APPLE FRITTERS & AN ANNOUNCEMENT

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Professor Moser was my English professor as well as a sort of grandmother figure to me during my freshman year of college. She was a petite, elegant woman with excellent posture and perfectly coiffed hair. She would prefer for me to say she was more of a godmother figure than a grandmother because she was oblivious of her age. We spent time after class in lively debates about novels, classic movies, and, of course, food. She was full of wisdom, and I astutely sat next to her soaking it all in. So, when the first lovely autumn day arrived in Waco that year, she declared it the perfect day for a long lunch.  We piled into her sleek white Cadillac and made our way down a long winding road, which at the time felt like it led absolutely nowhere, but she assured me the road steered us to her favorite little café in the heart of a quaint Amish community.

We sat in the center of the dining room, under stained glass windows and beautiful wooden beams. There was a steady fire in the stone fireplace. (It was pleasant even though it wasn’t quite cold enough for a fire, but it reminded me of my grandmother in Louisiana who lights a fire whenever the temperature dips below 60oF.) We enjoyed a meal of roasted meats, bread made from freshly milled flour and lettuces picked from a garden located just behind the restaurant. When it was time to order dessert, I couldn’t decide between the praline ice cream or apple fritter. Both looked wonderful and seemed quite “autumnal”. We ordered two of both. “Life’s too short to choose just one dessert,” she said decisively.

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As I dipped the last crumb of fritter into a melted puddle of praline ice cream, she looked at me sternly and said, “If you don’t become a writer, you will be the biggest waste of talent I’ve ever met.” I sat stunned and secretly impressed by her polite bluntness. “Well, I’m going to be a scientist,” I said resolutely, like most young people do. She smiled and nodded, as if she had a glimpse into the future, all the while knowing I would be amazingly mistaken.

This is one of those treasured memories I keep on a shelf, always at hand. On the same shelf are words of encouragement, gentle nudges from loved ones, challenges, victories and failures. All this to say, I can look back and say the Professor was right. You see, I’ve been keeping a secret. A rather big secret.

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For a while now, I’ve been working behind the scenes with my agent on a proposal for my first cookbook, and I’m pleased as punch to announce it will be released March 2018 by Harper Collins! All of the recipes, with the exception of a few favorites from this site, are brand new. I can’t wait to share them with you! Thank you for your words of encouragement along the way, for emailing me letting me know my grandma’s blackberry pie recipe was the hit of your family dinner, and for sharing your personal experiences from home.

Here’s to a season of new adventures! x Amber

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Vanilla Bean Glazed Apple Fritters

Makes 6

Note: To make the Vanilla Bean Glaze simply whisk together 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract, 2 tablespoons milk and ¾ cup powdered sugar in a shallow bowl just before frying the fritters.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1½ tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ teaspoon instant yeast

1 egg, room temperature

½ teaspoon lemon zest

3 tablespoons warm water

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons raw cane sugar

1 large apple, peeled, cored, cut into ½” chunks

Vegetable oil, for frying

 

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a beater attachment, combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast, egg, zest, and water. Beat on a medium speed for 8 minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball. Allow the dough to rest for 1 minute.

Start the mixer up again on medium speed and slowly add 2 tablespoons of butter, about a teaspoon at a time.

Once the butter is incorporated, mix on a high speed for 5 minutes until glossy, smooth and elastic.

Turn the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Knead the dough for a moment, just to let the air out, recover, and chill for 24 hours.

In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter, cinnamon, raw cane sugar and apple. Cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Allow the filling to cool either on the countertop at room temperature or in the fridge until you are ready to make the fritters.

After 24 hours, plop the dough onto a generously floured surface. Press the dough into a 12×9” rectangle. Spread the apples onto half of the dough and fold the remaining half over the apples. Pinch the edges together.

Using a knife or a pastry scraper, cut dough into ½” strips, then cut crosswise into ½” strips again. Repeat this process again, but this time on the diagonal.

