I can’t get the Low Country out of my head- or my food. Last night it was my turn to host book club. This summer’s selection was Kitchen House by Katherine Grissom. Excellent read, set in the Post-Revoluntionary war South. Still riding on the memory of the flavors and dishes I enjoyed during our road trip down to Charleston, Hilton Head, and Savannah last month, I served the book-babes bite-size pieces of the South. Sweet ’n fried: just like our summer trip.
It began with the fried green tomato and pimento cheese sandwich I fell for in Charleston. And continued with the fried kosher dill spears that I couldn’t resist ordering in Beaufort. Before long I was looking at summer vegetables in a different way- a crunchy fried kind of way. Usually I err on the side of light ‘n healthful when it comes to summer veggies. But a well-placed corn fritter here and there is a thing of true deliciosity. Especially when washed down with a crisp glass of white with your girlfriends. The tangy ‘n spicy cucumber relish served with the fritters cut brightly through their rich sweetness and also provided a nice bite.
Then there was the assortment of wraps that all involved some variation on cheese. My fave was the Mozzarella, Tomato Jam, and Basil. It covered all the bases: sweet, salty, herbal, tangy…good. Tomato jam is just a fancy foodie term for stewed tomatoes. It’s a good thing to have on hand to gussy up sandwiches, or for a cheese and cracker snacker. Adding a shake or three of tabasco makes it irresistible to those who like it hot.
On a rainy day while visiting Savannah we had lunch at a café, where the iced “tay” was endless and so sweet that it made us into jangly jujube’s. I steadied myself by zeroing in on a description of the green salad on the menu that featured cornbread croutons and was tossed in a peach buttermilk dressing. I was told they had run out of the dressing and the croutons. I had a pimento cheese sandwich instead. But the suggestion of it remained.
Book Club edition: Tender torn butter lettuce, a firm-ripe thinly sliced yellow peach, a scattering of chopped pecans, and cubed and golden toasted leftover cornbread as crunchy croutons. All shook up fresh buttermilk dressing, tossed together in a big bowl . It was good, but it was also agreed that there was just something missing. The lettuce, sliced peach, cornbread croutons, even the buttermilk dressing, they are all subtle and sweet flavors. What was lacking was a sharp-ness, to contradict those gentle flavors, and make them loudly pop. Perhaps the dressing could use some mustard or horseradish? Maybe a grating of sharp cheddar or asiago across the salad will be the answer? To be continued…
In Charleston we went to a beautiful, airy, sun-filled restaurant called the Hominy Grill. We began lunch by digging into the sesame crackers with goat cheese and hot pepper jelly. Then I had a plate of seared grits cakes with a green tomato chow chow relish, the salsa of southern cuisine.
It was really dessert that made the meal at the Hominy Grill so warm, delicious, and memorable. There was a chocolate pudding on the menu that instantly caught me. After visiting at least one ice cream parlor, homemade candy store, or cupcake bakery a day, I noticed that the South is heavily populated with Caramellows. Sweet tooths who favor the flavor of sugar in all it’s variations (caramel, praline, brittle, penuche, meringue, marshmallow, molasses) rather than chocoholics who seek out an exclusively chocolate flavor. The scale definitely tips towards chocoholics in the North. In all the sweet spots that we visited down South there was always one chocolate option, sometimes even two, but the bulk of the flavors were sugar derivatives. This pudding was the one chocolate option on a dessert menu that offered chess, pecan, and sweet potato pies. And a brown sugar pound cake that sounded extremely tempting.
If you are only going to have one chocolate option, this pudding is the one. Rich, creamy, deeply and comfortingly chocolate, with a texture so firm you could almost spread it on toast. I knew I needed to make this recipe the minute the spoon went past my lips. Thankfully, there was a Hominy Grill recipe booklet for purchase. It’s last page, a gift to us all, had the chocolate pudding recipe. And that is what we gathered around at the end of the evening, during which we talked a bit about the book, and a lot about our summers, and now, back-to-school.
Tomato Jam (P):
3 medium sized tomatoes, cored and stemmed
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Cut tomatoes into medium dice and put in saucepan. Add sugar, salt, and balsamic vinegar.
- Cook and stir over medium heat until the tomatoes get juicy and it comes to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until most of the juice evaporates and the mixture thickens. 8-10 mins
Recipe yields: 1 cup
Corn Fritters (P)
6 ears of corn
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. chili powder
Bunch of trimmed and thinly sliced scallion (white and light green parts only)
½ tsp. each Salt and pepper
1 cup beer
1 c. corn or vegetable oil
- Cut the kernels off the corn cobs into a large bowl. Stir in flour, baking powder, chili powder, scallions, salt and pepper. Pour and mix beer into batter and let sit for half-hour to 1 hour.
- Heat corn or veg oil until it starts to sizzle and then fry up fritters in heaping tablespoons. Fried to a deep golden brown.
- Lay fritters on paper towels and squeeze a lime and a pinch of salt over fritters.
Cucumber Relish (P)
½ c vinegar
3 tbsp. raw sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. Sesame oil
1 peeled cucumber, sliced thin
1 small shallot, sliced thin
½ red pepper sliced into matchsticks
Pinch red pepper flakes
- Combine the vinegar and raw sugar in a small non-reactive bowl, stir until sugar dissolves. Mix in salt and sesame oil.
- Add sliced veggies and red pepper flakes to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge until ready to serve.
Makes 1 cup
- Chocolate Puddin’ *8 oz. (about 2 cups) chopped great quality chocolate½ cup sugar6 egg yolks4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350F. Place egg yolks in a heat resistant bowl and whisk in ¼ cup of the sugar.
- Mix the remaining sugar with the cream and vanilla in a large saucepan, over med.-high heat bring cream to a boil.
- Pour about 1/3 cup of the hot cream into egg yolk mixture, mix until smooth.
- Mix in the chopped chocolate into the rest of hot cream, stir well with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is completely incorporated. Then add the egg mixture and salt and whisk until smooth and glossy.
- Allow to cool for approximately 10 minutes. Then pour pudding into 8-10 ovenproof ramekins. Place ramekins into a shallow baking pan and fill pan halfway with water. Cook for 45 minutes. Chill in fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.
Makes 8-10 servings
*I used a combination of dark, semi-sweet, and milk chocolate. The Hominy Grill uses bittersweet exclusively.