A Few of My Favorite Things
It’s hard to believe Christmas is already less than two weeks away and that holiday shopping season is well underway in its typical mid-December fervor. A friend of mine was opining yesterday on Facebook about her growing apathy towards the whole commercial side of the holidays, and I have to agree with her. At times, the task of finding and giving affordable and meaningful gifts to the loved ones in our lives can seem daunting and overwhelming – especially with so many different things to buy and from so many different online and retail sources. Especially as we get older and more seasoned by the season, the more important it becomes to find a meaningful gift for each person on your list. So, in a hopeful effort to streamline and simplify your shopping tasks for the Charleston-loving, foodie/chef in your life, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite things that are sure to please. These are certainly all things I would be happy to receive and to give and each and every one of them are homegrown right here in Charleston.
Middleton Made Knives
I’ve been admiring bladesmith Quintin Middleton’s hand-crafted, high carbon steel knives for years. Equal parts utilitarian and art, each knife is customized to order and meet the needs of the home or professional chef who will be putting it to use. Not surprisingly, his tiny little business has morphed into a fast-growing enterprise and his beautiful knives can be found locally at Southern Season and Charleston Cooks! The price range is not for the timid of budget (sets and knives range from $100 – $820), but these are the kinds of knives that, when properfly maintained, will literally last a lifetime and deliver year after year of cooking joy. It’s too late to customize an order for Christmas and the holidays, but $100 gift certificates are available now at middletonmadeknives.com.
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits
Another Charleston homegrown business, this one started in owner Carrie Morey mother’s kichen when mom Callie White was building her wildly successful catering business twenty years ago. Carrie picked up the rolling pin and the recipes where her mother left off and has grown the business into a nationally distributed brand. Still, the buttery, flaky southern staples, each and every one of them, taste as if they were just mixed and cut in the kitchen next door. The brand list now includes a seven-fold product line; my personal favorites include the impossibly chunky and simply authentic pimento cheese and bacon and cocktail ham biscuits. But, why stop there? Just in time for the holidays, Callie’s has packaged a Christmas Kit ‘n Caboodle bundle which includes both of the aforementioned treats, cheese and chive biscuits and Fat & Juicy Bloody Mary Mix – all you really need to get through your holiday entertaining and early morning Christmas Day munchies for $79.95. This nifty package and all other products are available to order now at calliesbiscuits.com. Delivery dates can be set to fit your schedule.
Speaking of biscuits, did anyone say Big Fat Nasty?
In recent years, Charleston’s beloved Hominy Grill has reached national acclaim for its soulful, southern fare so perfectly executed in the hands of Chef/Owner and James Beard winner Robert Stehling. Of late, most seem to know “Hominy” from television and other reports on its staggering fried chicken, biscuit and gravy sandwich – The Big Fat Nasty. But, I love it and always have loved it, for anything on the menu. Everything is astounding, whether you’re going for breakfast, lunch, dinner or the now epically popular weekend brunches. Try the vegetable plate or the shrimp and grits (the best in town, hands down) and at night, if you’re lucky, the corn pone and friend chicken will be on the menu. Chase it all with buttermilk pie or the darkest, smoothest richest chocolate pudding you’ll ever sample this side of heaven – both served with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. No visit to Charleston is complete without a visit to Hominy Grill. Why not get your loved one started with a $10 gift certificate (or buy a few!), one of HG’s signature, heavy-bottomed coffee mugs ($10.95) or a recipe book full of some of their most cherished memories ($12.95). All available now at hominygrill.com.
This suggested shopping list will be continued in the coming days with more ideas for your Charleston foodie’s shopping list just in time for the last safe mailing dates of the season. Until then, happy shopping, happy holidays, and remember to take the time to stop and savor Charleston’s magnificent holiday finery or a dashing, majestic winter sunset – gloriously gratis and wrapped with a big, fat, beautiful Lowcountry bow.
