Two Recipes That Will Start 2019 Just Right
Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip and Lucky Prosperity Soup
My grandfather used to say nothing good ever happens after midnight and my parents generally subscribed to the same ideology. So, for the most part, my sister and I especially (not so much my brothers) were required to be home by 11 p.m. starting in 10th grade until college. The one year my parents did make an exception was New Year’s Eve of 11th-grade in high school. I remember that because of the onslaught of a drunken boy’s midnight “kiss” and the unpleasant aftermath of a cheap Andre’s Cold Duck hangover the next morning – both firsts unfortunately not easily forgotten.
Ever since, I’ve been one to mostly stay home on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. A day of end-of-the year feasting and quiet reflection with friends takes top billing in my book, and so do both of these recipes. Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip, from my latest, The New Southern Chef’s Table Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, May 2018), offers just the right blend of ooey-gooey, sweet, buttery, warm blue crab dip for a decadent start and the Lucky Prosperity Soup (from Mashed – Beyond the Potato, Gibbs Smith) a smooth, gilded finish.
Rita’s Warm Blue Crab Dip
(Makes 4 – 6 Appetizer Portions)
Situated literally on the edge of what is alternatively deemed “The Edge of America” (or simply Folly Beach), Rita’s Seaside Grille is just a stone’s throw from the frothy, popular surfing waters of the Atlantic. Its breezy, beachy locale lends itself both to the mood and look of the place, as well as the hefty, gutsy menu options, which include lunch, and dinner and a very popular brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Though casual, Rita’s also retains a kind of muted elegance that comes through its captain chairs, high , glossy wood bars and tables. Beyond beach chic, it’s a great stop before or after the beach, or anytime your belly is aching and in search of a good time. And, your canine pal(s) are welcome on the covered outdoor patio, which also houses some great live bands.
Executive chef Billy Spencer has been at the helm here since Hall Management (of Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton, Halls Chophouse, and Old Village Post House Inn fame), bought it a few years ago. The Johnson & Wales grad describes Rita’s crab dip, which was originally inspired by a restaurant where he worked in Florida, as “creamy, but not too heavy.” It’s rife with crab meat that he sources from a fisherman in North Carolina and as he points out, each portion is roughly 50 percent chock-full of crab. It’s lovely that it can be made ahead and re-heated just before serving.
For the dip:
1 1/2 cups cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into strips or a chiffonade
2 cups claw crabmeat
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup roasted, drained and finely diced red peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese for garnish
Serve with tortilla chips or these dipping chips:
Two 6-inch pitas, each cut into eight wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
Generous sprinkling kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the cream cheese and heavy cream together in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl and set aside to cool. Fold the remaining ingredients into the cream mixture, stirring gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Portion out into six microwave-proof ramekins or small bowls. (Note: The dip can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated up to a day in advance).
Meanwhile, prepare the chips. Preheat oven to 4ooF. Toss together the pita wedges with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer, and toast until golden brown (tossing once or twice) about 12-15 minutes. Reserve warm.
To warm the dip “cups,” microwave, uncovered, on high for one minute. Sprinkle each bowl with the cheddar cheese garnish and broil under a hot broiler until melted, just before serving. Serve warm with the freshly prepared, warm chips.
Lucky Prosperity Soup
(Yields 8 to 10 servings)
New Year’s Day in the South ushers in a call to wealth and prosperity, which are symbolized by black-eyed peas (representing coins) and collard greens (representing greenbacks). Often, they’re cooked separately, usually with some ham hock for flavor, and put together on the same plate with rice. This delicious soup takes the best of the bunch and puts them all in one pot, with the exclusion of rice. If you can’t find collard greens, substitute kale or another sturdy green. This soup is finished with a traditional sweet and onion splash from a southern garnish known as chow-chow. If you cannot find it, substitute a traditional relish, but modify the results as suggested in the recipe.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 cups (1 1/4 pounds/ 565g) re-hydrated black-eyed peas, rinsed
3/4 pound (340g) smoked ham hock
8 cups (1.9l) water
1 large bunch collard greens, rinsed, tough stems removed and discarded, and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) strips
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or Tabasco
1/3 cup (80g) chow-chow or 2 tablespoons traditional relish
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to coat. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar and reduce quickly to a glaze.
