Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

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Shrimp, Collards & Grits

I recently came across this beautiful, just-released cookbook by Pat Branning. Actually, Pat a friend and neighbor down in Beaufort was kind enough to send me a signed copy for review.

Shrimp, Collards & Grits by Pat Branning. Cover Art by Ray Ellis.

Shrimp, Collards & Grits by Pat Branning. Cover Art by Ray Ellis.

 

To read about it, please click on this link. Enjoy. It’s a beauty and chock full of luscious art, recipes and writing.

http://charleston.thepermanenttourist.com/for-the-love-of-the-lowcountry/

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Sumptuous Scones and So Much More at The Morehead

In a world increasingly cluttered with plastic card keys and generic breakfast buffets scattered around Interstates like so many five-story hotel dominoes, it’s nice to know that there remain special B & B finds that offer so much more, and not for much more money.  These are the kind of places where you’re greeted by name, personally led up a creaky, grand winding staircase topped with a chiming grandfather clock, and, with chunky brass key in hand, enter a soothing oasis of chintz, fat pillows, crisp linens and a cup of hot tea served in a china cup.  These are the kind of places where one feels utterly at home and nurtured, and the kinds of places I personally welcome after a long day (or several days) of travel.

Slightly faded but consummately stately and Southern, The Morehead Inn in Charlotte, NC, is just this kind of place. Built in 1917, the white clapboard and dark green tiled roof mansion was a private residence until it was converted into an inn in the 1980’s. It still bears the mood of a family residence, generously decorated with plush, deep sofas and chairs,  Oriental carpets, mirrors and classic Oriental vases and curios. The staff, largely overseen by matriarchal Guest Service Manager Carolyn Jordan, is exceptionally friendly but adept at giving guests privacy and quiet as needed.

The Morehead Inn is situated in a rolling, green suburb of Charlotte called Dilworth. Broad avenues with leafy trees (just beginning to change during my visit) is an idyllic slice of Southern Americana. My amazing publicist and friend, Stephanie Burt, who is a proud Charlottean by birth, found it for us, and we were both so glad she did.

Naturally, The Morehead experience doesn’t stop at hospitality and charm, but includes a remarkable breakfast feast each morning. There are three choices, a continental menu of yogurt, fruit, pastries, a hot egg, grits, bacon, etc., option, and even Belgian waffles and pancakes made to order.  Each is as great as the next, and keeps you full until well into the afternoon, which makes planning a three night-stay practically mandatory.  Aside from being served by the charming Carolyn, the other thing each of these breakfast shares in common is the inclusion of the most amazing scones perhaps on this earth, almost certainly in the South.

Sumptuous Scones at The Morehead Inn

Prepared by justifiably proud and very talented Pastry Chef Carol Weinles, they have a flakiness and airiness that defies anything I’ve ever before experienced with scones. In fact, prior to sampling Chef Carol’s scones, I’ve never really liked them before, considering them rather mealy and crumbly. Pictured in the upper left-hand corner in the shot above, they are also smaller than most, and make a most inviting, light addition to breakfast. But, no butter is required! Weinles attributes the high butter content and leavening agent (baking powder) to the unique deliciousness of her scones. She was generous enough to share her recipe, below. The fruit added to the scones, according to Weinles, varies, ranging from simple orange zest, to dried cranberries, or dried apricots.

Carol Weinles’ Sumptuous Scones

(Makes 16 – 20 scones)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup + 1 tablespoon All Purpose flour

3/4 cup cake flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dried fruit (suggest cranberries and/or apricots)

2 sticks + 3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

1 cup whole cream

2 – 3 tablespoons sugar for dusting prior to baking

Mix sugar, AP flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt on low speed with a blender until just incorporated. Add butter, increasing speed, and blending until the butter is “mealy”. Add the fruit and mix only until it starts to clump. Slowly incorporate the cream. Mix until combined, but do not over mix. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1″ thickness. Cut using round or square pastry cutters or using a chef’s knife. Arrange on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a little extra sugar. Bake at 350 F for 12 to 15 minutes. (Note: The scones can be made ahead, frozen, and baked as needed). Serve warm from the oven.

The Morehead Inn

112 E. Morehead Street

Charlotte, NC 28204

(704) 376-3356

www.moreheadinn.com

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Seasonal Stirrings the Vidalia Way

Even though Vidalia onions are an edible hallmark of spring down here in the South, I start thinking about this Vidalia Onion Tart more as the cooler, shorter days of fall start approaching.  Something about it just seems earthy and right set on a cool, fall table, with the sound of crunchy leaves and waning light all around.  I think we’re all ready for fall once Labor Day comes rolling around as it’s about to once again.

Vidalia onions are basically a sweet onion that hail from Vidalia, Georgia. Sweet onions

Photo by Helene Dujardin

with a less noble label are fortunately available throughout the year. They really make this tart sing, as the sweetness plays the most beautiful taste music against the salty back-notes of the bacon and lemmony earthiness of fresh thyme.

