WINTER’S WHITE GOLD

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Like an anxious child, I start tearing through kitchen boxes that have been stored up for months. In the matter of moments, my winter white kitchen begins taking on a life of its own as copper and silver trays, amber glass bottles filled with spices and salts, countless mason jars, slicked cast-iron skillets, brass pots and nicked wood cutting boards settle into their proper places. The kitchen is set up just in time as a blizzard is forecasted to barrel through Nashville. Whenever you live in the South and snowfall is predicted, you equip yourself with essentials, which usually come in the form of bread and milk. In a storm one thing is certain, we must eat.

Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Slowly but surely, the dust begins to settle as I relax into a home we have been renovating for the past six months. Michael and I left the loft in Franklin and purchased a lovely fixer upper in the heart of Nashville. The house has been stripped down to the studs, and, finally, after many months of blood, sweat and tears, it’s beginning to feel like a home.

Purple Garlic | for the love of the south

The first click-click-click of the gas range seems to blow away any cobwebs. Armed with a beloved and dearly missed knife, I begin ripping through the centers of crisp white and pale green Belgian endive, also known as winter’s white gold. Deep green rosemary sprigs and pink papery jackets from purple garlic litter my table. Pulling out my cast-iron skillet is like reuniting with an old, loyal friend. No matter how much time has passed between the two of you, it’s like no time has passed at all. The endive starts to char in the skillet, and the bitter, crisp leaves sweeten and soften like silk petals. Lentil soup already at hand simmers away in a small copper pot on the back burner. In less than thirty minutes, I enjoy my first meal in my snow covered home.

Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

Buttery braised Belgian endives pair beautifully with comforting, familiar lentil soup. This is purely a vegetarian dish, yet the endives take on a “meaty” quality with help from the rosemary and garlic. Spoon a little of the leftover cream from the endives into the lentil soup, which adds richness, decadence and also ties the two dishes together wonderfully. If by chance you have any leftover endive, toss in an omelet or with pasta. You could also create another soup with the endive by sweating onions, garlic and braised endive in a pot, add stock, season, and simmer for twenty minutes. This is what I call home cooking: Picking up loose ends from one dish and tying them together with the next, forming an everlasting meal.

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive | for the love of the south

This post was created in sponsorship with Food 52 & Progresso. All thoughts and opinions belong to me!

Buttery Braised Belgian Endive:

Serves 4

4 Belgian endive

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup heavy whipping cream

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 rosemary sprigs

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Sea salt and black pepper, to season

Preheat oven to 400oF

Trim the ends of the endive and remove any discolored outer leaves. Cut in half lengthwise, and season the cut side of the endive lightly with sea salt.

Melt butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the endive, cut side down, and cook until golden, 2-5 minutes. Place the endive, browned sides up in a large, shallow baking dish. Add cream, garlic, and rosemary sprigs to the dish. Season lightly with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until the endive are tender. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

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BLESSING OF THE HOUNDS

Milk Punch | for the love of the south

The sun gently creeps over the recently harvested cotton fields of the North Alabama landscape. We pull onto a muddy road and make our way to a remote nook where fellow farmers and landowners are anxiously congregating. Polite conversations suddenly halt as the sound of horse hooves hitting the ground and dogs howling steal our attention. We race to the cleared field to observe this historic Southern ritual of the blessing of the hounds. Spirited speckled hounds with their ivory and chocolate colored coats happily lead the way to the alcove while still residing close to poised riders with crimson coats and deeply black helmets.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

It is as if I stepped back in time. A time when tradition was not only revered but cherished, when etiquette reigned above victory, and a decoration on an outfit spoke volumes about a person. A last name could be traced back generations in the mind of the person you are shaking hands with for the first time. It’s a time I’ll never truly know, but on this glorious morning, I am allowed to be part of its past just by being present.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

The horses and hounds gather in a horseshoe shape as they reach the alcove. Younger riders in black jackets remain in the back of the pack as the leaders in red coats are situated toward the front. Antique silver goblets, which are gracefully balancing on sparkling silver trays, are passed to each of the riders. Riders laugh and converse with one another as they enjoy their punch. The hounds stay close to the Master, who remains attentive in the front of the pack. The Master dons a bright red coat, a brass bugle and is positioned atop a beautiful snow-white horse with a braided mane.

