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Recipes and Stories

29 July 2017: Classic Shrimp Salad

Classic, Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad, a simple quartet of fresh local shrimp, homemade mayonnaise, diced celery, and thinly-sliced scallions. It's comfort food for a steamy Lowcountry summer evening.

One of the great seaside dishes of summer in the Coastal South, whether that coast abuts the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico, is shrimp salad. It’s been commonplace in the South since the beginning of the twentieth century, but I’ve not found printed recipes for it that date back much further than the latter part of the nineteenth century. That said, the same basic recipe was used for fish and lobster salads as early as the 1830s and 40s, and along the coast, shrimp would almost certainly have been made into salad in the same way.

Those historical recipes were a simple triad of cooked shrimp, chopped celery, and homemade mayonnaise. That was it. And the basic recipe has changed very little: The most that sensible modern cooks add is a little onion.  Read More 

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6 July 2017: For National Fried Chicken Day—Granny Fowler’s Sunday Fried Chicken

Granny's Fried Chicken was never this elegantly served, and this isn't perfect, but it's as close as I could get. Photograph by John Carrington Photography

Whenever I think of my Dad’s mother, known to us all as Granny Fowler, I inevitably start to crave fried chicken. My mother and maternal grandmother also made fried chicken that was very fine in its own way, but the one that we all (even Mama and MaMa) agreed was the best was Granny’s. Read More 

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4 July 2017: Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

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.  Read More 

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3 July 2017: Shrimp and Corn Pie, or Pudding

A Lowcountry Shrimp and Corn Pie is a perfect supper dish for a warm summer evening, whether you're having company or just family around your table.

One of the loveliest mid-summer supper dishes of the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry is a simple casserole known in these parts as shrimp and corn pie. Traditionally, almost any custard-based dish cooked in a shallow casserole is called a “pie” in Carolina and Georgia, just as our version of macaroni and cheese is known as macaroni pie, although a similar dish would be called a “pudding” in Virginia or other parts of the South.

Well, no matter what you call it, it’s one of the happiest pairings of two of our best summer staples:  Read More 

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30 June 2017: More Summer Salads

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Almonds (because the pecans were in the freezer and the almonds were already toasted and ready to use)

About two-thirds of a left over roasted chicken, half a bag of green grapes languishing in the vegetable bin, and a new bundle of scallions. Add in a steaming afternoon in which cooking is out of the question. For most people, the logical sum of all that would’ve been chicken salad with grapes, a modern standard that has been enjoyed all over our country for more than thirty years.

Most people, that is, except for me. Read More 

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29 June 2017: Classic Crab Salad

Classic Crab Salad Served the the back shells. Photographed by John Carrington Photography

While lingering with friends at our table after dinner recently, the discussion turned (as it often does here in the South) to food. And as we began to share some Lowcountry specialties with a member of the party who’d recently moved to the South from New England, I was given a sharp reminder of how singular our experiences with food can be. Read More 

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23 June 2017: Seafood Stuffed Tomatoes

Seafood-Stuffed Tomatoes, Photographed by John Carrington Photography

One of the many things that Southern cooks share with Italians, especially those along the Ligurian coast that’s known as the Italian Riviera, is a love for filling hollowed-out vegetables with a blend of their chopped pulp, stale bread crumbs, herbs and seasonings, and often some kind of chopped meat, poultry, or seafood.

Here in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, stuffed vegetables have long been a beloved part of our summer tables. Recipes for them date back well into the nineteenth century. Read More 

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8 June 2017: Summer in a Bowl

Macedonia di Frutta all' Ilda, a lovely blend of summer fruit enhanced with Maraschino liqueur and a splash of rum.

One of the great compensations for (and means of relief from) summer’s heat is a fresh mixed fruit salad. It’s also one of the most versatile dishes of the season. Call it “cocktail” and open the meal with it; call it “salad” and serve it as the meal’s side dish or even centerpiece (all on its own or blended with cold seafood, poultry, or meat); call it “Macedonia,” “fruit cup,” or “compote” and it brings the meal to a delightful close.

Whatever we call it, and however we serve it, a fragrant bowl of well-mixed and chilled fruit is perfect warm-weather fare: it stimulates, satiates, and cools as nothing else can. It brings a ray of sunshine to a rainy day and soothing coolness to days when the sun’s rays become relentless. Read More 

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30 May 2017: An Aging Palate, Wild Greens, and the Flavors of Youth

Fusilli (also called Rotini) with Wild Greens, Scallions, and Pine Nuts

In her later years, M. F. K. Fisher, the prominent mid-twentieth-century American essayist and food writer, once wrote poignantly of missing the ravenous, almost insatiable hunger of youth. Charmingly romantic to read in one’s twenties, it wasn’t so charming to reread years later, when that youthful hunger lingered and fought with a suddenly slowing metabolism of middle age. But there’s nothing charming or romantic about it when old age is staring one square in the face.

