Recipes and Stories

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…)

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…)

30 August 2017: Old-Fashioned Squash Casserole

August 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Historical southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Yellow squash, Squash Casserole, Squash, Summer Squash

A Southern Classic: Old-Fashioned Squash Casserole
Before summer passes, some thoughts on an old seasonal classic.

One of the loveliest standard dishes for those great old Southern institutions—church covered-dish suppers, dinners-on-the-grounds, and buffet spreads for family reunions and funerals—is squash casserole. Variously known as a casserole, pudding, and soufflé (those last mainly when it has eggs in it), it’s popularity as a covered-dish offering probably owes a lot to the fact that it was cheap (the main ingredient came right out of the back garden), easy to make (especially on short notice), and delicious with just about anything. (more…)

28 August 2017: Sherry Cobbler

August 28, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Historical American cooking, Sherry, Lemonade, Sherry Cobbler

An Old-Fashioned Sherry Cobbler. Photograph by John Carrington Photography, from The Savannah Cookbook (Gibbs-Smith, 2008).
Today, in part because of the horrendous weather that’s wreaking havoc elsewhere in the South, we’re having an unusual and welcome break from the long, unrelenting swelter that’s August in the lowcountry. With almost daily showers and high temperatures hovering at three digits, the outdoors has been a giant steam bath since July. Every year we complain that it seems worse than the last, but if we’re honest, we’ll admit it’s pretty normal for summer down here. Still, it often leads us to ponder how our ancestors got through it without air-conditioning.

The answers to that puzzle are: mountain cabins, beach cottages, and sherry cobbler. (more…)

4 July 2017: Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

July 4, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Potato Salad, Potatoes, Summer Cooking

For Independence Day, Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad
Because it's Independence Day and I'm missing my grandmother more than usual today, tonight's dinner includes the very old-fashioned American-style potato salad that MaMa always made, with celery, sweet onion, sweet pickles, hard-cooked eggs, and mayonnaise (she used Duke's) laced with a little yellow mustard for zip and color.

My grandmother diced the potatoes and then boiled them, but I've always boiled the potatoes whole, in their skins, to preserve their flavor and keep them from being sodden. (more…)

11 April 2017: Parsley

April 11, 2017

Tags: Parsley, Potato Salad, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches

My culinary security blanket: a bouquet of fresh flat-leaved Italian parsley
Now, here’s a curious thing that I can’t explain. For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, having a bouquet of fresh parsley in my kitchen is a kind of culinary security blanket. It reassures and comforts me, even when I end up using very little of it in the pots.

Unfortunately, that’s more often the case than not. Despite the truth in the old Italian proverb “essere come il prezzemolo” (literally “to be like parsley,” that is, everywhere), I can rarely use it all up before it starts to fade. (more…)

20 March 2017: The Key Ingredient

March 20, 2017

Tags: Spring Cleaning, Love in the Kitchen, Tuna Noodle Casserole, Classic American Cooking

A little bit of love and a lot of cleaning and organizing have made my small, dark kitchen seem new and comfortable.
For nine years, I have hated my kitchen.

People are always surprised to hear it: Somehow, there’s a prevailing notion that all food writers are possessed of dream kitchens—spacious, light, airy, equipped with state-of-the-art appliances and gleaming copper cookware.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

I am blessed to have nice equipment (including gleaming copper), but the kitchen it occupies is rented and not the stuff that my (or anyone else’s) dreams are made of. (more…)

6 March 2017: Of Leftovers and Creamed Tuna

March 6, 2017

Tags: Creamed Tuna, Classic American Cooking, American Cooking, Canned Tuna, Leftovers

Old-Fashioned Creamed Tuna with Noodles
So much contemporary food writing, my own included, focuses on the importance of freshness: Using the best ingredients that our budgets will allow; taking the time and care to select the freshest, choicest things that we can find; using care in the way we store and use them. It would be nice if our cooking could always be like that. But more often than not, our day-to-day cooking is (or should be) more about not wasting what we’ve already got on hand.

