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
Recipes and Stories
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
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. Read More
For most people, Lent, the ancient Christian season of penitence and atonement that began yesterday, is a time for giving up things – a bad habit or indulgence of some kind – most commonly, something that we love to eat or drink. It is also a time for curbing richness, which means giving up butter, cream, pastries, and desserts, and cutting back, if not altogether eliminating, the consumption of red meat.
This would not, therefore, seem to be a season for cooks.
And yet, it remains my favorite season for cooking. Read More
One of the great hallmarks of classic Florida cookery is the pairing of its celebrated citrus and abundant local fish. This was especially true in the old resort towns of the east coast, where the fruit began to come into season just as the wealthy snowbirds arrived to escape the harsh winters of the Northeast and play in the sunshine.
An especially lovely example is Sautéed Fish Fillets Palm Beach, which is really nothing more than an adaptation of a French classic, sole à la meunière (whole or filleted sole sautéed in clarified butter). Read More
22 January 2016 Lazy Day Beef Stew
Blustery winter days like this one, when so much of the eastern seaboard is blanketed with snow, just call for a hearty stew that can fill the house with wonderful smells and fill those in the house with warmth and contentment. I published this stew last fall in a Savannah Morning News story, but it’s ideal for a lazy winter day and really does live up to its name, since there’s no browning and everything is mixed together all at once in the pot in which it cooks; the extra-low simmer makes it possible to add all the vegetables at once. Best of all, it can be made in the slow cooker or the oven. Read More
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. Read More
13 January 2016: Finding Home by the Recipe V—Meet Carol Ann McCarter and Juanita Jackson at the Cozy Corner Café
The epicenter of Maple Grove’s business district (if one could presume to call their little Main Street a district) was the intersection where Elm and Sycamore Streets, the east-west corridor through town, met at Main, the shady divided avenue that ran north and south through the center of town. And on the southwest corner of this intersection was the town’s real heart, The Cozy Corner Café, known to everyone in town simply as “Carol Ann’s.” Read More
For those of us who are a certain age, one of the most fragrant memories of Christmas during our childhood was the fat orange that bulged the toe of our Christmas stocking. To this day, the bright, pungent aroma that’s released when an orange is peeled whispers of all the good things about my Christmases past.
Frozen juice and year-round imports have dulled our appreciation for the seasonality of citrus fruit, and today’s children would probably feel cheated to find an orange in their stockings. Read More
If you’ve already tucked away your Christmas decorations and started your annual new years’ diet, that’s too bad: you’re missing out on Christmastide’s last hurrah, because today is actually the twelfth and last day of Christmas, historically speaking one of the season’s biggest days for feasting.
Commonly known as Twelfth Night or the Eve of Epiphany, it’s one of the great winter holiday traditions that has been largely lost to most Americans Read More
10 December 2015: Finding Home by the Recipe IV – Meet Dr. Mac
When Charlie Bedford came back home to Maple Grove, to say he wasn’t a well man would’ve been a gross understatement. He was nervous, at least ten pounds underweight, and struggled with chronic nausea, joint pain, and exhaustion, never connecting that all these things might be symptoms of his biggest problem: depression. But when he fainted one night from not having eaten all day, he realized he had to stop hoping that his physical problems would just go away on their own and do something about them.
He knew that old Dr. Eliot, the physician who’d delivered him and seen him through childhood, had retired, but had no idea who’d taken over the practice. And so he also had no idea he was about to be reconnected with an old friend. Read More
Best-selling children’s book author Charlie Bedford had many talents, but cooking was not among them. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate good food, it just didn’t matter enough for him to be bothered to actually make it. On the rare occasion that the sleek kitchen of his Manhattan apartment had seen any activity, it had been Val who’d done it.
Besides, there were more good restaurants within three blocks of his apartment than there had been within a thirty miles of Maple Grove, the sleepy village where he’d grown up. Read More
799. Ambrosia—Is made by placing upon a glass stand or other deep vessel, alternate layers of grated cocoanut, oranges peeled and sliced round, and a pineapple sliced thin. Begin with the oranges, and use cocoanut last, spreading between each layer sifted loaf sugar. Sweeten the cocoanut milk, and pour over.
—Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.
Ambrosia was the legendary food of the gods, and it’s an especially appropriate epithet for this luscious fruit salad. When well made, it is indeed heavenly. A traditional Christmas dish all over the South at least since the days of Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847) Read More
Chapter Two of Finding Home finds Charlie Bedford back in Maple Grove, the town where he had been born and raised. He’d not been home since his mother died three years before, and his sudden return naturally caused a buzz of excitement. After all, he was the closest thing to a celebrity that the little town had ever known.
But the buzz quickly turned ugly when Charlie walled himself up in his mother’s house and refused to open the door to anyone. Within a week, he’d been pronounced as crazy as a bedbug by everyone—with the lone exception of his childhood best friend, Boyd Clayton.