Oyster and Parsnip Bisque Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway
It’s not an original concept, staying home for the holidays, but for myriad circumstances involving work and family related travel, surgery and more, Thanksgiving and Christmas at home have eluded me for a couple of years. As much as I love seeing family and friends afar, nothing beats staying home and enjoying holiday cheer and unhurried cooking (my all time favorite thing!) with friends and family near. No missed flights, no crazy weather, and best of all, nuzzling with the pets by a fire gazing at a fragrant, beautiful tree. After several particularly busy weeks of travel, I’m delighted to be home for good to savor the scents, sounds, flavors and sentiments of the season.
This year, I’ll be making a dinner for a small group of friends which we will enjoy Christmas day. I’ll likely prepare a standing beef rib roast with a pungent horseradish cream sauce and some kind of gratin – potato or creamed spinach. To get things started, I’m definitely planning on using the celebrated mollusks of cold weather seaons – oysters. They’re revered here in the Lowcountry and Charleston and take many luscious forms – scalloped, grantinee, broiled and my favorite, soups and chowders. Though in the past I’ve made more rustic oyster chowders, this year I think I’ll take a page from my new book, The French Cook – Soups & Stews. The oyster and parsnip bisque recipe (to follow) is simply elegant and so easy to prepare ahead. Just add the cream at the very end and you’re off to a silky start to a lovely holiday meal.
(Credits: Gibbs Smith Publisher and Photography by Chia Chong)
Oyster and Parsnip Bisque
(Makes 8 to 10 servings)
Parsnips and oysters may sound like odd bisque-fellows, but they actually make a lot of sense. Panais, like turnips, are sweet, lovely root vegetables frequently used in French kitchens. Their sweetness plays beautifully with the oysters, and the starch in the parsnips gives a velvety texture to this heavenly bisque. If making this soup ahead, hold off and add the oysters and cream just before serving. Willapoint oysters, readily available in their brine in the refrigerator section of most fish counters at the grocery, are firm and meaty. Use the freshest raw oysters you can find, and don’t discard the brine except into the soup pot. It is one of the flavor keys to the bisque.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, trimmed to 1 inch above the white root, halved vertically, well rinsed and finely chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium parsnips, peeled, quartered vertically, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup dry vermouth, plus 1 tablespoon optional
1⁄2 cup good-quality Chardonnay
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups good-quality, low sodium boxed seafood/fish stock
1 cup finely chopped oyster or chanterelle mushrooms, tough feet removed
3 (8-ounce packages) Willapoint Oysters (3 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
In a 5 1⁄ 2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leek, shallots, parsnips, and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring several times, for 15 minutes; until all the vegetables have softened (do not let them color). Add the 1⁄ 2 cup vermouth, increase heat to medium-high, and cook down to a glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the Chardonnay and cook down to a glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Scatter the flour evenly over the pot and stir to combine. Whisk in the fish stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce to medium/medium-low and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, skimming off any initial foam/scum that rises to the top.
Purée until frothy smooth with a blender or food processor. Return to the pot. Add the mushrooms, oysters, and cream. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce to medium, and cook through for 5 to 8 minutes, until the oysters are firm and opaque. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Finish with 1 tablespoon of vermouth, if desired, and fresh thyme. Serve very hot.
Cookbook Giveaway and New Website Design
In the spirit of giving, I want to share a signed copy of The French Cook – Soups & Stews with one of you this holiday season. Please write a comment on the blog about why you would like a copy, who you might want to give it to, or just what you enjoy about this splendid time of the year. I will select and announce a random winner on December 17 and mail it just in time for Christmas.
Also, please feel free to chime in on your thoughts on my just launched new website design by Charleston PR & Design. Cheryl and Bill Smithem worked very hard to make it very user friendly, mobile compatible, and the layout looks more like a photo and content-rich magazine style than it looked before. I’d love to hear you thoughts.
Until the next time, wishing you love, joy, health and happiness!
