Tag Archives: southern food

Repost: Put A Egg On It’s Cake Project

27 Jan

Photo by Sarah Frances Keough

In the middle of this nasty New York winter storm, I’m reading like Hermione Granger and missing the warmth of the South more than ever. I’m particularly pining for my trip to New Orleans with Put a Egg On It, which taught me more about cocktail making and my own passion for food than any old stack of books. Read up on how people party in the Crescent City.


Setting the Record Straight on American Barbecue

13 Jun

This is a pretty fantastic summary of regional differences in Southeastern American barbecue. Even if it’s dramatically tipped in the favor of Texas. The Carolinas still have the best sauce.

BBQ Regional Map

Via Vox, where there are 40 other fantastic infographics and maps about American food.

Like this one about the density of Waffle House restaurants:

Waffle House Density Index

“What’s A Cellar Door Without Gravy?”

11 Mar

This makes me want to invent a dish and use all of the goofiest short-order slang. Check out an inspired creation after the break.

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Pecan Pie Octopus Monster!

28 Oct

All Photos Courtesy of Ben May

Here’s what fall should look like.

Being a resident in Charleston for nine months out of the year means I’m missing out on well, the seasons. Gone are the nutmeg scents, Brand New blaring, corduroy sporting that makes me feel like an extra in The Royal Tenenbaums, and that crisp touch on the skin. In Charleston, we have two seasons: summer and mopey monsoon.

Courtesy of Charleston Horticultural Society

That’s more of what I have.

Over fall break, I had the chance to go back to my roommate Ben’s hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee, where I got a swift reminder of what fall looks, smells, and tastes like.

That’s a facsimile as to what fall tastes like. A dark chocolate bourbon mousse doesn’t taste like pumpkins or apple cider, but it’s got all of the fullness and warmth of a dish that’s perfect for longer sleeves. When we put it all together, it made for a “pecan pie reconstruction,” based off of a recipe from Anson Restaurant. Though Anson is in the heart of downtown Charleston, this recipe was perfect for autumn. Sandwiched between college football, hikes at Bays Mountain, and pep band, pecan pie reminded of the season I’ve grown to love but forget about.

I’m particular about pecan pie.

There’s two elements to the Southern dessert: there’s the syrup side and there’s the pecan side. I tend to like pretty equal distribution of pecans in the pie with the syrup taking the sidecar. Some pies are a big on a roof of pecans over a thick, predominant layer of syrup. I’m just not crazy about those.

This reconstruction takes all of the flavors of a pecan pie (vanilla, bourbon, pecans) and changes around the texture. The vanilla from whipped cream becomes a liquid, and the pecans take the form of a garnish. All together, they make for a new way to gobble up the classic. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m really feeling like giving this another whirl.

This little experiment is a chocolate dessert first and foremost-and lots of chocolate. Ben went to work creating the chocolate mousse with 8 ounces of dark chocolate and whipping cream, spinning and stirring the two until the two make their own delicious mountains.

We both got a lesson in how to use an electrical mixer, a useful trait that isn’t in the syllabus for genetics or features writing.

Meanwhile, I made up a geleé, a gelatin, to go on top of the mousse in a very thin layer. A very thin layer due to its bourbon content. When I said this is a chocolate dessert first and foremost, it also prominently features bourbon. The geleé is unflavored gelatin, sugar, and bourbon while the chocolate contains traces of corn whiskey.

It’s like a Jell-O for grownups.

And in Tennessee, this works.

While Ben worked the mousse, I boiled sugar water to gradually add to the gelatin mix. Meanwhile, we had sugar caramelizing with vanilla in a saucepan for homemade pecan pralines.

We didn’t act like this. We also didn’t use corn syrup. In fact, we have nothing in common with her.

Also, this recipe brings up a controversy on how to pronounce the garnish.




Ben’s family, who pronounce it the first way, pointed out how I take both pronunciations to make a hybrid.

