Honey Carrot Cake

Honey Carrot Cake

If I were to name one cake that epitomizes southern desserts my pick would be carrot cake. Chess pie could be said to hold the spot for the pie category, and peach cobbler for something in between the two.

You may consider a different cake to fit the textbook definition of southern, but for me carrot cake was always a family favorite. Throughout my life (and throughout most celebratory tables) a carrot cake was alway present.

Such an old recipe has a debatable origin. It is not debated that it origins began it another country and eventually grew and changed in the States. Traditionally the sponge includes shredded carrots and nuts and smeared with a creamed cheese icing.

With such a traditional cake, it is hard to find a unique or delicious variation on the classic version. I find keeping the modification simple will result in the best results. An easy variation on the tradition is the use of honey to sweeten the cake. Of course, I prefer local honey since Savannah has such good procurers like Capital Bee Company.

To push the variation a bit more, I added orange zest and a bit of orange juice to the cream cheese icing. The citrus brightens up the soulful cake.

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Burrata Cheesecake

Burrata Cheesecake

Fall has finally hit Savannah. As of this week are away from our 90 degree days and our on with the coats and boots.

With cooler days I find myself at home more, baking. Especially considering thanksgiving is creeping up swiftly. As a steady at-home baker, it is often hard to come up with new and exciting recipes. But for this one, I think I really discovered something – Burrata Cheesecake.

Burrata is a form of mozzarella cheese. It is ultra creamy and mildly flavored.  You will still taste the tangy notes of the cream cheese, but the burrata lends a more complex and interesting flavor.By replacing one half of the cream cheese in a cheesecake recipe, the result is a cheesecake that balanced and not as sweet.

I portioned down the size of the cheesecake to the size of a tart. After you try out this super easy recipe, I promise you will never go back.

You can top it with whatever fruit you like, peaches, candied oranges, plums, or anything fresh.

a slice of cake

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.

My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.

A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.

You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.

You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.

The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.

I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.

For another childhood southern recipe click here.

 

My Mama’s Meatloaf

My Mama’s Meatloaf

Every southerner has certain foods that are quintessential nostalgia. Growing up most southern mothers had a select few recipes that were rotated around their weekly dinners. My mom’s favorites were meatloaf, salmon patties, vegetable soup, roast in the crock pot–my favorite was her meatloaf.

Without hesitation she passed down the recipe. Recanting, a dash here and a pour there…without many measurements. I wrote down her recipe, which was scant on direction, and treasured it. She gave it to my at least five years ago, and it has taken just that long to get the recipe close to how she makes it. I still have yet to perfect that special something that comes only when a family member makes your food.

So yes this is my mother’s recipe but with a few liberties (or at least some tips I found useful along the way).

Meatloaf is a budget friendly meal. One pound of ground beef is relatively cheap at the grocery store and can be stretched by adding a few ingredients to make a hearty family supper. My mom always served hers with mashed potatoes and those little sweet green peas. I like to eat it leftover between two slices of toasted bread and a slathering of mayonnaise.

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New York’s the Fat Radish comes to Savannah

New York’s the Fat Radish comes to Savannah

VEGETABLE forward with meat options—surely a first for Savannah, to say the least. Not only a first, but a first in all of the right ways.

Natalie Freihon and Phil Winser are part of the team that runs a very successful restaurant in New York City, The Fat Radish. The idea is simple: seasonal locally sourced ingredients presented in a simple yet masterful way.

The next step for the Fat Radish came naturally by expanding to serve as the managing partners at Basic Kitchen in Charleston, S.C. There, Executive Chef Nick Wilber joined the team and they branched yet again to our changing town to bring even more innovation.

Savannah’s The Fat Radish opened last week and brought with it a noteworthy buzz and beautiful food.

I sat down with Freihon while the restaurant was still a construction zone to learn about the team’s vision and their story.