Boxcar Betty’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches vs. Chick-fil-A
Initially, it may not seem fair to draw parallels between seven month-old newcomer Boxcar Betty’s and beloved southern fried chicken sandwich and decades-old restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A. However, both restaurants’ staples are fried chicken sandwiches, Boxcar Betty’s is located just a few blocks away from one of Chick-fil-A’s restaurants on Savannah Highway, and both draw legions of dedicated fans, particularly during their mutually packed midday lunch services. And, as Boxcar Betty’s co-owner Ian MacBryde told me, he and business partner Roth Scott built their business model on Chick-fil-A’s “excellent service” (and Five Guy’s and Chipotle’s specialized menus).
Early out of the gate, Boxcar Betty’s is displaying serious pluck with chicken breasts that spend no more than 24 hours in an (undisclosed) brine blend that renders them impossibly tender and flavorful before they even hit the fryer. Sourced from a free range, hormone and antibiotic free, SC-based chicken farm, they’re already off to a running start. Battered and fried to order and served on daily, morning bread deliveries from local bakery Pane Di Vita, they’re hitting them out of the park. Add on styling, sassy and well-paired house-made condiments like pimiento cheese, bacon jam, maple bacon, and pickled green tomatoes, they’re hoisting the unmatched fried chicken sandwiches prize – for prices dangerously close to their relatively mass-produced colleagues down the street (most around or under $7).
In addition to the sandwiches, BB’s offers an imaginative array of salads (especially the impressive Chopped Fried Chicken Salad topped with a series of inventive yet appropriate finishes, and lightly cloaked in a pert Agave buttermilk dressing) and awesome stuffed mushroom caps.
Oh, and they’re open on Sundays.
Boxcar Betty’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches
1922 Savannah Highway
Charleston, SC 29405
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Note: Evening hours planned to stretch to 9 p.m. after the New Year in 2015). Website: www.boxcarbetty.com
PS – Remember to look for my new website design coming soon – with updated fonts, layout and photography.
The Thanksgiving countdown has begun, and hopefully you’re all taking time to smell the roses and savor the goodwill as you’re prepping your way toward the feast and the occasion.
I love gratins in general, and especially as an easy, delicious do-ahead side for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. A kind of sassed up casserole, they’re hugely versatile and look as sophisticated as they taste homey and nurturing.
The recipe to follow (like the grits from a post earlier this week) is from my Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2008). Although when I created it, I thought of it as more of a late fall, early spring dish, in retrospect I think it’s splendid for Thanksgiving, too. Onions are glorious with turkey, and the acidic bite and creamy edge of gooey Brie should marry beautifully with a good pan gravy.
Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin
(Serves 6 to 8)
For the gratin:
5 tablespoons unslated butter, divided
3 medium fresh sweet onions, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
For the custard:
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion greens (from tops of onions or substitute scallions)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Six (1-inch long) slices Brie
Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 12 to 15 minutes; set aside to cool. Coat a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan or gratin dish with remaining butter.
Meanwhile, prepare the custard. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside. To prepare the topping, combine the breadcrumbs with the zest and seasonings in a small bowl.
To assemble, drain any excess liquid off the cooked onions. Distribute about one-third of the onions evenly on the bottom of the buttered pan. Top with a single layer of sliced tomatoes. Top with half of the remaining onions, another layer of tomato, and finish with remaining onions. If needed, season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the custard mix over the entire surface of the layered onions and tomatoes. Top with cheese, spaced about 3 to 4 inches apart, along the top of the gratin. Finish with an even layer of the breadcrumb mixture.
Bake until golden and bubbly and the custard has set, about 35 to 40 minutes. If desired, finish under a hot broiler or a flame torch for an extra golden glow. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing into wedges or squares.
NOTE: The gratin can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated, and then baked just before serving.
Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!
Not Just for the Cheeseboard Anymore
I’ve been very much indulging my love of all things French lately. First, there was the decadent pairing of Provencal Roses with McCrady’s five-course lunch two weeks ago (http://hollyherrick.com/2014/11/pink-new-red-white/), where I was reminded that Rose is not just meant for drinking, but also for pairing with foods. Then there was the lovely, heady, and incredibly fragrant array of cheeses presented to me in my home last week by a dedicated team of cheese brand representatives working under the umbrella of The Cheeses of Europe.
