I’ve been cooking and craving Southern food from the Carolinas. Among my favorite things are those delicious cornmeal fritters known as hushpuppies. You can find hushpuppies in every diner worth its salt – the appy is served right from the fryer, into the paper-lined basket. You see them at every church fish fry, and on every barbecue buffet. No longer just a southern thing, you can find some version of hushpuppies on fast food menus across the country and around the world.
The lore behind the name has variations of the same tale. Confederate soldiers, Southern mamas and even nuns were said to use a deep-fried concoction of cornmeal, egg and seasonings to throw to the barking dogs to quiet them down. But, if we look back through America’s early written history, we can find references to fried cornbread that predates these stories.
Southerners have been eating fried cornmeal for a long time. Early writings refer to Red Horse Bread which was famously made by a well-known South Carolina fisherman. He served fried fish with all the fixins from his shack along the river; not only to locals but to prominent gentlemen and politicians from far and wide. An early newspaper columnist wrote, that Red Horse Bread was made by “simply mixing cornmeal with water, salt, and egg, and dropped by spoonful’s in the hot lard in which fish have been fried”. As it turns out Red Horse also refers to the type of fish caught and then fried.
How Red Horse Bread evolved to hushpuppies, is still a question for historians, but one theory is that these tasty cornbread fritters are used to hush the dogs howling in your your grumbling tummy.
This is my own version of that South Carolina fisherman’s special recipe. The great thing about it, is – you don’t have to follow it precisely to get a tasty result. Be as creative as you want with add-ins and sauces. I only ask one thing…. Please don’t feed them to the dogs!
With Spicy Remoulade sauce
serves a crowd
30 minute cuisine
These fritters are rich and doubly corn-full! They are really easy to prepare and a great appy for your Southern barbecue!
2 cups Hushpuppy Mix (like House-Autry brand)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup frozen corn, thawed and chopped
¾ cup prepared chunky salsa
4 green onions finely diced
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons chili sauce
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 to 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (like Frank’s)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 green onions, finely diced, about 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat vegetable oil in a fryer or deep pot to 350°. You need only enough oil to fill about 3 inches of your pot or pan. Stir together the hushpuppy mix, eggs, corn, salsa and creole seasoning. Allow the batter to rest for 3 to 5 minutes and then stir it again. Carefully drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. (Do this in batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan.) Use a wire basket to gently turn the hushpuppies in the oil so that they are golden brown on all sides, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Stir the ingredients together to make the sauce. Serve warm hushpuppies with the sauce on the side!
New Zealand held so many special times during our recent trip. If you’ve been there, you know how special it is. The locals keep the towns pristine and welcoming. They love to show off their love of their lands. We visited Christchurch, a small coastal town on the South Island. Our tour guides arranged a visit to a small sheep farm in Canterbury. We were greeted by the farmer, his gorgeous wife and their adult daughters, and given a sheep shearing demonstration! What a show!!
After a brief tour of their 1840ish farmhouse, we were escorted outdoors, where we were met with a Martha Stewart inspired luncheon table, seating fifty guests! The table was set with linen clothes and napkins, vintage flatware and freshly clipped flowers in mason jars.
The table sat under the canopy of a recently erected, tent shading us from the warm New Zealand sun. Lunch was served buffet style, and featured a garden fresh salad, whole roasted salmon filets, boiled potatoes and a main course of baked chicken pieces with a sauce of wine, olives, dates and capers.
We all passed around bottles of chilled rose wine and dived into lunch. It took only a couple of bites of that chicken dish to bring back memories of my early catering days. I could swear the dish was Chicken Mirabella from the Silver Palate cookbook. What a lovely coincidence! I travel fourteen hours across the globe, only to have the same meal I’ve made over and over again for my clients. I confirmed this with the generous Lady of the Manor. Her smile was ginormous when she realized that we had cooking and entertaining in common. She grabbed my hand, and took me back into her kitchen to show me her cookbook collection. What a treat.
When my pals came to Florida for a recent visit, we put together a girl’s night supper that featured none other than that Chicken Mirabel dish. I served it with Poached Asparagus and a Green Goddess Avocado Dressing, along with a recipe from my new book: Farmer’s Market Orzo Salad.
