COMFORT ME WITH BUCATINI

Tomato Butter Sauce with Bucatini | for the love of the south

Cooking in advance makes me feel secure, relaxed. As we know, life does not arrange itself according to our schedules. Yes, sometimes takeout is the answer, but I rest easy as my trusty sauce of solace is there for me, like the most loyal of friends. There’s comfort in knowing all that’s left to dinner is to boil pasta, reheat this sauce from either the fridge or the freezer and a deep dish of pleasurable pasta awaits. 

This recipe is by the Grande Dame of Italian cooking herself, Marcella Hazan. If you love Italian cooking, you must have her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter is one of the simplest pasta sauces, but what holds true in the kitchen holds true in life: the simplest things are the greatest. This recipe only has four ingredients, and the rule of thumb in cooking; the shorter the ingredient list, the higher quality of all the characters involved. Buy the best canned tomatoes and most wonderful butter you can get your hands on. I do have a habit of puréeing the tomatoes, but you can roughly chop or hand crush if you like. Add the tomatoes along with the butter, onion halves and salt to a pot. Simply place the saucepan on the stove and let it simmer away for 45 minutes or so. This sauce looks after itself, but you can give it a stir every so often to feel like you’re being a good guardian. You will know when the sauce is ready when the fat from the butter begins to pool at the top of the surface. The natural sweetness of the onion mellows the sharp acidity of the tomatoes. Butter adds a richness to the sauce and a wonderful stick-to-me-goodness when tossed with the pasta. It’s what I like to call a healthy relationship.

Simply adjust the salt to your taste, remove the onion, boil some pasta and dinner is just moments away. If you are making this sauce a day or two ahead, just stash it in the fridge, leaving the onion in the sauce and remove before reheating and tossing with pasta. I often make large batches of this sauce, portion into freezer bags, label and freeze so I can have a divine meal whenever I’m too tired or don’t have time to cook during the week but still desire to be comforted by a warm bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, which is often.

Swathed in the simplest velvety smooth tomato sauce and generously showered with Parmesan cheese, this pasta is best enjoyed with a loved one curled up in the deepest corner of the couch.

Comforting Tomato Butter Sauce with Bucatini

Serves 2 | Makes about 2½ cups tomato sauce 

The integrity of Marcella Hazan’s recipe is still very much intact. The original recipe allows for this sauce to coat 1 pound of pasta, but I find it’s perfect for 8 ounces of dried pasta served between two greedy individuals who love tomato sauce. Also, I’m using bucatini, but you can use your favorite pasta shape: angel hair, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni. In the words of Cole Porter, anything goes!

1, 28-ounce canned tomatoes, puréed or hand crushed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved 

Kosher salt 

8 ounces dried bucatini 

Parmesan cheese, for serving 

Simply toss the tomatoes, butter and onion in a saucepan over medium low heat. Season with salt and bring to a steady simmer. Allow the sauce to simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to scrape the sides of the pot. Adjust the seasoning and remove the onion.  

Boil the pasta according to the package instructions, drain and toss the pasta into the hot sauce. Keep tossing until every strand is well coated. Serve among two warm bowls and scatter with Parmesan cheese. 

ODE TO CAST IRON

Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie | for the love of the south

As I glide my fingertips across the slick surface, I can’t help but think of the never-ending tales of home cooked meals over the years preserved away in the glossy depths of the cast iron skillet. As the seasons change, I need my cast iron stories to tell of heartwarming, comforting meals. Chilly autumn afternoons are instantly uplifted by hearty soups and stews blipping away on the back burner. Lazy weekend mornings are filled with warm spices as pumpkin pie spice Dutch babies bake in the oven, revealing their duvet like ruffled edges and melted puddles of butter. Impossibility crisp roast chicken heady with the aroma of rosemary and garlic reclines in a skillet along with baby potatoes basking in a pool of gloriously golden chicken renderings. Effortless yet elegant pot pies with the flakiest edges of puff pastry grace the dining table. All of these dishes give thanks to the humble yet precious cast iron skillet. These are the kind of meals that comfort, making one feel whole again.

