Recipes and Stories

8 December 2017: MaMa’s Coconut Cake

December 8, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Baking, Classical Southern Cooking, MaMa, MaMa's Coconut Cake, Coconut Cake, Christmas Cooking, Christmas Baking, 1 2 3 4 Cake, Seven Minute Frosting, Coconut

MaMa's Coconut Cake (from Essentials of Southern Cooking, Lyons Press 2013/Licensed by Shutterstock)
Coconut cake is a traditional Christmas cake in the part of Carolina where I grew up, and both my grandmother’s made it, using basically the same recipe. But my maternal grandmother, known to us as “MaMa” (we pronounced it Maw-Maw) had a special touch that no one else could match.

Hers was one the most extraordinarily moist cakes I’ve ever had. The great secret for its moistness is also the reason it tasted more intensely of coconut than any other. (more…)

29 November 2017: Holiday Entertaining 101—Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloins

November 29, 2017

Tags: Christmas Entertaining, Holiday Cooking, Pork, Pork Tenderloins, Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloins

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin is impressive and yet easy enough for novice or occasional cooks.
As the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers disappear from our refrigerators and pantries, it suddenly seems that what’s left of the year is hurtling away as if it has been greased by turkey fat. Not only is the daylight rapidly dwindling to what has been called “the crowning of the year,” we’re ushering in our biggest—and longest—season of feasting.

Unfortunately, for all too many, it’s also the most frantic. People who never entertain suddenly start knocking themselves out to do so—dusting off the dining table, digging out holiday china, polishing Grandma’s silver. Folks who never bake and cook will actually open cookbooks, pore over cooking magazines, and tie on aprons they’ve not worn since last December. (more…)

21 November 2017: Cinnamon-Orange Cranberry Sauce

November 21, 2017

Tags: Thanksgiving Dinner, Cranberry Sauce, Cinnamon, Cranberries, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking

Simple Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce is embarrassingly easy and lends a welcome homemade touch to the meal.
This year, I’m not doing my usual planning and precooking for Thanksgiving dinner, which has not been easy. For the first time in years my house isn’t fragrant with turkey broth and roasting pecans and my refrigerator isn’t crammed with more food than will fit into it.

My father turns ninety on Thanksgiving Day, so Tim and I are heading up to my parents’ house to be with them. I’ll be cooking, but it will be my mother’s way and there will be a lot of things that I usually do that won’t be on the table this year.

Never mind. (more…)

15 November 2017: MaMa and Salmon Croquettes

November 15, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Salmon, Canned Salmon, Salmon Croquettes, Salmon Balls, MaMa

MaMa's Salmon Balls or Croquettes if you want to be dainty, served on one of her brown flameware plates with her flatware.
Nostalgia does odd things to us, at times when we’re least expecting it. Last week, while ambling down an aisle at the market, minding my own business and looking for something completely different, nostalgia, in the form of a large can of wild-caught “Traditional Style” salmon, jumped right off the shelf and accosted me.

“Traditional” means it was packed whole, skin, bones, and all. And standing there looking at that neat stack of pink-labeled cans, what my mind’s eye saw was a gray-striped pink cylinder of fish standing tall in a chipped and grazed creamware bowl of my grandmother’s. Suddenly, she was right there beside me, murmuring excitedly, “They’re on sale! Let’s get some!” (more…)

8 November 2017: Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

November 8, 2017

Tags: Thanksgiving Dinner, Oysters, Scalloped Oysters, Family Traditions

Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters
Since fall is my favorite season for cooking, it shouldn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Thanksgiving is my favorite cook’s holiday. Normally, the second week in November would find me up to my elbows in planning—gathering recipes, happily mapping out every detail, stocking up on the basics.

And by the week of the feast, my kitchen is fragrant with a simmering broth pot, bubbling cranberry conserve, baking cheese straws, and toasting pecans. For the space of that week, no kitchen job—not even peeling brussels sprouts—seems tedious.

This year, however, my kitchen will be a lot quieter, not to mention less fragrant. (more…)

1 November 2017: Of Writers’ Block and Bourbon Apple Cobbler

November 1, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Apple Cobbler, Bourbon Apple Cobbler, Apple Pie, Apples, Bourbon, Cinnamon

Bourbon Apple Cobbler
Any writer will tell you that there’s nothing to equal the exhilarating feeling that comes with finishing a piece of writing. Whether it’s a whole book, a magazine article, or just a short essay like this, it’s like winning a door prize, finally being let out of jail, and reaching the top of an impossible mountain climb or finish line of a marathon, all at once.

But then. What immediately follows is an awful, restless sense of “what now?” It’s almost like being abandoned. That piece of writing has been your sole life’s purpose for days, months, sometimes years. And now it’s finished . . . with nothing to take its place. It’s not quite like writer’s block, but sometimes it feels worse. (more…)

30 October 2017: Chicken Pot Pies

October 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Pastry, Autumn Cooking

My Chicken Pot Pie, with carrots, celery, onions, and peas and a basic pastry topping
One of the most welcome of all supper dishes on a crisp autumn evening is old-fashioned chicken pot pie. For warming comfort it may have its equals, but it has no superior.

Like so many homey dishes of its kind, there are probably as many versions as there are cooks, ranging from the elegantly simple triad of chicken, gravy and pastry to those loaded with vegetables, herbs, and spices. Some are even embellished with hard-cooked eggs and ham.

Some are made only with a whole chicken that was cooked specifically for the pie, while others are only made when there are leftovers that need using up. (more…)

23 October 2017: Mama’s Stuffed Zucchini

October 23, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Italian Cooking, Zucchini, Stuffed Zucchini, Stuffed Vegetables

Mama's Baked Stuffed Zucchini
My mother has capably filled many roles in her life—singer, teacher, administrator, pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, but she’s never more herself than when she’s in her garden.

Even from hundreds of miles away, I can see her puttering in that garden as clearly as if I was standing at her kitchen window looking out at it. From early spring until well after the first frost, in the morning and again at dusk, she’d be out there, her face shaded by a big straw hat, her shoes and trousers stained with red clay dust, watering young seedlings, talking to the pest-eating critters who forage among the plants, inspecting the cucumbers, okra, squash, and tomatoes for fruit that has gone from green nub to ready-to-harvest literally overnight. (more…)

9 October 2017: Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup

October 9, 2017

Tags: Soup, Broccoli, Bacon, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Autumn Cooking

Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup
This morning, my office window looks out on an autumnal scene that seems like the beginning of perfect day for soup. Through the dwindling leaf canopy of the old pecan tree that dominates the view, the early sun occasionally peeks weakly through clouds that promise rain. There’s even a bit of frost on the window panes.

Unhappily, appearances, as they so often are here in Savannah, are deceiving: (more…)

3 October 2017: Pork Chops for Fall

October 3, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Pork, Pork Chops, Sauerkraut, Apples, Oven-Braising

Oven-Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Sauerkraut
It was a crisp fall evening in the early days of my graduate school work at Clemson University, and we actually had something that architecture students rarely see: an evening free of deadlines.

I’d just moved off campus into my first apartment on my own, a cozy four room half-basement affair tucked into the side of a hill, with a kitchen that, at long last, was completely mine. Every free moment back then was spent in that kitchen, experimenting, puttering, nibbling. (more…)