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

A cheerful atmosphere quickly alters to pure reverence as the priest in his billowing white and purple robes walks to the middle of the clearing and begins to bless every rider, horse and hound that is to be part of the hunt. After the blessing, there is a brief silence, and then a sound from the bugle. They are off! Barking and galloping fills the little alcove once again, and the riders vanish around the clearing and into the woods.

With the sound of the hunt well in the distance, we begin to make our way back to our vehicles. Simultaneously, we begin checking our boots before getting into the car. A sweet man dressed in tan tartan top to toe laughed at us and said in a thick Welsh accent, “ If you find anything on the bottom of your boots, it means you’ll find luck!” I sat in the car for a moment and realized indeed, I was quite blessed!

Milk Punch | for the love of the south

Milk Punch

Makes 1 Cocktail

Note: This is a cocktail I imagine riders sipping as they relax on their horses before a morning hunt. This recipe is inspired by Brennan’s Milk Punch recipe in New Orleans. It is a straightforward recipe of this classic Southern cocktail.

To make simple syrup, stir together equal amounts of recently boiled water and granulated sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2 ounces brandy or bourbon

4 ounces half & half or milk

1 ounce simple syrup (See Note)

¼ ounce vanilla extract

Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Combine brandy, half & half, simple syrup and vanilla extract in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until frothy, and pour over a glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with grated nutmeg. Enjoy!

 

Blessing of the Hounds | for the love of the south

 

DRESSING ON THE SIDE

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing | for the love of the south

I grew up eating dressing at Thanksgiving, not stuffing. During the holidays, the term “stuffing” is reserved for a turducken, which is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, and finally, stuffed inside a deboned turkey. This may seem utterly absurd, but I think it reveals a Cajun’s sense of humor quite well. Stuffing is never an option during the holidays. The matriarchs of my clan know beyond a shadow of a doubt this splendid side dish tastes better as it bakes on the side of the turkey, not inside, like God intended. Our turkeys are either smoked on the barbecue or baked in a large bladder-like bag, which allows the aromatics from celery, onions and herbs to swirl and twirl around the turkey.

Bacon Cornbread | for the love of the south

For a while, I thought I was missing out on something special as every Thanksgiving feast in every Thanksgiving movie I ever saw had a mountain of golden breadcrumbs spilling out of a beautifully bronzed bird. As with all things commercial, the glitter inevitably fades and all that’s left is a void, in the case of stuffing, a bland void. Also, the cooks in my family reckon a pound of breadcrumbs lodged right smack dab in the middle of the bird means the turkey won’t cook properly, and an undercooked bird will put a damper on anyone’s holiday. These indiscretions are never spoken of but instead silently sidestepped.

Thanksgiving Prep | for the love of the south

I remember watching my mother prepare her delicious dressing. She would sneak some of the golden drippings from the roasting pan as the turkey rests under blankets of aluminum foil and kitchen towels covered in a strawberry print. She carefully combines cornbread, aromatics and bits of meat from the turkey’s wing until it reaches her ideal consistency, and this glorious pile of dressing is baked to perfection and is served at the right hand of the turkey. It’s creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside, just as it should be. Norman Rockwell wasn’t Southern, bless his heart. Maybe if he was Southern, the American standard might be smoking or deep-frying the big bird with dressing on the side for the holidays, or perhaps a turducken…

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing | for the love of the south

Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing

Serves 4-6

Note: This dressing combines my favorite elements of a lovely dressing: pork, cornbread, and crispy bits. Also, you can double the bacon cornbread recipe and make it ahead of time. That way, the cornbread will be done and dusted and will not take any precious real estate in your oven day of, and you can serve the extra batch of cornbread for breakfast with some whipped butter and coffee to hold you over until the big meal!

For the Cornbread:

4 
strips thick-cut bacon, finely chopped

2
 cups cornmeal

1 
teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 ¼ cups buttermilk

1
 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 450° F

Preheat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to for at least 10 minutes.

Put the bacon in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon onto a paper towel to drain. Reserve the fat in the skillet. (You should have about 5 tablespoons of bacon fat. If you don’t have enough fat, make up the difference with melted unsalted butter.)

Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bacon bits in a medium bowl. Combine 4 tablespoons bacon fat, buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine.

Move the 10-inch skillet from the oven, placing it heat on the stove over high heat. Add the reserved 1 tablespoon bacon fat and swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle!

Bake the cornbread for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and flip the cornbread in the skillet. This step stops the bottom of the cornbread from getting too dark and also allows the top to get nice and crispy as it cools completely in the cast-iron skillet.

 

For the Dressing:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish

1 cornbread recipe, broken into 1-inch pieces (4½ cups), recipe above

1 tablespoon olive oil

¾ pound pork sausage, casings removed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

1½ cups chicken broth, plus more if needed

1 large egg

2 tablespoons Tabasco Pepper Sauce or homemade pepper sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven 250°F

Butter a large rimmed baking sheet and scatter cornbread in a single layer onto the baking sheet. Bake, stirring often and rotating halfway through, until dried out, about 1 hour. Let cool. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until browned, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with cornbread.

Melt butter in same skillet with the sausage drippings; add onion, celery, garlic, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add to mixing bowl with the cornbread and sausage.

Grease 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch ceramic dish.

Whisk broth, egg and pepper sauce in a small bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Gently fold into cornbread and sausage mixture until thoroughly combined and the cornbread soaked up almost all of the liquid, taking care not to mash the cornbread too much. The dressing should be moist (but not soggy!), so add a few more tablespoons of broth to the mixture if it looks dry. Transfer to greased pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove foil and bake until the top is browned and crisp, 25-30 minutes. Serve hot!

FEELING FULL ON THANKSGIVING

Browned Butter Apple Tart | for the love of the south

There is something magical about this apple tart. It has the power to bring people together. It welcomes guests into my home with its nutty, sweet scent and deeply satisfies with silky layers of tender apple and golden, flaky crust. It’s rustic appearance and flaws are forgiven after one bite. And… It has a habit of disappearing…quickly, much like the holiday season itself. But for that reason, I desire even more to wallow in it.

Browned Butter Apple Tart | for the love of the south

I want to give thanks for every lovely ritual and morsel that crosses my lips and passes through my kitchen this season. Herb and butter rubbed and roasted turkey, the perfect roast potatoes, cornbread dressing, citrus studded cranberry sauce, creamed corn, sautéed collard greens, and this tart. I want them all. I especially want to give reverence to the dishes that show up only once a year. I want to revel in communion, the intimacy we participate in as we break bread around the table. I want people to enjoy this holiday of festive and guiltless overindulging, which is a celebration of living!

Browned Butter Apple Tart| for the love of the south

Last Thanksgiving after all the leftovers had been safely stashed in the fridge, I remember standing barefoot at the kitchen sink, one elbow deep in suds and the other hand quietly brushing away crumbs from my lips, which were the only remnants left from a piece of apple tart I had hidden under a bag of kale in the fridge. (This felt a sliver selfish. Just a sliver.) But I recall the distinct feeling of being expectant for a season, and now, standing in the hearth of the home, the kitchen, and feeling full in every sense of the word. That’s something to be grateful for.

Browned Butter Apple Tart | for the love of the south

So I hope your holiday plans are going well, your kitchen smells lovely and you are wallowing in the season! And I hope you plan on making this Brown Butter Apple Tart, which is one of the many dishes I brought to the Endless Table from Reynolds Kitchens. You can find this recipe over on Reynolds Kitchens along with countless recipes for Thanksgiving from lovely, inspiring friends!

Browned Butter Apple Tart | for the love of the south

Brown Butter Apple Tart

Note: I love serving this tart at the end of a heavy meal. Its light, flaky and deeply satisfying. Drizzle with Sea Salt Caramel if you desire!

Serves 4

For the crust:

1¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, chilled

½ cup cold water

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ cup ice cubes

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture. On low speed, combine all of the ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Make sure there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pea, and do not over blend.

In a small bowl combine cold water, vinegar and ice.

Tablespoon by tablespoon, add the ice water mixture to the flour and butter mixture, mixing in between additions. Add the water until the dough comes together into a ball. The dough should be smooth, not be sticky or crumbly. Shape into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to three days.