Fall Pumpkins | for the love of the south

My love of cast iron is inherited. Growing up, our heirlooms came in the form of glossy smooth cast iron skillets. These gleaming black skillets were permanent fixtures on the stovetops of the kitchens I grew up in. The most precious cast iron in my family belonged to my great great grandmother. I remember the moment I first laid eyes on its glasslike surface, and I thought about the decades of fried doughnuts, cornbread, roux and yeast rolls made in this skillet. The memory of each meal sealed away in its depths, adding layers to its history. When I held the treasured skillet, I felt in a way it had the power to bond me with the great women Southern before me -making me feel part of its legacy.

Cast Iron | for the love of the south

As a young girl, I was taught to value and respect the skillet. It sears beautifully, it’s essentially nonstick (just make sure you preheat the skillet first), and once the skillet is hot it stays hot. You get the loveliest crust when baking pies and breads in cast iron. It deepens flavors of dishes as it caramelizes or chars whatever is in the skillet beautifully. Because of its ability to withstand blistering hot temperatures, it’s perfect to use on the grill. Also, cast iron can go from the stove to the oven to the table, which means it saves me from washing any extra dishes.

Here are a few tips to keep your cast iron performing beautifully: A well-seasoned skillet—one that is essentially nonstick and has a shiny surface slick from use—can handle acidic foods, but if your skillet is new, acid will strip the seasoning. So, steer clear of anything acidic like vinegars, lemon juice, and tomatoes while you build up your seasoning.

After you are finished cooking in your cast iron, allow it to cool slightly and rinse it under hot water. Scrub with a pan brush until clean. Dry the skillet immediately and place it on the stovetop over medium-low heat. While the skillet is heating up, pour a nickel-size drop of flavorless oil, such as sunflower oil, into the skillet. You don’t need much! Turn the heat off and rub the oil into the surface of the skillet with a paper towel. Let the skillet cool and dry completely before putting it away.

Chicken Pot Pie Filling | for the love of the south

If you have stubborn residue caked onto your skillet, here’s what you do: Place the skillet on medium heat and add water to fill it one-quarter of the way up the side. Once the water begins to boil you will notice the residue releasing from the surface of your skillet. You can use a wooden spatula or spoon to help scrape the bits off the bottom of the skillet. Rinse out the pan. If there is still grime at the bottom, repeat until clean. If necessary, you can use a mild detergent. Just remember to season it afterward.

If you ever do discover a rust spot, don’t fear. Just use a stiff brush dipped in vinegar to scrub it off, let it dry and then rub it with a drop of oil. If you have a skillet that’s been neglected in the deepest darkest part of your cupboards, and it has become gray in color or has a light coating of rust at the bottom, all you have to do is wash the skillet with hot, soapy water, rinse and dry completely. Apply a neutral oil on a paper towel and rub the inside and outside of the skillet with oil. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drips and place the skillet upside down on the top rack of the oven. Bake for one hour, turn the oven off and let the skillet cool completely in the oven before storing.

The best advice I can give to keep your cast iron skillet looking and performing beautifully is to use it constantly. This is the perfect time to make strings and strings of heartwarming meals leaving you and your loved ones feeling taken care of, readied to face a lovely season of change.

Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie | for the love of the south

Here is the link to my Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie recipe I created for Whole Foods Market this fall!

This post is written in partnership with Whole Foods Market, but all opinions are my own.

AROUND THE TABLE

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise | for the love of the south

Tracing the lines down the slats of my kitchen table, sketching over the saw marks with my fingertips. This table gives life in a way, serving as a place to feed family, friends and myself; it’s a safe haven. It’s where we are restored and fortified, empowering us to face the world again.

I’m not a professional chef, but I am a professional eater, a home cook. The story of a home cook is rooted in where we come from, the lives we’ve lived, and the mouths we feed. My favorite cookbooks are written by home cooks. They are the ones that weave stories together; stories strung along about the lives of recipes, succession of meals, characters revealed around the table. My book is a story of the culture I hold dear, but more importantly, it’s a collection of what I eat every day.

Around the Table | for the love of the south

If you’ve had a marvelous tomato sandwich, then you will understand why I’m sharing this recipe from my book. Honestly, a tomato sandwich done right can be one of the most wonderful things in life. It’s simple yet deeply satisfying. Also, this is one of the handful of recipes that helped sustain me while spending countless hours writing and editing my cookbook. It never failed me, and no matter how busy I was, I knew in my kitchen I had the basics; bread, mayonnaise, Tabasco, bacon in my freezer and tomatoes on my countertop. There is such security in knowing I have everything I need to make a juicy and crispy tomato bacon sandwich.