Add the peas, ham, water, collard greens, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 1 hour, until thickened and the greens have cooked down and the peas are soft, but holding their shape. Remove the ham hock from the pot and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, using an immersion blender, briefly mash the soup in the cooking pot to help incorporate the beans and the greens. When cool enough to handle, cut off and remove outer fat and skin layers from the hock. Cut off any visible meat, finely chop, and return to the pot; discard the rest. Just before serving, stir in the hot sauce and chow-chow. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve steaming hot and sit back and count your lucky stars.
Wishing you and all you love all things wonderful and delicious as you transition into a new year and a happy, healthy 2019!
Holly and Rocky (principal taste tester and best friend!)
Unwrap a Charleston Food Tradition at Your Christmas Table
Shrimp and grits has become the epitome of elegance; the heart of Charleston cuisine in the minds of many. Originally a simple, quick stew served over long-simmered and stirred grits to feed fishermen after a day at sea, it’s now a principal player at many of Charleston’s best restaurants and locals’ holiday tables.
Donald Barickman, founding chef at Magnolias, often gets credit for putting grits on the elegance map with the addition of cream to his version dating back 30 years ago. But, I contend its rise to prominence has just as much to do with the excellence of its two main ingredients. The shrimp that inhabits through Charleston’s waters is uniquely delicious. The tidal flows and the grassy marshes both nurture and protect the shrimp, a prince of a shrimp habitat, that yields a sweet, buttery brine unlike any other, white and brown varieties alike. And, the grits. There are quick and mass-produced varieties available, but served over organic, stone-ground grits available from Anson Mills , you’re in for a toothsome, incomparable, and authentic treat.
This version from Old Village Post House Inn‘s former chef de cuisine, Jim Walker, and featured in The New Charleston Chef’s Table, uses both. I love this recipe because it’s not very complicated, it’s beautiful, delicious, and relatively easy to prep ahead and finish at the last minute. It’s one of the dishes most requested by my cooking class students and it’s especially enjoyable to prepare, the sweet and piquant fragrance filling the air as it cooks -shrimp, country ham, Cajun seasonings, and andouille sausage. A celebration not just of the season, but of Charleston, it would be a fabulous choice to head your Christmas Eve or Christmas Day table. Do try and get your hands on fresh, wild caught shrimp if you cannot find fresh, local Charleston shrimp and serve it over stone-ground grits. It really makes a difference. I use the shells from the shrimp to cook down with some water into a quick glaze to add to the final sauce or “gravy,” which can be strained and whisked in with the butter (see directions) at the last second.
Old Village Post House Inn Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits
(Serves 4 to 6)
For the grits:
8 cups water
3 cups stone-ground grits
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the shrimp sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3/4 pounds Thibodeaux’s andouille sausage (or substitute another brand), but into approximately 28 1/2-inch thick slices
1 cup cubed country ham (cut into a 1/4-inch thick dice)
1 1/4 pounds large (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup peel and seeded tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup scallions, finely sliced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
4 teaspoons Cajun-style fish blackening seasoning (suggest R.L. Schreiber brand)
1 cup salt-free chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To prepare the grits, bring the water to a boil over high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the grits, stir, and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk or flat-tipped wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring, until thickened (the grits should plop like thick cornbread batter), 30-40 minutes. Turn off the burner and let stand covered, so the grits can continue to slowly absorb the water, for 1 – 2 hours.
Just before serving, reheat the grits over medium heat, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the butter and heavy cream, stirring to incorporate. Heat through and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, about 20 minutes before serving, prepare the shrimp sauce. Heat the oil over high heat in a large, deep saute pan. When hot and sizzling, add the sausage and country ham. Saute, tossing until the sausage and ham begin to turn golden and caramelize, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the shrimp, tomato, scallions, minced garlic, and Cajun-style fish blackening seasoning. Saute for another 3 minutes, being sure to combine well and coat the ingredients evenly with the seasoning. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the butter and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, another 1 – 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle the grits into shallow bowls and top with the sauce. Serve immediately.