Flour your hands well and gather the dough pieces together to for a log.

Slice the log into 6 equal pieces.

Transfer the fritter dough onto 2 rimmed baking sheets dusted with flour. Flatten the fritters while pressing them together. I mean flatten! This will ensure the fritters will not fall apart when fried. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let the fritters rise for 1 hour.

In a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat 2” of oil until it reaches 360oF.

Using a spatula, gently lower the fritter dough into the oil. Don’t crowd the pot. (I fry 1-2 at a time!) The fritters fry quick, about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown and fully cooked.

Remove the fritter with a spider or slotted spoon onto a plate lined with a paper towel.

While the fritters are still warm, dip the top of the fritter into the glaze. Allow the glaze to set and enjoy!

KINGS OF THE BAYOU

Fig & Bacon Quiche | for the love of the south

All of my memories begin and end with food, and so all of my recipes are inspired by memories. It’s a mutual relationship. Characters develop around kitchen islands, barbecue pits, and dining room tables. Personalities are woven in between strings and strings of meals, revealing a colorful backdrop for every story I recount. Everyone I grew up around would be considered food obsessed, although no one pointed it out or even mentioned it because we were oblivious to the fact since we all thought about food the same. We would chat about what we were having for lunch at the breakfast table, dinner at lunch, so on and so forth. It was a never-ending discussion.

Almost everyone I knew lived in a modest home with enough yard for a simple garden filled with tomatoes, okra, and peppers, a satsuma and fig tree. Every once in a while, the occasional chicken or pig could be spotted running around backyards, feasting on herbs. We didn’t have a lot in the eyes of the world, but we ate like kings. Even if our table was littered with crawfish peelings, our throne looked more or less like a broken in La-Z-Boy recliner and our crowns denoted favored football teams. We ate like kings. That’s all that mattered.

Fresh Figs & Bacon | for the love of the south

{This particular recipe reminds me of a story my dad told me recently. He and his younger brother would hide in my great grandma Domingue’s fig tree. The tree was strategically positioned over their chicken coop. There, they sat in the branches waiting for the opportune moment. Just as the hens began laying eggs…pew pew pew! They would pelt the foul fowls with large green figs, not the smallish purple ones, naturally. The naughty prank would result in the mystery of the hens that wouldn’t lay eggs, which just so happened to coincide with fig season.}

Fig & Bacon Quiche | for the love of the south

Fig & Bacon Quiche

Serves 6

Note: This quiche is at its best right after it’s had time to cool for a few minutes, right out of the oven! If left at room temperature too long, the figs lose their appeal. They leave a blue ring around the filling as they pull away. Also, the flavor and texture of the figs are at their height when piping hot!

1¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus ¾ teaspoon for filling

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed, chilled

¼ cup cold water

½ oz. bourbon

¼ cup ice cubes

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup heavy whipping cream

4 bacon slices, cut into thin strips

6 fresh figs, trimmed, halved

1 egg white, for brushing

Kosher salt and black pepper, for seasoning

 

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture. On low speed, combine 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, bourbon 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 the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 425oF

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 10 inches in diameter. Gently place the dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges by pinching the dough between your index finger and thumb. Continue crimping the edges all the way around the edges. Place the pie plate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Take the pie plate out of the fridge, and with the tines of a fork, poke the bottom and sides of the dough 15-20 times. This step is called docking and will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes. Place the pie plate in the freezer for 10 minutes.

With a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of the crust with the egg white. The egg white creates a barrier between the filling and the piecrust as it bakes keeping the crust from getting soggy. Bake for 3 minutes and allow the quiche shell to cool while preparing the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 350oF

Whisk eggs, cream, remaining ¾ teaspoon salt, and freshly cracked black pepper until well combined and fluffy. Set aside.

In a medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Scatter fig halves cut side up and crisp bacon onto the bottom of the prepared pie shell. Add the egg and cream mixture over the figs and bacon.

