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
Recipes and Stories
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Some of the most welcome sprouts of spring in my backyard are not the wild violets or bulb flowers, but a pair of wild poke sallet plants that have taken over two big terracotta pots by the back door stoop. Even if I didn’t love these greens, I’d still fertilize and nurture them: their bright new leaves bring a smile to my heart every day by reminding me of my grandmother. Read More
One of the all-time great Southern comfort foods is a simple, homey casserole of elbow macaroni laced with grated sharp cheddar cheese and set in egg custard. Known both as “macaroni and cheese” and “macaroni pie,” they’re found all over the South, in some places topped with cracker or breadcrumbs, and in others simply with a sprinkling of grated cheese or a dusting of black pepper.
Sometimes, particularly after a holiday when the cook has a surplus of leftover ham, macaroni pie is studded with a cup or so of diced cooked ham. Read More
You might think that fresh asparagus can’t be made ahead, but it can actually be prepped and blanched up to 3 days ahead and then all you have to do is serve it up cold with vinaigrette or make up in this lovely Parmigiani classic. Read More
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. Read More
The classic French potato gratin with sliced potatoes, cream, and good cheese has been my Easter potato dish for years. The ingredients are simple, its preparation requires almost no skill on the part of the cook, and yet nothing is more elegant or satisfying to eat.
Best of all, it can be made today, and reheats beautifully. Read More
26 March 2016: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner II
Once I have the first course and dessert ready for a dinner or a cooking class, I feel as if I’m home free, so I always opt for a sweet that can be made well ahead. At Easter, that sweet has for the last twenty years has been these chocolate pots de crème, a specialty of my late friend Dean Owens, one of Savannah’s great wits and hosts.
Not only are they luscious, they can be made several days ahead, and are easy and quick: Read More
My favorite beginning for Easter dinner, or, for that matter, any other spring celebration meal, is with a simple puree of fresh, spring carrots.
It’s so easy to make: though they were originally pureed by rubbing them through a wire mesh sieve, a process that took no particular skill but a fair amount of elbow-grease, if your kitchen is equipped with a blender, food processor, or that favorite modern chef’s tool, the hand blender, there’s nothing to it.
Best of all for the busy host, it can not only be made ahead, but is actually improved by it, Read More
We Americans seem to have become terrified of silence. We’ve deliberately surrounded ourselves with noise: whether it’s our own radios, sound systems, and televisions, or the ones in our stores, waiting rooms, and offices, there’s an unending soundtrack to our lives, numbingly underscored by a monotonous rhythmic thump.
Even when those other noises are missing (and, all too often, even when they’re not), we’re talking. Non-stop. Count on it: in any moment where complete silence is the order—a religious service, a funeral, the quiet contemplation of nature or art, that silence is always, always interrupted by the sharp hiss of a whisper.
Our need to fill the void permeates nearly everything we do, but it’s most troubling manifestation is in our kitchens. Read More
When Charlie Bedford came back to Maple Grove, the little town in the Carolina hill country where he’d grown up, hardly anyone recognized him. Sure, a portrait of him smiled out from the back cover all eight of his children’s books and he’d been in People magazine as “America’s favorite uncle”—twice. But the man who had locked himself up in his childhood home on Elm Street was nothing like the composed, handsome fellow in those carefully posed photographs.
What people saw—when, that is, they got a rare glimpse of him—was not a successful, award-winning writer, but an award-winning mess. Refusing all visitors and offers of food, he spent his days in self-imposed solitary confinement, grieving for a talent that, he was sure, had deserted him forever. Read More