To Assemble:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise, seeds only

2 medium-sized apples, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425oF

In a small skillet over a low heat, add the butter and allow it to slowly melt and becomes lightly brown and nutty. Take off the heat and add vanilla seeds to the browned butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12×12-inch square. Place the crust on a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a piece of foil.

Arrange the apple slices onto the prepared crust in rows, fanning slightly as you go, making sure to leave a 1-inch border around the edges. Brush with the vanilla-infused brown butter. Sprinkle with the brown sugar. Fold up the edges of the tart over the sides of the apples, pressing down on at the edges. Brush the sides of the tart with the egg wash. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Rotate, decreasing the oven temperature to 375oF and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown around the edges. Slice into 4 generous slices and serve.

 

THE HAUNTED ROCKY HILL CASTLE & A GIVEAWAY

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Mulled Cider | for the love of the south

It was only a matter of time before I heard the story of the haunted Rocky Hill Castle. The story unfolds at the dinner table, where all the best stories are told. The antique silver candlesticks are laced with wax. The autumn breeze rustles the trees outside the dining room window. The spicy scent of mulled cider fills the air. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story. Now, I’m not one for ghost stories, but this one whet my appetite since it retells of a home that once belonged to my family in Alabama.

In the mid-1820’s, owner James E. Saunders built Rocky Hill Castle, which proudly sprawled across the rich red dirt and majestic cedars of Courtland, Alabama. Saunders was a man pricked with pride, which echoed in the grandeur of his plans for the Rocky Hill mansion. He hired an architect, who beautifully blended Greek Revival and Italian style architecture. Identical Doric front and rear porticos with fluted columns and a crowning cupola adorned the exterior of the castle. An elegant walnut spiral staircase greeted every guest as they entered the front door. Decorative motifs, double parlors, arched windows and Italian marble mantles graced the rooms of the majestic home. The house was glorious, so much so that even the Saunders’ wealth could not afford the cost. As the architect presented the bill, Saunders was astonished by the price. Saunders lost his temper with the architect as they both spat angry insults at one another. The empty-handed architect left Rocky Hill Castle, cursing at its “thieving master.”

Rocky Hill Castle | for the love of the south

Years later, the Saunders family gathered at their long dining room table for dinner when they heard loud noises coming from the cellar, which sounded like someone pounding on the foundation of the house with a hammer. As members of the family rushed to the cellar to investigate, the noises mysteriously subsided. Then, as soon as they made their way upstairs, the noises began again. The cryptic hammering continued as along as the Saunders family lived at Rocky Hill Castle. The family eventually became familiar with the sounds and gently jested of the angry architect’s ghost trying to destroy the mansion he created by striking it off its foundation.

Then, sometime after the Civil War, a more convincing spirit called, “The Lady in Blue,” took up residence at Rocky Hill. She made her first appearance to Mrs. Saunders as the family moved back to the castle. (The family sold and repurchased the property three times.) The excited Mrs. Saunders rushed up the stairs to see her beloved view from her bedroom window, but she was surprised to be greeted by a woman standing on the staircase dressed in a dusty blue gown. Just as Mrs. Saunders went to greet the lady, she vanished. Her family teased Mrs. Saunders whenever she retold of her encounter…that is, until Colonel Saunders was confronted with “The Lady in Blue” as she sat, smiling at him in his wine cellar as he searched for a bottle of blackberry wine. He locked the cellar, never returning to his wine again.

Pumpkins | for the love of the south

The final encounter came as Mrs. Saunders, who was annoyed instead of terrified by these unexplained occurrences, was getting dressed one morning. She impatiently shouted, “If there’s anybody there, speak up or forever hold your peace!” Immediately, she received a reply, “Madam, I’m right here!” Two hours later, the Saunders family moved out of Rocky Hill Castle forever.

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner...

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner…

All that’s left is a patch of cedars where the castle once stood, scattered pieces of the mansion that are treasured in family homes, and this ghost story which keeps the spirit of the Rocky Hill Castle alive…

*This story has been retold and passed down from Thirteen Alabama Ghosts & Jeffrey.