Once the pralines get to the softball stage of 236 degrees (this experiment was as much Science as it was South), we took the pralines off to dry off.

They made for the crisp treat that haunts Charleston streets as often as fanny packs and flip flops. he mousse, bourbon geleé, and pecan pralines were like an orchestra. The mousse goes into ramekins (very cleanly), a thin layer of gel goes on top (we needed something fast forming and light on the bourbon flavor), and the individual ramekins go into the refrigerator to set.

The final dish has a miniature vanilla milkshake (smooths out the stronger chocolate flavor) and the praline of top. The ice cream made it richer but more balanced. The praline worked similarly to sweeten up some of the fuller tastes. I think the next batch could use a thin layer of praline “dust” on top. It needed the praline flavor in every bite; but with the big chunks, it was hard to carry that off.

Paula would be proud of the eight-armed (props to Ben’s mother) creation’s ingredient content. Alton Brown would have liked the chemistry. The May family liked it post-meal. We served it for dessert after an equally Southern spread of butternut squash and apple cream pork chops.

The Reconstruction was a dark time for American history and President Andrew Johnson (Tennessee’s own), but this reconstruction was a highlight of my journey to Tennesse.

We’d Just Met

8 Sep

Featured in this week’s G magazine, here’s a little about The Irvine-House Winery’s 7th Annual Grape Stomping Festival.

Illustration by Kate Butler

Like the Italian Festival held every May in my hometown or the Boone Hall Oyster Roast held every January, The Grape Stomping Festival at Irvin-House Winery has its own culture and demographic. Its devoted audience, centered around food and fermentation, is not too different from that of a cult movie. The grape-squashers have their own costumes, lingo, and unique priorities.

Few events can inspire the kind of emotion and sense of unity that a few barrels and a lot of people can. This is the 7th year that Irvin Vineyards, an oasis on Wadmalaw Island, has opened up stomping to the public. The people who come in droves also come in different shapes and heights; from elderly women with wine glasses to virile drinking buddies in baseball caps, Charleston’s demographics make for a hectic hodgepodge. The stretching Saturday afternoon flowed with odd people and introductions.

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“I Want the Whole Plate to Be Brown”

28 Aug

Chicken ‘n waffles. A clash of titans.

A pitting pair that makes me think of the following:

Israel and Palestine. Superman and Lex Luthor. Santa and the Easter Bunny.

Should they be getting along? Nature would dictate no, but taste buds seem to defy nature. Though I scratched my scalp when I first heard about the harmonization of the two, I’ve since given it a try. And it seems that there’s no going back.

The first dinner party of the school year revolved around an evening of chicken ‘n waffles. Motown remixes and Curtis Mayfield blared while I heated up peanut oil in a whooping cast-iron skillet. The voices of the Jackson sons crackled along with the crispy pops of frying chicken.

Gutenberg, our waffle press, sent off 8 inch diameter pecan waffles like a newspaper on deadline. Ben, waffler de cuisine, opened the clamp like a car trunk.

Meanwhile, I’m dredging buttermilk-soaked chicken breasts into a famous flour mixture. It’s Memphis fried chicken, Detroit Soul, and Canadian Maple Syrup, all from the whitest guys on George Street. The batter’s clinging and splitting from the frying chicken, making what I call “healthier cuts.” As the cooking went on, the batter got better, or at least more cooperative and crispy.

Syrup is where the most indecision occurs for an already indecisive meal.

“Syrup, on the whole thing?”

It’s really best all over the creation. I know some people have developed a liking for sausage and maple syrup, so it’s of a similar nature. Salty, sweet, it’s kind of a classic combination.

A Tabasco-infused maple syrup would be worth trying in the future. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Williams & Sonoma scoops up the pair and makes its own version to sell with Cuisinarts.

Henry Clay, famous compromiser, would have been so proud of the union between two equally tan and delicious eats. Anyone else would be proud of the family we have going.

