Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
As I started prepping Christmas dinner a few days ago, several ideas and emotions floated to the surface of my mind, reminding me what I love about cooking. Above all, I love getting lost in it. I find that when I'm cooking I'm happy and completely worry-free. I kiss my dog more, I laugh more, and I sing more - well, at least when I'm alone.
But also, there are those memories, very precise vignettes, that come along as I prepare dishes attached to stories and/or people, and truly, what dish isn't? For example, while skimming the fat and foam off of the top of the beef stock that will form the backbone for Saturday's French onion soup, I saw the faces and heard the words of my precious French chefs at Le Cordon Bleu, from many years ago. The words were in French, of course, but they translated nicely in my mind at the moment. "One must not trouble the stock," from one. "Don't forget this is not a vegetable soup. Stock is mostly about bones," from another. "Never salt, are you in love?," from yet another sly one.
Similarly, all those months of making tarts for Tart Love (Sept., 2011, Gibbs Smith) brought me right back to my cherished mother-in-law Dori's kitchen, or to the garden of my personal French queen of tarts, Simone Firtione.
Cooking is so wonderful that way. It's the gift that keeps on giving. When my guests and I sit down to Christmas dinner on Saturday, I hope we'll all forge new and delicious memories we can savor years from now, at the most pleasantly unexpected sips and stirs.
Here's what will be on our table this year:
Miniature Bagels with Cream Cheese, Scottish Smoked Salmon, Red Onion & Capers
French Onion Soup
Artisinal Greens Mixed Salad with Fresh Pomegranates and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Roasted Hubbard Squash Puree
Cornmeal and Oyster Dressing
Roasted Organic Free Range Turkey with Pan Gravy
and, for the first time: Persimmon Tart with Coconut Ice Cream
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and of course, Happy Cooking!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The results are smashing! The crunchy, pop-in-your-mouth pomegranate seeds form the first layer of the filling that is topped with a lemony, cotton-white mousse. Prepared puff pastry shells for the tart casings, while the coulis swirls around the plate in unrestrained regal splendor. All can be prepared ahead and plated at the last second, which makes this the perfect tartlet treat for your Christmas and holiday table. If scuppernongs are not available where you are, substitute Concord grapes or another full-flavored grape.
Super Sexy Scuppernong & Pomegranate Tartlets
(Makes 12 individual servings)
Equipment Needed: Parchment paper, baking sheet
2 packages Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells (or 2 Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets cut into rounds with a 2" round pastry cutter)
1 egg wash - yolk, pinch salt, splash water, blended together
For the coulis:
3 cups whole, fresh scuppernongs, rinsed
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons sugar
For the mousse:
1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon warm water
1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup honey, preferably local
1 cup cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the garnish:
Seeds from one pomegranate, flesh and pulp removed (see directions below).
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the thawed pastry shells on it, about one inch apart. Brush the tops (not sides!) of each lightly with the egg wash. Bake until golden and fluffy, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool when done.
Meanwhile, prepare the coulis. Combine the scuppernongs, pomegranate juice, water, cinnamon stick and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the scuppernongs have popped and the liquid has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the mousse. Combine the gelatin and water in a small glass or cup. Stir to combine with a spoon, or use your fingers. Once fully dissolved, whisk the gelatin in a medium bowl with the yogurt, lemon zest and honey. In a separate cold bowl, using a hand mixer or a whisk, mount the whipping cream with the vanilla. Whip until fluffy and firm. To finish the mousse, whisk one third of the cream into the yogurt mixture. Fold the remaining cream, in two batches, into the yogurt mixture. Chill, covered in the refrigerator. (Note: This can be made several hours in advance).
To finish the coulis, remove and discard the cinnamon stick and smash the cooled mixture with a masher or a fork to release as much flesh as possible. Drain the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing with the back of a ladle to release the juices, into a small bowl. Discard the grape skin/seed solids. The remaining liquid is your wonderful coulis! Chill the coulis.
Now, separate the seeds from the pomegranate. To do this, cut the pomegranate into quarters. Peel the seeds away from the pulp (also called aril). Do this with patience, it takes a little time. Your goal is to separate the bitter pulp away from the seeds and then discard it.
To assemble the tartlets, gently peel the "tops" off the baked pastry shells, along with some of the inside pastry, to form a "home" for the tart filling. Place one tablespoon of the pomegranate seeds into the bottom of each. Top with two heaping tablespoons of the mousse. Serve on individual plates with a generous swirl of the coulis, and a drizzle of pomegranate seeds. Keep cold until serving (up to one hour) or better yet, serve immediately.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
Adapted from Tart Love - Sassy, Savory, Sweet and Southern, by Holly Herrick (Gibbes Smith, Fall, 2011). Photograph by Helene DuJardin, www.mytartelette.com
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Every once in a rare while, a restaurant comes along that transforms the usually healthy eating me into a virtual glutton. Hubee D's is the latest cruelly delicious contender. I visited it three times this week, even in the fattening wake of Thanksgiving indulgence. I was so pleasantly and guiltily sated every time I started fantasizing about shouting Weee Weee Weee all the way home, just like Max the pig in the Geico ads.
So be it. Hubee D's is just that delicious, or "Deelicious!" as their logo accurately deems this exclusively chicken - of the (mostly)fried kind - palace. Co-owners John Ferguson and Dana Sinkler, both Charlestonians and seasoned veterans of the restaurant scene here, wanted to come up with a restaurant concept that reflected Charleston. At first they thought about burgers, given Five Guys and others success, but then the idea morphed into all chicken, until finally they winnowed it down to their winning formula: fried chicken and wings, according to Sinkler. The unusual but highly memorable name comes from Ferguson, a collector of old trucks, like the one pictured above. When he saw it, he declared that it looked like something that should be called a Hubee. After that they tagged on the "D" for delicious.
Back to delicious! You've never had wings or sauces this good, anywhere. They come from Sinkler's family reipe file are honed with his talent to perfection. All of the sauces (save the Honey Mustard) are his creations. I cannot get enough of the Lowcountry Buffalo Hot (it also comes in mild and very hot) or the Black Tie Bourbon. The first plucks at your tongue with deep notes of vinegar and its rich coral color is a feast for the eyes, while the latter is deeply sweet and savory all at once. All the chicken comes from a SC chicken farmer and can be mixed and matched at the succulent "sauce bar".
The fried chicken (either tenders, nuggets or sandwiches) takes a long bath in buttermilk before getting dipped in a thick batter that crisps to crunchy perfection in a fryer - all made to order along with the hand cut fries that are served heaping and hot in every basket. The Hubee Sauce that comes with all of these is another huge Hubee winner. All smoky and slightly sweet, it reminded me of a smoke-infused Russian dressing. It's highly unusual and entirely irresistible. Sizes and prices for the items range from an easy $3.99 to $6.99. And, Hubee's throws in a crispy, tangy red cabbage, green cabbage and carrot slaw, cake-like sweet cornbread for added delicious good manners.
Hubee's has successfully usurped my long-standing wings King (Buffalo South)and sent it tumbling from its still tasty throne to mere Prince status. Hubee's are more meaty and come either slow smoked in hickory wood or simply dry rubbed style or "naked". Then there are all those delicious sauces for dipping.
Hubee's joins new restaurants Yobe yogurt and Pizza Pie pizza at the newly formed mini-strip mall at the renovated St. Andrews Shopping Center in West Ashley. A kind of celebrated food courts of sorts, Hubee's looks so franchise-like and impersonal from the outside (save for that cute truck) that I automatically wrote it off as same and thus avoided it until I kept reading all of Marion Sullivan's (Charleston Magazine's Food Editor) enthusiastic tweets about it. Even though it has the franchise look, it doesn't have the franchise taste. Not by a long shot!
