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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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
(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
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.
Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!
Not Just for the Cheeseboard Anymore
I’ve been very much indulging my love of all things French lately. First, there was the decadent pairing of Provencal Roses with McCrady’s five-course lunch two weeks ago (https://hollyherrick.com/2014/11/pink-new-red-white/), where I was reminded that Rose is not just meant for drinking, but also for pairing with foods. Then there was the lovely, heady, and incredibly fragrant array of cheeses presented to me in my home last week by a dedicated team of cheese brand representatives working under the umbrella of The Cheeses of Europe.
Their mission? To spread the word about French cheese as an “affordable luxury.” And, not one that should be relegated exclusively to the cheeseboard. Indeed – many French cheeses (with the exception of a Delice de Bourgogne, and a few others, with its buttery center and extreme creaminess is best left unadulterated and served on shortbread with a glass of Champagne), are ideal for cooking.
There I sat like a deleriously happy French cat, sampling cheeses from Isigny Sainte-Mere, French Cheese Club, and Interval Cheeses – a full spread of Brie, Mimolette, butter, Epoisses, Pont l’Eveque, Delice de Bourgogne, Bleu D’Auvergne, Saint Angel, and a first ever sample of airy whipped cheese (which made its way onto my toast every day for a week until it was gone). Dreams of Bleu d’Auvergne Mornay sauce cloaking a French-inspired lasagna, or a decadent fondue were running through my head, even as my dog Tann Mann worked himself up into a frenzy to fenagle any tidbit he could forage from the table’s edge. French was being spoken, cheese was being savored, and I was feeling very happy and inspired.
Of all the cheeses, the one that spoke the loudest to my culinary inspiration soundboard was the deep orange orb of Mimolette (mee moh LET) cheese from Normandy, France.
It was introduced by Louis XIV (a.k.a. The Sun King) in the 17th century. The colorful King wanted a different kind of cheese and the sun-like, blazing color is creatied by adding annatto from a tree by the same name that is indigenous to South America. Traditionally, the older, aged cheese was cut and brought down into mines and used to “sandwich” meats to feed the mine-workers.
I confessed to my new French cheese friends that I had never made it past the “stinky” cheese section of my favorite local fromagier, goat.sheep.cow, and that I wanted to work specifically with this cheese. Two nights ago, I made a simple grilled cheese, stacking thin slices of young Mimolette with a few threads of fresh mozzarella, basted with a thin spread of mayonnaise and prepared horseradish. Gorgeous! The melted Mimolette is molten and slightly stringy, but still holds its body. That’s why it’s an exellent candidate for the Mac and Mimolette recipe to follow. (Recipe provided by The Cheeses of Europe).
Mac and Mimolette
1/2 pound shell pasta
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup grated Mimolette, plus more for sprinkling
1 large tomato, finely chopped.
Preheat oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to directions. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, gently simmer the cream, sugar, salt and wine for 4 to 5 minutes. Be sure it doesn’t boil or it will become grainy. Add the Mimolette and stir until melted. Stir in the tomato. Mix the pasta into the sauce, then pour into a baking pan. Sprinkle awith the remaining Mimolette and bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot/warm.
Working French Cheese Into Your Thanksgiving Feast
The recipe above would pair wonderfully with turkey or fowl as a fragrant, wonderful side dish hot out of the oven. Prep it ahead and bake it off while the main course is resting. If you do opt for a cheese tree to start or finish the meal, do select at least three varieties of cheeses: a melty, soft stinky cheese such as an Epoisses, a mild, fragrant blue, such as Bleu D’Auvergne, and something firm and assertive, such as a Mimolette. Serve on bread, simple crackers, and surround with fruit.
More Cooking with French Cheese Ideas and Cookbook Giveaway
One of my favorite recipes in my latest cookbook, The French Cook – Soups & Stews is a fondue-inspired Three-Cheese and Cider Soup with Apples and Four-Spice Croutons, which runs with the nuttiness of Gruyere and Comte cheeses (as well as Parmesan), and then there is my classic, especially delicious version of French Onion Soup, covered with a gooey cloak of Gruyere (pictured below).Write to me in the comment section following this post and tell me why you would like to receive a free, signed copy of the cookbook, and why you love to cook with and eat French cheese. I will select and announce a winner on November 24 and get it to you just in time for the holidays.
Happy cooking and bon appetit! Please not, here in Charleston, most or all of these cheeses can be found at Whole Foods, Costco and goat.sheep.cow.
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.
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
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.
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!