Freihon, a Los Angeles native and New York local, informed me, “New York is a very tough market as everyone knows. However, what I found is that by moving down south and starting to work in Charleston, that there is a real opportunity to be on the ground when it comes to developing the hospitality community.”

Since the team looked towards Charleston and began operating a second restaurant there, I asked Freihon why they branched towards Savannah, a sister city that is further south and less developed.

“I really like the dichotomy between Charleston and Savannah,” she says. “I reference it a lot to people that are in New York that Savannah is kinda the lower east side to Charleston’s upper east side of New York, and our restaurant in New York is on the lower east side. This kind of community, with a lot of young people, that is a bit more diverse, I find inspiring.”

To say the least, the food at The Fat Radish is inspired. Inspired by the South, the British roots of Winser, the farmers who provide the produce, the community of Savannah, and by the people and chefs who run the restaurant.

We have seen it time and time again here—Southern food served as a revamped version of the old, tired Southern fare. The difference in The Fat Radish is that while presenting food that nods to the South, the restaurant pays respect to the ingredients and where those ingredients came from. This isn’t your grandma’s Sunday supper.

“We don’t like to be overly fussy with our food,” Freihon elaborates, “We try to keep less than five ingredients on the plate. If you are getting great ingredients, you really don’t need to fuss over them.”

And although the primary focus of The Fat Radish is to bring sustainable farm fresh food to the locals and tourists of downtown, just as much mindfulness is put into their meat options.

I want to talk about the most memorable vegetable dish (at least as it was super memorable for me). The reason is simple: I can’t think of a time that I have eaten a carrot and thought that I really loved it; I probably withstood it at best.

The true test of good food is whether or not you want to eat it again and again, and these carrots I could eat for eternity.

The sweet root vegetable is cooked to absolute tenderness. Pungent goat cheese goes hand in hand with sugary vegetable, and benne seeds are added for crunch.

As a local, I have eaten more fried oysters than anyone should within their lifetime. You can find them almost anywhere in town, the good, the bad, and the greasy.

A simple dish in theory, but when done right, fried oysters can be one of the most sumptuous parts of any meal. Yet, all too often the delicate meat is over battered and over fried.

The Fat Radish’s oysters are so delicate they almost disappear as you eat them. Other than with a deft hand and expert precision, I’m not sure how The Fat Radish pulls off a fried oyster that melts like butter once you place it on your tongue. You will find a light cucumber salad and crème fraiche paired with the mollusks.

The Scotch Egg puts every legitimate Irish pub in town to shame. It is a staple dish that has been on the menu since the beginning, which means you can find it on the menu in New York.

Generously wrapped in sausage, the center features a sumptuous soft boiled egg. The sausage is coated in breadcrumbs before receiving a hard cook.

The cornichon, a small tart French pickle, is something I would never think to add to a scotch egg, but I will now never eat a scotch egg without one. The tiny little sour vegetable cuts through any heaviness that you would find from an egg covered in sausage.

I saved the absolute best dish to talk about last. The Pastrami Brined Chicken Schnitzel. It puts our Southern fried chicken to shame.

By first brining the chicken, the end result is a tender and moist white meat that could make you pass on even the best cooked steak. The schnitzel batter is light yet crisp, while the pickled vegetables served with the bird is the perfect counterpart to the bone sticking meat.

I did not forget to ask (and sample) the cocktails—one of the more important menu items for locals. Freihon, the creator behind it, tells me, “We are doing a cocktail program that is very similar to New York. It represents the same ethos that our food menu represents in that we try to make them simple, delicious, and fun, use local ingredients that we source locally and we try to make it low waste.”

The team wants to bring change to Savannah, and in their few short weeks of operation have already implemented more than this town has seen in a long time.
I look forward to seeing what The Fat Radish brings to our community and how it will also inspire others within the neighborhood.

Original article is here.

Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

The history of the chess pie is debatable. Many contribute its origin to England, but those who have lived in the south their entire lives know it is as southern as peach pie.