09/25Edit: For a real clash of titans with a triple lindy combination, Twisted Taco in Atlanta offers a taco stuffed with waffle strips, chicken tenders, and a maple syrup cream cheese. From Texas to Mexico to Georgia to Belgium: consider yourself stuffed.

Notes from the Napkin: Birthday Meals

11 Jun

This was a birthday in every sense of the word. I think birthdays are all about collecting your most favorite things and placing them into one expansive day. The texts you get from friends, the outfit I picked out (shorts and a jean shirt), the bands I blared, even word choice seems to be all the more enjoyable on a special day.

It all actually all started on June 8th, when I grabbed all the great items that go into my favorite breakfast brew: crepe batter. Flour, vanilla extract, sugar, Kahlua, all dived into the blender per Alton Brown’s (incidentally, my favorite Food Network personality) request. The batter sits overnight to minimize bubbles, something that can tear the envelope thin crepes apart.

(My favorite thing about this is how he says that the first one is always botched. My first is always too buttery, but instead of feeding it to the dog, I hand it off to an eager friend).

I have built my own method, and cooking crepes isn’t really as daunting as the press (and Williams and Sonoma employees) would like all to believe. I don’t have a crepe maker, but with a small skillet, rubber scraper, and a little bit of audacity to reach into a hot pan (it’s good to use that extra birthday boost of self confidence here), making crepes is easier than, well, pie.

I wanted to do a fusion of French and Caribbean that’s a little more harmonious than history has allowed; a marriage like William and Kate that I can’t get enough of: bananas foster.

Now, this blossoming bananas foster had everything stirring smoothly: the skillet bubbled up with that honey-like scent of brown sugar and rum, but there’s also a theatrical side to it. The solution gets lit, and the food caramelizes and welds under the heat, but my house, of all moments, was tragically out of matches. Playing with matches is never a good thing unless it’s intended to be gastronomical. I ran up a flight of stairs (clearly, this was a big deal), but no matches in my drawers, pockets, ashtrays, trays-it felt like a hobo desperately needing a light. The unlit creation just kept bubbling and watching my ridiculous hustle. They got a little dark on the bottom, but after searching (well, rummaging violently like the Incredible Hulk) for fire, I gave up, and tried the pan just the way it was, a sludge. Aesthetically, I was a little dubious. Try to imagine a crystallized, almost molasses like mixture. Dark banana-flavored taffy that sticks to your teeth and gives the sugar buzz that not even Lucky Leprachaun or Trix Rabbit can. On a crepe with toasted walnuts and powdered sugar, it was fantastic. By itself, the best tasting mistake I’ve ever made.

I had bought a milk frother for 3 bucks from IKEA, so I got to make a latte at home, and I think I was already exuberant with my birthday before 8 am.

After going in to work at the Hospice office for two hours (the staff chaplain made a “birthday remix”), I needed a quick on the road meal before heading up to Charlotte for the afternoon. I stopped at Rock Hill’s Earth Fare. I looked around the store first (I don’t get to go to specialty grocery stores like here and Whole Foods a lot, so it’s like going on a fun trip to a food theme park), got mistaken for one of the troubadors of the HMS Earth Fare (maybe it was the shirt, but that’s first time I’ve ever been placed as an employee anywhere), and then stopped at the sushi stand.

Looked, looked, looked.

“Can I help you with something?”

I looked up, and the sushi chef, who might be a little older than me, was smiling back.

As awesome as talking sushi with a real purveyor of things fishy, he seemed busy, and not talkative (for the record, one of the cashiers said he comes in and does an intense burst of sushi construction and then leaves in a flap of a fin).

I ordered an eel roll (I had a craving for something that was a little more exotic than just a veggie roll), and the man in the yellow shirt began scooping, forming, cracking, slicing, and selecting with an undistracted focus. He finished the roll with a crunchy crop dusting of sesame seeds, and a thick brown sauce (seemed to be a common thread of the day), and walked around the front.