I spent the first two years in my new house without a kitchen table. I couldn’t quite find the right one until I spotted this beautiful reclaimed wood table from Arhaus. It is elegant, sturdy, and full of character. I love how it had a life before it graced our dining room. The kitchen table is something precious to me. It’s one of those things like my skillets, silver, pearls and china I will pass on. This table will see many years of candlelit dinners ending in nights of empty bourbon glasses and caramel wrappers, brunches with antique vases spread about the table filled with blushing blooms, vanilla scented doughnuts, blackberries, chicory café au lait, and late lunches spent over bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo and spicy skillet fried okra. All the while, I’ll be engraving my own stories around the table, the heart of my home.

Tomato Bacon Sandwich from Cookbook | for the love of the south

Tomato & Bacon Sandwich with Chipotle Mayonnaise

Serves 1

This recipe is a grown-up version of my childhood go-to sandwich. If done correctly, a tomato sandwich can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. Since this recipe is simple and requires few ingredients, quality is key, so try to buy the best bread, tomatoes, and bacon that you can.

2 slices thick-cut bacon

2 slices of your favorite bread (I love sourdough or a crusty baguette.)

Chipotle Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

2 slices tomato (1/2 to 3⁄4 inch thick)

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. Drain the bacon on a plate lined with a paper towel. Place the skillet back on the heat and toast up both sides of the bread in the bacon renderings until golden brown.

Spread a layer of the chipotle mayonnaise over one side of each piece of toast. Lay the slices of bacon on top of the mayonnaise. Lightly press down on the bacon, helping it adhere to the mayonnaise. Lay the tomato slices on top of the bacon. Crown the sandwich with the remaining piece of mayonnaise-slathered toast. Press down on the sandwich and cut on the diagonal. This sandwich is best enjoyed standing over the kitchen sink.

CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

Makes 1⁄4 cup

1⁄4 cup mayonnaise

Several dashes of Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce

In a measuring cup, combine the mayonnaise and chipotle pepper sauce. Any leftover mayonnaise can be stored in the refrigerator for another use.

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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

 

BEIGNETS, I LOVE Y’ALL

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

There is a bridge stretching over Lake Pontchartrain, a very long bridge, which connects Mandeville to Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. We made our way past the gilded Superdome, onto Poydras to Decatur St. The scent of boiled crawfish, brewed Abita beer and fried beignets pierced the air. There is a tangible excitement in the streets, an energy as the city marches to the beat of its own drum, king cakes baking, jazz pouring out of every nook and cranny, rod iron rails decorated with colorful beads. It’s Carnival Time! The occasion calls for a visit to one of my favorite spots in New Orleans, Café du Monde.

The emerald green and white striped awning greeted us, welcoming us to our home away from home with open arms … and café au lait and beignets! We found a spot at one of the speckled, sugar dusted circular tables. Visitors from all over the world came to celebrate the season. Piles of camera bags, men in less than flattering shorts, gluttonous pigeons and hot beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar filled the open-air café.

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Immediately, I became captivated by my surroundings and began watching a businessman, most likely a local, talking on his cell phone in the middle of the café.“How in the world is he carrying on a conversation with all of this celebrating going on?” It was in that moment when I heard him say, “Hold on, a pigeon is about to fly on top of this girls head!” Before I could turn around to get my eyes on the ill-fated girl, I felt something brush the top of my head as I bit into my beignet. Exhaling out of pure shock (and unfortunately covering everyone around me in a cloud of powered sugar), the lively café came to a screeching halt as I began waving frantically, attempting to get the pigeon away from me. My effort completely failed as one of its tiny feet got caught in my ponytail. That’s when the real floorshow began. A flurry of feathers, blonde hair, skinny arms and sugar began to brawl right smack dab in the middle of Café du Monde. An uproarious laughter filled the café, the bird finally got its footing and made a quick escape to the rafters. Everyone cheered, plates full of beignets slapped the tables, coffee cups clanked together and everything went back to its harmoniously brassy New Orleans self.

Our waitress placed another plate of hot beignets in front of me with a smirk. I knew she had seen the spectacle, and I also noticed she gave us twice as many beignets as we originally ordered. I think she felt bad for me. I didn’t mind. An extra order of hot beignets at Café du Monde was worth the trauma and disheveled hairdo. I cautiously devoured my glorious “pity” beignets as I kept one eye on the hot fried dough and one on the greedy pigeons above me.