Everyone should have a friend like Boyd. He never gave up on anybody. Read More
Most of you probably don’t know, but cookbooks and culinary journalism are not my only forays into story-telling. Like most Southerners, I’ve been telling stories my whole life and have been writing them down for most of it. None of it has ever felt mature enough to publish, but for the last few years, I’ve been working on a novel that feels ready, and am now looking for a home for it with a publishing house.
Called Finding Home, it’s the story of award-winning children’s book author C. F. (Charlie) Bedford, who turned a childhood pet rabbit into the hero of a best-selling storybook series and rode its success right out of his small-town childhood into the kind of charmed life that every writer dreams about but that most never achieve. At thirty-eight, he’d conquered the world of children’s literature with eight bestsellers and had been living the good life in New York City.
But then he came home one afternoon to a note, an abandoned ring, and a half-empty apartment, and his charmed life began to unravel. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself right back where he’d started, in his run-down childhood home in Maple Grove, a sleepy little village in the hills of upstate South Carolina. Read More
One of the best features of the house where we live is an enormous old pecan tree that canopies our entire back yard. Despite its age, that tree is still prolific, although we’re lucky to get more than a few handfuls of its nuts. Mostly that tree just shades the yard and helps me mark the seasons from my office window.
The problem is that the yard it shades is also a playground and free cafeteria for a motley assortment of spoiled, fat, urban squirrels. Read More
The first days of fall in Savannah were actually almost like fall—cooler, low-humidity, and believe it or not, even a few turning leaves—just enough to really tease the senses and get our palates primed for fall flavors.
This being the Georgia Lowcountry, of course, the weather was soon back to hot and steamy. Now, a tropical storm bringing rain by the gallon is running up against a cold front bringing the cooler temperatures—the perfect weather for indulging an autumnal palate.
It’s just the kind of weather for braised short ribs, Read More
Whenever I get the chance to spend time in good friend Bonnie Gaster’s Tybee Island kitchen (which isn’t often enough) I know that whatever we do will be a lot of fun and the results will taste fabulous. She’s a fabulous cook who does it with the kind of abandon that Julia Child admired and a keen natural palate that always keeps that abandon in good order. Read More
A couple of weeks ago, I revisited one of the loveliest and most misunderstood dishes in all of Southern cooking: pole beans slow-simmered with salt pork. With small new potatoes laid on top to steam during the last part of the simmer, it remains one of my all-time favorite ways of cooking these sturdy beans.
But pole beans are not the only ones that I, and many other Southern cooks, bring to the table. While researching for a lecture on the indomitable Mary Randolph, whose 1824 cookbook was one of the earliest printed records of Southern cooking, I was once again taken by her lucid and careful directions for French beans. Read More
11 August 2015: Southern Slow-Cooked Pole Beans
One of the most misunderstood dishes in all of Southern cooking is green beans slow-simmered with salt pork or ham until they're tender and deeply infused with the pork flavor. It's easy to understand why it has been misunderstood when one sees the misguided mess that all too often passes for this dish in "Southern" style diners and cafeterias: canned or generic hybrid green beans that inhabit most supermarket produce bins, indifferently boiled to Hell and back with a chunk of boiled ham or half a dozen slices of smoked bacon until they're the color of army fatigues and have surrendered what little flavor they had to begin with.
However, just because it's often done badly doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with the idea. Read More
Pickled peppers and the vinegar in which they are cured are important fixtures in a Southern kitchen, both in cooking, where they are used as a flavoring in countless vegetable and meat dishes, and at the table, where they are a condiment that accompanies everything from turnip greens to baked chicken. When a recipe calls for pepper vinegar, it means the vinegar from this, and not hot sauce, so don’t substitute the latter for it, but use a few drops of hot sauce diluted in cider or wine vinegar. Read More
Once upon a time, a pot containing a pepper plant that produced tiny, innocent-looking peppers no bigger than small peas could be found in almost every Savannah courtyard. Known as “bird peppers,” they only looked innocent: they’re among the fieriest of all the hot pepper clan. Everyone grew them because they were a fixture in Savannah dining rooms. The fresh peppers were passed in a small bowl to be used as a condiment for soup.
But they were also used in an infusion with sherry to create a lovely condiment known simply as Pepper Sherry. Whether it was in an elegant crystal cruet or just a re-used soda or condiment bottle, this fiery, amber liquid graced almost every sideboard in town, from the humblest creek-side dwellings to the most elegant of townhouses downtown. Read More
The union of okra and tomatoes in the pot is an inspired marriages that happens to be one of the great foundations of Southern cooking. From vegetable soup and gumbo to that soul-comforting triad of okra, onion, and tomato simmered together into a thick stew that can be served forth as a side dish, or over rice as a vegetarian main dish, or as the base for heartier main dishes with meat, poultry, and fish or shellfish stirred into the pot. Read More