HUSHPUPPY HOARDER

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

The hot, humid Louisiana air is heavy with mosquitoes, fireflies and the scent of fried fish. Newspaper shrouded picnic tables are piled high with platters of golden, crispy fish fillets and pale green peppery coleslaw, but peaking behind the Tabasco and rémoulade sauce rests the crowning joy of the fish fry, hushpuppies. Hushpuppies are my favorite part of any backyard fish fry or seafood joint.

Whenever I was young, I knew I was walking into a seafood restaurant because of the distinct aroma of damp wood and fish. There were stuffed alligators and moss-covered tanks filled with live seafood to play with while we waited for our table. I listened to everyone gush over what they were going to order that evening. Whenever I was asked what I was going to order, I simply stated, “Nothing.” But I had a plan. See, most people go to seafood places because of the seafood, of course, but I adored going to seafood restaurants for the promise of unlimited hushpuppies.

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

As we were seated, I immediately grabbed the boat-shaped, woven basket filled with brown paper and tiny, round golden hushpuppies and placed them in front of me. Fishing out my trusty butter knife from my paper-restrained silverware, I cut the hushpuppy in half with accuracy in one fail swoop. The piping hot golden nugget of fried cornbread split in two, and sweet steam filled the air. The outside was golden and crispy and the inside was bright yellow and fluffy. I was in heaven. I grabbed a small packet of butter, which was in the center of the table, sitting alongside the hot sauce, salt and pepper (as if butter was like any other condiment) and in very precise motions, slathered half of the packet on half of the hushpuppy and the rest on the other…and I.ate.them.all.

Once I finished one little basket of puppies, I replaced the empty basket where I found it and stealthily made my way over to the other side of the table that had a full basket of untouched hushpuppies. I dodged jumping juices of cracking crabs legs and the saunter of stuffed shrimp and fried catfish as my little arms reached for the hushpuppies, which were in sheer peril of being contaminated by seafood spatter. I repeated this action throughout the entire meal without anyone noticing. No one would have guessed that I had eaten my weight in hushpuppies that night. Quiet and content, I sat at the end of the table with a pile of empty butter packets in front me and a whisper of a smile running across my face. Hushpuppies.

Hushpuppy Prep | for the love of the south

Recipe: Cast-Iron Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies

Serves 4 as a side

Note: This is my version of the beloved hushpuppy. There is a balance of sweetness from the honey, spiciness from the cayenne, sour notes from the pickled pimentos and saltiness from the cheddar, which makes these hushpuppies my favorite!

Since these hushpuppies have extra moisture in the batter from the cheese, pimentos and honey, you need to finish these puppies off in the oven. This extra step insures that all of the centers are cooked through properly and allows the entire batch of the hushpuppies to come out of the oven at the same time piping hot!

Dry Ingredients:

1 cup of fine-ground yellow cornmeal

½ cup of all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Wet Ingredients:

1 large egg, lightly beaten

¾ cup of whole milk (or buttermilk)

2 tablespoons of honey

½ cup of cheddar cheese, grated

¼ cup of pimentos, drained and finely chopped

Canola, peanut or vegetable oil, for frying

In a mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until everything is combined. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

In a 4-quart pot (preferably cast-iron), heat oil at least 3 inches deep to 350oF, making sure the oil remains at a steady temperature.

Preheat oven to 350oF

Once the oil has reached the appropriate temperature, drop rounded tablespoon scoops into the oil in batches of six. (I use a 1½-tablespoon cookie dough scoop.) As soon as the hushpuppies begin to float, flip, allowing both sides to get nice and golden brown. (These puppies cook quickly! They only need about 2 minutes total in the oil.) Remove the hushpuppies from the oil and transfer to a paper towel lined plate or brown paper bag to drain. Once all of the hushpuppies have drained, place them into a shallow baking pan in a 350oF oven for 5-7 minutes until the center of the hushpuppies are set. (I usually test a hushpuppy in the center of the baking pan by pricking it with a knife and checking to make sure the center is firm and no longer runny. If you notice it is still runny, place them back in the oven for a few more minutes.) Serve piping hot!