Across the way in Jackson Square, someone began playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the tourists. No matter how many times I hear this song being played on the streets of New Orleans, I’m always surprised how it bewitches me. I’ll always have the spirit of Mardi Gras in my pocket, carrying it with me wherever I go and maybe a beignet or two! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Recipe: Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets

Serves 6

Note: These buttery, sugar-covered beignets, are traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, during Carnival season right before the season of Lent. But honestly, I love to serve them year round to keep the spirit of Mardi Gras alive!

If you don’t have superfine sugar, don’t worry. Just whiz up some granulated sugar in a food processor until superfine! Also, you can also substitute the grapefruit zest for lemon, lime or orange zest.

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar

Zest of 1 grapefruit

2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking powder

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature

3 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Vegetable oil, for frying

Superfine sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine sugar and zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a batter attachment, combine flour, salt and baking powder with a fork. Create a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients, including the zest-infused sugar. Mix until the ingredients are combined and begin to form soft dough. Shape the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

On a generously floured surface, roll the dough out until ¼-inch thick. Cut into 16×2-inch strips. Cut again on a diagonal, creating diamond shaped pieces. The dough is very delicate, so be as gentle as possible!

Over medium heat, pour 2-inches of oil in a large cast-iron skillet. Once the oil reaches 325oF, gently place the diamond-shaped pieces of dough into the oil, allowing them to get beautifully golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or paper bags and toss in superfine sugar. Devour immediately! If by some miracle there are any leftover, just seal them up in a plastic bag, stash them on the counter, et voilà! Breakfast is served!

 

 

 

 

BLACK-EYED PEAS + COLLARD GREENS

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

New Year’s is a time for reflection, celebration, and, if you were raised in the South, black-eyed peas, collards and cornbread. Waking up on New Year’s Day, the glitter of the evening still evident in my hair while little strands of popped confetti littered the floor. Resolutions have been resolved. Paper crowns and empty Mason jars are scattered about the living room as I make my way past the gold and silver foiled-lined doorway and into the kitchen to my beloved, saving grace: the coffee pot. Within moments, the aroma of chicory coffee filled the air. The scent of ham hocks and collards babbled away on the stove along with black-eyed peas and pork sausage crooning away in a cast-iron skillet, and golden, crackling studded cornbread sizzles in the oven. This is the aromatic symphony of New Year’s Day.

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

Each ingredient has meaning and purpose. Black-eyed peas represent coins, collard greens represent dollar bills and cornbread represents gold. Eating each Southern staple on New Year’s Day is supposed to guarantee a prosperous year, ensuring wealth and luck. While, I do not believe in luck, I do believe in the power of tradition.

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet | for the love of the south

This New Year’s custom dates back to the Civil War, when union troops pillaged the Southern landscape, leaving behind black-eyed peas and greens as food for animals. These nutrient rich, humble ingredients became cherished as they saved many families from starvation during hard times, and the tradition of the celebration of these ingredients was born. The story may differ from table to table across the region, but the common bond of the unity of family and friends brought together by thankful hearts and renewed hope for the New Year remains the spirit and soul behind the tradition.

So, here is to the New Year, may it be greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine. May it be filled with boundless courage, laughter, and…black-eyed peas and collard greens! Cheers, y’all!

Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet

Serves 4

Note: This dish has all of the components of a Southern New Year’s Day traditional meal, but it is also a lovely, comforting dish perfect on any winter’s day.

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling

¼ pound of smoky bacon, cut into thin strips

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped

Pinch of red pepper flakes

½ pound of dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight

1 cup of collards, rinsed and torn into small pieces

½ cup of cornbread crumbs

Salt and pepper, to taste

Hot Pepper Sauce, Sea Salt, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for serving

Preheat broiler

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add bacon and cook until golden and crispy. Toss in onion, garlic, tomato, carrot, rosemary leaves and red pepper flakes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables softened, about 10 minutes.

Drain black-eyed peas and add to the pan. Cover with water, season again lightly with salt, bring to boil and lower the heat to simmer for 45 minutes, until the beans are tender and most of the water has evaporated. Toss in collards and cook just until the greens are bright green, about 2 minutes. Take off heat, adjust seasoning, and cover with cornbread crumbs. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and place under the broiler until the crumbs are golden and browned. Serve with hot pepper sauce, flaky sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet Ingredients | for the love of the south