I love this Alsacienne-themed tart so much, I actually repeated it in Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet from its original home on the pages of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. The only recipe I’ve ever repeated, it’s just that good and can be served warm, room temperature, or hot from the oven.  It’s especially delicious, and even a little bit romantic, eaten in front of a blazing fire with a good friend and a cool glass of Riesling.

Here it is as adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith). By the way, the publisher told me last week that the book has arrived at the warehouse and will be shipping to bookstores in a matter of days! There is no time like the present for tarts. Happy cooking!

Vidalia Onion Tart with Bacon, Honey and Fresh Thyme

(Serves 10 to 12)

Equipment Needed: One 12 X 1-inch round tart pan with removable bottom

Egg wash (yolk, pinch salt, splash water blended together)

One Recipe 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, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

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

For the filling:

4 slices bacon

5 large Vidalia onions (or substitute another sweet onion), peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons honey

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons whole cream

At least 30 minutes before rolling and baking (or up to one day in advance), prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse rapidly, 40 – 50 times, or until the butter is blended into the flour and is coarse and the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually, add the water in a small trickle, with the processor running. Continue adding just as the pastry starts coming together in the shape of a loose, crumbly ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a disc, about 1″ high, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1″- thick. Line the tart pan with the pastry. Tuck the pastry neatly into the edges of the pan, guiding about 1/4″ of the pastry up and into the insides of the pan. Using your rolling pin, roll over the entire circumference of the pan to cut off any excess pastry (this can be saved for later use). Press the excess pastry between your forefinger and thumb, to form a slightly elevated border. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Line the pan with parchment paper and weights (I use dried beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and brush the bottoms and sides with the egg wash. Bake another 10 – 15 minutes, or until just golden. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to fill.

To prepare the filling, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon in a single layer and cook, turning as needed, until it is crispy and the fat has been rendered. Transfer bacon to drain and cool on paper towels; chop coarsely once cool enough to handle. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook over medium heat until onions have softened, stirring about every 5 minutes. Do not let the onions brown! After about 20 minutes, add wine and increase heat to medium-high. Cook the wine down to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the honey and reserved chopped bacon. Stir and cook 5 minutes more. Remove onion mixture from the heat and spoon into a shallow pan; refrigerate to cool. When cool, drain off any excess pan juices and stir in the egg and cream. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Fill the pastry crust with the onion mixture and bake about 35 minutes, until golden brown and the filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

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Red, White and Blue – Deep Purple Fresh Cherry Pie Pockets

Happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone. God Bless America!

The following recipe is adapted from my next cookbook,  Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011). Dress it up with a fat, fresh strawberry and a cool scoop of fresh, best-quality vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a 4th of July color-coded dessert as American as apple pie.

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A great bargain on beautiful Bing cherries and a lingering curiosity about fried fruit pies (a hot Southern tradition) inspired me to take the plunge into the wonderful world of deep fried pies. Like so many things, once you try it, you realize it is not as difficult as you may have thought. The trick is that the pies go in cold and dry and that oil temperature is right (between 360-375F). Also, take care that they are not overcrowded and are treated with care when turning them.

The fresh cherries are cooked down with Cassis (or you could substitute a nice Merlot) and finished with fresh dried cranberries, some citrus, cinnamon, and allspice. The filling is gently chewy and has a gorgeous deep purple hue. It all merges exquisitely with each flaky bite, fresh from the fryer. Amazingly, they’re almost as delicious cold, if there are any left-over the next day. I recommend you prep the filling and the pastry the day before, compile the little pies the next morning, chill for several hours, and fry just before serving. Toss your calorie counter the day you make these beauties. They’re just too comely to make yourself feel badly and this is perfect party food!!!
Deep Purple Fresh Cherry Pie Pockets
(Makes 14 individual pies)
Equipment needed: 1 cherry pitter, one 4″ round pastry cutter
For the pastry:
2 1/4 cups White Lily All Purpose  Flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Generous pinch kosher or sea salt
2 sticks (or 1 cup) best quality AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4″ cubes
Ice cold water – about 3 tablespoons or just enough to hold the pastry together
For the filling:
3 1/2 cups fresh, whole pitted Bing cherries (or substitute another seasonal varietal)
1/2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (do not substitute concentrate!)
1/2 cup Cassis (or substitute good quality Merlot)
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt
Pinch allspice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For frying:
2 cups canola oil
Garnish with about 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Prepare the pastry, ideally,  the night before. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade. Pulse several times to combine. Add the cold butter, pulsing 40 – 50 times until the butter forms small, tiny balls about the size of sand. Gradually, incorporate the ice cold water into the mix, drizzling through the mouth of the processor and pulsing until it just holds together into a loose, clumsy ball. Turn out onto  a lightly floured board, form into a flattened disk, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, also the day before, prepare the filling. I recently purchased a cherry pitter which makes

Deep Fried Cherry Pocket. Photo by Helene Dujardin

easy and fun work out of removing the pits. If you don’t have one, however, cut the cherries in half with a paring knife and do the best you can to extricate the pit without losing too much of the fruit or its juices.