The problem is that, while our appetite and capacity may slow down with age, the curious cook’s palate doesn’t slow down with it.  Read More 

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23 May 2017: Of Sautéed Mushrooms and Pimiento Cheese

Small white button mushrooms sauteed in butter

A gray, overcast day, a handful of small button mushrooms left over from styling a newspaper column illustration, a new block of very sharp cheddar, and a small jar of pimientos in the pantry: Probably those things will seem unlikely as an invitation to an afternoon of culinary nostalgia to anyone but me. But there it is. Read More 

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18 May 2017: Guacamole and Southern Cooking

Guacamole with Scallions and Oregano: No, it's not exactly Southern, but it's an example of how our cooking continually evolves

One of the things I love most about Southern cooking is that it’s not a homogenous fabric. It’s a rich, patchwork-like tapestry, woven from many threads and patches that defy the narrow stereotypical boundaries that we all-too-often try to put around it. Even if we could confine it to the most common of those stereotypes—biscuits, barbecue, fried chicken, pimiento cheese, and sweet tea—we’d still be faced with the hundreds of different ways that each one of those things is made all over the South.  Read More 

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11 April 2017: Parsley

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. Read More 

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20 March 2017: The Key Ingredient

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. Read More 

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6 March 2017: Of Leftovers and Creamed Tuna

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.  Read More 

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27 February 2017: Fancy Food and Chicken à la King

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.  Read More 

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9 February 2017: The Art of Broth and the Comforts of Chicken 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. Read More 

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28 January 2017: A Lowcountry Winter Stew

A Lowcountry Ragout, inspired by Sarah Rutledge's timeless classic, The Carolina Housewife, published in 1847

Winter in the Carolina and Georgia lowcountry is rarely what one could call harsh, but the last week or so has been unusually mild even for us—more like late spring than the dead heart of winter. But we know that those balmy whispers of spring are fleeting and can never be trusted. And, sure enough, this weekend the temperatures have once again dropped.

It’s still not what a New Englander would call cold, but it’s blustery enough to make us crave heartier fare, something that will not only warm us in the moment, but stick with us for a long time. And when that kind of craving comes calling, nothing answers it better than a good stew. Read More 

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19 December 2016: Simple Holiday Entertaining

Soft-Scrambled Eggs, or to put a French spin on it, Oeufs Brouillés aux Fine Herbes, are a perfect dish for intimate, impromptu entertaining.

Big Christmas parties can be a lot of fun, with their crowds of folks filled with holiday cheer (never mind that it came from a bottle), festive decorations, and endless arrays of rich, fancy party food.

But they do require a certain amount of planning and work. And as we come into the last stretch before Christmas, if you’ve not already planned one, it’s a little late to start now. That does not, however, mean that it’s too late to do anything at all.

There’s no perfect-host rule mandating that the only way to entertain your friends at the holidays is in herds. Read More 

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14 December 2016: Mince Pies

Individual Mince-pies, here cooked with a puff pastry topper instead of the usual full top crust.

A while back I was asked to—or perhaps more accurately, was cajoled into—planning and cooking a supper for a Dickensian Christmas ball earlier this month. The menu was to be drawn from Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. As we started to plan, the first heady morsel from the text to tease our imaginations, and the first name to pass our lips was “mince-pies.” Mentioned at least twice, these pastries were, back then, the very essence of Christmas and to this day remain an iconic symbol of holiday feasting.

There would, therefore, be mince-pies on the dessert board. Read More 

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5 November 2016: Pasta with Short Ribs

Pasta with Short Rib Ragù

This morning, after days of midday temperatures that felt more June than November, Savannah finally awoke to clear, crisp air that had an actual a nip in it. Okay, it wasn’t exactly frosty, but it was cool enough to finally feel as if it was really fall—and to make the idea of cooking hearty things like pot roasts, thick stews, chili, and short ribs a welcome thing. Read More 

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1 November 2016: Broiled Oysters

Broiled Oysters, Savannah Style, with Bacon and Green Onions

You’d not think so if you were in Savannah today, where temperatures climbed into the eighties, but we’re now into the traditional oyster season, the “cold weather” months (or, around here, just the months with an R in them).