Their mission? To spread the word about French cheese as an “affordable luxury.” And, not one that should be relegated exclusively to the cheeseboard. Indeed – many French cheeses (with the exception of a Delice de Bourgogne, and a few others, with its buttery center and extreme creaminess is best left unadulterated and served on shortbread with a glass of Champagne), are ideal for cooking.
There I sat like a deleriously happy French cat, sampling cheeses from Isigny Sainte-Mere, French Cheese Club, and Interval Cheeses – a full spread of Brie, Mimolette, butter, Epoisses, Pont l’Eveque, Delice de Bourgogne, Bleu D’Auvergne, Saint Angel, and a first ever sample of airy whipped cheese (which made its way onto my toast every day for a week until it was gone). Dreams of Bleu d’Auvergne Mornay sauce cloaking a French-inspired lasagna, or a decadent fondue were running through my head, even as my dog Tann Mann worked himself up into a frenzy to fenagle any tidbit he could forage from the table’s edge. French was being spoken, cheese was being savored, and I was feeling very happy and inspired.
Of all the cheeses, the one that spoke the loudest to my culinary inspiration soundboard was the deep orange orb of Mimolette (mee moh LET) cheese from Normandy, France.
It was introduced by Louis XIV (a.k.a. The Sun King) in the 17th century. The colorful King wanted a different kind of cheese and the sun-like, blazing color is creatied by adding annatto from a tree by the same name that is indigenous to South America. Traditionally, the older, aged cheese was cut and brought down into mines and used to “sandwich” meats to feed the mine-workers.
I confessed to my new French cheese friends that I had never made it past the “stinky” cheese section of my favorite local fromagier, goat.sheep.cow, and that I wanted to work specifically with this cheese. Two nights ago, I made a simple grilled cheese, stacking thin slices of young Mimolette with a few threads of fresh mozzarella, basted with a thin spread of mayonnaise and prepared horseradish. Gorgeous! The melted Mimolette is molten and slightly stringy, but still holds its body. That’s why it’s an exellent candidate for the Mac and Mimolette recipe to follow. (Recipe provided by The Cheeses of Europe).
Mac and Mimolette
1/2 pound shell pasta
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup grated Mimolette, plus more for sprinkling
1 large tomato, finely chopped.
Preheat oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to directions. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, gently simmer the cream, sugar, salt and wine for 4 to 5 minutes. Be sure it doesn’t boil or it will become grainy. Add the Mimolette and stir until melted. Stir in the tomato. Mix the pasta into the sauce, then pour into a baking pan. Sprinkle awith the remaining Mimolette and bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot/warm.
Working French Cheese Into Your Thanksgiving Feast
The recipe above would pair wonderfully with turkey or fowl as a fragrant, wonderful side dish hot out of the oven. Prep it ahead and bake it off while the main course is resting. If you do opt for a cheese tree to start or finish the meal, do select at least three varieties of cheeses: a melty, soft stinky cheese such as an Epoisses, a mild, fragrant blue, such as Bleu D’Auvergne, and something firm and assertive, such as a Mimolette. Serve on bread, simple crackers, and surround with fruit.
More Cooking with French Cheese Ideas and Cookbook Giveaway
One of my favorite recipes in my latest cookbook, The French Cook – Soups & Stews is a fondue-inspired Three-Cheese and Cider Soup with Apples and Four-Spice Croutons, which runs with the nuttiness of Gruyere and Comte cheeses (as well as Parmesan), and then there is my classic, especially delicious version of French Onion Soup, covered with a gooey cloak of Gruyere (pictured below).Write to me in the comment section following this post and tell me why you would like to receive a free, signed copy of the cookbook, and why you love to cook with and eat French cheese. I will select and announce a winner on November 24 and get it to you just in time for the holidays.
Happy cooking and bon appetit! Please not, here in Charleston, most or all of these cheeses can be found at Whole Foods, Costco and goat.sheep.cow.