Place the pitted cherries into a medium size sauce pan along with the remaining filling ingredients.  Bring up to a simmer over medium high heat and cook until the juices have cooked down to about 1 cup cup and the fruit has softened and thickened into a compote-like consistency. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Return the seeds to the compote, stirring, and discard the outer pod casing.
The following morning or afternoon, depending on when you plan to serve, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 1/4″ thick. Cut with the pastry cutter into 4″ rounds. Arrange in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet and refrigerate.
Prepare to fill the pie pockets. Arrange the prepared pastry rounds on a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, form each tart individually. Take about 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of the cooled filling and place it off to the right side of the pastry round, leaving about 1/4″ space for the border. Guide the “free” side of the pastry over the top to make a crescent shape. Seal the edges gently with your fingers and finish by pressing along the outer edge with the tines of a fork to seal. Repeat until complete. Place the pies on a large plate or platter and refrigerate while you work.
Now, you’re ready to fry. Use a pan with deep sides that’s large enough to ensure you have at least 2″ of free room at the top. Add the oil and heat over medium high heat. If you have a thermometer, use it and bring the oil up to about 365F. If you don’t, look for movement of the oil at the bottom of the pan, smell for the scent of warm oil and listen for the occasional pop. To be sure, pop a cube of bread in the pan. If the oil’s ready and at the right temperature, the bread will brown to a golden color in about one minute and sizzle gently in the oil.
Whe the oil’s hot, gently guide two to three pie pockets at a time into the oil. Fry for two minutes on the first side (until golden) and flip gently with a spatula to fry the second side. Cook another two minutes, or until golden and puffy on the second side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining pie pockets. Discard the oil after it has cooled. Serve the pies fryer-warm. I like them served on individual plates with a spoonful or two of the remaining compote drizzled with a light coating of powdered sugar. If desired, add vanilla ice cream (and a strawberry or two!).  You are going to be so proud of yourself – these are so delicious and beautiful. (Note: If you want to skip the frying, just prep and fill as outlined, chill, and bake off in a 425F oven on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 25 minutes or until flaky and golden. Serve warm!)
Happy Fourth of July! Cook, eat and drink in good health and to good times.
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Grace is Good, Very Good

Sherry Laced She Crab Soup and Shrimp Remoulade Salad

Most people get excited about Spoleto, Charleston's annual and very International arts festival, for the promise of Mozart and ballet. While that's all very well and good, I get excited about Spoleto because its advent also marks the time for one of Charleston's most delicious dining events - Grace Episcopal Church Tea Room. The two, it just so happens, are operational at the exact same time during a two-week run that begins and ends with Spoleto. Both are happening now.Consummately Southern, the church's main hall and gardens glitter with all chintz, hydrangea, bow ties and smiles a' plenty from the church ladies. An elderly man sporting seersucker plays uplifting live tunes from a piano in a corner of the large room. It's just too much fun, and all proceeds are distributed to local charities selected by the church, which recently underwent extensive renovations, leaving her more stunningly beautiful than ever.The abbreviated menu is very Huguenot- inspired and many of the recipes come directly from the family recipe boxes of old Charleston families and members of the church. Vat upon vat of the steaming, rich, crab-laden She crab soup (one of the best sellers) is produced daily by the all-volunteer kitchen. The soup ($6.00) is served with a small paper liner (to prevent staining the table, indeed) and a cruet of sherry. There is also a fabulous, chunky okra soup and generously herbed tomato soup on this year's menu.The shrimp remoulade ($8, pictured) is very generously portioned and mild, with pink, sweet shrimp barely bound with a mustard-mayonnaise dressing and served with a mound of grated, fresh carrots and cucumbers. This, along with the almond, curry chicken salad is offered with the choice of crackers or a croissant. There are also several sandwiches available, including a diminutive ham biscuit ($4) filled with salty, aged ham on a fresh buttermilk biscuit slathered with a Dijon butter poppy seed spread.The breath-taking dessert tray at Grace

 

But, let’s get down to what Grace is best known for – the huge, beautiful dessert trays that are ushered throughout the dining room by delicate ladies before eager eyes. It reaches most people’s table (as it did ours), just as you’re finishing lunch. A lady and gentleman describe each dessert and you make your choice. It sounds easy enough, but it’s a grueling decision! Everything is dressed with freshly whipped cream and mint and one is as beautiful as the next ($4 each). The Huguenot Torte, a crunchy, sweet meringue concoction is an especially warranted indulgence that I personally look forward to every year, but really, all desserts are exceptional.

Lunch comes with your choice of iced tea (seasoned well with fresh mint and lemon), coffee, hot tea, milk and water. Now, if only they were open all year-round! You have until next Saturday to check it out if you’re in Charleston.  I highly recommend that you do.
Grace Episcopal Church Tea Room
98 Wentworth Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Take-Out: (843) 723-8587
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