P.S. The marble tabletop I use to take so many photos on is originally part of the Rocky Hill Castle! Most of the pieces I use in photographs are steeped in Southern history…

Cotton Field in Alabama | for the love of the south

P.P.S. {Because I love y’all, I am giving away a set of wooden utensils including an ebony spreader, maple scraper, and a set of 4 flat sauté tools in bloodwood, maple and ebony from Early Wood to stir and sauté all of your lovely autumn dishes. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite autumn dish between now and midnight, October 25th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on October 26th. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! Good luck and happy fall, y’all!}

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mulled Cider

Serves 8

Note: This cider has the same blend of spices found in a traditional pumpkin pie!

You can prepare this cider ahead of time and stash it in the fridge after discarding the spices! Once you are ready to serve the cider, just bring it to room temperature and heat through on the stovetop. Also, to make this a boozy treat, just add a shot of your favorite dark liquor to each glass of mulled cider, and crown the cider with a homemade marshmallow

2 liters pure pressed apple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

Pinch ground ginger

¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated

6 allspice berries

6 whole cloves

4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Pour the apple juice into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes until the juice is warm. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, allspice berries, cloves and sugar. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. The cider should have a lovely, spicy flavor with a balance of sweetness, but it should not overly sweet. Allow the cider to continue to steep and simmer until it reaches your desired spiciness. Take off the heat and strain, discarding the spices. Serve with a homemade marshmallow!

 

 

 

I’VE HAD MY DAY

Sauce Piquant | for the love of the south

“Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short. But when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer is like a dear familiar friend. She spends hours upon hours at my kitchen table, taking pride in the blushing peaches and grassy scent of freshly picked okra. Her knowing gaze falls on the ripe ruby tomatoes, deeply black blackberries and emerald cucumbers. She delights in the pleasures that have come out of my kitchen: a plethora of peach pies, ice-cold strawberry lemonade, and mint-flecked vanilla ice cream. But now, she stands at the back door, sunhat in hand, hugging me goodbye. I watch her leave with no regrets. I can proudly say I have eaten a bushel and a peck of ripe tomatoes, gorged myself on sweet tea, and have consumed more corn and watermelon than I would like to admit. Now, I’m ready for a new season. I’m anxiously waiting Autumn with her amber hues, enchanting leaves, and the scent of cinnamon, which always seems to follow her.

This recipe sweetly embraces the last of these summer days. Fond memories of summer rush through my head as I peel back the thin skin of tomatoes, as I slice through pods of pale jade okra, and plough through a mountain of assorted chilies. The combination of sweet, fiery and fruity chilies make this dish wonderfully refreshing. All of the ingredients mingle and meld together, making this a pot full of the essence of summer. We dig in, relishing the end of the season one last time.

Summer in the South seems endless. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain of a Southern summer being short. But I can say I’ve had my fair share of heat and have been full of summer’s offerings. I’ve had my day.

Summer Produce | for the love of the south

Sauce Piquant:

Serves 6, plus leftovers

Note: This is a comforting dish that warms you up on a chilly autumn night, so make as many batches of this recipe as you can at the end of the summer, label, stash in freezer bags and store in the freezer. Thaw and serve with perfectly steamed rice. It’s a lovely way to hold onto the season just a little while longer!

¾ cup canola oil

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups assorted sweet and spicy finely chopped peppers, deseeded (I use a combination of Serrano peppers, red bell pepper, banana pepper, whole cayenne peppers, and habanero peppers.)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon sweet, smoked paprika

4 cups peeled, roughly chopped tomatoes

Handful of okra, cut into ¼-inch rounds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

5 cups chicken broth (or recently boiled water)

4 teaspoons pepper sauce or Tabasco, plus more for serving

Salt and pepper, to taste

Steamed rice, for serving

In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chicken, seasoning with salt and pepper on each side. Panfry until golden on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the flour to the oil and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes until medium brown in color. (It should resemble the color of peanut butter.) Add onion, garlic, peppers, cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, okra, dried oregano, and broth (or water). Add the chicken back to the pot along with the pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer with the lid cockeyed for 45 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot, debone and shred the chicken with two forks. Add the chicken back to the pot. Serve with rice.

Sauce Piquant | for the love of the south

 

 

 

 

 

 

MUSCADINE MISSION

Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Earlier this week, I woke with bated breath. This happens every so often during the year. The excitement revolves around the arrival of my favorite seasonal produce, especially crops that have a tendency of poking their head out without notice like a prairie dog and quickly disappearing.

