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 there 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 fell swoop. The piping hot golden nugget of fried cornbread spilt 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.

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

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, which 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 in the form of 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 1 minute 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 7-10 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 set 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!

 

 

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!