 

About these ads

OKRA WHEN IT SIZZLES

Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra | for the love of the south

Sometimes sweet summer pleasures come early in the South. As Michael and I walked toward our local farmers market last week, Michael looked at me and said, “Maybe they will have okra!” I sweetly stated it was probably too early in the season for okra. Honestly, I didn’t want to be disappointed but secretly hoped there would be some too.

Fresh Okra | for the love of the south

As we got closer to the market, the first thing to catch my eye was a wooden crate filled to the brim with pinky-sized okra pods. My heart skipped a beat. The first okra of the season! I quickly grabbed a bag and began picking through the precious pods. Almost immediately my hands started to sting a little. The lady tending the market noticed I began itching the back of my hands. “It’s from the okra, isn’t it?” I nodded that indeed it was, but this little bother was about to be well worth it.

Fried Okra Ingredients | for the love of the south

Whenever I returned home, I laid the emerald beauties on white marble and gently began smashing the ends of the okra with a wooden pestle. As soon as I inhaled the grassy scent of fresh okra and listened to the symphony of sizzle as the cornmeal batter hit the hot oil, I knew I was right. In life, the good far outweighs the bad, and in the end, there’s fried okra.

Smashed Okra | for the love of the south

There are some ingredients that beg to be transfigured and transformed like a strawberry pleading to be roasted and paired with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or sweet white corn steeped in cream, creating a lovely base for a summertime ice cream. But then there are those ingredients I can’t help but prepare the same way, time after time. I have yet to find a more comforting use of okra as being bathed in buttermilk and tossed in cayenne and cornmeal and quickly fried. I believe frying okra is the way nature intended it to be prepared. Why else would it endure and thrive in the Southern summer so much if it didn’t love to sizzle?

Cornmeal Crusted Smashed Okra | for the love of the south

Recipe: Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra

Adapted from Southern Living | June 2014

Makes 4-6 Servings

Note: The original recipe leaves the entire okra pod whole, without cutting off the tops. Personally, I eat the pod whole, but after serving these whole, I found the fried tops left on the platter. So, I decided to take that extra step and cut the tops off since most people don’t like eating the entire pod, but it’s completely optional!

1 pound of fresh okra, washed and dried

1 ½ cups of buttermilk

2 cups of fine yellow cornmeal

½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil, for frying

Using a flat kitchen utensil like a pestle, meat mallet or even the bottom of a Mason jar, gently smash the okra, starting at the fattest part of the pod, working your way down to the skinny tip of the pod.

Optional Step (see note): Once the pods are smashed, cut off the woody top (or the “head”) of the okra pod. (I acted like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland yelling, “Off with your head,” at this step to keep myself entertained, you may do the same!)

Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish, and place the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in another shallow dish. Season both the cornmeal and buttermilk with desired amount of salt and pepper.

Dip the smashed okra into the buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal, shaking off the excess.

Pour oil to a depth of 2-inches in a large cast-iron skillet. Heat to 350o. Fry the okra in batches, 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy, turning once. Remove the okra and drain on paper towels and season lightly with kosher salt. Devour immediately!

Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra | for the love of the south

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HUNT

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

As Easter service concluded, a parade of bright hats, pastel suits and white patent leather shoes raced out of church. I remember all the little girls dressed in floral dresses with such realistic flower prints that seemed to attract and confuse bees. Fidgety little boys donned their itchy baby blue seersucker suits and had uncharacteristically slicked back their hair. All of us were in a hurry for the same reason. We were on our way to The Hunt. We arrived prepared with baskets in hand. My basket was white with bright yellow plastic “grass” hanging over the sides. I decorated the wide, plastic handle with pastel eggs, baby chickens, and teeny bunny decals with little stickers spelling out, “Happy Easter.” (I was very proud of my decorating skills.)