With wild abandon, I fling open the windows of my loft and deeply inhale the warm, summer air. I barely run a comb through my blonde bob, throw on a white tee and denim shorts, and stumble into my black rubber boots. This is no time for vanity. I have been impatiently waiting for muscadines to arrive for a year. An entire year! Today is the day they arrive. I can feel it in my bones.

The light of day barely began creeping over the grounds of the Carnton Plantation. Sunbeams welcome me into the garden as I walk the pea gravel paths. Ruby tomatoes and ladyfinger okra pods thrive on their stalks. Sunflowers keep a watchful eye out as they tower above everything else in the garden. Chive flowers with their violet crowns sway in the breeze on their long, elegant stems.

Muscadines | for the love of the south

Keeping on task, I walk to the edge of the garden where I know there is an archway of muscadine vines. I stop in my tracks, pea gravel flying every which way. I spot the beauties dangling like deep, wine-hued baubles on a lady’s arm. I pluck a few muscadines off their vines and pop them into my mouth. The skin of a muscadine is thick, much thicker than that of a grape. The skin bursts and separates from the pale green flesh as I bite into it. The combination of tart, chewy coating and the sweet, squishy flesh is delightful. Using my teeth, I strategically fish out the seeds from the muscadine, which are neon green and the size of a sunflower kernel, and discard the seeds by the base of the vines. I sit on an iron bench in the garden, fully content with a pile of muscadines in my lap. Muscadine season is officially mine for the taking, and I’ll cherish it for as long as it lasts.

Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Muscadine Focaccia:

Makes 1, 10” focaccia

Note: Leave smaller muscadines (the size of a marble) whole and cut larger ones (the size of a cherry) in half and discard seeds. If you can’t find muscadines, substitute with a lovely grape like Concord.

306g all-purpose flour

8g sea salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 cup warm water

2g active dry yeast

1 teaspoon light olive oil

1 cup muscadines (See Note)

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a small mixing bowl, combine water, yeast and olive oil. Make a well in the flour and pour the water and yeast mixture in the center of the flour. Knead until combined, about 3 minutes. Place a tea towel moistened with warm water over the bowl and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. The warm water clinging to the tea towel will create a warm, moist environment for the dough to rise.

On a floured surface, knead the rested dough for 3 minutes. Place the dough on a heavily floured plate or baking sheet, sprinkle with more flour and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Whenever you are ready to make the focaccia, take the dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before shaping.

In a small bowl, combine muscadines and the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and gently pull the dough into a 10” inch circle. Place the dough in a generously buttered 10” skillet. Cover the top of the dough with the muscadines (including any juice that has come out of the muscadines), pressing the fruit firmly into the dough. Cover with a warm, moistened tea towel, and allow the dough to prove once more for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400oF. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving. This sweet focaccia is also lovely slathered in ricotta and drizzled with honey.

 

 

 

 

 

THE ENCHANTED CUCUMBER PATCH

Cucumber Ribbon Salad | for the love of the south

A Southerner’s backyard is a treasure trove of edible gems during the long, hot summer months. Standing in the yard, I gaze from left to right, each neighbor has a little garden of some sort, revealing characteristics of its caretaker. Some gardens overflow with herbs and spring onions in simple clay pots, others with emerald green bell pepper plants in perfectly straight rows. The more adventurous gardeners have a few chickens strutting about their yard, feasting away on herbs and fallen vegetables. Then, there are those who create raised vegetable beds out of old barbecue pits and tractor tires.

I remember tending to our own little garden with my mom when I was a little girl. One night, I sat in the dirt next to the cucumber plants as we began snipping away at a few green onions for our dinner. I couldn’t help but stare at the perfectly ripe cucumbers suspended in midair, reminding me of hanging sausages in a great meat market. I peer under one of the jade leaves and spotted a small cucumber with a bright yellow flower attached at one end. A crack of thunder in the distance broke my focus. Tomato plants sway in the breeze and drops of cool summer rain began hitting our cheeks. “Be sure to peek at this one in the morning,” mom said with a knowing smile. Before it began pouring, we rush inside with fists full of green onions and arms crammed with cucumbers. I thought no more of the gherkin-sized cucumber and continued helping to prepare for dinner as it rained sheets and sheets.