My cashier and I talked about what aging meant to us. I’ve noticed that imparting advice takes on a different air now that I’ve aged into double decades. At 57, the cashier had her own opinions and a spark of vitality, and I got her wisdom imparted before I departed.

Grocer for a day.

I went up to Cornelius to visit and interview a chef and caterer at the Galway Hooker, an Irish pub. The conversation we had is on the to-transcribe docket (transcription makes you need a prescription), but expect a blog post within the week with highlights of our talk. Chris Boukedes, the chef and organizer of the Comedy Zone of Charlotte, Bouk Catering, and the soon to be Charlotte catering, flipped through a magazine on classic cheeseburgers while talking to me about taste, growing up, and hard work. It was the kind of stuff that good cards make you think about.

After the buzz of the interview, I met up with my friend Jeremy for a screening of X-Men: First Class.

It was every bit as adventurous as I was hoping. The movie was a prequel that wasn’t all unnecessary background but a good character story about Xavier and Magneto. I think the two of them made an on screen duo that should have gotten some more time. Seriously, they could have been Han and Luke. I did have one issue: Kevin Bacon. As the bad guy? His greatest power is being able to separate himself from any human being on earth. That’s a cool power.

Dinner was a trip to Mert’s. A trip. Jeremy and I joined a caravan of others after the movie to take the light rail uptown. The train filled up with soccer fans for the Mexican team. Huge hats, green t-shirts, little kids glancing out the window: it all added up for a energetic and positive energy, and then at one stop, it was silent as everyone left.

None of the guys had ever been to Mert’s before, so with the excitement of a tour guide, I gave them a rundown of the restaurant. It’s one of the most iconic places in Charlotte area and topic choice of mine before, but just as classic and enjoyable as the music swooning out of the place’s speakers. It’s a top choice for Charlotte bankers, and at one point, the place was going to close until a collective of bankers colluded together to save the place. I kind of wish the same thing could happen for Lehman Bros.

Courtesy of Mert's Flickr Stream

I’m a big fan of the wall of record covers and family photographs. Lady Soul and the old lady are side by side, and there some quirky installations all over the place, like a plywood bird, an overflow of chicken wire. My friend Thomas described it as being like Cracker Barrel, except without the rusty saws, blown out shotguns, and crispy cornbread. I ordered the salmon cakes (Thomas also ordered the crab-cake like delicacies worth a post of their own), the collard greens with a heavy vinegar base, and an okra & tomato stew. The cornbread was the color of my shorts, and I think the recipe is probably heavily protected. Sony and Google have been hacked recently, but I think Mert’s cornbread recipe may be under even tighter guard. Like Fort Knox, but these are edible bars of gold. Jeremy got the fried chicken, and Jordan tried his first shrimp po’ boy (we discussed the mysterious origins of the sandwich) with remoulade on it. This sauce, a spicy Ranch like dressing, was off-putting to him at first, but I think he ended up liking it.

The waitress was the same one I’ve had before, and even though the food there is totally deserving of the “finger-lickin’ good” label, the service is what makes me want to go back again and again. Our server told us that people like to take their shoes off and unroll their toes after “the good home cooking.” With that warm, full feeling, I think it’s hard not to kick off shoes. She peered at us when I told her I’d lounge around the place. She definitely doted on us kids.

He claimed to be going to “find the restroom,” but Jordan was chatting up the counter and our waitress. We made sure to give him a fair share of teasing. Even though I’m older, I can’t resist the urge to act like a kid. Next thing I knew, the waitresses closed in our table singing “Happy Birthday” with a dish of banana pudding the size of a trash can lid. We split it like fondue, but I was both as full as a piggy bank on pay day (to use a Southern like metaphor), plus my mom had made a birthday cake, so I was skimpy on the puddin’.

I got home to open some cards with my mom and sister, and the finishing touch was the coconut cake slices we shared. That was the home cooking, and it wouldn’t have been the same without it.

I think every birthday is significant, but this was totally worth waiting twenty years for.