It is a little like Five Guys in that sense, except it tastes extremely homemade and real. There is no production-line aura and nobody screams at you when you place your order. Indeed, service is extremely pleasant and personable, the restaurant is spotlessly clean, and the food comes fast (but not rushed), even when it's busy. Sit back and nosh on the salty boiled peanuts and take in the nostalgic country mural while you wait. The biggest mystery of all to me is how Hubee's smells completely clean and fresh, even with all that frying going on. The only answer is very clean and well-tended fryers, which makes being bad taste so very good.
Speaking of baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, so bad I haven't yet done it, dig into D's Famous Fried Banana Pudding ($4.99). It's Sinkler's "de-constructed" version of a Charleston dessert staple, banana pudding. His version pools a cloud of cool vanilla pudding with a beignet batter-dipped banana that is fried and served hot with a dusting of crunchy vanilla wafers and hot chocolate and caramel drizzled over the top. C'mon now! As Sinkler says, "It's a great dish to share with friends."
If you want to be a little kinder to your waistline, Hubee's also serves three knock-out fresh salads and you can take that sandwich grilled, if you like. Kids will revel in the kids basket ($3.99) while the assorted size platters will likely be the hottest ticket in town come Super Bowl Sunday.
975 Savannah Highway
St. Andrews Shopping Center, West Ashley
Friday, November 26, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Reflections on childhood Thanksgivings' past, as lovely as they really were, always include nightmares of those scary cranberries in a can. You remember the stuff? Gelatinous muck that comes out in the shape of a tube and sticks on the wall when you throw it. I'm sure that my brothers, sisters and the Lally kids, with whom we shared practically everything Thanksgiving, were guilty of that at least once. Sorry, Mom and Aunt Nancy.
There is really good news to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and for the entire holiday season: Cranberry Chutney. It's simple to make, delicious, infuses the house with holiday fragrance as it cooks, and, it even gets better the longer it sits. I make this delicious chutney a couple days ahead (that would be today!) of Thanksgiving. I found it in Bon Appetit magazine almost 20 years ago and make it (in a modified form) every year. It's the kind of thing people ask for, it's that good. Here's to cranberry dreams! This recipe includes apples. Use Winesap if you can find them. Happy Thanksgiving.
(Makes 18 servings)
1 pound fresh cranberries (4 cups)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup water
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 sweet/tart apple (recommend Winesap or McIntosh), cored, chopped
1/2 cup pecan halves
Simmer first 10 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop (about 15 minutes). Reduce heat, stir in onion and apple, simmer uncovered until thick (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and cool. Refrigerate in an air tight container for up to one month. Stir in pecans just before serving.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
This tart is similar to a traditional pumpkin pie, but, it's sleeker and sexier. It's not as deep and not as filling as pie, but it's plum full of fresh, roasted pumpkin flavor. Please don't substitute canned pumpkin unless nothing else is available. It literally pales in comparison in every way and it's so easy to roast pumpkin. Look for the petite pie pumpkins that are on grocer's shelves as we speak. They can be roasted off and pureed days in advance (see directions below).
In this recipe, the custard gets pumped up with bourbon and plenty of spice so that it takes on a beautiful, burnt caramel color and layers of festive flavor. It is best served cold or at room temperature served with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream. Maybe it will become part of your holiday table's annual offerings. Happy Thanksgiving!
Drunken Pumpkin-Bourbon Tart
(Serves 8 to 10)
Equipment Needed: One round 9" X 1" round tart pan with removable bottom
For the pastry:
2 1/4 cups White Lily All Purpose Flour
1/4 cup sugar
generous pinch sea salt or kosher salt
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
approximately 1/4 cup ice cold water, or enough to just hold together the pastry
1 egg wash - yolk, pinch salt, splash water, blended together
For the filling:
2 cups of roasted pumpkin flesh
3 large eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon best-quality vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375. Prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the cold butter all at once. Pulse 40 - 50 times or until the flour is the size of tiny peas. Gradually, drizzle the ice water through the mouth of the food processor, while pulsing. Stop just when the pastry begins to hold together. Pour out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disk using your hands. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Note: This can be done several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until baking day, which, for me, will be Thanksgiving).
Meanwhile, cut the pumpkin in half horizontally, and remove the pulp and the seeds using a stainless steel spoon. Discard the pulp and the seeds. Turn the pumpkin halves cut-sides down on a roasting sheet and cook in the pre-heated oven until the flesh is soft to the touch and beginning to implode, about 45 minutes. When the pumpkin is done, remove from the oven and cool at room temperature.
Once the pastry has rested/chilled at least 30 minutes, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, to about 1/4" thickness. Line the tart pan with the pastry, leaving enough pastry to create a slightly elevated pastry border, about 1/2" higher than the edge of the tart pan. Line the pastry with crumpled parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans, gently pressing the beans into the bottom and edges of the paper so that they're evenly distributed. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, brush down the bottom, sides and edges of the tart shell with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Return the tart pan to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.
To prepare the filling, scoop two cups of the roasted pumpkin flesh out of the pumpkin halves and place in a large bowl. (Note - any left-overs can be stored in the freezer or refrigerator and later turned into a lovely savory soup or puree!) Using a hand-held mixer, blend together the pumpkin for 2 minutes on medium and blend into a smooth consistency. Add the eggs and light brown sugar, and blend together on medium for another minute, or until fully incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients and blend to combine on medium until fluffy, aerated, and fully incorporated. Gently ladle or pour the custard into the prepared tart shell, leaving a 1/4"-deep tart border. Place on a baking sheet and bake on the center rack of the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 325F and continue baking until the custard has just set and quivers slightly to the touch, about 45 minutes total. Cool completely before slicing, or refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving.
Bring on the whipped cream!
Recipe from Tart Love - Sassy, Savory, Sweet and Southern by Holly Herrick (Gibbs Smith, Fall, 2011. Photo taken and generously shared by Helene DuJardin, www.mytartelette.com)
Friday, November 19, 2010
Time changes everything. Or, maybe not. A friend of mine remembers working with Sean Brock a decade ago when he was still a Johnson and Wales student working double-time as a cook at Sweet Grass Cafe, a humble southern comfort food joint. She called the 2010 James Beard winner "fried chicken boy" because he loved Southern Culture on the Skids and enjoyed throwing it around at their concerts. She remembers how "excited" he was when he left to start a new job at the celebrated Peninsula Grill. Kind of makes you smile, doesn't it?
As a restaurant critic and long-time observer of Charleston's ever evolving and increasingly delicious restaurant scene, I remember when Sean Brock first stepped up to the chef plate at McCrady's, in the wake of much lauded local chef, Michael Kramer's departure. Just in his 20's at the time, it had to be a significant challenge, but Brock pulled it off. Still flexing his southern muscles, the West Virginia native worked a lot of foams, froths and sous vide technique into his work at a time when no one else in Charleston was doing it. His culinary identity was a little jumbled, but never his food. McCrady's, to this day, remains one of Charleston's very best restaurants. Brock's exploration and evolution and talent are three of the biggest reasons why that is so.
Yet, at the just-opened Husk Restaurant, Brock's newest baby, all fried chicken boy's passions and experimentation pay off in a 100% perfect and pure southern way. At Husk, Brock's come home to the heart of southern cuisine and is breaking ground in ways that could safely be called revolutionary, if not super human. Brock's mantra and his mission is to create a new Husk menu daily using only ingredients produced and raised in the South. On the side, he grows his own heirloom plants from seeds he's rescued, tended and loved to ensure precious crops and southern traditions are not plowed under the deadly tills of mass farm production. Let's not forget the heirloom pigs he feeds, slaughters and cures, and the fact that he has a wife he adores and a life, to boot. Yet, when he was beaming down at his smoked bacon cornbread at the soft opening I attended a few weeks ago, he looked like a little boy that had just gotten first prize at the school fair. So excited, and ebullient and jubilant was he. Kind of makes you smile, doesn't it?
