Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

cooking

Mother’s Day Book Signing at The Preservation Society

Holly will join Nathalie Dupree and a few other local authors at this festive book signing taking place on Charleston’s popular Second Sundy on King as well as Mother’s Day. Come on by and join the fun. Holly will be signing all of her titles from The French Cook series, and more.

Soups and Stews (my favorite of all of my books in this series) gets a new cover, too, showcasing the talents of photographer Chia Chong.

Soups and Stews (my favorite of all of my books in this series) gets a new cover, too, showcasing the talents of photographer Chia Chong.

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The Season of Root Vegetables in More Ways than One

Rutabaga Gratin Recipe and Simmergreat Product Endorsement/Discount

Always something of a rebel, I grew up loving foods most people don’t like or at least think they don’t like just because it seems like nobody else does. For me, these rebel roots translate to an enduring love of root vegetables – including turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas. Being winter and very early spring vegetables, I always start thinking about them in February, which is when I bought my last rutabaga. It survived a move and a couple months of waiting on my counter before I finally put it into the delicious recipe that follows.  Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about how root vegetables, especially parsnips and turnips, are becoming hot in culinary circles.  For added proof of the trend, I ran into James Beard awarded superstar and local chef Mike Lata at Harris Teeter several weeks ago with a bunch of parsnips in his hands, that he intended to put to use in a pasta dish.

As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, I have a pound of fresh spring potatoes in my pantry, so I decided to do as the Swedes do, and pair the rutabaga with some potatoes and cream. But, rather than puree them, I layered very thin slices in a gratin and bound them with Half & Half infused with lots of fresh thyme, black pepper, mascarpone, sour cream, butter and a nutty Parmesan finish. The results were fabulous – sweet, creamy, nutty, crunchy, smooth bites of root vegetable goodness, just in time for spring and Mother’s Day.

(Note: It’s very important to cut through both the outer skin of the tough, waxy rutabaga, as well as the inner skin, which is about 1/4″ thick. Discard these and then proceed to slice the rutabaga whisper thin, so thin you can practically see through them.)

Well-Thyme Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

(Yields about 8 servings)

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Equipment needed:  One 5-quart, shallow gratin or casserole dish (about 2″ deep, one foot long, and 8″ wide)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter to coat the pan

For the cream mixture:

1 1/2 cups Half & Half

1/2 cup whole sour cream

1/2 cup mascarpone

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (leave whole)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Vegetables:

1 large rutabaga, peeled, quartered and very thinly sliced (about six cups)

2 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

Topping:

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the 1 tablespoon of butter evenly along the sides and bottoms of the gratin dish. Combine the Half & Half, sour cream, mascarpone, garlic, thyme, seasonings and remaining tablespoon butter in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together over medium heat-low. Bring up to a gentle simmer and cook to infuse the flavors for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the Dijon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Arrange half of the sliced rutabaga in a tight, overlapping single layer in the bottom of the gratin dish. Add a second layer of tight, overlapping sliced potatoes. Cover with half of the cream mixture, distributing evenly.  Top with the remaining cream mixture, spreading with a spatula to distribute evenly. Press the top lightly with your fingertips to “tighten” the layers. Sprinkle a dusting of salt and pepper over the top. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan Reggiano and bake anther 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is golden and slightly crunchy and the rutabaga yield easily to a knife when pierce. Rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a few fresh thyme sprigs. Delicious with roast chicken or pork, or a salad for a meatless meal.

New Product Endorsement – Simmergreat

If you’ve ever cooked with me, or taken one of my classes, you know that great knives and great pans aside, I’m not much of a gadget girl when it comes to cooking. However, I recently discovered a truly great product that made me wish I’d known about it back when I was simmering all of those soups and daubes for The French Cook – Soups & Stews last year. During that time, I struggled getting a steady simmer rate on my aging, moody gas stovetop. Simmergrate is an ingenious contraption that sits above your low gas flame and magically tempers your pot to a steady simmer. All you have to do is put it over the flame, place the pot (any pot) on top, set your burner to low and voila, you’ve got an unwavering simmer. I used this when I was simmering the cream for the recipe above. I didn’t touch the dial once, and no scorching, boiled over cream. It’s still on my stove where it will remain for many future uses, whether it be roasting peppers, making sauces, and more. It even works on a gas grill. I’m a fan and I think you will be, too. Perfect for home cooks, professional chefs and anyone who enjoys cooking. Perfect for Mother’s Day, too. If you visit Simmergreat and make a purchase,  once it is in your cart, click on the coupon code and type in “holly” and you get a 10% discount on your total purchase. Happy simmering!

