Browsing Tag

southern foodways

Farmers Markets, Sandwiches, Southern

Pimento Cheese Sparks Strong Feelings

April 20, 2015

Immediately following the 2015 Masters golf tournament, the Los Angeles-based business radio show Marketplace reported how far your dollar goes at August National when it comes to concessions. Turns out, it goes a long way at the elite country club due in part to signature pimento cheese sandwiches that fetch all of $1.50 a pop. This prompted an interesting response from host Kai Ryssdal.

“Pimen-toe cheese sandwiches,” he said slowly, adding under his breath, “whatever they are…”

You could feel the collective cringe of Southerners stung by Ryssdal’s culinary high-hat, and more than that, by what seemed an apparent lack of interest in the beloved regional dish.

Continue Reading…

New Year's, Southern, Vegetables

Cabbage or greens for NYD? Both.

December 31, 2014

The South agrees that black-eyed peas are required eating for good luck in the New Year, but there’s variation in the region about which greens are best for shoring up your chances for prosperity. Do you cook up a mess o’ collards, a pot of mustards or is cabbage front and center on your New Year’s Day plate? Louisiana leans toward cabbage – displays holding huge heads of Savoy alongside dried Camellia brand black-eyed peas and boxes of Jiffy corn bread mix are fixtures in local supermarkets. I love cabbage, and this New Year’s at our house, it takes the form of coleslaw with a homemade orange-celery seed dressing.

But my family likes other greens, too, and I can’t get away with keeping them off the January 1 menu. This year, it’s mustard greens. They’ve found their way into a variation on tomatoes Provençal. No, it’s not exactly tomato season, but I did find hothouse tomatoes from a regional farm in one of my favorite local grocery stores. Using Julia Child’s recipe as a springboard, I combined fresh white breadcrumbs with slivered and sautéed greens and a little grated Parmesan cheese. Here’s how:

New Year’s Day Tomatoes Provençal

Serves 6

1 strip bacon, diced

2 cups chopped mustard greens (wash and remove thick stems before chopping)

3 medium tomatoes

1 1/2 fresh white breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400. Slice tomatoes in half and carefully scoop out pulp. Season inside with salt and pepper and invert to allow remaining liquid to drain. In a medium to large skillet, render bacon pieces until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet, leaving behind about 1/2 teaspoon rendered fat. Place bacon on paper towels to drain. While pan is still hot, sauté greens in fat for about three minutes. In a medium bowl, toss bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, bacon, salt and greens. Combine thoroughly, then fill each tomato half with mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Desserts, Holiday, Local, Southern, Vegetables

Squash cake gets an update

December 11, 2014

Family recipes get passed down because they’re meaningful and taste good, but sometimes they include ingredients you’re embarrassed to admit. Especially today, the convenience items that once peppered dinner tables and cookbooks can feel like dorky unwelcomed guests. “It’s got that in it?,” you can just hear your snooty food friends say. New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin has a great reference to this phenomenon in his famed 2002 dispatch, “Missing Links,”—one of several that document the writer’s enthusiasm for Louisiana food. In it, he mentions the secret, anti-gourmet ingredient in the crawfish étouffée recipe of his New Iberia friend James Edmunds: a can of cream of mushroom soup. Delicious nevertheless, but mentioned on the down low.

I have always loved my husband’s family’s squash cake, a sheet cake made with roasted butternut squash that his great aunt “Titta-Lee” was famous for bringing to funeral gatherings. But it, too, includes an in-the-closet ingredient: a box of Jello coconut cream instant pudding and pie mix. Shortly after we got married in 2000, by which time I’d had the cake numerous times, she wrote it down for us.



I was eager to find a more natural approach. And also, the cake was really too sweet, and I believed with a little tinkering I could create version that still said ‘dessert’ while letting the butternut squash shine through. There remains a whole cup of sugar in the adjusted recipe, so fear not, Sweet Tooths, this is no “lite” version.

The result is a really versatile cake that is perfect for the season. It goes well with fresh citrus fruit, dark chocolate and strong cup of coffee. If you’re not a fan of coconut, no worries. Simply substitute almond extract for the coconut and instead of topping the cake with coconut shreds, just shave a little dark chocolate.

As for the squash, if you run short on time, here’s a product I like, which I usually grab at Whole Foods Market.




Butternut Squash Cake

Serves 8-10

1 ¾ cup self rising flour

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

½ cup canola oil

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut or almond extract

1 cup butternut squash, roasted and beaten slightly until fairly smooth

Cream cheese icing (recipe follows)

Coconut or chocolate shavings for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9×13 pan. Mix flour and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat eggs slightly in a large bowl. Add oil and sour cream. Add dry ingredients to wet batter and blend slightly. A wooden spoon should work fine. Add extracts and squash and blend until smooth. Pour batter in pan and bake for 30 minutes. Place on rack to cool and ice immediately with cream cheese frosting and garnish with fresh coconut.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough for one cake

3 oz. softened cream cheese

2 tablespoons softened butter

1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

1-2 tablespoons whipping cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend well cream cheese and butter with a hand mixer or standing mixer. Carefully add sugar. Add whipping cream and vanilla extract and blend for a minute or two until you reach desired consistency.



Apples, Local, Travels

On the road: Georgia makes good apples

December 2, 2014

I’ve been in Louisiana since the early nineties (whoa, is it possible that much time has passed!?), but I’m a Georgia native. My husband and three kids and I return frequently to the Peach State to visit my family, always taking advantage of the local culinary gems (mustard-based pit BBQ anyone?). This year for Thanksgiving, we headed to the Blue Ridge area and, while there, hit one of our favorite stops, Mercier Orchards.

The family-run business features thousands of acres of fruit orchards (mostly apple), along with a large store that sells fresh produce, pastries and all kinds of fun stuff in jars. I can really go nuts at this place, hauling back several half-peck bags of  apples and extras like Mercier’s signature five pepper hot sauce, apple butter, peach pepper jelly, apple cider and sorghum syrup.

Here in Louisiana, we are blessed with a diversity of fresh fruit — peaches, blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, strawberries, watermelon, citrus fruits and figs –but it’s too hot for traditional apples. Eating an orchard gem like the ones at Mercier’s makes you appreciate how much better an apple is when it’s sold near its source. My favorite north GA apple is the Gold Rush, a crisp, sweet-tart multipurpose variety that’s great for snacking, cooking and baking. So far, I’ve used it in apple-brie breakfast quesadillas and chopped fine in salmon salad. I’ve also started delivering apples, along with the gorgeous citrus fruit emerging on our backyard trees, to my editors, clients and special friends.

It’s funny. It’s possible to mail order from Mercier’s, but I like the ritual of bringing home a bounty, feeling bummed when it runs out and looking forward to my next face-to-face visit.

Food torture is so satisfying!