Brock's passion oozes from every lovely pore of Husk. Situated in a lovingly and painstakingly restored single house on sleepy Queen Street, its decor is polished with exceptionally tasteful southern love. Just like the food, there is nothing cliche in the decor. No gingham, no chintz, no frills. Hard pine floors, muted, earthy tones, and gorgeous ceiling to floor draperies dress the setting. Dried okra pods in a vase full of stone-ground grits are the organic, lovely center-pieces while cloth, grit-fragrant, grit bags house some of the most decadent salt and benne studded Parker House rolls you could ever hope to eat.
An adorable, miniature brick kitchen house is the sleek and sophisticated-yet-still country bar. Brock pays homage to all of his well-vetted artisinal suppliers on his ambitious daily menu. A huge blackboard at the front of the restaurant repeats the theme. I'm happy to see that Brock and his team have scaled back a bit on things since the soft-opening. The man, as hard as it seems to believe at times, is a human and there are only 24 hours in a day. Gone are the "snack" options - small matter because similar options are available at the bar. It frees up time for attention to the food - and that is what outshines everything at HUSK. Above all, it is the reason to go.
I could go on and on about all the things I sampled last night when I was there - such as the sublime Cornmeal Dusted Triggerfish (pictured) on a Potato Puree that flirted with butter and fennel in the most delicious way, but there is no point. Today's menu will be altogether different. I predict that's all that's ever going to change at HUSK. Brock's brought the South home, to where it's always been best, rooted closely to the earth and heritage cooking. HUSK's only going to get better from here. Reserve your seat today. The wait's only going to get longer.
76 Queen Street, downtown Charleston
Saturday, November 6, 2010
It's been five long months in the coming. Nights of creative tart thoughts turned into mornings of new tart recipe creations, followed by afternoons of buttery aromas wafting through the house, followed by yet another evening of tart possibility dreams.
It was an exciting time. Despite the tarts' relentless creativity call, it was a welcome opportunity after nearly a year on the road promoting Charleston Chef's Table (Three Forks, Dec., 2009) and Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2009). Being in the kitchen, is, after all, what I love best. So, to be there, snuggled in the warm aromas of baking tarts and tartlets, with the loving shadows of my dog Tann Mann and cat Chutney within flour-dusted arms reach, was pure delight.
We developed a cadence, the three of us. First stop, coffee and breakfast for me, food and walks for them. Next stop, the meditative process of making pastry, sometimes three batches at a time for the late morning and early afternoon recipe testings. Once the tarts were out of the oven, the next step was to deliver them to neighbors and, on some days, the construction crew that was building the house across the street. It was nurturing and peaceful and fluid. And, even when the taste-testing news was not always perfect, it always felt like a good days work.
Well, now the house across the street is complete, and so is the recipe testing stage of "Tart Love" - Sassy, Sweet, Savory and Southern. The simultaneous timing of the end of the house building and tart creations seems ironic and emotional, somehow. The next step, starting tomorrow, is to complete the writing of the book, which will be released next fall (Gibbs Smith). Saying goodbye to the tart-making step of the process feels a little bit like sending a young child off to school. I can bid goodbye, only knowing they'll be back later that afternoon (or later this holiday season) to warm my heart and my belly. For now, the final writing and editing stages begin and I'll have to bid a temporary farewell to my beloved tarts until they come back to me in book form sometime next year.
I can't thank my wonderful photographer Helene DuJardin enough for her tireless efforts and beautiful photography. My neighbors and pets always get thanks, just for being them. The photo above is of the final tartlet tested for the book, and it's not by Helene (just so you know!), but by me. They are Pimento Cheeseburger Tartlets, savory, final odes to a wonderful journey I will not soon forget.
Look for recipes from the nascent book in the several months prior to its eventual release in fall 2011. Happy cooking!
Friday, October 22, 2010
One of the skills I truly own and accept is an ability to usually get a recipe idea right at the first pass. It saves time and it saves money. In short, it's very handy. The concept is there lurking in my tart-addled head, I work on it, and with a little tweaking here and there, it's a definite go.
Yesterday, with just five tart recipes to create before my self-imposed Nov. 1 deadline for Southern Tart Reform, I hit a recipe development road block of the highest order. Not one, but two, of my recipes were not on track. The first, Eggplant Tartlets with Goat Cheese Tapenade, I was able to rescue with a little bit of work, but the other, for the first time I can recall in over a decade, ended up in my trash can.
It seemed innocuous enough. The idea was to pair roasted cauliflower florets and sauteed bacon together in a light bechamel with a little cheddar and scallions thrown in for good measure and encase it all in a little fried pie pocket. I really thought it would work and kept thinking of it as a little quiche in a pocket, minus the eggs.
Well, it didn't work, in a big, bad way. At first, the problem was I made the bechamel with buttermilk. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but forgetting its acidity, I added super pungent, grated aged cheddar cheese to the mix. The result was heinous. So, I kept adding stuff to it. First curry, then more pepper, then sherry, then honey, then a ton of black pepper. It was still heinous, except more heinous than ever. It clung to my tongue like unthinkable nastiness. The whole scenario reminded me of my mother's home haircuts when I was a kid - with bangs. She'd start off OK, but then angle off in the wrong direction (especially with my bangs) and keep cutting more and more and more, until I looked like some kind of moulting mutant with an evil step-sister and a bad pair of scissors.
Back to the recipe, finally, in a desperate desire for salvation, I added the prepped cauliflower and bacon, hoping it would muffle the bad taste. It didn't. Hmmm. What to do? I decided to give it a night to think it over, thinking maybe I could sift the solids out of the goopey sauce and start over in the morning. Well, I tossed it all this morning and started all over. I stuck with the basics this time - milk, bacon fat, flour, salt and pepper and big chunks of Edam added into the cold bechamel before stuffing the pies. The result was heavenly (see above).
I guess it helps every cook to stay humble and to remember that mistakes happen. Most importantly, the toughest lesson of all: Less is almost always more. Unless, maybe, it's your hair.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Herb and Hen are my parents. Herb is my father's real name (short for Herbert Nicholas) and Hen is my mother's nickname. She acquired it at some point along the long journey of raising her four children and it is an allusion to the whole "mother hen" thing. Her real name is Margaret. It strikes me with no small irony that they both have "food" names, especially since they, like me, love great food and have little patience for or interest in bad food.
That's probably a big part of the reason they come to visit me twice a year here in the great food town that is Charleston on their seasonal treks to and from their dual homes in Kansas City and Naples, FL. They've been doing that for the decade I've lived here. It's hard for me to believe that Herb is now 77, Hen is now 75, and I'm now 45. Maybe it's the passage of time, maybe it's the irrepressible knock of mortality on our collective consciousness' door, or maybe it's just the growing pool of wisdom that comes with time, but each time they come, we seem to have more fun, learn more, and eat more. And, perhaps most importantly, try and be more patient and kind, as hard as that can oddly be with those you love most.
They just left here yesterday after a four-day whirlwind of "Doin' The Charleston" which, for us, meant long walks, big breakfasts (at home) and an indulgent round of restaurant dining. The hardest part was, like always, selecting where to go. Hen has her favorites (Magnolia and Hominy Grill) and is loathe to depart from the tried and true, despite my desperate urgings to try something new. Herb is a bit more adventurous, but embraces Charleston Grill as his long-standing "night out" restaurant. So, all of these (save Hominy Grill due to schedule logistic issues) made our list, and we threw Al di La into the mix, for good, Italian measure.
After a long morning walk, Magnolia was the first gustatory target on day one. Hen loves the linens and lovely look of the place; we all love it for its consistently delicious Southern flared food. The fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pepper biscuits, pan gravy and super fabulous collards was my selection. Herb and Hen were decidedly more restrained in their respective ahi ahi and flounder dishes. All was amazing and we were left pondering the amazing legacy Executive Chef Donald Barickman has left upon this town. His touch is everywhere and still graces the goodness at Magnolia.
