Dip your spoon into a Cajun-style gumbo; savour a layered muddle of snapper, potatoes, onions, and poached eggs; feast on okra soup coloured with red-ripe tomatoes; eat Hoppin’ John for luck on New Year’s Day.
Nancie McDermott’s Southern Soups & Stews serves up recipes seasoned with history—from Nathalie Dupree’s Lowcountry Okra and Shrimp Gumbo to Summer Squash Soup with Black Pepper and Thyme, to Collard Greens with Pot Likker and Dumplings—offering us a glimpse of how people farmed, cooked, and continue to celebrate life over time. Travel around the South and you will find folks still eating the dishes today because the meals are delicious, compelling, and certain to attract and please a big table of family and friends.
It never occurred to me that I could make pasta the old-fashioned way—by hand. I mean, who does that? I always thought that task was relegated to old-world Nonna’s. And let’s be honest, Italian cooking is intimidating. For me, it’s fraught with peril. My fear of bungling a centuries-old cuisine is very real.
Along comes Pasta by Hand: A collection of Italy’s regional and hand shaped pasta. The fact that no special equipment or ingredients are needed to form pasta shapes chips away at my list of excuses. The book contains more than 65 recipes for homemade pasta dough and easy instructions on how to shape it into small orbs, cups, twists, shells, noodles, and dumplings.
Ms. Louis has spent what seems like infinite hours of research and travel schooling herself on the humble dumpling, or what Italians call gnocchi. The book begins with a section on ‘The Basics.’ Exactly what I need. The pages outline the specific ingredients, tools, and techniques that will help craft dumplings, as well as a list of 12 tips for making great gnocchi. For example, ‘Tip #4’ instructs us to pay special attention to the mixing and cooking directions for each recipe. The mixing method for each dumpling dough will be different, to achieve the correct texture. Not all dumplings are meant to be tender and light.
”Norman, you need to learn how to cook because when you grow up you may marry someone who cannot cook.”
The passage of time had proven Nonna Pia correct. Her son Norm ended up marrying Natasha who is great at many things—cooking not being one of them. Because of Nonna Pia’s insightful wisdom, Chef Norm named his company in homage to his beloved mother, which is how “Nonna Pia’s Gourmet Sauces” came to be.
Chef Norm imports balsamic vinegar to his Whistler, BC facility from Modena, Italy. There, it is infused with fresh fruit and herbs and steeped in 100 gallon steam kettles for up to 12 hours. Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reductions are gluten-free and do not contain caramel, thickening agents or starches. The thick consistency and intense flavour is arrived at by removing the moisture from the vinegar.
I’ve long ago surrendered to the fact that I was just born with smothered chicken gravy running through my veins. And why should I fight it? There are worse fates than having an innate ability to cook fried chicken and shrimp & grits. When it comes down to it, I am drawn by Southern cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles, its use of fresh ingredients, but mostly of its ability to provide feel-good comfort.
It is for this reason that every year I play host to a group of friends who indulge me in my zeal to create a Southern tradition north of the border. And I’m more than happy to be their comfort food ambassador. Here are some pics from this year’s “Southern Dinner.”
Every Southern Dinner begins the same: with Lee Bros. Fried Green Tomatoes. Tomatoes are especially delectably sliced and deep fried; their tangy flesh is a perfect foil for a rich, toasty crust. The tartness of the tomatoes are amped by the Buttermilk-Lime Dressing. This creamy herb dressing is refreshing and green, and the small amount of honey rounds out the acidity in the lime and buttermilk.
As told in LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, back in the 60’s when Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles was touring London, the British band, Bluesology, played backup. Elton John or Reggie Dwight as he was known in those days, was the band’s piano player. Patti writes that she used to prepare a savoury, spicy, soul food feast for the band members while on the road. It was Ms. LaBelle’s macaroni and cheese that Reggie loved the most. As you’ll note from the recipe, it’s made with five different kinds of cheese, and as she tells it, that’s how many times Reggie went back for more. In my house, it’s a Southern Dinner staple and we always go back for more. God bless Patti Labelle and her Mac N’ Cheese!
What’s not to love about fried chicken? The crunchy crisp crust, the fantastically moist and juicy meat, the luscious flavours and textures. This recipe from Bon Appétit brings it all together in one easy to execute recipe. I can bring some down home Southern soul even way up North of the Mason-Dixon Line. As god is my witness, I will never use another fried chicken recipe again!
In all the haste of getting the dinner on the table, I forgot to snap a solo pic of the most talked about dish of the night, Kil’t Greens with Bacon Jam. See below top-right for a small glimpse. Published in Garden & Gun, a magazine about the sporting, culture, food, music, art, and travel of the Southern United States, this recipe was simple as can be. When delicate greens meet a boiling-hot dressing of bacon, onion, and vinegar, they soften and wither immediately. The result? A savoury and syrupy deliciousness that made this dish the star of the night. Chef Ouita Michel serves a versatile version of this Appalachian classic at the Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky.
I seem to be surrounded with people who are obsessed with food. Everywhere I go that’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. My friends and family have long hinted around about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friends Tony and Lyana. Enjoy!
What happens when you combine three of my favourite foods, sweets and drinks together? Easy. Magic in a bowl.