To describe the many variations of chess pie that I have tasted, I would sum up the experience as a pecan pie without the pecans, and in their place, a little bit of cream. Just like a pecan pie, chess pie is one of the easiest pies you can make. Almost impossible to muck up.

A flaky tender crust sits at the base of the custard-like filling. And because the filling is so neutral, you can flavor the pie with almost anything.

Chess pie is sometimes referred to as buttermilk pie or vinegar pie.

For my summer version, I went with lemons and fresh pineapple sage from the garden. The custard is made using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. I add in pineapple sage by seeping cream with it and using it throughout the recipe.

This recipe comes from my mom’s favorite community cookbook and gets an update. Here is another recipe that I did the same thing with.

I always make my own pie crust because the taste is so much better than store-bought. A ratio of half butter and half lard is my preference for fat. You are your own baker, so use any recipe for a crust that you like or even use a premade one!

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Cajun Meat Bread

Cajun Meat Bread

Most southern food is bone sticking and hearty. A style that can be contributed to the economics of survival.

This recipe is not different. A full loaf of bread is stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables before being baked off. The result is a spicy gooey filled bread that acts as the perfect appetizer for any party.

This is a dish that I have eaten since I was a little girl, even considering it is difficult to find many versions of it in cookbooks or online.

Everyone in my family loves it. It originates from my Aunt’s mother, Mary Joyce, who is Cajun through and through. It is one of those items that is always present at family gatherings – especially large ones. A fact that is evident by the size of the portions used in the original recipe that was given to me:

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Personally, I do not cook for 80-100 people. I have a small family. So, the challenge with recreating this recipe was doing so in a way that would feed a smaller group. Lets say 10-12 people.

During my first test run of the condensed version of this recipe, I realized that the original recipe was missing some important instructions. A lack of instruction can easily be attributed to the fact that May Joyce has made this time and time again, so writing down all of the finite details was not something she needed to do. She has them all memorized.

To fill in the gaps, I did a little digging.  I found a recipe for creole meat bread by Emeril Lagasse, click here.

There is a large difference in creole and cajun food. Creole food is the result of many nationalities who settled in New Orleans. In many creole recipes you will find inspiration from West African, Spanish, Haitian, French, and many other cultures.

Cajun food comes from the Acadian people and has a French influence. You will find Cajun food primarily outside of the city…where my family lives.

Comparing the two, although one cajun and one creole,  helped fill in some of the gaps.

I present my version of meat bread. Of course it will never be good as the original I ate growing up. It is not easy to include the love that is thrown into every family recipe that is made for you, instead of by you.

For another Louisiana inspired recipe, click here.

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

As you probably guessed, Key Lime Pie (and key limes) come from the Keys. Many southerners consider the Florida line to be the official end of the south, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon so it counts.

When key lime pie is done right (i.e. made with key limes) it can be magical. Refreshing yet sweet, and creamy and cool.

All of the traditional Savannah restaurants offer some version of key lime pie on their dessert menu. When I speak of traditional Savannah restaurants I am referring to the ones that have been around forever, like the Olde Pink House or Garibaldi’s.

Since summer has officially begun in Savannah, it felt natural to make a southern dessert that is inspired by the season. Note: it is not officially summer, but when you live this deep in the south, the heat makes it feel like summer arrives early.

And to be completely honest, I did not feel like making a pie crust so baking a version of the dessert without a pie crust was my approach for this one. What is just as good a pie crust? Cake!

The base flavors/components for key lime pie recipes are always the same, key limes, graham cracker, and meringue. This recipe includes all of the essential components. A graham cracker cake, key lime pudding, toasted meringue, and a graham cracker crumb.

As for a poke cake, the concept is simple. Bake a one-layer cake in a cake pan and once it is cool poke holes into and pour something delicious over the cake. I finish my version off with a slathering of meringue and a blow torch.