Al di La's panini (especially the mozzarella, arugula and prosciutto variety), steaming creamy tomato soup, and shepherd's salad, all served with $7 off on all bottles of wine on a quiet Tuesday were the tasty precursors to the final coup de grace that lurked later that evening at Charleston Grill.
Is there a more beautiful dining room in all of Charleston? If so, I can only think of a few that come close. The deep, mahogany colored walls, multiple enclaves for Jonathon Green's artwork, and creamy upholstery all scream subtle sophistication in a decidedly Southern dialect. Mickey Bakst and his service staff make you feel like you're sailing first class on The Titanic. Not a single need goes unnoticed. And then, there is Michelle Weaver. Maybe one of the most behind-the-scenes, and publicly under-regaled chefs in town, Michelle does indeed weave magic. Her new tasting menu and recent additions to the standing menu - most notably the foie gras with a mascarpone cream nestled on sauteed apples and served with fryer-hot beignets - is worth a trip alone. The heirloom tomato salad (pictured above) burst with farm-fresh flavor and texture in Hen's mouth, while Hen and Herb both savored Charleston Grill's show-stopping crab cakes. All breads were warm and fresh from the oven, but the flavor that is not to be missed is the almost cake-like cornbread muffins, that sparkle with little golden gems of fresh corn.
Watch out, world! Charleston just keeps on getting better and consistently sets the most joyful stage imaginable for my familial visits. Thank you, thank you for all of you out there who make it happen! We all were walking with a heavier step and lighter hearts by the time Herb and Hen pulled out of the train station early yesterday morning. And, we'll savor all the memories forever. That's the greatest gift of all.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Today I had the pleasure of visiting and shooting in Helene DuJardin's light-filled studio. We shot pictures of prepping, rolling and forming pie crust for the upcoming, drum roll please, Fall 2011 release of Southern Tart Reform. Those are my flour-dusted hands! Helene, the photographer and stylist for the book, is amazing. I loved chatting with her about the absolute uselessness of crazy kitchen gadgets and the purity of home-made pastry.
Tart, tarting away. Thank you, Helene.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
This week, I experienced a series of firsts. My first foray into West Virginia, my first visit to The glorious Greenbrier, and my first attendance at The Symposium for Professional Food Writers, a combination writing workshop, meet and greet among other food writers and awards/scholarship ceremony.
I had high expectations for all three, beginning with West Virginia. I was literally humming John Denver's Country Roads and thinking about "almost heaven" during the eight hour drive to Sulphur Springs from Charleston, SC. And, it was glorious. Life does feel older than the seas there. The softened curves of the ancient mountains cushion the valleys from the impatience and noise of modern day life and the air smells sweet, of sun and pine.
My father and many friends had warned me that I would be blown away by The Greenbrier. They were right. A hulking mass of white columns and startling high ceilings, it took my breath away upon first sight. It was like The Shining, minus the snow and the ghosts. The interior glows with an eclectic mish-mash of powder blues, pine greens, fuchsia, blood red and busy wallpaper designs that somehow work visual magic in a way that could only work here. The endless halls echo with palpable American history and the surroundings sweep you away with their beauty. My first morning there, a heavy cloud-bank swaddled the rooftop of the old building, just as the sun rose. It felt as if I'd accidentally caught the old girl stealing a nap and startled her into the new day.
And what a day it was, in fact what an amazing three days it was. I've been to award ceremonies before and I've been to writing workshops before. While pleasant, they're usually thinly veiled excuses for excessive partying and ugly ego battles. Though there was some partying, very little ego and so much more.
A star cast of pure talent from the publishing world, including "fonts" from newspaper, magazines and books, was on hand to generously share crystal clear and pertinent advice for food writers in today's ever-changing publishing world. Humor and unselfish giving of practical advice was as omnipresent as the delicious food and gorgeous flower arrangements. There was a genuine sense of appreciation for the unique challenges and opportunity our respective careers demand and afford; a kind of kinship that quickly forged its way into friendships with participants from around the world.
Much of the credit for this feeling of genuine camaraderie has to go to Symposium Director Antonia Allegra. Besides having arguably the best name on the planet, she also has a sincere love of the industry and exudes an almost maternal warmth, deep wisdom, and kindness. Like the cloud-bank clinging to The Greenbrier that early Monday morning, the "Allegra effect" touched everything and everyone in a way that made this symposium more than an opportunity to learn and to network, but a heart-touching memory of a lifetime.
Thank you, Antonia, and everyone involved in making The 2010 Symposium for Professional Food Writers at The Greenbrier everything that it was. It was, indeed, almost heaven.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
My lesson yesterday, as I was testing recipes for what turned out to be a slew of tasty tarts (a Rhubarb/Dried Apricot Free Form Tart and a Creamy Fresh Crab and Salmon Quiche), was that pastry can be too cold to roll. It is contrary to the technique that's been pounded into my head since forever, including when I used to shiver my way through Parisian winter pre-dawn mornings in a frigid work room making croissants with a talented pastry chef named Celeste. My fingers were so blue that one day, when I accidentally slammed one of them in a stainless steel cabinet, I didn't feel the pressure that nearly cut off my frozen fingertip. It was a cold, hard reminder why fat in pastry needs to be cold. This is because cold butter or lard makes it easier to handle the pastry and keeps the fat in tact, distributed in chunks throughout the flour, that will ensure extra flaky pastry.
The long holiday weekend provided me with an opportunity to refrigerate/rest pastry I'd prepped on Friday for three full days. Impatient to get started yesterday, I removed the pastry from the refrigerator and slowly started preparing it to be rolled out by giving long, pressing taps to the pastry with my rolling pin. The butter balls within the pastry were so hard that they cracked in spots, making for a rocky rolling road. Next time around, I'll let the pastry sit for 10 - 15 minutes before giving it a whack.
The good news is that, despite the slightly uneven edges of the quiche crust, everything tasted delicious. I particularly enjoyed the Rhubarb and Apricot Tart/Tartlets, which present a delicious taste and visual ode to the late summer pink rhubarb stalks and the fall-like, deep orange hues and chewy texture of the dried apricots. I use pre-made puff pastry here, which is so much more exceptional than it used to be and makes really beautiful little tartlets with a lot less pain and time. Oh, and the box reminds you to thaw the dough ahead of time so it's not too crisp to unfold and flatten. Here's the recipe:
Rhubarb and Apricot Tartlets
(Makes 8 Tartlets)
1 package (two squares) Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets
For the filling:
5 cups coarsely chopped rhubarb (about 5 stalks, trimmed)
1 cup water
1 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried Valencia orange peel
Egg wash - 1 yolk, pinch salt, splash water, combined
Optional garnish: 1/2 cup slivered almonds or 1/2 cup whole, dried apricots
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine all of the filling ingredients in a medium pot. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down and is tender, about 30 minutes. It should have the consistency of a thick stew. Turn the warm mixture out into a bowl and refrigerate until cold. (Note: The filling can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator).
To compile the tarts, line a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Lightly flour your working surface with flour. Arrange the thawed pastry sheets on the surface, and using a 6" wide round pastry cutter, cut them into rounds. Place the pastry, spacing evenly, on the prepped pastry sheet. Fill the center with 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling, being sure to leave a 1/2" thick border of "naked" pastry. This will rise up around the filling as it bakes! Brush the bare pastry lightly with the egg wash. If desired place a dried apricot in the center or drizzle the filling with some slivered almonds. Bake until the pastry is brown and beautiful and puffy, about 15 minutes.
These tarts are delicious fresh out of the oven and are also delicious served cold or at room temperature. They pair famously with best quality vanilla ice cream.
Happy tarting! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or leave a comment here.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
About a week ago, I tuned into Oprah, and stumbled upon a show about people that were over-done with fake embellishments of every kind, mostly, it seems, because they had no sense of self or identity. Carson Kressley, make-under master extraordinaire, was on hand to de-puff and de-fluff, working wonders in the process.