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Don’t forget to visit www.simmergreat.com.

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When a House Becomes a Home

I’ve lived a lot of places. Boston, New York, Chicago, Wyoming, Paris, Southern France, Minneapolis, to name a few. But, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in Charleston (fifteen years) and never as long as in a single house as the one I currently call home (ten years).

Now two weeks away from a move to a new house in Charleston (hence my extended blog absence – apologies),  I’m finding myself in an increasingly reflective and nostalgic state about how and when Charleston became my adopted, long-term home, and how and when the house I’m currently living in became a cherished home.

Charleston’s easiest. It was literally love at first sight and she’s never given me even an inch of slack to break her spell. The poetry of the architecture and landscape interwoven with the beauty and pain of her history leave me completely spellbound to this day and almost certainly will until the day I die.

This house is another story. I wasn’t even officially looking for a house when she found me. Her rigid Georgian lines (on the front exterior) and masculine-looking brick didn’t initially appeal to my senses. This house was originally built for and lived in by individual families, but by the time I came across her, she had endured several years of single male professionals’ occupancy, and bore the neglect of nesting apathy. All white and “vanilla,” with a knotty, twisted and overgrown garden, she needed love and tending. She needed living.

Once Tann Mann and I moved in, we set about doing just that. The garden got a face lift, the walls got color, the windows were adorned with curtains. The brand new refrigerator, once likely home to forgotten, spoiled milk, Jell-0, and stale bread, was now fully stocked with food to create recipes and feed friends. The brand new oven was christened with pot roasts and meat loaves.  I became familiar with her sounds and midnight creaks, accrued over nearly eighty years of living. Tann Mann found his favorite spots, and made them his own, especially his bird’s-eye perch at the top of the steep stairs or very near me working in the kitchen. Eventually, Chutney Cat found us and slunk her way into our lives and our hearts.

Tann Mann right at home, in the kitchen, begging for treats from the tables.

Tann Mann right at home, in the kitchen, begging for treats from the table.

Lasting friendships with endearing neighbors that became as beloved as family formed. Memories were made. A best friend married the love of her life in the garden. I fell in love with the love of mine over long talks and deep laughs in the very same garden. Christmas trees were selected and decorated and placed in the front living room window – the decidedly best spot for viewing from within and from the street. Kids plodded through the ‘hood en masse every Halloween. Neighborhood pets were born and some sadly died….all live in my mind and heart forever. Especially Angus, Scarlett, Ivy, Rebel, Sister, Houston, Bucky and Blue.  Speaking of Blue, one day out of the clear blue, then-neighbor Bill Murray showed up on my doorstep, patted Tann Mann on the head, and most endearlingly asked me to dinner, where he proceeded to tell me I was beautiful and sang “Me and Bobby McGee” in a French accent.   Quel amazing night!

Did all of this make it home?  Absolutely, all of this did. But, what really made it home for me was my kitchen.

My beloved kitchen in my home on Gibbes Street.

My beloved kitchen in my home on Gibbes Street.

Long gone was the vanilla white, about five years ago replaced with sage and sun yellow, to reflect the sunlight that beamed into the windows and warmed the honey-hued oak floors. Ten years into its life, my oven wears the patina of what seems like a thousand tarts and the stove a lifetime of recipes for my cookbooks and meals for me, my friends and family. I love my kitchen. If I could take her with me, I would. Today, I’ll be packing up large chunks of her into boxes sealed with tape to be sent off to my new house and my beautiful new kitchen. But, there are things bigger than boxes that can contain much more. My kitchen and this old house, my home, will reside forever in my heart. There is room for a new home, but saying goodbye to this one will be very hard.

Thank you for joining me here over the years. I look forward to taking you on many cooking and writing journeys in my new place.

Bon appetit!

 

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Home for the Holidays

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 Parnisp Bique makes a majestic and easy start to a holiday feast. (Photo by Chia Chong).

Oyster and Parnisp Bique makes a majestic and easy start to a holiday feast. (Photo 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.

Looking forward to savoring the sights, sounds, and flavors of the season at home in Charleston, SC this year.

Looking forward to savoring the sights, sounds, and flavors of the season at home in Charleston, SC this year.

 

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!

Holly

 

 

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Thanksgiving Recipe Files – Part II

Gratin Goodness

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 from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith). Lovely photo by Rick McKee.

Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith). Lovely photo by Rick McKee.

Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin

(Serves 6 to 8)

Recipe:

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

2 eggs

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.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!

Holly

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