 

An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

An interview with James Beard Award Winning Chef Mashama Bailey

SOMETHING big happened last week. Something bigger than you or me, and something that is guaranteed to change the way people view Savannah as a culinary haven.

On May 6, Chef Mashama Bailey, Executive Chef of The Grey, was awarded a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.

The entire Southeast!

Chef Bailey, like many before her, began on a path riddled with encumbrances and naysayers.

I speak for many locals when I say, historically Savannah has not been the most welcoming when it comes to new food; and to be brutally honest, the perspective on food in Savannah has been muddled at best

As a historic town rooted in Southern tradition, the foundation for local and farm fresh food has always been present —at least until fried chicken buffets and fried seafood platters turned Savannah into a campy food destination for tourists.

The resurgence of restaurants and true Southern cuisine has been slow, at best, here. Unlike many of our now well-respected neighboring food destinations, which have put themselves on the culinary map of go-to food tourism hotspots, many say that Savannah just hasn’t quite made it there yet.

The rebirth of the food in our sister cities is not the result of a singular cause or event, but it can be said that certain historical events speed up the change.

For Charleston, Hurricane Hugo acted as the mechanism that wiped the city and made way for a big change in its culinary community. Hurricane Katrina is said to have done the same for New Orleans.

As for Atlanta, the 1996 Olympics served as the catalyst for change that helped the city become a cultural destination for food in the South.

Thankfully Savannah has not experienced a catastrophic event that forced our hand to recognize that we have the framework needed to become great. Instead our city has slowly chugged along implementing change as slowly as molasses in January.

At least that’s how it was until Chef Bailey returned to her hometown.
When Chef Bailey returned to Savannah to open up The Grey, after spending years honing her skills, she kept her head down and focused on the food she believed in.

Taking inspiration from a foremother of Southern cuisine, Edna Lewis, Chef Bailey set out to preserve history through her kitchen.

Her vision and determination is exactly why she became one of only three chefs in Savannah to be awarded a James Beard. Keep in mind the last was 19 years ago.

She was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss her experience:

When you first stepped into a professional kitchen, did you ever think you would be where you are today?

“No, absolutely not. The first kitchen I stepped into that was professional was called the L Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a cafe that had two parts: one part was a coffee part where you got breakfast, pastries, and coffee, and the next part was more for dinner. We had a microwave; we didn’t have quarts and pints. We would use leftover containers that sour cream came in and we would wash them and reuse them. I was there for a very very short period of time, but it was the very first kitchen that I worked in while I was going to culinary school. I am a career changer so I decided to just throw myself into something, and I wanted to see if I could work in a restaurant. In this little crappy kitchen I fell in love with the industry.”

How did you feel about your second nomination?

“This time around I felt really honored. I think last year I was scared and nervous, and I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the room. I think that this year there was a little tinge of nervousness. But, I felt really honored because all of the people on those lists are such good cooks, they are such good chefs, they are such good leaders that even to be in the same conversation as them is really the point. That is enough for me.”

Who went to the award ceremony with you?

“Johno went, his wife Carole, my parents, and me. There were five of us.”

What were you thinking as you were waiting for the announcement?

“I don’t know. I was drinking from a flask while I was waiting. I had a flask of tequila.
I sort of blocked everyone out. Adrian Miller was behind me. He is a cookbook author, and he is really awesome. He sat right behind us and he taped the whole thing. It’s on YouTube: ‘Mashama wins the Beard.’ It is kind of beautiful because he actually caught the moment of it. The thing I feel bad about, I thought about it after and before I knew there was a video, I was like, “I don’t think I hugged my parents.” Carole was the first person I hugged, Johno was the second person because I made a beeline to get out of the spotlight.”

Did you prepare your speech?

“No. I wrote down my parents, Johno, Edna Lewis, the James Beard Foundation. I just wrote down these names and words so I would not forget anything, but I did not prepare a full-on speech.”

What did your parents have to say?