Tristan, a decade-long standing powerhouse of culinary excellence that has exercised the muscles of talented chefs from Ciaran Duffy to Aaron Deal, has seemingly undergone a like-minded transition. The restaurant unveiled its "re-launch" on August 13.
I've often wondered, with all its wonders - great setting, marvelous staff, fabulous food - why Tristan hasn't automatically jumped out as a must-do in this city of all things delicious. Maybe, like Oprah's lost souls, Tristan was lacking a sense of self, too. Now, in its most naked and purest form to date, Tristan shines brighter than ever, especially in the hands of its latest maestro, Executive Chef Nate Whiting.
Gone are some of the things, I must admit, I liked. The sheer curtains that wrapped around the dining room, the zinnias that smiled prettily at the center of every table, and much of the bright, jangled art work. What's left is a pure, open space that invites peace, quiet and sophisticated dining. Gone, too, is the access to Market Street, no doubt to keep out the wandering, curious tourist masses that sometimes clogged this space in days' past. What's left is a peaceful, downtown dining enclave with freshly re-upholstered dining chairs and vanilla-hued table linens. And, the free, convenient valet parking is still intact.
Whiting, in just eight months, has composed a menu that is all his own. His style, like his smile, is refreshingly unfettered, unpretentious, slightly shy, and pure. Diners now can pick from a four course (2 appetizers, main course and dessert) prix fixe ($50), all selected from the new menu, or run rampant, selecting from the generous (but not overly done)a la carte menu.
Oven warm, house made sourdough rolls and fresh focaccia begged for the room temp butter it was served with and the warm weather-winner of an amuse bouche, a citron and fresh vanilla bean gelatin topped with cream and pine nuts, that followed was lovely. Both helped set the stage for what proved to be a most stellar evening of dining. Settled into the comfortable deep blue, deep-seated banquettes that line the dining room, my dining companion and I were charmed with the easy knowledge and banter of our server, who picked wines he felt "reflected" the tasting evolution of each dish we were about to savor. He hit the mark every single time and did so in a way that was absolutely not pedantic, yet absolutely endearing. A rare quality, indeed, and oh, so very welcome.
Whiting's pared down the froth and foam of Tristan's former She-Crab Soup ($8), fattening it up with pure lobster stock (the kind made from the shells that you can really taste) and beefing it up with authenticity. One of the best in the city, it was served at the perfect temperature over a cluster of fresh crab. Heaven could not get closer to earth in either the Roasted and Raw Beet Salad ($8) or the Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes salad ($8). The former, a composed salad of raw and roasted beet perfection, was artfully arranged, with whisper thin slices of veined purple and white beets here and roasted wedges of others, there, served over a whipped bed of tart/sweet local artisanal goat cheese and topped with chunky bites of salty, roasted pistachios. The latter flaunted fat, tempting chunks of multi-hued, skinless, plum-full-of-flavor heirloom tomatoes, a delicate mustard emulsion, a fat chunk of warm, tempered house-made mozzarella, and Lilliputian, super-crunchy, buttery croutons, rendering it one of the best things I've eaten all year. Bar none!
A refreshing and welcome intermezzo of peach and sage sorbet, served in Willy Wonka-like tilting, tiny bowls introduced just the right whimsical touch and gustatory invitation to the main course.
It may sound humble, "Diver Scallops (with) Scallop Mousse, Mustard Emulsion, Sauteed Asparagus & Prosciutto ($28), but it knocked beautifully on the door of perfection, yet once again. Whiting procures his scallops from a trusted fisherman in Maine, and do they deliver in the freshness and flavor department. Whiting's extreme skill is evident not just in the pillow-like, yet toothsome girth of his pretty scallop mousse balls, but in the temperature/browning balancing act he puts to work in the searing and cooking process of the scallops. This plate is a Tristan mandate that is not to be missed. I was less enamored with the beef short ribs ($27), but maybe I was still stuttering in the afterglow of those scallops.
A silky, gently chocolate pot de creme, served in a see-through, tiny glass pot and topped with chunks of Fleur de Sel, was gorgeous with a taste of the cherry sorbet and stewed, warm cherries served with it. Our able, welcome server, described the order to consume it, and he was right. It was a one, two, three punch winner that carried me into dream-land that night.
Tristan's on a new path of individuality, successfully corralling a concert of talent like it never has before. It was similar to seeing a good, old, slightly over-done friend in an all new, modern and super-enhancing light. I think it would do Carson proud. I know it did me. Bravo, Tristan.
10 Linguard Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Monday, August 16, 2010
It looks a lot harder, takes a lot longer, and is a lot more expensive to make cooking look easy and real on television than it does is in my own recipe testing kitchen. I thought teaching and cooking for cooking classes was tough enough, something a friend once aptly described as similar to scratching your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. But, as decorated chef (formerly of Charleston Grill) Bob Waggoner recently demonstrated at a (mostly) live taping of his soon-to-air television series, U Cook! with Chef Bob, this is a wholly different kind of cooking beast.
The studio is housed in a huge old warehouse off Highway 162, deep in the bowels of Lowcountry country, which was cringing under the oppressive weight of the brutal August heat last week when I was invited to attend as a guest. Wine was being poured at 10 a.m. as a group of about 40 people waited in the holding tank prior to the show. I ambled off to find water instead, and it was then that I came upon the prep staff in the rear off of what I would soon learn was the studio. It was the portable version of a restaurant prep staff. There was Bob, working alongside his sous chef Jason Houser, peeling carrots and turning turnips. It was hot and the pressure was on, not unlike a real kitchen, I thought, but definitely not as convenient. For one things, the tables were very low. Both Bob and Jason, being tall men, had to hunch over and bend low to reach their cutting boards. In fact, they were prepping not just for Bob's show, but for the lucky audience members who would be offered a taste, gratis, near the end of the taping.
Soon, we were merrily guided to our round, petite tables, which were decorated with fine linens, cutlery, glasses and plates. More wine arrived and the taping began. Due to an "equipment malfunction," Bob was forced to repeat his agreeable opening comments three times. Heat was building fast as the fans were turned off in advance of the taping, and the cooking. A make-up girl with a plumber-like tool kit wrapped around her waist, enters, as if on cue, and powders the chef's face. Neither the 86'd fans or the make-up would ever make it into a real kitchen, let me tell you!
Still, Bob's a natural and his humor was on high as he walked and talked his guests and his audience through the steps of making an emulsified, cold grapefruit and avocado soup, which was absolutely impeccable. A mystery, never-to-be-identified malfunction of another sort took place, not shortly after this. It led to approximately a 2 hour long, wine-induced haze of a wait for the audience, while Bob patiently chatted with his producers and guests.
But the show, as they say in the biz, must go on, and ultimately, it did. Bob worked with his assistant to create squab seared in butter and served with a bacon, shallot, thyme and Bordeaux sauce. Though patient and kind, it was clear that his well-practiced boning skills were aching to come out to cut-away the breast from the rib-cage of the baby pigeon as his young assistant labored over the task. He showed her how to tip and then toss the beautiful baby vegetables that were eventually served with the squab and how to pluck thyme from its stem. Quickly, a stage-hand took the seared squab from the (fake) stage oven, and ran it off to the prep area where it would finish in a real oven.
Another pregnant wait as our still unfed (save some cookies and crackers that were generously provided) and mildly sodden bellies rumbled into the early afternoon, and the squab returned, all pink and pretty and ready to be plated. The assistant did the plating as Bob looked on, expertly tasting and finishing all the seasoning. Next, Bob was seated with his assistant and her friend as they finally dig in and eat what they've prepared.
Then, we all ate. Here's the most unreal part of it all. Despite all of the unnatural contortions for a natural, professional real- life chef, the food was amazing. The squab, tender, meaty and gamy, dressed with a generous mild sauce and al dente vegetable gems, was perfect, and served at just the right temperature. And, none of it had to be, not for television. It just HAD to look good. But, Bob and his staff, despite all the distractions, made it happen. Bet the food doesn't taste this good on Rachel Ray's set!
