I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a little over a week away. October flew this year, with travel to visit my father who was ill (but thankfully is much better), a dreadful cold that lived in my sinuses for two weeks, and fast and furious recipe development for my newest cookbook baby (working title: Mashed) that will be released by my publisher Gibbs Smith in fall 2016. I wanted to share this recipe with you, because it’s one of my favorites from those yet developed for the book, but also because it’s a perfect ending for your Thanksgiving feast. I love the color and flavor sweet potato adds, and the grist of the grits melts into the pudding as it cooks. Delicious! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think I’ll be making it again next week.
Sweet Potato Indian Pudding
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
This rustic and gorgeous sweet pudding combines elements of the traditional Indian pudding I grew to know and love as a child in my native New England, with ingredients widely used in in my adult hometown of Charleston, SC and throughout the South – sweet potatoes and grits. The New England version skips the sweet potatoes all together and uses cornmeal as the “corn” element of the pudding, while this recipe adds the perfectly appropriate flavor and texture girth of mashed sweet potatoes and grits – a rougher, stone-ground version of cornmeal. The results are stunning. As southerners are apt to say, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
It’s best warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you can’t find stone-ground grits, cornmeal or polenta will work fine. But, skip the instant variety. Longer cooking soaks up all the flavor of the pudding and melts the corn into one integrated bowl of perfection.
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup stone ground white or yellow grits (or substitute cornmeal)
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
The day before cooking, prep the mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub and pierce a large sweet potato a couple times with a knife. Bake until soft and skin is puckered, about one hour. Remove skin when cook enough to handle and mash until fine and fluffy. Reserve (refrigerate, covered, for several days).
On pudding day, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2 quart deep-sided baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring the Half & Half up to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium-sized pot. Do not boil! When simmering, whisk in the sweet potatoes, grits and molasses. Whisk, constantly, over medium high heat until thickened to a thin pudding stage, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon until frothy. Whisk in 1 cup of the warm pudding mixture. Pour in the remaining pudding mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish. Bake on center rack for 40 minutes. Add the cold butter cubes, sprinkling evenly over the top. Reduce the heat to 325F. Cook 45 – 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pudding will quiver slightly to the touch. Remove from oven. Rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Review of “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associates, LLC, March 1, 2012)
Restaurant cookbooks, like restaurants themselves, are a mixed bag. Some are heavily weighted with ego and over-the-top, confusing, classical instruction, rendering them basically useless for the home cook. Others are just plain mediocre, a stock-piling of poorly written recipes and haste-makes-waste production, that render them useless all together, except maybe for the author’s proud mother and a few scattered, distant family members. Then, there are the top-tier variety, the true labor of love restaurant cookbooks that capture the heart and soul of the restaurant and the people behind it while delivering lovely prose, photography, and recipes that will work in the home kitchen.
The recently released “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associations, LLC), fits ever so neatly into the latter category. Co-written by endearing Hank’s Chef Frank McMahon and Charleston Magazine’s Melissa Bigner, the cookbook is a beautifully compiled, photographed (by talented Peter Frank Edwards), well-organized, and soulful ode not just to Charleston, but also to the gems of the sea, creeks, and rivers that surround her.
The first several pages are a little heavy-handed on sometimes uninteresting, minutia details (except perhaps for the most die-hard Hank’s fans) about how and why the restaurant got started. But, the read-speed and interest quickly accelerate once Chef Frank McMahon’s voice graces the pages, joyfully dancing with the humor, lilt and cadence of McMahon’s native Limerick, Ireland dialect and substantial personal charm.
Together, McMahon and Bigner find his voice, both literally in quotes such as “The first time I had grits, I thought they were bad polenta that tasted like wallpaper paste.” Or, describing working for his father in their family restaurant, “Every day, (I’d) get home from rugby practice, I’d get busy skinning sole, chopping parsley, cleaning – whatever needed to be done. I couldn’t do right be him…” Bigner also weaves a figurative sub-text of what drives McMahon as a chef and leader in the kitchen, beginning with a love of seafood he nurtured as a boy in Ireland and mastered at The Culinary Institute of America and working with French seafood maestro Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin in NYC. Throughout nearly all of the 241 pages, McMahon’s work ethic, sincerity, humor and love of his work, staff, and Hank’s shine through loud and clear, making this book as delightful to read as it will be to cook from. Breathtaking photography pops on nearly every page of gorgeously plated, hunger-inducing dishes, as well as happy scenes from the kitchen, dining room and around Charleston, making this book perfectly at home on any coffee table, as well.