Place in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the top is slightly golden, edges are lightly browned and the filling is set in the center. Allow the quiche to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

 

THE LAST OF THE SUMMER DAYS

 

Vanilla Infused Canned Peaches | for the love of the south

There are times for This and times for That, and right now is the time for puttin’ up the last of the summer jewels before they fade away for another year. Dusty purple figs melt into copper pots and glisten like rich, amber-hued honey. Emerald okra pods plunge into pools of seasoned vinegar. Golden peach wedges flecked with vanilla seeds suspend in their own syrup.  Blackberries soak in tubs of water, ready to line the deep freeze. Each jar holds a memory; a beloved frozen moment I hold onto long after the season tells me I should.

Peaches | for the love of the south

For me, these jars trigger memories of those who perfected the art of preserving and the time spent on their cedar-lined screened porches, swaying on the squeaky, white swing where I watched wrinkled hands mechanically plow through pounds and pounds of perfectly ripe summer produce all the while prattling on about This and That. A string of chipped navy and white enamel pots, silver ladles, sterilized quilted glass jars littered the porch floor. The same battery of characters appeared and disappeared as quickly as Cinderella’s ball gown. A cloud perfumed with peaches and sugar pours out of the kitchen and onto the porch. The cloud smells like a warm summer day, which is the exact aroma that’s lingering in my kitchen as I write.

Canning Peaches | for the love of the south

So, all That to say, This is the time for preserving before it’s forgotten and gone, before it’s just a memory of peach juice trickling down my chin. And with it, the last of the summer days.

Canned Peaches | for the love of the south

 

Vanilla Infused Canned Peaches

Makes 8, 8oz. jars

Note: To sterilize the jars, bands and lids: Stand the jars upright on a rimmed baking sheet, leaving space between each jar. Place rings and seals upside down on another rimmed baking sheet, again, making sure to leave space between each seal and ring. Place the baking sheets in a cold oven. As you are prepping the peaches, preheat the oven to 225oF. Once the oven is preheated, set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the oven off and keep the jars warm in the oven until you are ready to fill them with the peaches.

4 pounds ripe peaches, washed and fuzz rubbed off with a clean tea towel

2 whole vanilla beans

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1½ cups cold water

¾ cup granulated sugar

2½ cups recently boiled water

Ice, for ice bath

 

Slice both vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Then slice in half crosswise.

Score the bottom of each peach with an “X.”

Fill a large stock pot with water ¾ the way up the sides. Bring to a boil. Let the scored peaches sit in the boiling water for 1 minute. Keep the pot on a low heat to process cans for later.

Toss the peaches in a large bowl filled with ice and cold water.

Half the peaches, remove pits and slice halves into wedges. Gently peel the skin off the peaches using a sharp paring knife. Toss peach wedges into a large bowl with lemon juice and 1½ cups cold water.

Pour recently boiled water into a large measuring cup. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Drain the peaches of the lemon water and pour in the simple syrup. Let the peach wedges sit in the warm syrup for 5 minutes.

While the peaches are sitting in the warm syrup, bring the stock pot back to a boil and take the sterilized jars and lids out of the warm oven.

Carefully place 1 sliver of vanilla bean in each jar without touching the sides of the sterilized jars. Spoon the peaches into sterilized jars. Top each jar off with the syrup, leaving ¼” of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean tea towel. Screw the lids onto the jars and carefully place the jars in the boiling water with a pair of tongs. Process the jars for 20 minutes in boiling water. Remove the jars from the water. You should hear popping sounds as the jars seal. Allow the jars to cool for a few hours on the countertop. Test each jar’s seal by pressing the middle of each lid. If there is no give, the jars are ready to be stashed away in the pantry. If the middle of the lid pops back when pressed, the jar did not seal properly. Stash any improperly sealed jars in the fridge. Use canned peaches year-round in pies, served with a dutch baby, on top of vanilla ice cream, with yogurt for breakfast or just by themselves eaten at midnight over the kitchen sink!