Bob's show is currently scheduled to start airing on Public Television affiliate stations across the country this November. For more information, visit http://www.ucookwithchefbob.com/
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Today, in the heart of August heat, a heavy wave of rain and dark, cooling skies presented an unexpected and perfect day for braising tough meats for tender pies. In the photo, a braised artisinal pork shank stewed with fresh figs, and finished with sweet spring onions and cubes of sweet potatoes. The exotic aromas of cinnamon and cloves danced through my kitchen while I finished the second recipe test for Pot au Feu Pot Pies. These showcased long, slow braised grass- fed pot roast (cut) beef from River Run Farms here in SC, and local, seasonal carrots, baby potatoes and heirloom grape tomatoes from Charleston's farmers' market. Hot pepper flakes and a final splash of ketchup really perked things up. These will be featured in my upcoming book, "Tarts", to be published by Gibbs Smith and photographed by Helene Dujardin. As always, bon appetit, and happy weekend.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Rimo's a native of Lyon, France and a recent recipient of the rare and much coveted Master Chef of France (Maitre Cuisinier de France) award. A recent visit to FISH proves that awards follow excellence, not the other way around. Rimo's brand new summer menu is awash in fresh and local goodness, one of FISH's most ardent and enduring mantras since day one. Somehow, Rimo brings it all to a new level with a simple menu of petite plates, dim sum, cheese plates, soup/salads, a short list of sides and "large plates," each of which reflect his love of all preparations Asian and French.
His infusion of the two marry beautifully across the board, but dock especially neatly in the dim sum (choose four for $6) berth of the menu. A creamy, almost French center of chunky crab wrapped by a crisp, super hot wonton is nestled in a pert, plum sauce. Arranged beautifully on a long, rectangular white plate divided into four sections, it competed for attention with a cold, ultra crisp and fresh spring roll in a verdant pool of cilantro and mint and a mellow balloon of steamed Chinese bun filled with butter-tender shards of duck confit. Execution of each of the dim sum and their sauces was of the highest caliber.
These were preceded with a small basket, lined with a reproduction of a French newspaper, of freshly fried bread. The bread tasted like a combination of brioche and beignet and melted like hot pockets in my mouth, kicked into an even higher gear with the cayenne laced, fruity dipping sauce. Fun yet contained, this is one of the sweetest, most whimsical bread baskets around town.
Fresh from the sea scallops ($20) is a must-have dish here. The summer menu's version has the virginal white gems perched atop a bed of coconut rice and peas with an impeccable, fragrant beurre blanc. I also enjoyed the naked fish (market price), a fat wedge of firm, buttery black grouper over a bed of sauteed wild mushrooms threaded with crisp, fresh green beans.
The addition of extra seating in FISH's most recent renovation is welcome. The large dining room off to the right of the entrance is awash with sophisticated, cooling maritime touches, including a wave of cobalt blue votive candles arranged on one wall, and muted mirrors on another. Comfortable banquettes, sporting a checkered pattern of cream and aqua-hued patches are sophisticated and comfortable and flank the dining room with a welcome hush that's suited for a quiet, romantic dinner as much as a night out with friends.
FISH offers an abbreviated yet complex wine menu with something for all tastes and budgets and the excellent staff proves its knowledge in pairing with well-trained panache and a refreshing air of pleasantry.
442 King Street, downtown Charleston
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
As reliable as blueberries in June and corn in July, Ryan Kacenjar can be found roaming the aisles of the Charleston Farmers Market early every Saturday morning. Clad in his chef's jacket with notepad in hand and creativity in mind, the Swamp Fox Restaurant Chef de Cuisine seeks out just the right stuff for the Farmers Market Dinner. He prepares these dinners every Saturday night during farmers market season at the restaurant, which is situated in the Francis Marion Hotel, a stone's throw from the farmers market itself.
I ran into him last Saturday, a full year since I first found out about his market inspired menu, and found him fawning over Kennerty Farm heirloom carrots, his eyes bright, his smile wide, and his enthusiasm infectious. "I love shopping at and cooking from the market," Kacenjar said. I mentioned to him that I've been meaning to sample his market fare, and decided that it would be the perfect dinner event to share with some out of town guests I was hosting for the weekend. So, we made reservations right there at the market and anticipated the meal for most of the day.
The restaurant looks like you might expect; a kind of half-way house between a hotel guest breakfast buffet and a casual evening dining space. Clean and attractive, however, it also boasts very pleasant live jazz piano music on Friday and Saturday evenings. Our service was very efficient and our waitress was friendly and professional.
True to form, the four course ($29 each) market menu showcased many of the same gems we'd spied at the market that morning. The first course soup prepared with roasted, pureed red beets from Owl's Nest Farm was stunning in its simplicity and perfect execution. The lightly seasoned broth tasted purely of the sweetness of red beets and was brilliant in color. Chef Kacenjar topped it with thin slices of roasted yellow beets, house cured Atlantic Salmon and a dollop of Tiverton Farm garlic chive creme fraiche. Kacenjar's butter and honey enriched corn bread was served hot in mini-cast iron skillets and was an idyllic foil to the idyllic soup.
The "house" pimento cheese was served too cold to really taste and had a decidedly non-farmers market, mass-produced look to it, but it got some tasty local flavor injection from Raychelle's Fresh Pickle Works pickled vegetable garnishes.
The dinner was completed with thick, marinated then seared wedges of roasted River Run Farm beef served with the carrots the chef had been raving about that morning, and orbs of sweet, delicious potatoes and butter-tender roasted eggplant. Dessert ended a delightful evening with rich slices of pound cake baked with sweet/tart Owl's Nest Plums and Shuler Farm nectarines sandwiching a fluffy vanilla bean Chiboust.
All in all, good stuff and definitely worth a Saturday night special visit. Kacenjar's palpable enthusiasm for his hard work adds an extra sweetness to the pot for no extra fee, and then, there is that lovely piano music and views of beautiful Marion Square. The regular menu is also available and it includes a version of chicken 'n dumplings that would put some grandmothers' cooking to shame.
Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar
The Francis Marion Hotel
337 King Street, downtown Charleston
Reservations are requested.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
It's ironic that I write cookbooks and recipes for a living. That's because I don't really believe in them, at least not as a set of rules, but rather as a template for cooking. I'm adamant about that. It's not really cooking when you're burying your nose in a flour-covered book by your cutting board. That's following directions. Real cooking, and the fun and the art of cooking, is free-flow creation. The first step towards getting there is understanding basic formulas/ratios and technique. The "big picture", as I call it, first came together for me at Le Cordon Bleu. But, there are other sources for home cooks to learn these instrumentals whether it be cookbooks (my new favorite is Ratio by Michael Ruhlman) or local cooking classes. I'm constantly urging anyone who asks to go there, because that's when the fun really begins.
For me, the most inspiring source for recipe creation and cooking is the weekly farmers market here in Charleston. Last Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of leading a group of 11 students through stands rife with ripe blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and all the delicious fresh gems of a hot South Carolina June.
I felt like the pied piper leading my merry little band of curious cooks to find the perkiest produce to make into a meal once we returned to Charleston Cooks! for the actual class. We put our heads together at each stop, deciding what we each liked and wanted to prepare. We came back with blueberries, blackberries, lemon cucumbers, baby heirloom tomatoes, a bundle of fresh basil, spring onions, artisinal four cheese ravioli, fresh corn, patty pan squash, flounder, goat cheese, and squash blossoms. Thankfully, my able assistants Emily and Season (don't you just love that name?) were on hand to help us carry it all.
