Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist


Yankee Tradition Goes Southern with Sweet Potato and Grits Twist

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.

Sweet Potato Indian Pudding – an advance preview from Holly Herrick’s next cookbook release.

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.


Thanksgiving Recipe Files

As it is with almost everyone I know who loves to cook, whether professionally or casually, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I treasure the thought of days spent whirring about my kitchen preparing my favorite foods for my most treasured friends and family. However, this year will be the third in a row (due to various long and not terribly interesting reasons), that I will not be cooking. So, I felt it especially important to share some of my favorite dishes from my Thanksgiving Recipe Files with you.

The recipe that follows is from my first cookbook, Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, 2009), which happens to contain several of my all time favorite Thanksgiving and holiday side dishes.  Initially, I did not think of these unique, flavorful, and slightly spicy grits as a fabulous match for turkey, but on second thought, the heat and creaminess would pair beautifully with fowl and also with pork. Easy enough to prepare ahead and keep warm over a gentle water bath or reheat over a water bath just before serving.

Horseradish Cheese Grits with Confetti of Roasted Poblano Peppers and Red Onions

(Serves 6)


In the South, grits are served every way from here to Sunday and are as sacred as good manners and sweet tea. The mildness and gritty, nurturing texture render them an idyllic backdrop for shrimp, tomatoes, sausage – you name it!

I love the way the pungency of horseradish plays along with the grits, the smoky heat of roasted poblano peppers, and the sweetness of red onions in this versatile and easy-to-prepare side dish.

Horseradish Cheese Grits with Confetti of Roasted Poblano Peppers and Red Onions.

Horseradish Cheese Grits with Confetti of Roasted Poblano Peppers and Red Onions. Beautiful photograph by Rick McKee.


3 cups whole milk

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 cup stone-ground grits (yellow, white or a blend)

2 poblano peppers

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup grated aged white cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish


Bring milk, salt and pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pour in grits and whisk vigorously to blend. Reduce heat to medium low and continue cooking, stirring every 1 to 2 minutes until thickened, about 40 to 45 minutes, addming more liquid (water or milk) as needed.

Meanwhile, heat the broiler (or flame grill) to high. Place the peppers directly under the hot broiler (or on the hot flames) and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all surfaces, about 3 to 5 minutes for each exposed surface; set aside to cool. Once cooled, run the peppers under a stream of cool water and pull of the blackened skin, seeds, and stem and discard. Stack the roasted pepper flesh and cut into thin, 1/4-inch-wide, 2-inch-long strips; set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

To finish, stir the cheese into the cooked grits until melted. Gently fold in the horseradish, roasted pepper, and sauteed onions. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve immediately or keep warm for up to 3 hours over a gently simmering water bath.

Cookbook Giveaway!

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Looking for just the right gift for the cook on this year’s holiday gift list? Look no more. Southern Farmers Market Cookbook is ideal for cooks who enjoy simple, seasonally inspired cooking. Over the years, it’s been a particular favorite for young couples as a wedding or anniversary gift. Write to me and tell me why you would like to win a copy in the comment section below. I will select and announce a winner on November 24. Good luck and happy cooking! And, of course, Happy Thanksgiving! Holly


Why I Love My Le Creuset

I have an unusual appreciation for my two Le Creuset Dutch Ovens. I think it’s fair to say I love them. Walking around the Charleston Wine & Food Festival the last few days under the constant assault of sponsor Le Creuset’s orange bags and banners, has given me added cause to ponder just why I so love my Le Creuset.

Cast iron, enamel-coated beauties, they’re loyal, dependable and will last forever, unlike a lot of people (and definitely some men)  I know.  Even though they’re heavy and situated in a very high, inconvenient cupboard, I go to them at least once a week, navigating an awkward step ladder to get there. Heck – I sometimes think I would navigate Everest, or at least try to, to get to my Le Creuset. I know without a shadow of a doubt they would be just behind my cat and dog to rescue if ever the house caught on fire.

I reach for these large pot friends when I need reliability, comfort, and some long-cooked soothing food goodness that makes the house smell soulful and fragrant. That’s exactly what these vessels are made for – braising, or long, slow cooking in liquid with aromats and seasoning, my favorite kind of food. I know that when I’ve made the effort to get out my Le Creuset, I’m in for a few hours of blissful, cooking delight and will be rewarded with something delicious in a few short hours.

They come in happy colors, too, like my French blue and lime green beauties. Once they’ve done their job, a good cleaning and air dry returns them to their clean, practically indestructable state. I once faltered in my loyalty to my fairer Le Creuset Dutch oven cousins, swayed by the similar colors and shapes of a much lower priced copycat variety I saw at a Harris Teeter display a few years ago. I bought a couple of casseroles and one cute, round, petite wanna-be Le Creuset Dutch oven.  Within a matter of three or four uses, their cheap teflon coating was scratched and they’d lost their luster. I still use them, but I bring out my Le Creuset for the big gun cooking, like this delicious braised pork stew to follow. Making it always makes me and my guests very happy. I hope it will you, too.

My trusted Le Creuset Dutch ovens, big blue and bright green delights.

My trusted Le Creuset Dutch ovens, big blue and bright green delights.