Canning Jars | for the love of the south

 

 

BASIL BOUQUETS & ALL-CLAD GIVEAWAY

Basil Pesto Handkerchief Pasta | for the love of the south

My bedroom window opens to a view of a small garden. Since we moved into our house in the dead of winter, I must admit I didn’t think much of our neighbor’s garden. But this past week, I found myself standing at the window each morning, watching our dear neighbor, Lilly, in her oversized straw hat and daisy print gardening gloves tending to the garden.

If you walk down the stone pathway lined with violets, hyacinths, and lilies, you will be greeted into the garden with the warm scent of honey coming from a fig tree. It’s sprawling branches and leaves act as an umbrella. A sort of safe haven in the center of the garden. Past the fig tree is a raised bed dedicated to tomatoes: cherry and grape tomatoes, yellow pear-shaped ones, fat beefsteak and elongated Romas. The raised bed closest to the fence that divides our lots is filled, and I mean filled, with basil. That’s it. Just basil. Our fence is covered with grapevines and tiny grape clusters, which remind me of baubles I used to find in my grandmother’s jewelry box.

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I caught Lilly’s eye from my bedroom window, and we waved to each other. She pointed to the massive bed of basil and cupped her hands to her mouth, “I can’t imagine a summer without basil, can you?”  I shook my head and smiled in complete agreement.

The next morning, I opened my front door and found a lovely bouquet, not of freshly picked flowers, but of basil, and a note that read “… so you’re prepared for the summer. –Lilly”

Basil Pesto Pasta | for the love of the south

{GIVEAWAY | To enter the All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel All-In-One Pan Giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite summertime dishes between now and midnight, June 2nd. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on June 3rd. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please!}

Basil Pesto Handkerchief Pasta | for the love of the south

 

Handkerchief Pasta with Basil Pesto

Serves 2

Note: You can make the basil pesto ahead of time and just stash it in the fridge to have on hand for a quick and easy meal. Also, the pasta can be made ahead. Once you have rolled out and cut the pasta, place the fresh pasta in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, stack the frozen pasta in a gallon-sized freezer bag and stash away until you are ready to boil! 

200g all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Generous pinch red pepper flakes

1 large bunch of basil, leaves only

¾ cup olive oil

½ lemon, juiced

1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Sea salt & black pepper, to season

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add flour and a pinch of sea salt. Blend together with fingertips and create a well in the center. Add eggs to the well. Mix on a low speed until the dough comes together. Switch to dough hook attachment and knead until the sides of the bowl are clean and the dough wraps around the hook, about 3-5 minutes. The dough will be soft and smooth.

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the pesto.

In a mortar and pestle or a food processor, add garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Add red pepper flakes and basil leaves. Pound or pulse the ingredients together, forming a paste. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. Continue mixing together, tasting as you go. Once the pesto is perfectly seasoned, set aside.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces; slightly flatten making it easier to pass through the pasta machine. Pass pasta through the widest setting of the pasta machine. Fold in half and pass through 9 more times, dust with a little flour as needed.

Decrease the pasta machine to ½ the thickness and pass through twice.

Decrease the pasta machine setting again to the 2nd to last thinnest setting and pass through the pasta machine once. Repeat with the rest of the pasta. Lay sheets on a tea towel.

Bring a pot of water to boil and season the water with salt. Cut the sheets into square handkerchiefs.

(Now, this next step happens quickly so ready a strainer to drain the pasta by the sink, a small mug to reserve a little pasta water for the sauce, and warm a few pasta bowls!)

Toss the fresh pasta into the water and boil for just a few minutes, or until the pasta floats to the top. Scoop out about ½ cup of the pasta water. Set aside. Drain pasta.

In a large pan over medium high heat, add the basil pesto. Once the pesto heats through, add the drained pasta along with a small amount of the reserved pasta water. Toss, toss, toss! If you notice the pasta needs more sauce, add a few more drops of pasta water.