Back at the school, it was time to get cooking. We grouped the products together in little piles for each dish I envisioned as I was driving back to the school. The menu ended up being a blackberry/blueberry pie with fresh whipped cream, Corn, Bacon and Green Onion Chowder, Flash Cooked Tomato Basil Sauce for the ravioli, Chevre-Stuffed Squash Blossoms, Pickled Lemon Cucumbers, and Sauteed Flounder with Patty Pan Squash. Everyone of my motley crew, which ranged in age from 14 to 60+ and who came from all over, got into the act. Each one was so excited to cook with what we had found at the market. This is part of what makes farmers market shopping so thrilling. You do the shopping and make the decisions and then you have the joy of cooking and then eating it! By the end of the two-hour class, we all got to experience that together. And, I think the students got one step closer to more enjoyable, more delicious cooking.
As you travel down a similar path, consider using your local farmers market as your culinary muse. Pick only what's freshest and seasonal and also something you like. Sometimes, consider picking something new, too. Then, think about what products make sense in a flavor/texture marriage. Plug in your imagination and as much technique as you possess and you're pretty much ready to roll.
194 East Bay Street
Charleston Farmers Market
Marion Square, downtown
Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., April - December
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday afternoons at Le Cordon Bleu were always my favorite days when I was a student there. That's because Wednesday was kids day. In Paris, kids under a certain age get Wednesday afternoon off from school. Every Wednesday, a parade of peppy kids would bounce through the hallowed halls of LCB to cook, stir, and get their hands into food - real food, not the processed kind.
I loved watching the chefs working with them through the glass of my "pratique" kitchen. Everyone was always having a great time and I got such a thrill out of seeing children understand the joy of cooking, and consequently the joy of eating. They were developing a respect for food that will likely last them a life time, and, in a way that some might consider ironic, not a single one of these kids was overweight.
I don't think it's ironic at all. In my mind, introducing kids to different types of fresh foods and to hands-on food preparation is one of the biggest keys in preventing rampant over-eating. That's because, in this way, many good things naturally happen. Kids develop a palate and desire for fresh vegetables and a well-balanced diet, cooking for them is fun, and food is not a foe or an enemy that has to be analyzed and dissected. They learn that food and cooking is a pleasure, and like all pleasures, it should be balanced and not abused.
That's why I was absolutely thrilled to join Louis Yuhasz and a group of ten children participating in his Louie's Kids organization last week in preparing a healthy cooking class/dinner. The non-profit, Charleston-based group is dedicated to helping obese kids lose weight through diet, education, exercise, and more. Louis gathered his biggest weight-loss winners last week to celebrate their victory at a glamorous (generously donated) beach house on Isle of Palms, to play and run on the beach, and to cook and eat with me and my assistant, Sharon.
Watching the kids views on foods evolve through the 40-minute cooking class was fascinating. One girl stated an emphatic "I hate squash!" when I told her we would be working with spaghetti squash to go with the fresh tomato sauce that was also on the menu. I heard a few sighs when the kids saw the whole wheat pasta, too. But, as soon as we got underway and everyone got involved either in chopping or talking and asking questions, imaginative doors started opening and the excitement mounted as we started plating the food. By the end, everyone was talking so excitedly and loudly that I couldn't hear myself talk.
Out went the pasta (two types - wheat and rice), squash, a green salad with a fresh orange vinaigrette, garlic butter and bread, and fruit salad tossed with honey and lemon over Greek yogurt. The best part for a chef like me was to see that the kids were ecstatic about the food. The oldest, a high school student named John, exclaimed, "Miss Holly that's the BEST salad I've ever had. When I'm rich and famous I want you to be my personal chef."
That was great enough, but to have several others tell me they were going to cook these dishes at home, was the best. I left that house feeling as joyful as I did watching kids cook at LCB, maybe even more so. And, guess what, everyone sampled the squash. Not just because Louis encouraged them to do so, but because they wanted to.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
As a bona fide Francophile and huge fan of warm, fresh bread and pastries, I couldn't be happier to have these perfect and much-needed additions to Charleston's culinary choices. Beautiful bubbles of fresh, endlessly flaky puff pastry practically call "Pick me!" out loud from their pretty glass cases. The apple turnover and pain au chocolat I sampled were simply impeccable - a light as air, artfully compiled, and easily the best in town.
Chef Rizzo was buzzing about in his kitchen, peaking in and out from time to time to chat with customers. One of these, a Euro-type dressed all in black entered with a breezy "bonjour" and then asked, in English, if the restaurant served coffee. "Non," was the proud but polite response. Why, asked the Euro-type? "Because I don't think it's my job." Simple enough. Apparently, Chef Rizzo would rather invest his time and energy in perfecting his pastries than steaming lattes prepared with 2% milk and faux sugar.
If you're aching for one of the shop's exquisite macaroons, don't come in on Tuesday morning, as I did. The shop is closed on Monday and they were not yet out of the oven. Macaroon choices include almond, caramel, chocolate, coconut, hazelnut praline and more and come in a pack of assorted flavors (6 small, $6.60, 2 large, $4).
Seeking a taste of Paris without leaving home? The Macaroon Boutique should be your first stop.
45 John Street
Charleston, SC 29403
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
With visions of "Sou-eee" and rampant swine running through my head, I set off with my driver (he called me "Miss Daisy") on the three hour trek from the Lowcountry of Charleston to the highlands of Chester, situated just south of Charlotte and Rock Hill. It occurred to us on the way up, that we better reserve lodging, as there was no way of knowing how hard hit the Chester hotels might be with the porcine-themed event. The Chamber of Commerce recommended a B & B called "An Inn on York Street." I called, a British woman answered, and the reservations were made.
We arrived to find a gorgeous, white 19th century building (and former sanatorium)with a sweeping, deep lawn and a virtual forest of pecan trees. Innkeeper Sandie Woodier greeted us with a warm hug and a welcome. After she showed us (and my little dog Tann Mann) to the room, she recommended The Summit as the place to go to eat. Off we went into the bowels of this beautiful former mill town to sup on New York Strip, baked potatoes, salad and the gentile graces of the staff.
A good night's sleep (thankfully minus any crazy ghosts) on the inn's gargantuan European beds fitted with lux linens, and the pig-calling day was upon me. Sandie, who's happily married to a fruit distributor known as The Berry King of Manchester, sated our hunger with a breakfast of stewed, spiced plums with sour cream, open-faced avocado and bacon sandwiches, blueberry pockets, and fresh orange juice and coffee topped with frilly, lace British bonnets. Off to the hog calling and signing it was then, just 1/2 mile away in the center of this tiny town with big charm.
Upon arrival,I was whole-heartily greeted by one of the festival organizers and leader of the local 4-H pack to prep the Sweet Onion and Corn Chowder and Butter Bean Bruschetta featured in Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. As I cooked, I met the armada of young folks who eventually helped me lug the books and all of the food up the hill for the tasting and signing. Rap music pulsed in the background as we set up. I introduced myself and the books and talked a bit about both as the small group of about twenty persons tasted away. One of my 4H camp declared that the soup tasted like pizza, which made me smile. I suggested it might have something to do with the thyme seasoning in the soup. He assured me he would make it at home, which also made me smile. Some twenty books signed and a trip back down to the hill later, and I was on my way. The only regret was that I had missed the hog calling contest which had occurred earlier that morning and had involved no pigs, but only people calling them.
After wrapping things up at the Inn, it was on to Greenville, which proved to be a verdant, exquisite city, complete with a waterfall and Reedy River running through it. We ate dinner at a new restaurant, The Nantucket, at the new Marriott situated in the heart of the small town in the heart of its annual Artisphere art festival. People were everywhere and the energy level was high.
The Cook's Station, a beautifully appointed cooking school and gourmet retail shop downtown, was my destination the following morning. The folks here did a fine job whipping up Crave's tapenade and hummus and Baked's brownies, both featured in Charleston Chef's Table for the book signing that afternoon. Folks flocked around to eat the food, as I sat downwind of a very smokey barbecue pit and smiled and signed. I got the strong sense that people were more interested in the food than the books, but I none the less sold a good amount of books and met a lot of nice folks from all over.