Far too many people on this planet—no further away than our own neighborhoods—are hungry. No, using up that food instead of throwing it out isn’t helping those hungry people. But to squander still edible food just because it’s not at its absolute peak is self-indulgent and irresponsible. (more…)

27 February 2017: Fancy Food and Chicken à la King

February 27, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Chicken à la King, Chicken

Classic Chicken à la King served over buttered toast
During the post-war 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, when homemaking was still the most common profession for women, a popular form of entertainment was the ladies’ luncheon, either as an end in itself or as a part of a bridge party, garden club, or church circle meeting. The food for these occasions was dainty and fancy: tomato aspic, consommé, creamed chicken and seafood, casseroles, chicken, ham, and fish salads, and congealed and composed salads. How it looked was probably more important than how it tasted, but flavor was still not to be taken for granted.

The king, if you’ll pardon the expression, of all this dainty fare was Chicken à la King. Basically creamed chicken with an attitude, it dates back, as so many things of its kind do, to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, with at least four claims on the credit for its creation. (more…)

9 February 2017: The Art of Broth and the Comforts of Chicken Soup

February 9, 2017

Tags: Chicken Soup, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Jewish Penicillin, Soup

My Chicken Noodle Soup
The deep belief in the healing power of chicken soup may well be one of the most universal concepts in the world’s cuisines.
No matter where on this globe one happens to be, if there are chickens in the barnyard and sick people in the house, there will be chicken soup in the pot. The details and flavorings that go into that pot will vary, depending on the culture and the cook, as will the age and size of the bird. It’s often called “Jewish Penicillin” in our country, but the faith in it as a curative really has no territorial or cultural boundaries. (more…)

26 March 2016: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner IV—Butterflied Leg of Lamb

March 26, 2016

Tags: Lamb, Roast Lamb, Easter Dinner, Classic French Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Roast Leg of Lamb

Roast Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Herbs, Garlic, and White Wine
If you’re doing a ham for Easter, you’re pretty much home free from here, but if you like to have lamb for the feast, as I do, you can’t cook it ahead unless you just want to have it cold on purpose.

Fortunately, a boned and butterflied leg cooks quickly with a minimum of last minute fuss. (more…)

15 February 2016: Sunny-Side-Up

February 15, 2016

Tags: Eggs, American Fried Eggs, Sunny-Side-Up Eggs, Classic American Cooking, Classic French Cooking

Perfect Sunny-Side-Up Eggs are, like all simple cooking, a matter of finesse
Yesterday, a regular reader asked me to devote one of my newspaper columns to the proper way of cooking a sunny-side-up egg. My first reaction was that it’s a very simple process that even a big mouth like me could not stretch out into an entire newspaper story.

My second reaction was to recall that, like all simple things, a properly fried egg does take a little finesse—and finesse is a virtue that is far too often overlooked in the kitchen, especially when the process is a simple one.

Sunny-side up is actually just another name for the classic American-style fried egg. And the real secret to success with it lies in understanding that “fried,” in this instance, is a misleading moniker. (more…)

22 January 2016: Cleaning Day Beef Vegetable Stew

January 22, 2016

Tags: Beef Stew, Classic American Cooking

Cleaning Day Beef Stew: the Le Creuset enameled iron pot was the perfect thing for a slow, mostly unattended simmer
Cleaning out the cooking school kitchen at Kitchenware Outfitters, emptying the pantry of “what is THAT doing in here,” outdated samples, and small, unusable portions of condiments, pasta, curry paste, and so forth, dusting and reorganizing drawers, dish cupboards, and pot cabinets, is never my idea of a good time, but it has to be done periodically and the downtime before classes begin is the sensible time to do it.