Toss into warmed pasta bowls, scatter with more parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil and basil leaves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GREEN GUMBO & HOLY THURSDAY

Southern Greens | for the love of the south

There is an old Creole saying, “Jardin loin, gombo gâté,”which means, “When the garden is far, the gumbo is spoiled.” This phrase best depicts the dishes I grew up eating. Most of the vegetables on our table were plucked straight from own backyard or from the local farmer down the road. Our produce never strayed far from our property line, much less the Calcasieu Parish borders. Beginning with crisp, fresh produce is key when preparing gumbos, étoufées and fricassées, which simmer and stew for hours. So, you can image my delight when I found bins brimming with beautiful greens at the farmers market the other day. I brought back a basket filled with lovely leafy greens to make a dish I only make this time of year: a pot of green gumbo that’s steeped in tradition.

Louisiana Window | for the love of the south

In New Orleans, gumbo z’herbes is a meatless dish traditionally served on Fridays during Lenten season when folks abstain from eating meat. Gumbo z’herbes, like all gumbos, starts with a nutty roux and the Holy Trinity: onions, celery and bell pepper. Its bulk comes from tons and tons, or at least a few pounds, of seasonal greens. Custom says that the number of greens represents the number of friends you are going to make that year, and you must use an odd number of greens for luck.

St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

Outside St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

Lenten rules alter on the Holy Week, the week leading to the celebration of Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), which is the day before Good Friday, gumbo z’herbes is served with the same amount of greens but is matched pound per pound with rich meat. In preparation for a day of fasting on Good Friday, every bite of gumbo z’herbes contains lots of spicy, smoky sausage and chicken to sustain hunger and greens to nourish the soul, local greens, of course, or else the gumbo is ruined!

Garden of the Two Sisters | for the love of the south

Gumbo Z'Herbes | for the love of the south

Gumbo Z’Herbes

Serves 8-10

Note: Feel free to pick your favorite greens and add them to the pot. As long as you end up with 3 pounds of greens, that’s all that matters.

P.S. If there are any leftovers this gumbo freezes beautifully.

1 gallon cold, filtered water

3 pounds mixed leafy greens (collards, kale, spinach, lettuce, savoy cabbage), triple washed

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 bone-in chicken thighs, both sides lightly seasoned with kosher salt

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into ½-¾ inch coins

¾ pound ground sirloin

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¾ cup canola oil

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

1 medium-sized green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium-sized Serrano pepper, deseeded, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to season

Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce, for serving

Steamed Rice, for serving

Remove tough ribs from the kale and collard greens, and remove the outer leaves and core from the cabbage. Roughly chop the greens. Weigh the greens as you go, making sure there are at least 3 pounds of washed and torn greens.

In a large stockpot over high heat, bring water and mixed leafy greens to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the boiled greens, reserving 2 quarts plus 2 cups of water in a large pitcher for the gumbo. Purée the greens in a food processor. (You may have to do this in a few batches!) Set aside.

Return the stockpot to medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, browning both sides. Remove the chicken from the pot, and add the smoked sausage. Brown both sides and set aside with the chicken thighs. Add ground sirloin and red pepper flakes to the pot. Break up the sirloin with a wooden spoon. Once the sirloin has browned, set aside with the rest of the meat.

Add canola oil and flour meat drippings in the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon until the roux comes together in a blond paste. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir often until the roux turns a peanut butter color, about 15 minutes. Stir constantly at this point. The roux will quickly turn to the color of milk chocolate. Turn off the heat, and immediately add the garlic, green onions, bell pepper, Serrano, celery and puréed greens. The mixture will sizzle, but continue stirring until the sizzling subsides. Add seared meat and reserved water from the boiled greens. Season with cayenne, salt and black pepper. Turn the heat to medium-high. Bring to boil and reduce heat to low, partially covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. After 1 hour, take the chicken out of the pot and allow to cool slightly. Hand shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Return the chicken back to the pot and cook the gumbo for another hour, making sure to skim off any oil that rises to the surface. Adjust seasoning. Serve with Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce and steamed rice.