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

All of the kids were instructed to remain inside and not to peek out the window as the adults “hid” the eggs, mostly in plain sight for the younger kids and in the nooks and crannies of the trees and in the overgrown monkey grass for the older kids. Our baskets filled up with the colorful, hand dyed eggs. Before we knew it, The Hunt was over and it was time for the adults to count our spoils, declare a winner and commenced shelling the eggs to make the best deviled eggs in the whole wide world for our Easter dinner. What I loved most about these eggs is that they were slightly hued from being dyed the day before. I adored that. Easter was the only time of the year when I could eat blushing pink, buttercup yellow and robin egg blue eggs. I cherished deviled eggs because they only seemed to grace our table at special occasions. Now, whenever these reverent beauties are prepared in my kitchen I am reminded of the mad dash of Easter attire and disheveled baskets in absolute eagerness of The Hunt.

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

Recipe: Crème Fraîche + Lemon Deviled Eggs

Serves 4

Note: Growing up, these eggs were a treat to have on our table. I, however, cannot wait for a special holiday to make them, so I whip these up at least once a week to devour as a midafternoon snack. Also, if you can’t get your hands on crème fraîche, you can use sour cream in a pinch.

6 hardboiled eggs, shells removed, cut in half lengthwise

4 tablespoons of crème fraîche or sour cream

2 teaspoons of whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently scoop the yolks out of the hardboiled eggs. Place the whites on a plate and place the yolks in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the yolks. Stir the ingredients together while breaking up the yolks with the back of a fork. Taste the deviled egg mixture for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Using two teaspoons, scoop deviled egg mixture into the egg whites. Garnish with more lemon zest, black pepper and cayenne.

 

 

 

 

WELCOME HOME DARLIN’

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

The smell of freshly painted walls and sawdust lingers in the air as I sit in the newly renovated house. For the past few months, I have been living in between two places, my loft in Nashville and my in-laws newly renovated home in North Alabama. The house was Michael’s grandmother, Meme’s, home just one short year ago.

Many moments were spent sitting in the short, beige chair in the den listening to Meme’s laughter. She laughed so hard the entire room had no choice but to be engulfed and embraced by her happiness. There was never a time when I didn’t get lost in her hugs or wasn’t welcomed with a smile that filled her entire face and a greeting that didn’t involve the word darlin’ in it. Everywhere she went seemed to be filled with life. Even as I sit here in this beautifully remodeled den, the echoes of her stories live on in my mind, countless prayers she prayed for the ones she loved, and the moments she spent visiting and giggling with her beloved family.

There is a beautiful foundation in this home. There is groundwork of love that has settled in the floorboards, it echoes in the hall and is audible in the laughter this home will be immersed in for years to come. Life springs from this home, it’s a place of healing, of rest. What a beautiful place for Michael’s parents to start their new season of life. I can see Meme, sitting across the way from me, with that contagious smile saying, “Hey, darlin’.”

Now, as I walk up the stairs from the lower den into the kitchen, I am greeted with a warm smile and a, “Hey, darlin’,” from Michael’s mother. Some things we pass on, whether it be a warm smile that can light up a room, a place to call home or a simple phrase that can make you feel like you’re home even if you are miles away. Welcome home, darlin’.

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

Recipe: Pimento Cheese & Thyme Gougères

Inspired by Southern Living

Makes 24

Note: This recipe combines ones of my favorite Southern treats and the wonderful, traditional French gougère. This is the kind of food that must be shared with others! It makes for a great hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or a lovely midafternoon snack to be washed down with sweet tea.

The gougère dough can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use. Also, you can freeze completely cooked and cooled gougères for up to 1 month. To reheat, place the frozen gougères on a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until warmed through.

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

¾ teaspoon of kosher salt

1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 (4 ounce) jar of diced pimento, drained

4 eggs

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) of finely shredded sharp cheddar

1 ½ teaspoons of whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan, combine butter, salt and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for another minute until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the side of the pan, forming a ball.

Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. At this point, the dough will begin to dry out. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the drained pimentos and drain again on a paper towel.

Add eggs to the slightly cooled dough one at a time, stirring well between each addition. At this point, you will feel as if you completely ruined the dough, but trust me. Just keep stirring. Add pimentos, cheese, mustard, thyme leaves, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Keeping stirring until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, create 1-inch mounds of dough, 2 inches apart either by piping the dough using a plastic bag or by using a small cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon. Whisk yolk and 1 teaspoon of water together and brush onto gougères.

