a different bat-time and a different bat-channel. The NFL returns to our corporate sibling NBC for the Super Bowl Feb 1st, but until then we can amuse ourselves with contests on, ahem, other channels - it means nothing, honest! No Sunday night action either, but Saturday evening, the playoffs roll along with the Arizona Cardinals visiting Charlotte for an engagement with the Carolina Panthers. Come Sunday, it's up to the Eagles to fulfill the dream of a Manning-free playoffs, but this Saturday night matchup should be a good one. The Cardinals are coming off their first playoff win since God was a boy - they got to the playoffs by outlasting the rest of a feeble NFC West, but they zapped a well-regarded Atlanta team to earn a trip to Carolina.
The Panthers have been to the foothills of the mountaintop as recently as SB XVIII, and they are eager to return. The Panthers play in Charlotte, N.C., which is sort of like a larger and humider Hartford -- but the team is called the Carolina Panthers, so we will look across the border for a traditional seasonal dish Hoppin' John is a Lowcountry favorite, and purported to bring good luck in the new year. The Lee Bros., of Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook fame, have a version that is tasty and straightforward. If you can get them, use field peas instead of black-eyed peas - better flavor, and less chance of getting "My Humps" stuck in your head as you cook.
HOPPIN' JOHN, from Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
1 hour 30 minutes, plus 4 hours soaking
1 cup dried black-eyed peas or field peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 smoked hog jowl, or 1/4 pound (3 strips) thick-cut smoked bacon
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
5 or 6 peeled whole tomatoes, or half a 28-ounce can, drained (optional)
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice.
1. Wash the peas in a strainer, and soak them for 4 hours in ample fresh water. When ready, heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a 4-quart pot, and brown the hog jowl on both sides. (If using bacon, omit the olive oil, and simply render the fat in the pot for 5 minutes.) Add onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 6 cups water, black pepper, red pepper and salt, and bring to a boil.
2. Let mixture boil 10 minutes, and then add peas. Maintain a low boil, uncovered, until peas are nearly tender (25 minutes for black-eyed peas, 30 minutes for field peas). In a bowl, lightly crush tomatoes, and add to pot. Add rice to pot, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
3. Turn off flame, and allow hoppin' John to steam in pot, lid on, for 5 minutes. If using hog jowl, remove from pot, and shred meat. Fluff hoppin' John, and add shredded jowl. Serve.
Yield: 6 servings.