New Orleans | for the love of the south

 

HOW TO EAT ALONE

Black Pepper, Grapefruit with Local Honey & Yogurt | for the love of the south

I never truly knew who he was. I saw him every Saturday morning at precisely 11 o’clock at a restaurant I worked at as a hostess after I graduated high school. He was a short, thin elderly gentleman dressed in creased tweed slacks and a crisp button down shirt with a local Waco newspaper tucked under his right arm. Wrinkles around his eyes and cheeks folded gently into each other as he greeted me. His wide, toothsome smile was stained from a lifetime of daily indulgences: coffee, red wine and pipe tobacco. We walked through the restaurant to his favorite table, table number 26. The small, circular bistro table was the second to last in a row of identical tables in the atrium. The atrium was long and narrow. Small windowpanes stretched from the floor to the curved ceiling, which poured sunshine into the otherwise dark restaurant. I sat with him for just a few minutes before having to dash away as the lunch crowd began to pick up.

He sat at table number 26 for nearly two hours. He ordered two glasses of red wine, one he drank with his appetizer and the other with his entrée. He ordered lightly battered and fried sweet onion rings, spritzing them with lemon before each bite. Filet mignon crowned with a pat of bleu cheese butter was always his entrée of choice. He let it sit undisturbed for just a few minutes, allowing the butter to melt and drip down the sides of the seared meat before plunging his knife into the steak, revealing its blushing medium rare center. As he enjoyed his meal, he would alternate between people watching and reading his newspaper, spectacles balancing dangerously close to the end of his nose. He sat with his right leg draped over his left. His foot bounced in the air every few seconds, drawing attention to his tiny, shiny doll-like shoes. Coffee arrived with a small silver cup of cold cream and a plate of milk chocolate cake sitting on top of a pool of dark chocolate ganache scattered with berries. Usually by this time, the lunch crowd dwindled enough for me to be able to sit with him again as he enjoyed his dessert. He called it his “treat of the week.” He reminded me of a giddy schoolboy as he ate bite after bite of chocolate cake, gently swiping each forkful across the plate, soaking up as much chocolate ganache as possible.

Blood Orange Juice | for the love of the south

For many months, I was curious as to why he never invited anyone to come and eat with him at his favorite restaurant at table number 26. He certainly wasn’t a recluse or without friends or family to spend time with. He was a widower, but his children and grandchildren lived in town. After a few months passed, the answer became clear.

Most people are embarrassed of eating alone or try to avoid it completely. He dined alone intentionally, and savored every second. What I learned from him never came from conversation. Silently and unknowingly, he taught me a great lesson: how to eat alone and enjoy the company.

Grapefruit with Yogurt & Black Pepper:

Serves 1, deliberately

Note: Whenever I find myself eating alone, I tend to pay as close attention to the preparation and presentation of the dish as much as if I would be hosting a dinner. Yogurt served with seasonal fruit serves as my everyday breakfast, along with a glass of juice and mug (or occasionally a bowl) of chicory coffee laced with sweetened milk. I’m aware that this is hardly a recipe, but it’s how I start off nearly every solitary morning. When I’m alone, I gravitate to simple, balanced recipes that I can whip up in a matter of moments! 

At the moment, grapefruit and blood oranges are in season, but during the spring I swap out the citrus for strawberries and blackberries. In the summer, peaches and the fall, figs.

(The black pepper is completely optional! I enjoy adding a peppery bite to fresh citrus, but feel free to leave it out.)

1 large grapefruit, peelings removed, cut into thin sections

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon local honey

Freshly ground black pepper, optional

Arrange the grapefruit wedges onto a plate.

Mix together yogurt and honey and spoon the sweetened yogurt next to the grapefruit. Lightly dust the grapefruit with black pepper, if using. Enjoy!

 

 

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.