Sweet and Soulful Pork and Apple Stew

(Adapted from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith) by Holly Herrick)

(Serves 6)

Boston Butt comes from the tough, working muscles of the pig’s shoulder and is a perfect candidate for braising and an open-ended backdrop for myriad flavorings from sweet to spicy and everything in between. Here, the round, even flavor of the pork dances with the sweetness of the fall apple harvest that lasts long into the winter months. I love a sweet/tart apple, such as a Winesap variety, but mix it up with whatever you have on hand.  Don’t substitute processed cider for fresh, however. It just doesn’t deliver the same results. If you’d like to add a last minute pungency-punch, stir in 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard just before serving. Served over grits, this is the consummate winter or cooler weather comfort food that you’ll remember long after the last spoonful is savored.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 pounds Boston Butt pork shoulder, cut into 2” cubes

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried sage leaves

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

2 celery stalks, cleaned and cut thinly

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons All-Purpose flour

2 cups fresh apple cider

1 cup water or chicken stock

2 Winesap apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½” chunks

3 sprigs fresh rosemary bound with a string

In a large Dutch oven or Crock pot, heat the olive oil and butter over high heat until bubbling. Add the pork, sage, and season generously with salt and pepper. Brown the pork well on all sides, stirring occasionally, until the meat is colored a deep, golden brown. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until just translucent and softened (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Return the browned pork to the pan. Dust with the flour. Stir to coat and cook through about 3 minutes. Add the cider to deglaze the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir to release all of the browned edges from the pan. Add enough stock or water to cover by a little over half. Add the apples and rosemary bring up to a boil and reduce to a very low simmer over low heat. Cover loosely with a lid and cook until very tender and thickened, 3 to 4 hours. Remove the rosemary bunch and taste to verify seasonings before serving.



Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grit Pockets

As Super Bowl mania mounts,  my thoughts (and likely yours) turn to feeding the hungry, fervent, largely male masses on game day. There are so many more delicious options than blah pigs in a blanket, team! Get out of the pocket with these tasty little morsels, one of my favorite recipes from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet. They’re really perfect for entertaining any day of the year.

(Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet, Gibbs Smith, October 2011)

These surprise hot pockets, with their perfect crunch and ooze factor, make idyllic party food or can be a central player for a Sunday brunch buffet. The best game plan is to prep the fillings and the pastry the day before, fill them on cooking day, keep cold for several hours, and fry or bake just before serving.

Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grits Pockets. Photo by Helene Dujardin.


Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grits Pockets

(Makes 24  pockets)

Equipment needed: 4-inch round pastry cutter, large pot for deep-frying

2 batches Master Savory Pastry

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

About 3 tablespoons ice -cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

Grits Filling

3/4 cup yellow stone ground grits

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup grated Gouda cheese

Shrimp Filling

3 strips bacon

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped

1/4 dry white wine

1 1/2 cups boxed seafood stock

Generous dash hot sauce

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped

4 scallions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon cream

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

3 thin slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips

1 teaspoon honey

1 pound fresh white or brown shrimp, peeled, deveined, coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable, canola or peanut oil

Sliced scallion, for garnish, optional

Chopped parsley, for garnish, optional.

Begin by making the pastry, ideally a full day ahead. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and salt until blended. Add the butter. Quickly, pulse the butter 40 – 50 times until it’s the size of large grains or very small peas. Drizzle the ice cold water through the mouth of the processor, pulsing as you go. Stop pulsing when the pastry comes together in a clumsy, bumpy, loose ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into the form of a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight. Prepare a second batch using the same master savory pastry recipe and repeat the directions outlined above.

The day before service, prepare the grits filling. Bring the grits, half-and-half, water, salt and pepper to a boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce to a low simmer and continue whisking regularly. Add more water as needed and adjust seasonings carefully along the way. Count on about 30 minutes for the grits to cook. The grits are done when they’re tooth-tender but still have a tiny “bite.” Remove from the heat, whisk in the cheese until melted, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate overnight in an airtight container.

To prepare the shrimp filling, cook bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and golden, turning once or twice. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Discard all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat and continue. Heat over medium-low heat and add the butter, garlic and celery. Cook about 5 minutes, until just softened. Add wine and seafood stock and cook over medium heat until reduced by two-thirds. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire, tomatoes, scallions, ketchup, cream, herbes de Provence or thyme, prosciutto, and honey. Cook through for a few minutes. At the last minute, season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the reserved bacon and stir in along with the raw shrimp. Stir through just to coat. (Note: You don’t really want to cook the shrimp at this point, as they will cook when frying. Be careful to barely heat the shrimp through, or they will be tough. Remove shrimp from the heat and refrigerate overnight in an airtight container.)

On the day of service, several hours before serving, roll out the pastry, one batch at a time, into about 1/4-inch thick, even thickness. Cut the pastry into 4-inch rounds, lightly dusted with flour, and arrange neatly on a baking pan. Chill the rounds for 20 minutes to 1 hour. To fill the pockets, place 1 tablespoon of the cold grits on the right side of the circle, flattening gently with the back of a spoon. Top with a heaping tablespoon of the cooled shrimp mixture, leaving 1/4-inch naked pastry border. Seal gently with your fingertips, then press the border gently with the tines of a fork to seal. The pockets should look like fat, crimped pastry crescent moons. Continue until all the pastry and filling has been used. Chill pockets for 30 minutes and up to several hours, covered lightly with plastic wrap.

About 40 minutes before serving, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Heat oil of choice in a large pot over medium-high heat, until 360-375 degrees F., or until the oil begins to squirm and zigzag around the bottom of the pan and sizzles aggressively when the pastry enters the pan. Fry in batches of 2 or 3 pockets, gently placing each into the hot oil (do not plop or you might get burned)! Cook for 7 minutes, or until the pockets float on top and are deep, golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in the preheated oven while frying the remainder. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh scallions or parsley if desired.

(Note: If you want to save calories and avoid frying, ditch the oil/frying step and simply preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange the prepped pockets, spaced and in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Be sure to give the pockets a gentle egg wash glaze before popping them into the oven).

Game on! May the best team (and pocket!) win.

For more sample recipes from Tart Love, or to buy the book, please visit the link below.

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