“They were just like wow, you know. They were really disappointed last year. I don’t think we were disappointed last year, I think we just had to put on a face to be like it is okay everyone, it is totally fine. It is really a rite of passage. I think last year they were really bummed, and I think this year they were really happy.”

What did Johno have to say?

“I couldn’t make it out through his tears.”

Did you cry with him?

“I didn’t cry until a little later honestly. When I gave him a hug he was just like, “Congratulations, I am so happy for you.” He really just said congratulations over and over. Then I spoke to him later on after the awards were over and we were out in the lobby, and we both started kind of tearing up then, because it started to set in that this is something that not only I accomplished but we accomplished. On stage I said he was my backbone. Johno will throw down for anyone in this restaurant. He is the most loyal person I know. I think a lot of his vision and a lot of his drive is why we are where we are. Even when you think I am going to rest a little bit, he is like “But you didn’t finish this?” or “You didn’t do that.” There is always more to do for him. I think it is really nice to learn from someone like that.”

What’s the one piece of advice to cooks or chefs stepping into a professional kitchen for the first time?

“One of the pieces of advice that I received was to make sure that you love it. I didn’t know what that meant. When I first decided to cook, I think I was very interested in it and I thought I was very capable of it. It took me until I really had to work hard to fall in love with it. So, making sure that you love it is something that you have to ask yourself. No one else can tell you that. Know your history, read, know who the chefs are, know what the competition is, learn from people. And be kind.”

Original article is here.

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

I assume you are asking yourself—how is an Éclair Cake southern?

The cake itself is not southern, but its source is. For many of us southerners, especially older generations, beloved recipes were sourced from community cookbooks. A community cookbook is just that, a collection of local recipes submitted by locals and compiled by a local a organization (the Junior League is a popular source) or a church. Each recipe contains the name of the submitter and a blurb about the recipe. Readers will usually multiple variations for one type of recipe. You may find three different recipes for pimento cheese. And almost always the finished book is spiral bound.

In my childhood home there was one community cookbook that my mom sourced everything from: Dogwood Delights. You will notice that this book was put together by Atlanta’s Telephone Pioneers of America. My mom worked in Atlanta for BellSouth when I was a child. I remember going to the big city of Atlanta and eating at the Varsity on special days I was allowed to go to work with her.

Every time we made red velvet cake for Christmas, the book came out of the cupboard. Luckily, my grandmother was kind enough to give me her copy as a source of inspiration. So when I make red velvet cake there is only one place to go.


Often times when I am looking for a source of inspiration in a bake or covered dish I want to bring to my next family gathering I pull out my old, dusty copy.

For me, and for so many, community cookbooks are a conservation of history. A memento of time, experience, and culture of a community. Generations of experience are contained in-between two covers which makes for a great resource to young and old cooks alike.

Although community cookbooks provided a wealth of information to homemakers and small town cooks (because they were popular long before the internet), so many of the submissions lack direction. If you are experienced baker or cook like me, it is no problem to fill in the gaps but not every person in the kitchen has that experience. For those who do not know to cream together your butter and eggs when making the batter for a cake, the gaps can be tricky.

My intention is to not only preserve the recipes so many southerners rely on, but to update them into a modern form. By update I do not mean changing the dish into something totally different, I mean raising it into its adult self.

Let this first recipe be the example. I found this recipe by thumbing through and liked it. As I mentioned before, there were about 10 different versions of the cake listed.

A picture of the original recipe
As you can see, this recipe calls for a bunch of premade items. Instant pudding, frozen whipped cream, etc. An update is simple, make everything you can from scratch…within reason. I will not be making homemade graham crackers.

I made a homemade bourbon butterscotch pudding out of homemade caramel, a homemade ganache for the top, and a homemade whipped cream. The southern in me felt the need to splash in bourbon instead of rum for the butterscotch.

Ta-dah! This community cookbook submission is brought into the 21st century.

Go out and find your own community cookbook. A good place to start is an old bookstore or my favorite—a yard sale.

A fork full of finished cake