But, whatever you do, don’t leave it there gathering dust. This is a cook’s cookbook, through and through. Like McMahon himself, the 100 recipes in the book are direct and straight-forward. Though he explains technique, he explains it in a language even the most novice home cook can understand, tossing in helpful tips all along the way. Perhaps the most invigorating chapter is the one on the sauces, vinagrettes, and dressings McMahon considers crucial when preparing and serving seafood. Herb and flavor infused ceviche and tartare make solid showings, as well, and there is an entire chapter dedicated to the nuances of preparing fried seafood.
This book is a must-have for lover’s of Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, seafood, and yes, even Charleston. The hardcover book retails for $50 + tax and is available for sale at the restaurant, 10 Hayne Street, Charleston, SC 29401. Call (843) 723-3474 for details. Plans for the not-too-distant-future include selling the book at Hank’s website, www.hanksseafoodrestaurant.com
Here’s a seasonal recipe excerpt:
Creole Collard Soup
(Yields 2 1/2 Quarts)
1 tsp canola oil
1 cup diced andouille sausage
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
2 cups diced fresh tomato
2 cups collard cooking liquor, plus 2 cups collard greens (see page 39 – recipe to follow below)
2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until brown, 3 – 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and Cajun seasoning and cook for 4 minutes. Add tomato and cook for 2 minutes. Add the collard liquor, collards and chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
(Note: Preparations for the collard liquor is provided under a separate recipe on page 39 of the book. It’s essentially the cooking liquid from braised and seasoned collards. The recipe follows below):
Hank’s Collard Greens
2 bunches collards, washed, stems removed, and cut into 3-inch squares
3 cups chicken stock (Note: The book provides a recipe on another page, or use good quality prepared chicken stock)
1 ham hock
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup smoky BBQ sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
Combine all of the ingredients except the collards and salt and pepper in a 5-quart stockpot and bring to a boil. Add collards and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Pull the meat from the ham hock and break it up into small pieces. Add the meat back to the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipes from “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associates, LLC, March 1, 2012). Photography by Peter Frank Edwards.
As I’m about to embark on my fifth cookbook writing experience, I find myself reflecting on my past book babies and the journeys each one afforded. Especially now, as I’ve reached the promotion/tour/signing phase of just released Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011), the process is very much on my mind.
There are three very distinct phases in the whole cookbook (or really any book) writing experience. First, there is the gestational period. The time when the idea/concept for the book comes to life and your publisher gives you the green light to run with it via a signed contract. Then, there is the writing part. For a cookbook, this means creating the recipes and sitting down and writing the book. I love this part of the journey. Being in my kitchen, cooking and testing with my dog Tann Mann is my absolute favorite way to spend a day, and I never tire of it. The writing, especially of recipes, is more of a discipline and very much a solitary job. It’s still one I love, however, especially on the rainy, dark grey days of winter. After extensive editing, design and the printing process, the book shows up on your doorstep one day and the needles start raising the hairs on your forearms and the back of your neck just as you open the very first page for the very first time and inhale the heady aroma of fresh ink. It’s one of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced. I don’t have children, so I liken my books to what it must be to hold one’s infant for the very first time. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get, so I revel in it. I rushed Tart Love across the street to show my neighbor Lucie the day it arrived. I probably appeared to be delirious or something approaching that, but she’s witnessed the scene before and, I think, understands by now.
I’ve heard mothers talk about how some pregnancies and children were/are more pleasant than others. As much as I love all my book babies, Tart Love was an especially joyful book to write. Coming up with recipe ideas/combinations kept my mind running with a steady stream of creative energy and my house constantly smelled like butter and deliciousness. Also, pairing with Helene Dujardin, who did such a magnificent and seamless job with the photography and styling, made my work dreamily easy and even more inspired. Finally, my editor, Madge Baird and the production/design team at Gibbs Smith really saw the “vision” of the book and carried it out beautifully throughout the pages.