As a further retro treat, I added yummy rolls from an old Junior League cookbook, another one of my reliable tomes from my old catering days.
The meal was a true treat. When I think of where I’ve been and where I am now, and all the places I still have to visit, I can’t help but be reminded that good food never really changes. It is one of the things that bind us all together.
Here’s a slide show of my scrumptious trip down good ol’ memory lane.
Tucked into the countryside of KeriKeri, in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, is a local farmstead with herb and vegetable gardens, and state-of-the-art kitchen (pictured above). The transplanted Canadian owners of the homestead offer cooking classes from local Chef, Grant Allen. Allen’s philosophy on Kiwi cooking is that it’s similar to New Zealand cooking and based on our English, Scottish and Irish traditions.
“Our ‘culinary culture’ reflects our colonial history; as we travel, we become more aware of our Pacific and Asian neighbors, and their ingredients and cooking methods; like, New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori.” said Chef Allen.
Grant also believes that Kiwi cuisine is evolving. It has its origins in the food of their “European Grannies” and Maori cultures, while it is absorbing the influences of Pacific and Asian cuisine. To demonstrate these tastes and flavors, Grant offered an expansive menu that included a multi-coarse luncheon meal.
It started with the local delicacy of white fish bait fritters, a delicate crepe made up of whipped egg whites and whole, baby, salty white fish. He added Iki Mata, a ceviche of snapper cooked in citrus, with finely diced veggies and herbs.
Another starter, showcased beetroot chips stacked with crème fraiche and smoked salmon. Mussels, one of New Zealand’s most prized crops, were topped with coconut cream, ginger and diced chili, then broiled and served warm.
The main course featured a whole leg of lamb, simply prepared on an outdoor grill served with an herb-fresh salsa verde alongside buttery, garlic hasselback potatoes and a most delicious salad of fresh lettuces and herbs plucked from the garden, with crisp corn, avocado, pear and orange segments.
A secret ingredient to Grant’s salad were baby, sweet tomatoes that had been marinated in balsamic vinegar and honey, which later turned into the salad dressing. Dessert was made by a local cookbook author who whipped up a stone-fruit crumble which perfectly finished the meal.
As cooking classes go, this one was not only informative, but ABSOLUTELY DELISH!!!!! The meal was totally indicative of the food we explored in New Zealand. I come away with two words that for me, define the experience… fresh and simple.
Check out Grant Allen’s cooking tips on Facebook @grantcooks. What you see below is, in his own words, The Making of a Good Salad:
Remember these principles when composing:
Use what is fresh and in season – be inspired by what you find at the market.
Contrast colors and textures
Contrast shapes and size You need “Crunch”
Build your ingredients to create a vibrant picture .
Dress with flavors that compliment or contrast with your ingredients.
Classically a vinaigrette has a 2/3 oil and 1/3 acid ratio but it’s over to you – use different kinds of oils , vinegars, citrus juices, pomegranate juice, verjuice, honey, mustards.
Season very well – remember your dressing is being carried by a lot of unseasoned ingredients.
Wash and spin your greens, wet leaves will wilt when dressed.
Dress just before serving.
A BOUNTIFUL SUMMER SALAD
Cos lettuce leaves
Ice burg lettuce leaves
Blanched corn kernels
Fine sliced red , white or spring onions ( scallions )
Fine diced or ribboned cucumber
Fine diced or sliced peppers
Orange segments – save the juice for the dressing
Pomegranate seeds – save the juice for the dressing
Baby tomatoes – marinate in balsamic and liquid honey – save the marinade for the dressing
Nash Pear – slice finely with the skin on and dress with a little lemon juice to stop browning
Avocado – split, remove the stone a slice, leave the skin on if you wish, this stops the avocado getting mashed.
Mix together the citrus juice etc and blend in avocado oil to your taste, season well with S+P
My favorite movie of all time is Christmas Vacation – it stars a hapless Chevy Chase as Clark W. Griswold. He drains the Midwest’s entire power grid when he plugs in his holiday lights. When he toasts to his house full of guests, it’s from a moose cup filled with egg nog.
Maybe I’m not the only one who thinks Christmas kitsch is so much fun. In the spirit of that movie, comes the Miracle Pop-Up Bar – with over-the-top X-mas decorations and menus printed off to look like lists to Santa.
