Recipes and Stories

16 February 2018: Hot, or Baked, Chicken Salad

February 16, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Chicken, Chicken Casserole, Hot Chicken Salad, Baked Chicken Salad, Historical Southern Cooking

Hot, or Baked Chicken Salad, a relatively new Southern classic
Tradition has often been defined as “how they did it when we were children” and it’s not a bad description of the way we all too often look at the elusive thing that we call Southern Cooking. So much of the “traditional” cooking that sparks debate among Southerners today has actually not been around all that long.

For example, one of the easiest ways to start the biggest fight you ever saw is to pronounce before a group of Southerners that there is only one true way to make pimiento cheese and then proceed to describe said way. Every single person present will argue that you don’t know what you’re talking about, because that’s not how their grandmother made it. (more…)

3 February 2018: Classic Chicken Divan

February 3, 2018

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Chicken Divan, Chicken, Broccoli, Casseroles

My Chicken Divan

One of the great dishes of mid-to-late twentieth century American cooking is Chicken Divan, a layered gratin of broccoli, chicken breast and a velouté sauce enriched with cheese. Believed to have been name for its place of origin, the Divan Parisien Restaurant in New York City’s old Hotel Chatham (which stood at Vanderbilt Avenue between East 48th and 49th Streets), it was probably created sometime in the 1940s and is credited to Chef Anthony Lagasi.* (more…)

26 January 2018: In Defense Southern Cooking, Part II

January 27, 2018

Tags: Southern Cooking, Defining Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking, Regional Southern Cooking

Country fried steak with onion gravy as it’s done in my kitchen and was done in my grandmothers’ kitchens. The variations on this dish across the South’s many cuisines are staggering.
Beginning to Define the Cuisine(s) or, the Tip of the Iceberg

The most useful fact to know in attempting to define Southern cooking is the same one Marcella Hazan addressed of her own native cooking in The Classic Italian Cook Book: “The first useful thing to know about Italian cooking is that, as such, it actually doesn’t exist.”

She goes on to explain that cooking in Italy varies from region to region and from town to town within those regions, so “Italian cooking” isn’t a single cuisine, but a collection of many.

Likewise, the most useful thing to know about Southern Cooking “is that, as such, it actually doesn’t exist.” As is true for Italian cooking, it also is not, and never has been, a single, homogenous cuisine. (more…)

12 January 2018: In Defense of Southern Cooking, Part I

January 12, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Collards, Techniques and Flavors of Classic Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking

Fresh Collard Greens
One day around the new year, when pots of collards and field peas were simmering away in so many Southern kitchens, a discussion arose among some of my colleagues about the frequency with which collards seemed to be turning up on so many so-called “new” Southern restaurant menus, and of how these greens were mostly being used and presented in ways that had nothing to do with Southern cooking.

The nicest thing one could say of most of these misbegotten things is that they’re bewildering. (more…)

6 January 2018: Fish Fillets Baked with Orange, Ginger, and Sherry

January 6, 2018

Tags: Christmas Entertaining, Christmastide, Holiday Cooking, Epiphany, Feast of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Fish, Baked Fish, Grouper, Sea Trout, Sea Bass, Fish, Fish Fillets

Fish Baked with Orange, Lemon, Ginger, and Sherry and finished with a butter sauce made from the cooking juices
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the Wise Men to the Christ Child. It marks the end of the twelve days of Christmastide and, since the wise men arrived bearing gifts, is in some traditions the day that presents are exchanged.

Where Christmas day is considered the first of those twelve days, the Eve of Epiphany (January 5) is when “Twelfth Night,” the last hurrah of Christmas, is celebrated, but where the twelve days begin on the day following December 25, the twelfth day is actually feast of the Epiphany.

Since I didn’t grow up in either tradition, we’ve sort of made up our own in our house, and will celebrate our Twelfth Night this evening. (more…)

24 December 2017: Drinking Custard

December 24, 2017

Tags: Christmas, Christmas Cookery, Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Custard, Drinking Custard, Holiday Cookery

Drinking Custard
Every year when the winter holidays roll around, I begin to crave that old-fashioned Southern holiday treat, drinking custard. Eggnog, at least, the real thing laced with bourbon or brandy, wasn’t something we had in a Baptist pastorium. But drinking custard was another thing. We could enjoy it not only at Christmas, but throughout the cold season.

If you’ve not encountered it, drinking custard is the same thing as custard sauce, only made with fewer egg yolks or whole eggs so that it’s thin enough to sip from a cup the way you’d do eggnog. For many Southern families, it was and still is a long standing holiday tradition and is actually the base that is often used for eggnog, especially if it contains no alcohol.

Mama used to tell stories of the days when my father was in seminary in Louisville and pastored a small country church (more…)

22 December 2017: Gifts of Food

December 22, 2017

Tags: Christmas Gifts of Food, Lottie Moon, Holiday Sharing

Gifts of food (like this tin of cheese straws) are an indelible part of our holiday traditions that I hope we never abandon. But there are other gifts of food that may be needed (and appreciated) more.
They’re always saying that one can take the boy out of the Baptist Church, but one can never quite take the Baptist out of the boy. I’ve been an Episcopalian all my adult life, but at this time of year, like a Ghost of Christmas Past, my Baptist childhood comes back to me, whispering the name Lottie Moon to my conscience.

For those who don’t know, Charlotte Digges (“Lottie”) Moon, born on December 12, 1840, was a Baptist missionary to China from July of 1873 until December of 1912, (more…)

19 December 2017: Christmas Breakfast

December 19, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Christmas Breakfast, Christmas Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Strata, Ham, Mushrooms, Christmas Strata with Ham and Mushrooms, Holiday Cooking

Christmas Strata with Ham and Mushrooms
When I was growing up, Christmas day always began (well, after plundering a roomful of Santa loot) with a traditional Southern breakfast: grits, eggs, my granddaddy’s perfectly seasoned pork sausage, country ham with red-eye gravy, homemade biscuits, usually with fruitcake, ambrosia, and sometimes drinking custard added in.

Nowadays, unless we have friends drop by, there are just two of us here on Christmas morning: Our children and grandchildren live three states away; my parents and siblings are four hours away. And one of us is a church musician with a command performance at Christmas Day Mass. We rarely have the luxury of time and leisure for a breakfast like that.

And, to be completely honest, the last thing I want to do on Christmas morning is stand in the kitchen monitoring a grits pot, hot oven, and panful of sausage patties. (more…)

15 December 2017: Old-Fashioned Wine Jelly

December 15, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Historical Cooking, Wine Jelly, Christmas Desserts, Christmas Cooking, Bourbon Custard, Creme Anglaise, Boiled Custard, Custard Sauce

An Old-Fashioned Christmas treat: Wine Jelly with Custard Sauce
The dessert in the Christmas dinner that was shared in my last column was a lovely, old-fashioned thing called wine jelly. It’s not jelly as in a spread for toast, but jelly as in the stuff invalids are often fed when they’ve been off a solid diet.

It was once a classic old holiday treat that was actually rare and special, a fact we can’t really appreciate today, since sweet, flavored gelatin has lost a lot of its luster, thanks in large part to that stuff we feed convalescents. It’s a shame, really, because it’s a lovely, light dessert that adds sparkle—both literally and figuratively—to a holiday meal, and deserves to be popular again. (more…)

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…)