Bake gougères until puffed and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Enjoy!

GIVING THANKS

 Pickled Peppered Golden Raisins | for the love of the south

*This post was originally published on Coca-Cola Journey 

One of the most endearing aspects of Thanksgiving is the tradition behind the holiday that each person holds close to their heart. My Thanksgiving may look different from your Thanksgiving, but there is a common bond of tradition, which ties us together this season. Some customs change and adapt as our families forever grow, bend and ebb, but then there are those sacred sacraments we wouldn’t dare change.

One of those rituals I hold near and dear to my heart cannot be savored in the way you would customarily think of during Thanksgiving time. It takes place right before the feast. My entire family grabs the hand of the person next to them and forms a massive, irregular circle around the kitchen island, where all the fixins’ are sitting; piping hot, ready to be devoured. Spicy dirty rice, perfectly smoked turkey, sweet potatoes crowned with glorious toasted marshmallows, steaming buttery yeast rolls, and buckets of sweet tea line the buffet.

My grandfather gazes lovingly at the circle and whispers, “Thank you, Jesus!” My grandmother sweetly squeezes his hand and quickly concurs with, “Praise the Lord!” This is such a special moment. It is their personal way of giving thanks before the official prayer. They recognize this oddly formed circle, which is weaving dangerously close to the laundry room, is a direct extension of themselves and the gathering of everyone for Thanksgiving means more to them than anything being served that day. I peak around at the crowd as my grandfather continues to pray, take in this moment in time and give thanks for being part of each other’s lives. As we end in prayer, we gather around the kitchen island and pile on as much fodder as our Chinet plates can hold. I sit around the table and eat and eat and eat for what seems like days, but the prayer always seems to be over far too soon.

No matter what these holidays bring, let the old traditions shine and adopt new ones every year, as we watch our families grow and meld together as a community of people. I pray your Thanksgiving is filled with love, family and fullness in your tummy and in your heart!

Recipe: Pickled Peppered Golden Raisins

Serves 8 as a Condiment

Note: Normally, I make a cranberry sauce to go with the bird and all the fixins’, but this year I wanted to bring a new tradition to the table of spicy pickled golden raisins to take the place of the cranberries. The raisins plump as they are reconstituted and absorb all of the wonderful spices. They compliment the flavor of chicken, turkey or duck.

½ cup of champagne vinegar

¼ cup of local honey

2 teaspoons of mustard seeds

½ teaspoon of whole peppercorns

1 ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

3 sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon of salt

½ pound of golden raisins

Bring vinegar, honey, mustard seeds, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, thyme sprigs, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to simmer and stir for 3 minutes. Add raisins, remove from heat and let cool for at least 1 hour.

Make Ahead: Raisins can be pickled 1 week head. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

 

 

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES…

Garlic & Rosemary Infused Chips | for the love of the south

When food connects us to a memory, there is a sense of comfort and safety that transpires into our hearts and lives. This is an important statement for me to write because it was a great motivating force for this site’s existence, at least at the beginning of this journey. Not many people know, but this site was created during a difficult time in my life. Sweet days were behind me, smiling at me in the distance and waving to me in the days to come, but my present was not so bright. I needed a place to write and contemplate and share. This blog became that outlet. Every day I would sit in complete silence, shutting the door to my present that was constantly screaming at me for its attention. Daily, I just sat in my quiet, peaceful room, if only to remember. At once, I was transported to my grandmother’s kitchen, where the aroma of roux would forever be engrained in the walls of her home. Traipsing through gardens and discovering nature’s beautiful bounty engulfed my memory. The retention of family dinners, which seemed to last for days on end, brought a smile to my face. I was transported to a happier time in my life, and I connected food with those memories. This blog made me remember. It carried me through a dark time, along with family, friends and many many prayers. And now, I’m sitting on the other side of the ridge, still remembering, still cooking and still sharing.