Just goes to show you, you never, ever know what to expect. On the way home, I discovered one of the Upstate's best kept secrets. Sphinx's fried chicken. A gas station and retail store chain, it serves some of the crispiest, freshest, most flavorful chicken on the Upstate side of South Carolina.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
As I sit back and reflect upon the select moments and meals of the 2010 BB&T Charleston Wine & Food Festival which concluded yesterday afternoon, I have a similar feeling. As seamlessly, joyously and deliciously as everything flowed over the past 3 1/2 days, it's even more perfect basking in the afterglow of the past.
Considering the epic planning required to pull off such a huge event with such aplomb is mind-boggling, yet Angel Postell and her talented team did it without so much as a glitch, despite the fact that this has been the most attended and ambitious festival since its inception five years ago.
My early perspective on this festival was from the demonstration tent where I worked with Ciaran Duffy and an energetic group of volunteers to get the kitchen set up and the demonstration food prep organized and underway for the visiting chefs. Far from the glitz and glam of Bubbles 'N Sweets, it is none-the-less the heart and soul of the festival - a kind of glorified camp kitchen. Despite some late food deliveries towards the end of last week, Duffy ironed out the glitches and made it happen, so successfully that many volunteers (including myself) were excused to go play.
So, play I did. I visited the tasting tents and ate some delicious food and drank ample quantities of wine. I saw old friends and met some new ones. I appreciated the gradual warming temperatures and early bloom of spring in Charleston. I was awed by the talent, precision and passion of culinary genius Daniel Boulud as I, the luckiest person on the planet, watched him prepare a world-class feast for 65 lucky guests at an exclusive fund-raising dinner on Saturday night.I savored beautiful music and a gorgeous plate of pink duck breast with a sweet, pungent blood orange sauce and a square of crepes layered between seasoned, cream cheese from The Dining Room at The Woodland's during the Gospel Brunch on Sunday morning. I signed a lot of books!
Of all these (well, with the possible exclusion of the Boulud experience), I think it was the vignettes of people, especially chefs and locals, interacting and enjoying the festival and themselves that made it an especially unified and wonderful festival. McCrady's Sean Brock and Cypress's Craig Deihl strolling down the central path on Marion Square, heads bent in quiet, friendly banter, for example. Or, Hank's Frank McMahon laughing with Robert's of Charleston's Robert Dickson about the good old days when he started out in Robert's kitchen - a vignette made even sweeter in knowing the veteran singing chef is retiring in June, 2010.
They just kept coming and made me smile knowing that Charleston has become what she's always been destined to be - one of the best food towns around populated with some of the most talented and convivial chefs around. Thank you to the BB&T Wine & Food Festivals for providing me and nearly 20,000 others so many delicious memories to enjoy for the rest of my days, or at least until the next round in 2011.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Mixed up no more, Halo truly does shine, largely due to the talents of long-standing Meredith food stylist and chef, Angela McCrovitz. Her eye for details is evident in the luscious spread of pastries, breads, cakes, cookies, scones and more, scattered like edible treats in the way only an accomplished stylist can do - it's a kind of visual food seduction. She mans the busy counter taking orders that stream in through the front door and just keep coming through lunch time. It can get a bit crammed at the door, but service is quick and fluid enough that time here passes quickly. Ample seating upstairs in the antique Charleston single house structure is comfortable and delivers an inviting respite from the more bustling experience below.
It's tough to sink one's teeth into the menu, it's so expansive, encompassing breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches and all of those aforementioned desserts. There are also several kid-friendly and gluten-free options. Selection frustration only grows with the realization that sandwiches can be stacked on myriad bread selections, including pretzel roll, country white, stratia rye, vegetable wheat, croissant and vegetable wrap - all made in-house. Of these, the pretzel roll, a dark tan globe of chewy, dewy bread with a dense crust is the best. It's a knock-out backdrop for Halo's heavenly lobster roll ($7.99, served with chips and a pickle), prepared with fat chunks of lobster tossed with crisp cubes of celery, a light binding of mayo and little more. As delicious as the bread is, The sandwich could stand to beef up a bit on the filling, but was otherwise delicious.
The statuesque "mile high quiche" ($4.99 per slice) is a celestial wedge of fresh eggs with spinach, mushroom, feta and gobs of ricotta cheese wrapped with a thin, flaky layer of ricotta that no quiche-lover should miss.
Halo's not yet perfect. The service can be a little choppy and there are a few kinks in getting the food to the table, particularly upstairs. I wish they would bag the plastic cutlery. It's not very eco-friendly and it's tough to eat with plastic forks. However, Halo's young. I'm betting the hungry crowd from across the street will keep Halo's register happily ringing for a long time to come and that she'll just get better with time.
170 Ashley Avenue
Charleston, SC 29403
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
In so doing, they've brought a gorgeous bit of France home to roost in Charleston. The French take food and chocolate seriously. It is an art form for them, a way of nurturing body and soul. Paume makes chocolates more beautiful than I've ever seen in France - including the exquisite work of Pierre Herme - or anywhere in the world. His tempered delights receive hand-painted splashes of color from bright orange to deep lavender. They look like polished gems lined up in the tiny, ever-so-French shop on King Street, that charming Carly oversees. She'll hand-pick chocolates for you and delicately arrange them just so in their gorgeous red or chocolate-brown boxes.
But what to pick? An Earl Grey infused dark chocolate ganache painted robin's egg blue with tiny dots, lemon puree in a milk chocolate ganache painted sage green with pale brown speckles, or the lavender caramel with a dark chocolate shell wrapped around homemade caramel infused with lavender? Those are just three of over twenty choices, then there are the truffles and the chocolate sculptures. Of these, my particular favorite is the delicate, deep mauve pump trimmed with burgundy, the female shoe and chocolate lover's dream come true all in one tempting, beautifully wrapped, edible package.
Even non-chocolate crazies (and until visiting here, I counted myself as one of them) have to appreciate the labor of love and pure, unadulterated talent that is poured into each one of these beauties. It's an inspiration just to walk into these shop(s) and imagine the master alone, at work, in his chocolate factory, preparing each gorgeous chocolate. Then there is that first bite. It's like falling in love for the first time - sweet, heady, rich and beautiful.
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier
375 N. Shelmore Boulevard
Unit 1B, Mount Pleasant
365 1/2 King Street, downtown Charleston (across from Five Guys)
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
This, along with sushi and some steaming Japanese noodle soup specialties, is what Shi Ki has been steadily serving Charleston for the past nine years. Tucked in a corner at the busy East Bay shopping center, once inside, the mayhem of the crazy parking lot, East Bay Deli crowds, and Doe Pita's painful pacing (though delicious food), is instantly erased. Once you open the small door near the green awning, it's as, as if you've entered another world or another place. With lunch plates for $8 or less, it costs a whole lot less than a vacation, but it is equally relaxing.
Service is hushed, friendly and amazingly fast, yet I've never felt rushed here. The tinkle of Japanese music glitters in the background and there is always the sushi man to watch if you get bored. Seconds pass and the first course of the best $8 lunch you've ever had arrives - a steaming bowl of miso soup enriched with tiny nuggets of tofu and shards of seaweed. Before long a bento box, always stocked with a small, hot vegetable roll, crisp Asian salad with a curled carrot and fresh ginger dressing, a mound of hot, sticky rice, and a whole orange that's half-peeled arrives. At the center of the plate, it's your choice: beef/chicken/salmon/shrimp teriyaki, chicken katsu, etc., served on a reliably good and well-seasoned bed of sauteed cabbage, peppers and onions.
A sleeve of chopsticks and the thoughtful addition of silverware is gently placed alongside, and you're off into the world of non-worries and silence and deliciousness. Shi Ki always delivers the same thing and it's always welcome goods.
Shi Ki Japanese Restaurant
334 East Bay Street, downtown Charleston
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Culinary Cost-Cutting 101
When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.
It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.
The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like couponmom.com) which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.
Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.
The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!
My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"
Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.
One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals
With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.
In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).
For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.
Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!
Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!
Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.
Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!
Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.
Chicken never tasted so good for so little.