So, since its release last week, the time has come to put Tart Love and me on the road. This is the third and final part of the book journey. And, while it can be exhausting, it is quite possibly the most rewarding. I think that’s because as an author, I have the opportunity to “meet” my readers, hear their stories, see their faces, learn about their lives, and see their smiles as they flip through the pages of their new book.
My fabulous publicist Stephanie Burt of Beehive PR and myself spent much of last week together organizing and executing myriad events/signings for Tart Love. Looking back on the week, it seems like a whirlwind, but it was well worth it.
We kicked things off with a signing in my private garden during The Preservation Society of Charleston’s annual garden tour fund-raiser. It was a magnificent day. Early fall in Charleston was putting on her loveliest kind of show; low humidity, brilliant clear skies, and crisp temperatures. The guests came in droves! I met people from Texas, California, Oregon, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and even England. All were so happy to be
in Charleston. They talked about the fabulous restaurants they’d visited, wanted to know my favorites and recommendations, and generally were having a grand time. I made many friends that day and sold about 50 books, which is a good thing, especially since profits went straight to The Preservation Society, which does so much for beautiful Charleston. Then, it was time to get my little pet Tann Mann out of his crate, have a glass of wine and relax for the following day.
This day began early with an on-air interview with Mike Todd of The Bridge, 105.5 FM here in Charleston. Tann Mann was even invited into the studio for this fun, chatty adventure. Afterward, we were off to Costco to get stocked for the release party which was scheduled to take place at my house on the following day. Armed with roses, Riondo Prosecco, tableware and plenty of elbow grease, we got everything in order for the next day. Sleep came easily.
Day 3 – The Book Release Party
Stephanie and I had decided to go with a “Biscuits and Bubbles” Theme. Callie’s Biscuits delivered the flaky, delicious, buttermilk biscuits and several pounds of their incredible pimento cheese in the morning. I spent the rest of the day baking biscuits and setting up the house. Kristen from Blue Bicycle Books showed up about an hour before the guests to arrange all of the books in the kitchen (the same one where the tarts in the book were created), and then the party flowed, and flowed, and flowed. I spent most of the time like Little Miss Muffet on my little stool tuffet signing my books away, so didn’t really have an opportunity to mingle. But, small matter! It was truly heart-warming to see faces from dear friends from so many “pools” of my acquaintances – tennis, work, neighbors, and organizations, including a big presence from Slow Food. Darling Helene Dujardin jumped in to sign books as well, which made things extra special.
Day 4 – Rest
Hey, even God takes a day off every week.
Day 5 – Heirloom Book Company Book Signing and Thursday Tart Tasting
Co-conceived with the creative power-houses at this charming cookbook boutique store and Bull Street Gourmet & Market across King Street, the idea here was for Bull Street to make and sell tarts from Tart Love, and for me to sign and sell them. It worked wonderfully. The tarts were beautifully prepared and presented and very popular with the guests.
Just being in this wonderful space is a happy experience, but, again, signing books for such kind and enthusiastic Tart Love fans (like those pictured below) was the topper. I went to sleep very tired, but with a very large smile on my face and in my heart.
Day 5 – Dishing it Up at Lambert Gray Gallery
This was an evening event at this lovely gallery. On the menu, beautiful food art by local and international artists, wine, and hors d’ouevres, including some left-over biscuits and cheese. Guests streamed in from the art walk happening on Broad Street outside and many wanted copies of Tart Love, as well as signed copies of my older book babies, Charleston Chef’s Table and Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Another wonderful event, but, by now, this author momma was feeling the fatigue. By 8:30, p.m. I was in bed, nursing sweet dreams of a wonderful week.
Thank you to all of you who participated and helped share the “love”….It means so much to me.
Next stop, Charlotte!
The early reviews of Tart Love are so sweet. This link will bring you to reporter Ann Thrash’s charming article in yesterday’s Charleston Currents. Thank you, Ann and Charleston Currents!