So, today I want to encourage you. If you are going through a difficult time in life, to take a cherished memory out of your pocket and reflect on it. To live in that memory if only for a moment, then fold it back up with its tattered edges and deep creases and place it back in your pocket for safekeeping.

One of the fondest memories I keep in my pocket is having picnics with my mom, dad and older sister when I was around two years old (almost the same age as this blog!) We would find a small patch of grass next to the Oral Roberts University campus in Oklahoma and chomp on Burger King burgers and potato chips. Now that I’m older, I don’t eat many chips, but when I get a craving for this comfort food (or nursery food as comfort food is sometimes called) I infuse the oil with garlic and rosemary. Caution: they are more than slightly addictive.

Recipe: Garlic & Rosemary Infused Homemade Potato Chips

Serves 4

Note: The amount of oil you use when deep-frying really depends on the size of your pot. You want the oil to be at least 3-4 inches deep. Also, rubbing the rosemary in between your palms before placing them in the oil releases its natural oils.

4 cups of canola, vegetable or peanut oil (for frying)

1 head of garlic, unpeeled, cloves slightly crushed

4 springs of rosemary, gently rub in between palms

4 small Russet potatoes (or 3 large), scrubbed

Salt, to taste

Place 2 layers of paper towels on a roasting tray.

Pour the oil in a large pot. Toss in garlic cloves and sprigs of rubbed rosemary. Turn heat on medium-high. The oil is ready when a thermometer reads 350 degrees and the garlic cloves have browned slightly and rosemary has become crispy. Carefully remove the crispy garlic and rosemary and set aside to serve with the chips.

Using a mandoline, thinly slice ½ of a potato and carefully place into the infused oil. Occasionally turn the potatoes with a spider to make sure they are not sticking together. While the potatoes fry, slice the other half of the potato. Take the chips out of the oil whenever they are golden brown. Place on prepared towel-lined tray and season with salt. Continue frying the chips in batches.

Serve with fried garlic and rosemary. Consume immediately or store in an airtight container or a gallon-sized Ziploc bag for a few days (although they have never lasted more than 1 day in my house!)

A CANTALOUPE EDUCATION

Louisiana summer feasts were never complete without a sweet, refreshing slice of candy orange cantaloupe. I recall my mother teaching me how to pick out the perfectly ripe, saccharine cantaloupe for dinner at our local grocery store in Lake Charles, Market Basket. I crawled out from under the basket, which was the perfect spot for a five year old to gobble down any and all treats picked from the grocery store shelves in peace and quiet. I stood on the edge of the cart and reached over into the cantaloupe bin. The treasures in my overalls started to peak its way out of my pockets and onto the red and black checkered floors. I glanced at my mom for a little help, and she held me by the side so I could have an adult-eye-view of the cantaloupe.

My mom explained how I needed to look for a melon with little to no markings, bruises or scars due to battle in the bin no less. Then my mother told me to knock on the melon with my little fist. I didn’t quite understand the importance of this action, but I took the advantage of thumping the cantaloupe twice while saying, “Knock, knock, is anybody home?” The next step was by far the most important and the most wonderful.

I took the melon (which just so happened to be the size of my head) and slowly cradled it next to my button nose, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The smell of sugar and earth filled my nostrils and without hesitation I looked up at my mom and said, “This one is ready!” And there I sat, underneath the cart with my melon in one hand and the other hand resting under my head, thinking and dreaming of dinner and the sweet taste of the perfectly ripe cantaloupe.

Recipe: Serves 6 as a side

Note: Cantaloupe, like all melon, has a lot of moisture. So if you leave the cantaloupe sitting around after a few minutes or so, the crunchy, sugary topping will become more like a burnt sugar glaze over the melon. Also, if you don’t have a torch handy in the kitchen, you can quickly grill the honey-glazed melon in a piping hot skillet for just a few seconds.

Growing up, we always ate cantaloupe by the humble half-moon slices at the table. So, I wanted to come up with a recipe that closely resembled the pure form of the melon. Slightly caramelizing cantaloupe using honey enhances the sweetness of the melon while also creating a lovely smoky flavor that is unexpected yet satisfying.