Cucumber Ribbons | for the love of the south

The next morning, I walk outside to gather a few tomatoes and herbs for breakfast. Curiosity gets the best of me as I begin folding back the leaf, and lo and behold, the teeny cucumber grew half the length of my forearm overnight. I couldn’t believe it! From that moment on, I thought of cucumbers as being enchanted. They appear mystically in our garden patch after a midsummer storm and disappear just as magically at our table.

Cucumber Ribbon Salad

Serves 2

Note: This is a delicate, quick summer salad, which pays homage to the simple way we prepared cucumbers growing up. There is no need to make this recipe ahead of time, just wait until the last minute to toss the cucumbers in the dressing, or else you will end up with waterlogged cucumbers instead of crunchy, fresh ribbons.

½ medium-sized garlic clove (or 1 small garlic clove)

Pinch red pepper flakes

Small handful mint, leaves only, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium-sized cucumber

Parmesan cheese shavings, for serving

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Finely chop the garlic clove, red pepper flakes and mint leaves together. Place the seasonings in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

With a vegetable peeler or a mandoline, thinly slice the cucumber. Once you get to the seeds, begin cutting the other three sides, so all you are left with is the watery, seedy center.

Discard the seedy center and toss the cucumber ribbons in the dressing. Once all of the ribbons are coated, lay the cucumbers on a serving platter. Scatter with remaining mint leaves, Parmesan shavings and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Cucumber Ribbon Salad | for the love of the south

A BUGGY WITH A VIEW + A LODGE CAST IRON GIVEAWAY

Roasted Nashville Hot Chicken | for the love of the south

Whenever I was a little girl, many afternoons were spent gathering ingredients for our family dinners with my mom at our local grocery store in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The old, shuddering sliding glass doors warmly welcomed us. We made our way across the scuffed black and white checkered floor; my mom grabbed a shopping cart, also referred to as a buggy in the South. The buggies at our grocery store were unique; the area for groceries was shallow instead of deep like baskets nowadays. The end of the cart had a latch, so whenever you went to checkout, the checkout girl simply unlatched the end of the basket, like a truck bed and unloaded the groceries straight from the cart. But the most important thing to know about these buggies is that the distance between the bottom of the basket and the rack just above the wheels of the cart was an ideal space for a child to retreat to.

As soon as I nestled underneath the buggy, my mom made her routine stop to the deli counter to buy a pickle. She covertly handed it to me, going along with the charade that I was invisible to everyone else in the store except her. Now that I think about it, everyone probably thought I was a little odd as I had one leg propped up and the other leisurely dangling in midair as if I were floating on a pirogue in the bayou while slowly munching away on a pickle.

Louisiana Maque Choux | for the love of the south

I enjoyed watching the cart fill up with ingredients for our supper. Emerald striped watermelons the size of a toddlers, dusty, earthy cantaloupes, bags and bags of long-grain rice, Mason jars of roux, pint-sized containers of cayenne pepper and ruby red homegrown tomatoes rolled around in the basket. I daydreamed about what we were having for dinner and quietly observed the other shoppers in the store, imagining what they were making for dinner as well. Sometimes I dreamt of what it would be like if everyone put all their groceries together on one endlessly long picnic table and had a great feast every night. I decided that would certainly establish world peace.

Things weren’t always seen for what they were, but what I imagined they could be. As a child, I was oblivious to the fact that not everyone saw the world the same as I did. And as I grew up, I realized I tasted the world around me differently as well.

Nashville Hot Chicken:

One of my favorite Southern dishes is fried chicken, so whenever I moved to Nashville, immediately I was introduced to Nashville’s cayenne crusted hot chicken, which has been known to make grown men weep. Traditionally, hot chicken is fried in a cast-iron skillet and crusted with a reddish cayenne paste, and is served with pickles and white bread, which gets soaked through with shockingly spicy orange hot chicken drippings. I love serving my spicy Roasted Nashville Hot Chicken with sweet Louisiana Maque Choux because it ties together two homes. My past and my present. Here’s to the hot summer days ahead.

{Because I love y’all, I am giving away a 15” Seasoned Steel Pan from Lodge Cast Iron. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite dish to prepare in your cast-iron between now and midnight June 4th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on June 5th. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! PS For US residents only… Good luck, y’all!} Congrats to Sandy for being the winner of the giveaway!