And, truth to tell, there’s something cathartic about it that is really satisfying. (more…)

19 March 2015: Strawberry Soup

March 19, 2015

Tags: Strawberries, Strawberry Soup, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Fruit Soup, Soup

Chilled Strawberry Soup with Orange and just a touch of whipped cream for garnish
Now that strawberries are in season again, we’re constantly making use of them in the dessert bowl at the end the meal. But while they turn up all through the season in our cereal, salad, and snack bowls, we don’t often think of beginning the meal with them.

And yet, a cool, refreshing strawberry soup is a lovely and novel way to tease palates at the beginning of dinner, luncheon, or even brunch. (more…)

26 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving XI—Turkey and Dressing

November 26, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving Dinner, Cornbread, Cornbread Dressing, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking

The cornbread, biscuits, and seasonings all tossed toghether for the dressing, awaiting its moistening dose of rich broth
If all has gone well and you’ve done enough basic prep by tomorrow, your only really big job will be the turkey and dressing. If you haven’t tried to roast a turkey in a year (or have never done it), relax: a turkey roasts just like a chicken – it just takes longer. Allow plenty of time and remember that it doesn’t have to look like those magazine covers. (more…)

24 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving VI—Traditional Pumpkin Pie

November 24, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Classic American Cooking, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Custard

All American Pumpkin Custard Pie
Now that we’ve established that I take an ecumenical approach to the traditional sweet potato and pumpkin custard pies on Thanksgiving’s dessert board, and have shared my grandmother’s recipe for the former, here’s how she made the latter.

It’s just a standard pumpkin custard without frills or “reinvention,” varying from most other American recipes only in detail. (more…)

23 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving IV—The Pastry Cook

November 23, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Pastry, Pie Crust, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic French Pastry

More than half the battle in perfecting the Thanksgiving pies, whether they are sweet potato (shown here), pumpkin or pecan, is a flaky, made-from-scratch pastry
Never mind the arguments over whether the pie should be pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan or not pie at all, but cheesecake: the easiest way to deal with whatever you’ve planned for the grand finale is to sweet talk someone else into doing it. However, if you’ve not done that (or you’re the person who got sweet-talked), and are contemplating a ready-made pastry, know that the difference between a memorable pie and a merely good one is the crust. (more…)

22 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving Dinner III—The Cranberries

November 22, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Cranberries, Cranberry Preserves, Classic American Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking

A truly American berry for an all-American holiday, cranberries have been paired with turkey for at least four centuries.
On Thanksgiving day, practically every table across the country on which the centerpiece is our quintessentially American bird, one can almost take for granted that the turkey will be mated with another quintessentially American thing: cranberries.

And despite the hundreds, if not thousands of cranberry sauce, compote, chutney, and relish recipes that are presently cluttering the internet, most of those berries will be served straight out of a can, which is odd. (more…)

13 October 2014: American Chili, Southern Style

October 13, 2014

Tags: American Chili, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Autumnal Cooking

My Southern-style chili, gussied up just a little with sliced chilies, sour cream, and grated cheddar. Photography by the incomparable John Carrington
Last week Savannah had its first real taste of autumn weather with about three days of cool temperatures, low humidity, and clear skies. It was finally, magically, chili weather, an opportunity not to be missed: my first batch of the season was soon simmering away in my well-used Le Creuset enameled iron round oven. (more…)

30 August 2014: Seafood Cocktails

August 30, 2014

Tags: Seafood, Crab, Shrimp, Seafood Cocktails, Shrimp Cocktails, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Bonnie Gaster, Tybee Island, Mrs. Dull

A Timeless summer classic: Tybee Shrimp and Crab Cocktail
Labor Day weekend is traditionally summer’s last hurrah for most Americans, even though the season won’t officially end until the autumnal equinox later in September, and, in the Deep South, won’t be effectively over until well into October. But never mind about the calendar and heat index: Summer’s waning, whether actual or merely symbolic, is as good an excuse as any for one more outdoor party. (more…)