Just peel, seed and cut up 1 ripe cantaloupe into 2-3 inch cubes. Place the cubes onto a paper towel for 30 minutes. Basically, you are creating a drier surface to caramelize.

Flip the pieces of melon over drizzle local honey onto the dried side. Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the honey until charred and almost blackened all over. Let the honey set for just a moment before taking a bite of the cantaloupe. Serve immediately as a side, snack or as a lovely addition to a fruit and cheese plate.

A Mess of Mustard Greens

Mustard Green Chips

Almost everyone I know who is a bon vivant has tried kale chips. They have been in almost every blog, food magazine and cooking show in the past year. KALE CHIPS. Yes, they are great, but there is something out there from the South that tastes even better, shhh… it’s a secret, and it comes in the form of mustard greens. Mustard greens? Yes, mustard greens.

Growing up in the south, I never heard of kale. I was fed a steady diet of mustard, collard and turnip greens with no kale in site. So, whenever I tried my hand at these newfangled kale chips, I thought, hmmm… I bet mustard greens would be even better, and it turns out they are. Baking the mustard greens creates the same texture that you would get by baking kale, but they are just a tad more delicate in both texture and flavor. The addition of Cajun spices adds more of a Southern kick, which elevates the profile of this green.

P.S. I would have taken a photo of a full plate of mustard green chips, but before I knew it, I ate all but these 2 pieces! That should rest as my testament to how good these are. Try them ASAP, ya’ll.

Recipe: Serves 2-4 (or just me)

1 bunch of mustard greens

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of Cajun seasonings

Salt to taste*

Note: Keep in mind that the Cajun seasoning has salt in the actual blend of seasonings, so you may want to use a little less salt than you would normally use to salt greens (or, if you are a halophyte, use as much as you want!)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees

Triple wash and thoroughly dry the mustard greens (I use a salad spinner to make sure my greens are dry, but you can use a kitchen towel or paper towels if you don’t have a salad spinner.) Remove the center rib from the larger greens. The ribs are tough to eat, so you just want to make sure that you are using the leafy part of the greens. Place the greens in a large bowl and add the olive oil and seasonings. Toss the greens with your fingers until all of the greens are covered evenly with the oil and seasonings. Transfer the greens to a cookie sheet and lay in a single layer (you may need to use 2 cookie sheets for all of the greens to fit properly in a single layer.) Let the greens bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until dry and slightly brown. Then, dig in!

Ain’t No Thing but a Coca-Cola Wing

Coca cola Chicken Wings

An anonymous admirer called Coca-Cola  “the holy water of the American South.” Whenever an uninvited, yet beloved visitor shows up on your doorstep, you offer them sweet tea, coffee or Coca-Cola. It has become a part of the tradition of Southern hospitality. There is something about this beverage that is outlandishly comforting and familiar to Southerners. I remember riding my bike to the nearest filling station, pulling up to the bright red and white machine, depositing my hard earned allowance into the machine and waiting for the “clink” of the coin. The magic door opened and, alas, a perfectly sized glass bottle of fizzy and uplifting Coca-Cola would be waiting for me. Tempted by the sound of the cap slowly being twisted off the bottle and the refreshing taste, I devoured the beverage right there on the spot. The taste of Coke became part of our childhood and inherently so, became part of Southerner’s children’s lives. The tradition of Coke was born in the South and still steals a spot in our hearts and our tummies.

* This recipe has been adapted from Virginia Willis’s brilliant Bon Appetit Ya’ll. It is an excellent way to highlight the complexity of Coca-Cola.

Recipe: Serves 6

2 limes, juiced

1 ½ cups of brown sugar

1 cup of Coca-Cola

3 jalapenos, ribs and seeds discarded, finely diced*

3 pounds of chicken wings

Pinch of cayenne (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Note: Please protect your skin whenever you deal with peppers. Make sure you wash your hands well after dealing with these babies. The first time I made these, I thought my hands were made of steel and I ended up watching the Super Bowl with my hand in a container of sour cream. Not ideal.