Roasted Nashville Hot Chicken

Serves 4

Note: Traditionally, Nashville Hot Chicken is fried then tossed in a hot chicken paste. I prefer the method of pan-frying then finishing the thighs off in the oven. The result is crispy skin and juicy dark meat, and while the chicken finishes off in the oven, I have time to clean up the kitchen and get ready for company!

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

2 tablespoons of olive oil

6 tablespoons of clarified butter, melted (or you can use olive oil if you prefer)

5 tablespoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons of dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons of kosher salt

2 teaspoons of sweet, smoked paprika

Salt and pepper, to season

Preheat oven to 425oF

Taking a paper towel, gently blot the chicken thighs, making sure to remove any moisture from the surface of the chicken. This will ensure you get a nice crisp golden skin. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In a large pan over medium high heat, preferably cast-iron or seasoned steel, heat the oil until it shimmers. Gently place the chicken thighs in the pan skin side down and fry until the skin is lightly golden brown. Flip the thighs over and immediately place the pan in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the thighs are completely cooked through and deeply golden brown.

Combine clarified butter (or oil, if using), cayenne pepper, dark brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and paprika in a medium-sized mixing bowl. This creates the Hot Chicken Paste. While the chicken is still piping hot, gently coat the chicken in the Hot Chicken Paste. Serve with pickles and white bread for an authentic Nashville Hot Chicken experience or serve with Maque Choux!

 

Maque Choux

Serves 4

2 rashers of bacon

1 small onion, minced

1 Serrano pepper, deseeded and deveined, minced

1½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of black pepper

½ teaspoon of sweet, smoked paprika

Pinch of red pepper flakes

2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1½ cups of water

6 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob

Small handful of basil leaves

In a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat, cook bacon until crispy and golden brown. Remove the bacon from the skillet, drain on a paper towel and crumble. Add onion, Serrano pepper, salt, black pepper, paprika and red pepper flakes to the bacon drippings. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic and water. Reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Add corn and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the corn is cooked through. Take off the heat. Stir in the basil leaves and crumbled bacon. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Roasted Hot Chicken + Maque Choux | for the love of the south

CONSIDER the PEARL

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south

My fingers slowly etched the black velvet lining of my grandmother’s jewelry box. Getting dressed for the day was more of an event rather than a duty for my grandmother; every strand of hair flawlessly sprayed into place, lips perfectly tinted like the color of an azalea petal, and the air was filled with a cloud of Estée Lauder perfume. She was not ready until she graced her jewelry box and pulled out a strand of pearls. Each pearl perfectly round, milky, and luminous. I watched as she clasped the two gold ends together with ease and gracefully placed her fingers on the pearls as she looked at herself in the mirror, knowing she was now prepared for whatever the day held. As a young girl (to be honest, quite the tomboy at that age with grass-stained denim shorts and skinned knees), I dreamt of the day I would wear my own strand of pearls.

As I grew up, I realized pearls are a lovely depiction of the South. A pearl begins its life with an irritation, a piece of grit that has made its way inside the oyster. Over the course of many years, that irritation transforms into a seamless, radiant pearl. Imperfect oyster shells are the ideal environment for pearls to form, and without pain or frustration, pearls would not exist. And those who are searching for pearls are the only ones who find them.

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south

Just as devoted Catholic women outline rosary beads with religious reverence, we can trace every surface of every pearl on a strand, each one symbolizing an event, something we have overcome. Instead of seeing our pain as something to hide, the years of healing have gently worn down and polished the rough edges of our past, and we wear them around our neck as an encouragement of strength.

Now, I have a strand of my own as I treasure and carry on the tradition, the reminder that our everyday irritations can one day turn into something more beautiful than we could ever image. They retell of the great women who stood before us, striving for goals that they may or may not have met, but one thing I am sure of, they donned their pearls no matter the cost, no matter the prize. They are a symbol of the South, something we earn with time and proudly wear. Many people see them as old-fashioned, but I see them as timeless, as timeless as the women who wear them. As we daily clasp our strands around our necks and close to our hearts, it’s a daily ritual, a promise that we are treasures among the shores. Valued and adored.

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south