With best wishes to you and yours for a beautiful holiday and Christmas season. I promise you, your guests will love this. Not only is it delicious, it is beautiful. For all of these reasons and more, it is featured on the cover of The New Charleston Chef’s Table – which, by the way, makes a beautiful gift for the food and Charleston-lover in your life.
Bon appetit! You can always visit me here with any questions, comments or to book a cooking class or culinary tour. Look for details soon on Cracking the Cookbook Code, a cookbook writing, marketing, and photography retreat I’ll be hosting early next spring with my wonderfully talented friend, culinary professional, blogger, and photographer, Beckie Carrico Hemmerling. Until next time, stay safe, warm, happy, and well fed.
Charleston’s King of Rice Takes this Classic Comfort Food to a New Level
Growing up in rural New England in the 1970’s, rice (which usually came from a tired plastic bag or Minute brand white rice box) didn’t thrill me, to say the least. Potatoes, especially my Nanna’s mashed version, were another matter. It wasn’t until much later when I became acquainted with aromatic rices and Arborio that I started to really appreciate it and experiment with it in both savory and sweet dishes. But, when I moved to Charleston in 2000, I discovered rice nirvana in the form of Carolina Gold rice. Almost golden, you can taste it well before you put it in your mouth. Its buttery, hazelnut aroma/flavor entices your nose even as you sift it through the canvas bag in which it is most often stored. It is on every Charleston holiday table and supper tables several times a week and is the stuff of pirlou dreams.
Carolina Gold was the first commercial rice produced in the United States. By 1820, 100,000 acres of the rice was growing throughout the South, where it especially thrived growing in the tidewaters and marshes of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. It was a staple of the Lowcountry economy, which prior to The Civil War, was supported largely by the rice planting and harvesting skills of slaves imported from western Africa. The commerce thrived, and by the middle of the 18th century, was a dominant stepping stone of both the Charleston/Lowcountry economy as well as her inhabitant’s lusty appetite for the gloriously fragrant and delicious rice. The Civil War and merciful end to slavery as well as time all but killed production of the the cherished rice. Fortunately, growers such as Anson Mills (click for purchase or to learn more about the rice) resurrected its complicated production and harvesting.
The composition of the rice lends itself to fluffy, individual grains, a creamy risotto kind of mixture or sticky, depending on how it’s cooked. Fall gets me thinking about all things comfort, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice pudding, which is exactly what I put together this past weekend. Cooked in milk and stirred frequently, like a risotto, it naturally forms a pudding “sauce” of its own, no eggs required. While it’s still hot, stir in some sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, and butter and let it set and cool for a for a few hours. Meanwhile, simmer raisins in fresh orange juice, cinnamon and rum. That also sits to absorb and eventually they’re all mixed together and the pudding is blended with a final kiss of freshly whipped cream to give it a mousseline airiness. It is divine. Try some on your holiday table this year. Rice pudding will never taste quite the same to any of your guests ever again. Don’t add the fresh whipped cream until within an hour or so of serving. All the rest can easily be prepared a day ahead.
Comforting Carolina Gold Rice & Rum Raisin Pudding
(Makes 8 generous servings)
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup well rinsed and drained Carolina Gold rice
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
For the raisins:
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup light rum
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
To finish the pudding:
1 cup very cold heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Bring the milk and the 1/2 teaspoon salt to a low boil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the rinsed rice and stir to combine. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until very tender and most of the milk is absorbed, about 25 minutes. It will have a creamy, wet consistency similar to risotto. Meanwhile, turn your attention to the raisins. Combine the raisins, orange juice, rum, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced to just about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and turn out into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight to macerate and mature the flavors. Return to finish the rice, when done cooking and still very warm, turn out into a large bowl with the orange zest, 3/4 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon and generous pinch salt. Stir well to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate three hours or overnight.
To finish the pudding (within an hour or so of serving), whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar until firm peaks have formed. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the cold pudding along with the reserved, cold raisins. Gently fold another third of the whipped cream into the rice pudding until well but gently blended. Serve cold in an attractive serving bowl or in individual pudding cups or ramekins with a generous dollop of the remaining whipped cream.