Combine all ingredients except for wings in a saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring sauce to a boil and then simmer for at least 30 minutes or until the sauce begins to reduce and thicken up. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare a roasting sheet with heavy-duty foil and place a cooling rack on top of the foil. Place the oven rack 4 inches away from the broiler. Crank the broiler on high.

Place half of the sauce onto the wings and reserve the rest for basting. Place wings on the cooling rack. Bake for five minutes, baste and rotate the roasting pan. Place back in the oven for five more minutes. Take the wings out again and baste again with sauce. Flip the wings over and bake for 5 minutes. Take the wings out and baste, rotate the pan and place back in the oven for five more minutes. After five minutes, take wings out and baste wings for the last time, about 20 minutes total. Let cool and serve.

 

True Grits

 

Grits SouffléLocated in Five Points South, Highlands Bar & Grill inhabits a tile-topped Spanish Revival building of stucco accentuated with stone around the door and windows. Built by the Munger family during the late 1920’s, the structure served as a tearoom during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Chef Frank Stitt chose this building to house his restaurant, which opened in 1982. The décor is a mixture of Stitt himself, a combination of Southern and French accents. The butter-colored walls, glittering mirrors, and vintage French posters add warmth to the relaxed atmosphere.

My intentions were pure. I traipsed into the bar, plopped myself on a stool and glazed over the menu. The second my eyes scanned the stone-ground grits soufflé the decision was made. In a matter of moments, the smell of butter, ham, and chanterelle mushrooms filled the air as I laid my eyes on the cloud-like grits soufflé. There, like a lone reed, stood a pale disk of grits in a pool of creamy white sauce accompanied with drowning bits of ham and chanterelles. Fresh thyme was strewn across the top of the dish and the warmth of the sauce created a lovely, almost grassy perfume.

My fork teetered into the soufflé and I soaked the morsel in the buttery sauce. After taking my first bite, I was overwhelmed by the thought that this was the best morsel that has ever crossed my lips EVER. I tried my hardest to savor the complex flavors of the dish, but, alas, my greed and appetite won me over and the dish disappeared in shear minutes. I sat back at the bar and relaxed for just one moment, one bittersweet moment. I was in pure heaven from the dish but deeply saddened that I had eaten it all. So I made one wise and gluttonous decision, I looked at the waiter and said,”un autre, s’il vous plait.” Yes, I ate two.

This is my version of the complex and knee-bending dish with an easy-to-make-at-home twist.

Recipe: Inspired by Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill and Adapted from John Currence’s Grits Soufflé featured in the November 2011 Issue of Bon Appétit

Serves 8-10

For the Grits:

1 cup of coarse stone-ground grits

1 cup of chopped bacon, cooked and drained, reserving 2 tablespoons of bacon fat

6 eggs

½ cup of heavy whipping cream

2 cups of grated cheddar

2 tablespoons of chives (optional)

Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Butter a 2-quart baking dish or 10 ramekins

Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Slowly, whisk in grits. Reduce the heat to low. Continuously stir the grits for about 1 hour, while adding water to the grits as they thicken (about ¼ cup at a time.) Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the eggs and cream together. Whisk the egg mixture into the grits in 3 additions. Add cheddar cheese (reserving ¼ cup for the top of the grits), chives (if using), and bacon. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

Transfer grits to baking dish or individual ramekins and sprinkle on remaining cheese. Cook the grits in a 350-degree oven for 50-60 minutes in the baking dish and 40 minutes for the ramekins. You want to make sure that the center of the soufflé is set and the top gets nice and brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Garlic Confit:

6 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

3 sprigs of thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon of black pepper

¼ pound of country ham, hand torn

Juice of ¼ lemon

Melt butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Add bacon fat, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes and black pepper and country ham. Let the ingredients simmer for 5-10 minutes, the butter will have turned slightly brown. Take off the heat and add lemon juice. Let cool slightly.

To assemble:

If you cooked the grits in a baking dish, just serve the confit on the side and drizzle a small amount onto of the grits. If using a ramekin, invert the grits onto a small dish and spoon the confit around the grits soufflé and garnish with more thyme leaves. Enjoy!