I experienced that magic when my wife and I were invited to CoolFoodDude’s place for dinner. This dude pulled out all the stops. The meal was incredible from beginning to end. But one dish resonated with both my wife and I: his spin on Thomas Keller’s Five-Spice Roasted Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Beurre Monté from The French Laundry restaurant cookbook. We spoke about it on the drive back home. Imagine this: chocolate, lobster and coffee… all in one dish. That happened to us that fateful night. Listen, you wanna talk about palette overload? This dish had it all. It was savory, sweet and injected with my go-to drink that keeps me going day in and day out: coffee (salivating as I type). Man, it was bananas. Arguably one of the saddest moments of my life was saying goodbye to that last bite. I almost ate the plate!
Keep in mind that this is coming from a guy (me) who was privileged enough to grow up in a family of chefs, so the CFD should be proud. His cooking is always extraordinary and top-class, but on this night, it was on a whole other level, and, we were honoured to be a part of it.
I still dream about it at least once a week. I think about it at least twice a day. Thanks CFD, I’ll never be able to enjoy another lobster. Unless you make it for us again! But you know, whenever you have the time. No rush or anything.
Who knew I could bake? For this early Thanksgiving dinner I attempted a Salted Caramel Apple-Pear Tart from Fine Cooking Magazine. It looked great (if I do say so myself) and was not too arduous. This lattice-topped tart combined fall fruit with cardamom. Salted caramel tied the flavours together and large-crystal sanding sugar on the lattice added crunch. The Classic Pumpkin Pie, also from Fine Cooking Magazine, had a flaky, buttery crust and a creamy, spiced pumpkin filling.
The other standout dish was the Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Caramelized Onions (again from Fine Cooking Magazine) which was flavoured with thyme and a little cider vinegar. The soft and sweet onions nestled into the tender, roasted sprouts, so you got a taste of them with every bite.
I swear I’m not sponsored by Fine Cooking Magazine but I have to say that it was a nice having them by my side whilst cooking this whole feast.
One down, one to go. Just finished serving up a scrumptious Canadian Thanksgiving spread and I’m gearing up to dish out American Thanksgiving in a few weeks. And there’s a common element in both of my feasts. The turkey and the cranberry sauce.
Try out Food & Wine’s Apricot-Glazed Turkey. This roasted turkey tastes as good as it looks. It’s rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with a mixture of coarse salt and pepper, and stuffed with bay leaves, lemons, garlic, thyme, roasemary and sage. The gorgeous mahogany colour comes from a glaze of lemon-infused apricot jam. The meat is flavourful and moist. And, it all cooks in less than three hours.
I feel as though I have been searching for this book my entire life. See, I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles. And in this book, I have discovered someone that shares my love of one of the greatest cuisines of the world.
James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock is an emissary of Southern food and culture. He is best known for his work in Charleston, SC, where he is the executive chef and partner of restaurants McCrady’s and Husk.
Heritage is his very first cookbook and offers a mix of traditional and contemporary recipes in chapters such as “The Garden” and “The Pasture.” The recipes (e.g., butter-bean chowchow; pork belly with herb faro, pickled elderberries, chanterelles, and sumac; buttermilk pie with cornmeal crust) range from simple to sophisticated. Pork rinds, for example, are cooked sous-vide and dehydrated before being deep fried.
There is some inexplicable and subconscious comfort in being around good friends. Especially ones that are full of generosity, good humour and affability. Friends who will honour your birthday with a night centered around your favourite team even when it is not theirs.
Recently, I was feted with a Boston-themed soiree by these friends of mine and treated to a meal of staggering proportions, a ‘Best of New England’ menu accessorized with Red Sox napkins, balloons, plates and cups. The crab salad was fresh, fragrant, zingy, crunchy with equal parts sweet and creamy. The chowdah was the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had plenty. The broth was clean and allowed the palate to fully access all the flavours of the ingredients with the corn and the chives providing a boost of flavour. The risotto was decadent and flawless. Hefty chunks of perfectly cooked lobster surrounded by tender rice in the most tasty of broths accented by a side of fresh greens.
Turning 80 is no joke. You’ve managed to outlast the Soviet Union, multiple wars, Beatlemania and Bieber Fever. The least you can get for all your travails is a decent celebratory meal. Tis the reason that I turned to Bobby Flay to fittingly help mark my mom’s 8oth birthday.
Certain occasions in life call for a steak. It’s the perfect carnivore offering for joyous festivities of all kind. But which cut of meat to choose? Enter Broiled Hanger Steak from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Restaurant.
Hanger steak is used infrequently since there is only one of these per cow. It can be a little bland tasting so thankfully this recipe cleverly enhances the steak’s flavour with a savoury spice rub, a homemade steak sauce and “bright” parsley oil.
With steak knifes grasped firmly in hand, family tore into steaks they described as juicy, crisp and tender. The spice rub helped to make the flavours big and dramatic. The homemade steak sauce was a balanced blend of the sweet and sharp notes of molasses, honey, Dijon mustard and horseradish. It delivered a jolt that was at once salty and sweet yet did not overwhelm the steak’s own flavour. Succulent and intoxicating came to mind.
Wine was had, presents were opened and the steak was talked over. Kind, strong yet gentile, it’s no wonder why Momma has had such staying power. She has left an indelible mark on all of us with many more years to go. Although Momma was the star of the evening, the steak was certainly the centerpiece. And I have one person to thank for that. Bobby Flay? Thanks for saving the day.
Bobby Flay’s recipe for Broiled Hanger Steak with Homemade Steak Sauce can by found in Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain cookbook at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.