Upcoming Book Signing
Come see me this Saturday, October 20 for the Daniel Island Library Harvest Tour of Homes.
I will be situated in the beautiful home at 341 Lesesne Street on Daniel Island from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. signing copies of my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table. Would love to see you there! It makes a lovely gift anytime of year, but especially during the holidays for the Charleston loving cook in your life.
Cooking at Christmas
Cooking is something I enjoy doing all year round. To me it’s a peaceful, meditative process that always brings me right into the moment of creating something delicious and transports me far away from any worries or strife. Perhaps that’s why I especially love cooking during the holidays, which can be a stressful time despite the import of the season’s messages of peace and joy. This year, I will be home (finally!) and cooking for a small group of friends. I’m particularly looking forward to a simple meal. My “core” menu item will be a standing rib roast of beef with a horseradish cream sauce and au jus for juicy dipping and my annual creamed spinach gratin.
I love gratins for many reasons – perhaps the biggest being their crunchy, buttery tops and tender, creamy centers. With those pre-requisites in mind, I created the recipe that follows. Even though I’m not a huge Brussels sprouts fan (except for using them as baby heads of lettuce in my childhood doll’s house kitchen), in keeping with the season and their rewarding versatility, I slipped them into this recipe. The bottom layer is a mixture of grated Russett potatoes blended with sour cream, Parmesan, chopped, hydrated porcini mushrooms that ends up tasting like a soft, glorious loaded baked potato. The Brussels sprouts are quartered and nestled into the top of the potatoes and the whole glorious dish is topped with buttered panko crumbs tossed with plenty of fresh thyme. The Brussels sprouts neatly roast themselves and their light cabbage flavor into the nutty, creamy dish and the end result is nothing short of smashing.
I’ll be serving this alongside the beef at my holiday table, but it would also pair very well with turkey, pork, chicken or game. It could double as a main course for vegetarians, or even makes a delicious Christmas morning breakfast. It’s especially nice that it can be completely assembled, tightly covered and refrigerated overnight before baking. One important note: You’ll want to get your mis en place put together ahead of time and grate the potatoes at the last minute or they may discolor just a bit.
Creamy Potato and Brussels Sprouts Holiday Gratin
(Recipe makes 8 to 10 heaping side portions)
Needed: Large, shallow oven-proof casserole or gratin dish, roughly 3″ deep X 9″ long X 5″ wide.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 ounce (about 1 cup) dried porcini or substitute another strongly flavored dried mushroom
Enough water to cover – about 1 cup
3 large Russett potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (about 8 cups)
4 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup whole cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups whole sour cream
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon greshly ground black pepper
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
For the topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted, melted butter
2 cups unseasoned panko bread crumbs (or another variety of plain, coarse bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 3250F. Butter the casserole/gratin dish with the 2 tablespoons of butter. Place the porcini in a non-reactive 2-cup measuring cup or small glass bowl and cover with water. Heat in the microwave on high for one minute. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prep and grate the potatoes. Place in a large, clean kitchen towel and twist firmly over the sink to extract any excess water. Set aside, reserving in the towel wrap.Return to the reserved mushrooms. Strain the mushrooms out of the liquid and squeeze any fluid back into the “mushroom water.” Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside. Pour the reserved mushroom water into a small saucepan, being careful to strain out any possible grit through a paper towel or cheese cloth. Add the garlic, bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced down to 1/4 cup. Remove and discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the cream, milk, sour cream, Parmesan and salt and pepper, and reserved chopped mushrooms. Heat over low heat to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
Place the grated potatoes in the buttered dish. Pour the entire cream mixture over the potatoes and toss thoroughly to coat. Spread the top evenly with a spatula to flatten it evenly. Arrange the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, evenly over the top. Season lightly with salt and pepper. To prepare the topping, combine the melted butter, panko, seasonings and thyme in a small bowl. Drizzle evenly over the top of the entire gratin. Bake for one hour, or until golden brown, soft in the center and lightly bubbling. Serve warm with a garnish of fresh thyme sprigs.
Have a joyful, safe and delicious holiday and Christmas season!
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!