That season’s not as strenuously observed these days, since refrigeration has made it possible to safely harvest, store, and ship oysters in warmer weather. But Savannahians tend to wait for it anyway, since oysters (especially our local cluster variety) tend to be flabby and murky-tasting while spawning, which happens mostly during the summer months, when the waters in which they live are warm. Read More 

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14 October 2016: Baked Ham Steak with Pineapple and Sweet Potatoes

Baked Ham Steak with Pineapple and Sweet Potatoes

When canned pineapple was first introduced more than a century ago, cooks in places where the fruit had always been an imported and therefore rare and expensive luxury probably went a bit overboard with it. Not only had it suddenly become affordable, it was trimmed of its spike-leaved top knot, its prickly skin and tough core were removed, and it had been neatly cut into conveniently attractive rings.

Not surprisingly, during the early part of the twentieth century, those canned pineapple rings began turning up in all kinds of “fancy” dishes Read More 

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6 October 2016: Fall Omelet

A classic French-style omelet with mushrooms

In all of cooking, the one thing that never ceases to fascinate, amaze, and comfort me is the little bit of culinary alchemy that makes an omelet. Using a hot, well-seasoned pan and a very simple technique that even a child can master, anyone with any coordination at all can turn a couple of eggs, a lump of butter, and a little salt and pepper into pure gold. Read More 

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5 September 2016 Wasting Not and Staying Balanced

Fusilli (also called Rotini) with Sausage and Tomatoes

Recipe testing and food styling for my books and newspaper stories almost always leave some interesting leftovers and scraps behind. After finishing a story featuring some of the celebrated pasta dishes from earthquake-devastated Lazio, Marche, and Umbria, there was half a pound of mild Italian sausage, about one-and-a-half cups of tomato puree from a large can of tomatoes, and barely 2 ounces of pecorino romano cheese in the refrigerator. Read More 

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27 August 2016: For Love and Amatrice

Bucatini all'Amatriciana, hollow spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce in the style of Amatrice

If you’ve been following my recipes and stories page or my author’s page on Facebook for any time at all, you know that Italy, its people, and its many lovely cuisines have as large a chunk of my heart as my native South, fellow Southerners, and our many lovely cuisines. And this week, that part of my heart has been aching.

By now, most everyone has heard that in the early hours of Wednesday, August 24, central Italy was hit by a major earthquake of 6.2 magnitude, followed by a series of aftershocks that were still rattling the region as late as Friday.  Read More 

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11 July 2016: Butterbeans and Okra

Butterbeans and Okra

One of the loveliest concepts in all of the South’s summer cooking is the practice of spreading small, baby vegetables on top of a pot of slow-cooked pole beans so that they steam during the last few minutes that the beans are cooking. Most of us have had tiny little new potatoes cooked in this way without knowing that the concept has never been limited to that one thing. Read More 

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8 July 2016: Old-Fashioned Hambone Soup

Old-Fashioned Hambone Soup

We just never know where a simple pot of soup might take us—or when it will suddenly bring us back.

It’s a funny thing about our tastes (and by that, I don’t mean our perceptions of flavor but our preferences for it): they’re an odd mix of innate likes and dislikes and cultural conditioning. Read More 

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20 June 2016: Fresh Blueberry Compote for the First Day of Summer

Fresh Blueberry Compote with Bourbon and Cinnamon

Today’s the summer solstice, the longest day in the year (or rather, the longest stretch of daylight), marking the official beginning of summer. Our ancestors made a bigger thing of the solstice than we do nowadays, but its a good excuse to turn a regular back-to-the-grind Monday into something a little more special.

It needn’t be any more involved than taking a little more care with tonight’s supper, say, finishing it off with one of the quintessential fruits of early summer’s table: fresh blueberries. Read More 

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27 May 2016: Mama's Breakfast Shrimp

Mama's Breakfast Shrimp, the near perfect union of fresh-caught shrimp and butter.

When shrimp season rolls around each May, it always takes me back to some of the best days of my childhood. That may seem odd, since I didn’t grow up on the coast where the opening of shrimp season marks the real beginning of summer. But a small part of most of my childhood summers was actually spent on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island just north of Charleston.

While we were in shrimp territory, we ate as many of them as we could manage. Most of the shrimp we ate were bought from the many local fishermen who sold them roadside from the tailgates of their battered pickups, Read More 

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3 May 2016: Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya

Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya

3 May 2016: Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya

Whether you call it pilau, pilaf, perlow, paella, or jambalaya, in the end, it all amounts to the same thing.

The techniques used vary slightly from dish to dish and the type of rice may differ—a paella, for example, is made with a short-grained rice whereas a pilau is made with long-grain rice.  Read More 

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