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 – 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)


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!


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

Savory Sweet Potato Flan with Raisins, Bourbon, Maple Syrup and a Touch of Cinnamon

Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I’ve created and tested a recipe just for the heck of it, heck just for the fun of it. Recently, as I finally looked up from the rubble of completed story and cookbook deadlines and awoke to  Charleston’s  welcome chilly temperatures, falling leaves and fading marshes, I got recipe-inspired. After all, fall is here and Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is coming.

Thanksgiving’s always been my favorite holiday because of what it symbolizes, literally and figuratively, both from the past and the present. So many wonderful meals created with love and gratitude for my own family in the past two decades, and by my mother and her family for two decades prior to that. Memories of scrambling around my Aunt Nancy Lally’s kids’ table with eight other kids for her three-bean salad or green jello mold and heaping plate of turkey, are my oldest Thanksgiving souvenirs. More recently,  three day-long cooking bonanzas from my kitchens in Chicago, Minneapolis, Wyoming and later here in Charleston, fill my memory bank.  There have been so many happy days of wafting cinnamon, basting turkeys, and simmering stocks. All of this, of course. to thank God for our mutual blessings and to enjoy time together at the table.

I’m weeping  now reflecting on the many people I shared so many Thanksgiving’s with whom are now deceased or divorced from my life due to the pressures of distance and time.  I’m crying a little, too, because this year I’m not going to be cooking, but instead going to visit my parents in Florida and we are going to go out to eat this year. This is because, a fact I’ve resisted facing for far too long, my parents are just getting too old (hovering near or above 80, respectively) to put up with the physical and emotional stress of putting on a big Thanksgiving hoopla even though Mom offered to do it. I wanted it to keep it simple, for their sake. And, fingers crossed, my darling Michael (whom I call TAO for “The Adorable One”) is coming along to meet them, and my dog TannMann, too. No matter how it goes, I will appreciate my parents more than ever this year. God knows I love them. Wishing you and yours a beautiful Thanksgiving!

Recipe for Your Holiday Table   

Savory Sweet Potato Flan with Raisins, Bourbon, Maple Syrup and a Touch of Cinnamon

(Yields 8 to 10 Servings)

Here’s my new recipe that Thanksgiving inspired. It has the silky/mousse-like texture of a savory flan, boostered by the roasted sweet potato puree that yields a slightly firmer texture reminiscent of spoonbread. It should be firm enough to stand up in a spoon with a gentle jiggle. There is no sugar in this recipe, unless you count the raisins,  one tablespoon of maple syrup, and optional drizzle of honey for final garnish.  It’s truly decadent and surprisingly simple. I’m adding it to my permanent Thanksgiving recipe file and am thinking about it in the context of my next cookbook.

Thanksgiving Roasted Sweet Potato Flan

Thanksgiving Roasted Sweet Potato Flan


2 large sweet potatoes (about 3/4 pound each)

2 tablespoons bourbon

1 tablespoon real maple syrup

1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract

3 eggs

2 cups Half & Half

1/2 cup dark raisins

1 tablespoon All-Purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter for greasing the baking casserole

Garnish: 2 strips cooked bacon, crumbled and light drizzle of honey or maple syrup


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Scrub and trim the potatoes. Pierce in several places with a knife or fork. Roast on the center rack until very soft when pierced with a fork (abour 50 minutes to an hour). Remove and allow to cool for comfortable handling. Slice in half horizontally and carefully scoop out the flesh (discarding the skin). Place the potato flesh in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree briefly. Add the bourbon, maple syrup, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. Puree to combine until soft and fluffy. Set aside.

Meanwhile, fill your tea kettle with water and put over high to bring up to a boil for the flan’s imminent water bath (this is important to moderate the heat for the custard). In a large bowl,  vigorously whisk together the eggs and Half & Half until frothy and completely blended. Whisk in the reserved potato puree. In a small bowl, toss the raisins with the flour until evenly coated. Fold these into the flan mixture, gently.  Butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole (or similarly sized 3″ high baking dish).  Pour the flan mixture into the casserole. Place the casserole in a large, deep roasting pan. When the water in the kettle is boiling, pour into the roasting pan and around the casserole until about half way up the sides of the casserole.

Bake on the center rack until firm, yet bouncy to the touch, about 55 to 60 minutes. Serve hot, tepid or even cold. (Note: The flan will store in the refrigerator, covered for up to 2  days. If desired, reheat, covered, in a 325F oven for about 20 minutes before serving.)

Crumble the bacon over the center of the flan and drizzle with honey before serving, if desired.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS – Remember to look for big, beautiful changes on my web site soon and be sure to tell your friends about it so they can subscribe for restaurant news, recipes, book signing events, and all things wonderful in Charleston. For signings and event, be sure to visit the events sidebar on the home page. I’ll be in at Southern Season in Richmond, VA on Dec. 7!


Stress-Free and Decadent Thanksgiving Dessert

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but let’s face it, not everyone loves apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, and not everyone loves to bake or get involved with making or rolling out pie pastry.

That’s where this decadent tart comes into your Thanksgving day stress-free dessert plan. Except for a quick bake to set the butter and chocolate Graham cracker crust, it’s completely oven-free. The filling, a blend of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff is blended together and chilled, something that can be done a few days ahead. Just before serving, top it off with a thick layer of freshly whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate chips. It’s a Reese’s lovers dream, with whipped cream on top that’s sure to please.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet by Holly Herrick (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011).

Peanut Butter Fluff & Chocolate Tart

Equipment Needed: One 9″ X 1″ round tart pan with removable bottom

For the chocolate crust:

1 stick soft, unsalted butter

3 cups crumbled chocolate Graham Cracker Crust (about 1 1/2 of the individually wrapped plastic packets)

For the filling:

1 cup creamy peanut butter

4 ounces (1/2 cup) cream cheese

3/4 cup marshmallow cream (suggest Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

For the topping:

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the crust. To crumble the Graham Crackers, crush the packets with a rolling pin and continue smashing them (this part is fun!) until they resemble the size of tiny peas. Combine the cracker crumbs in a small bowl. Using your hands, combine the butter and the crumbs until they’re evenly mixed. Press the crust into the bottom of the tart pan forming an even thickness and pressing the crumbs into the edges of the tart pan. It’s o.k. if it looks a little rough and rustic. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the parchment and pie weights and continue baking until the crust starts to dry out and crisp, another 20  minutes or so. Remove from the oven and set aside for 20 minutes to cool. Chill to refrigerate. (Note: The crust can chill, covered with plastic wrap overnight or for several hours).

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, marshmallow cream and light brown sugar in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine, or blend with a hand held mixer utnil very fluffy and smooth.

When the crust is completely chilled, add the filling.  Smooth with a spatula to meet the edges of the tart. Refrigerate at this point for several hours or overnight, if desired. Within one or two hours of serving, prepare the whipped cream. Combine the cold cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium sized, cold bowl and beat with a whisk or blender until firm peaks have formed. All at once, place the whipped cream on top of the filled tart. Spread with a spatula to level it out, leaving a 1/2″ visible border of the peanut butter filling. Drizzle the chocolate chunks over the whipped cream. Chill for at least one hour and up to three hours before serving.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!

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