It got my mind whirring for a party of my own. The environment of the one I dropped in on had an office party feel to it – it made me nostalgic for my favorite gaudy sweater.
Florida’s got a handful of Miracle bars, all serving holiday craft cocktails that figure it must be five o’clock somewhere in the North Pole.
Call me old-fashioned…that was a joke!…I’ve started noticing that my favorite restaurants pride themselves on creating drinks with culinary value. They embellish on classics like the Negroni, Gimlet and Old-Fashioned with super fresh ingredients, and a whole heck of a lot of technique. Watch the bartender work on your drink, and you’ll see it’s quite an enterprise. They’re finishing off orders with crème Brule torches, and ringing glass tops with sugar and spice and everything nice.
The craft cocktail menu at the Miracle bar closest to me in Palm Beach, Death and Glory, had cinnamon bourbon for the naughty kids. Rum, peppermint and chocolate went to the good little boys and girls.
The main menu was a blast, too! For the Home Alone fans, there was a jerk chicken dish called LOOK WHAT YOU DID YOU LITTLE JERK, entrée salads that harken back to Seinfeld, A FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US and, naturally, many a Christmas Vacation reference. Save the neck for me, Clark!
But the craft cocktails were the reason for the season!
What I kept noticing were the hints of cranberry, rosemary, orange and wormwood bitters, butterscotch, absinthe mist and coconut rums – it was all beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.
So many of the drinks were almost too pretty to consume, so I came up with a holiday punch idea for my next party: a coconut margarita punch that had me saying Mele Kalikimaka!
So without further ado, here’s the Hawaiian way, to say Merry Christmas to you!
EXTREME X-mas Margarita Punch
Yields: about 6 drinks
For the punch
1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk
8 jiggers (or shots) silver tequila
5 jiggers (or shots) triple sec
Juice of a lime, about ½ cup
2 cups crushed ice
For the garnishes
Cranberries or pomegranate seeds
Rosemary sprigs, 6 to 8
In a blender, combine the coconut milk, tequila, triple sec, lime juice and ice. Blend until smooth.
Pour contents into a punch bowl, and garnish with sprigs of rosemary. Cranberries don’t float at the surface all that well, so for a beautiful colorful contrast, I suggest red cocktail napkins with this drink.
To prepare glasses, dip the rims in sugar and drop a few cranberries at the bottom. Accent each glass with a fresh lime wedge.
EXTREME PARTY PLANNER NOTE: Repeat recipe if it’s a large punch bowl that holds more than one yield from blender.
It’s November and I have a lot to be thankful for – on my gratitude list is Jorj Morgan. Not only is she the best boss a girl could ask for, but she single handedly (yes, Jorj – YOU!) turned me onto to the idea of an in-store cooking class. Sur La Table offers a wide range of classes, for all ages. They partnered with Bon Appetite magazine, and teach you how to cook the simple, yet elegant things from its pages.
Off I went for the Thanksgiving themed class; parked my car in the Mizner Plaza parking garage and followed my nose. Chef Deb had already prepared a turkey, and was getting ready to do it again, along with Hassleback Butternut Squashwith Bay Leaves, Lemony Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Breadcrumbs and, for dessert, Braised and Bruleed Apples with Ice cream.
At first I looked at the proposed menu and thought, “I’d order that…but can I make it?”
Sur La Table makes you think you can! Here’s photos of everything I made with some notes to get Jorj’s readers interested in checking out cooking class locations.
Chef Deb taught me how to “spatchcock” the bird. This technique involves splitting, then flattening the turkey, yielding a perfect roasted bird in half an hour – a full 15 minutes faster than a whole roasted bird.
But none of us (4 total students) were all that concerned with time because they make you so comfortable in the Sur La Table kitchen. You get to drink fresh brewed coffee and snack on muffins Chef D made just before you got there….heaven!
We put together a brine, chopping fresh rosemary and anise on our cutting boards. We were shown the ideal way to zest an orange, and add other spices; we made the turkey as according to the Bon appetite recipe for it, put it in the oven and forgot about it until we got to eat some at the end of class. My biggest take away for this dish was learning how to do a mirepoix – a flavor base made from diced vegetables. We roasted the turkey on “a rack” of carrots, onions and celery.
Hasselback Butternut Squash
In this case, a picture’s worth 1,000 words. Jorj’s cookbooks usually contain the scrumptious possibility of a hassleback potato. I used to think hassleback was a type of potato, but all it really means is thinly, but not completely slicing something. Look what we did to this butternut squash – delicious! Get this easy Bon Appetite recipe here.
Revved up Brussels Sprouts – my favorite thing we made that day
When the class discussed food trends with Chef Deb, she said it’s all about the Brussels sprouts these days. OMG, are they good with bacon and breadcrumbs! When we got to enjoy the full spread of what we’d made, I saw a few people go back for seconds on Bon Appetite’s Brussels sprouts.
Pro-tip – just cut the bacon with your best knife. Chef Deb said she never uses her food processor for this one.
The Perfect Sized Dessert
If you’re tired of pie, these braised and bruleed apples on ice cream are a tasty reprieve – it’s also a nice size. Is it weird that I sometimes wish the big, showy desserts I order in restaurants weren’t so huge? Even when you share them, as I believe you’re meant to, you end up getting way too full. This aromatic heaven of a sweet treat is like the essence of Fall…in a bowl. It’s as wonderful to eat as it is to look at, and the steps are easy.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!
That’s all….there’s a break while things cook, and cooking students get to shop with a special discount. Thanks Jorj, for not only inspiring me to go, but to let me hold court on a perfect day! I’m going to take more Sur La Table cooking classes, I’m sure of it! Giving a class as a gift works too!
There are over fifty Little Italy neighborhoods in the U.S., and today, Columbus Day, is a big deal for all of them. The celebrations marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America over 500 years ago began with weekend parades, and are being sucked up – sometimes in the form of pasta drowning in Italian style gravy – all day today.
I am familiar with and love quite a few of the big ones: the Little Italy of Cleveland, Ohio (close to where I grew up), Manhattan, The Hill in St. Louis, and handful of Little Italy’s out west where the cannoli and baked lasagna make you happy to be alive…I could spend hours studying old family recipes from these bakeries and romantic restaurants that burn away the hours on a Roman candle…. Here are my greatest Italian hits in pictures.
While I was dunking my favorite Italian cookie into a mug of espresso, I called up a Sicilian chef I met on an historic food tour of Boynton Beach this summer. Here she is in front of some goodies.
Chef Anna is from a village near Sicily. She and her family have managed Palermo’s in Boynton for decades. The bakery draws in all kinds of customers. Once, Charlotte York (actress, Kristin Davis) walked out of Sex & the City’s nearest Little Italy and straight into Palermo’s — celebrity photo on their site.
You can come into this colorful bakery and see a lot of history hanging on the walls. I asked Chef Anna what her favorite Italian dessert is, and she answered with one sweet word and this picture of it:
Cassata. It is a tort cake filled with ricotta cheese that involves a detailed process to cook, then intricately decorate. In fact, the making of the Cassata is considered a specialty talent done by skilled pastry chefs.
“The essence of Italian sweets goes back our ancestors, our grandmothers in Sicily who made sweets using naturally produced ingredients like honey,” said Chef Anna, adding that she just did a Cassata cake making demo in the culinary department at Macy’s.
Hmm…well, that’s food for thought. I love to bake and teach, so perhaps I will do a pastry inspired lesson with my next cooking class at the Diamond Creek Golf Club in Boone, NC.
My family style recipes, most ideally suited for culinary exploration on a leisurely weekend at home, can be purchased at Dorrance or Amazon, and is also available, with audio by me, at iTunes. Aaaaand…in my upcoming cookbook, CANVAS & CUISINE, the best culinary stops under the Tuscan sun are featured in chapter after chapter.
Caio – Happy Columbus Day! I leave you with my recipe for pumpkin risotto!
Pumpkin Risotto with Wild Mushrooms
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
1 quart home made chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
Whisk the chicken broth and pumpkin puree in a pot over low heat. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and cook to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid disappears. Stir in a ladleful of warmed broth. When the liquid is absorbed, add another ladleful of broth. Continue until all of the broth has been absorbed. This should take about 20 minutes. The risotto will be wet, not sticky, chewy on the outside and tender on the inside. Stir in the butter, half and half and Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley.