Looking back on this past year, and all of the tragedies our country has endured with natural disasters and shootings and other acts of destruction – it makes me wish for people to remember what Christmas and the holidays are REALLY all about: joy, sharing, laughter, warmth, peace, giving and most of all LOVE for others. I sincerely wish all of you a holiday filled with these things – and a New Year filled with promise, prosperity and wonderfulness. Merry Christmas. xo
This is a recipe for my Mom’s Holiday Cutout cookies – a recipe that she got from my Grandmother that we still use today every year for the holidays. The cookies are crisp and thin with a delicious vanilla almond flavor in the cookie and the icing. They are the most popular and addicting cookies on our holiday table every year. Enjoy!
Author: Kristen Hess
Recipe type: Holiday, Baking, Sweets, Desserts
Serves: 50-60 cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon water
3 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
⅓ c. soft butter or margarine
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
⅛ to ¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.
Add 1 egg and water, and beat until light and fluffy.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt; blend into creamed mixture.
Divide dough in half; chill 1 hour.
On lightly floured surface, roll dough to ⅛” thickness.
Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
Bake on greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees about 6-8 minutes.
Cool slightly; remove from pan and glaze with buttercream frosting and top with sprinkles and decorative toppings.
Let cookies chill and cool overnight, store in a container in layers of wax paper to prevent cookies from sticking.
Mix together all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Divide frosting into separate medium bowls, add food coloring of your choice.
Bourbon Vanilla Cream Pie with Oatmeal-Pecan Cookie Crust
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year – if only for the food! Of course, I am so thankful for my amazing friends and family, for doing a job that I love and am passionate about, and for living in a city full of life and new things to discover every day. It’s also a time for traditions, like pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing and all the dressings to go with it.
There’s a great local bakery in NYC called Momofuku Milk Bar that has amazing desserts and a famous “Crack Pie ®”, named after it’s complete addictiveness and inability to eat just one slice. The first time I tried this crazy good pie, I felt immediate addiction coming on, and had to buy another slice. And then I had to leave before I bought the whole damn pie. This year for Thanksgiving I decided to make MY version,Bourbon Vanilla Cream Pie with Oatmeal-Pecan Cookie Crust - to mix up tradition a little bit from the Pumpkin and Apple pies we always have on our table. Folks, hold on to your seats (or forks!)
The crust is made from an oatmeal cookie mixture crumbled with chopped pecans, butter and brown sugar. The pie filling is a luscious creamy custard filling made of sugar, brown sugar, cream, egg yolks, extra vanilla and a shot of bourbon – and just for a fun, a few more chopped pecans for some texture. It bakes into a lovely crumbly crust filled with a delicious creamy caramel-y filling like you have never tasted before. It reminds me of creme brulee inside an oatmeal cookie with a kick of bourbon to warm up your insides – not such a bad thing, and come to think of it, something to be VERY thankful for. One bite, and you’ll be hooked too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving! (Now let the eating and thanks begin!)
Bourbon Vanilla Cream Pie with Oatmeal-Pecan Cookie Crust
Mix the sugars and butter
Add the egg, beat until fluffy
Add oats, flour, baking powder and soda, salt and beat until blended
Spread oat mixture onto baking pan
Bake oat mixture at 350 until golden brown about 15 mins
Break up oat cookie into chunks
Crumble oat cookie into fine crumbs
Add pecans, butter and brown sugar to cookie crumbles and press into 9″ pie dish
Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet
Whisk sugars, bourbon, salt and melted butter in medium bowl
Add cream, egg yolks and vanilla; whisk until blended well. Add chopped pecans.
Pour filling in crust; bake 30 minutes at 350. Reduce heat to 325; bake 20 mins more. Cool 2 hours and chill overnight.
Bourbon Vanilla Cream Pie with Oatmeal-Pecan Cookie Crust
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Serving Size: 6-8
OAT PECAN COOKIE CRUST
Nonstick baking spray
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup chopped pecans
CREAM PIE FILLING
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon whiskey
1/8 cup chopped pecans
Powdered sugar, for dusting
OAT PECAN COOKIE CRUST
Preheat oven to 350. Coat a rectangular metal baking pan (13x9x2 inch) with nonstick spray.
Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Beat mixture with electric mixture until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes.
Add egg; beat until fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; beat until well blended.
Spread oat cookie mixture onto baking pan and press into an even layer. Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer baking pan to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Once cooled, break up cookie in pan and crumble into a fine mixture.
Add cookie crumbles to a large mixing bowl and add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar and chopped pecans, mix well and transfer cookie mixture to a 9 inch glass pie dish.
Spread cookie mixture evenly into pie dish up to the sides and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
CREAM PIE FILLING
Whisk both sugars, salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Add melted butter and whisk until blended.
Add cream, egg yolks, vanilla, bourbon and chopped pecans and whisk until well blended.
Pour cream pie filing into cookie crust and bake pie for 30 minutes until filling gets bubbly.
Reduce oven to 325 and bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Cool pie for about 2 hours on a cooling rack.
Chill uncovered or loosely tented with foil in the refrigerator overnight.
Sift powdered sugar over the top of the pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve chilled.
Garnish with some bourbon infused whipped cream, if desired.
We had the opportunity to create our own Baci chocolate confections, including
and Chocolate Dessert Pasta
while sampling bubbly Italian Prosecco.
Baci, which means “kisses” in Italian, are still made from a coveted original recipe and consist of a dark, silky chocolate exterior that envelopes gianduia, a sensuous whipped chocolate filling blended with finely chopped hazelnuts, then topped with a whole hazelnut.
Baci was created by Luisa Spagnoli, co-founder of Perugina in 1922. Inspired by pure passion, she set out to create a unique confection as grand as her deep feelings of love for a special someone. Legend says that Luisa would lovingly wrap secret love messages around the Baci she created for her lover. Once introduced to the public, Baci became extremely popular, appealing to young lovers browsing sweet shops of Perugia, Italy. Nearly 100 years later, the original recipe remains unchanged, and each Baci remains ensconced in a love note that reflects the sentiments of love, affection and friendship – and is the Italian way to say “I Love You” worldwide.
Check out the great photos and recipes from the class below and keep scrolling to enter to win the Baci chocolate giveaway (2 lucky winners will receive a 15-piece box of Baci Dark Chocolates!)
In a food processor, blend the Gianduia chocolate and ground hazelnuts together at low speed until they are well blended and a paste is created.
Roll the paste into a rope about the width of a wine cork. Cut into 12 cylindrical pieces.
Melt dark chocolate and heat to 104 degrees F. Drop 3/4 of the dark chocolate on to a marble or steel table. Temper the chocolate by melting it continuously with 2 spatulas until the temperature has reached 80.6 degrees F.
Add the cooler tempered chocolate to the 1/4 tempered chocolate and mix well. The combined chocolate should have a temperature of 87.8 degrees F.
Place a whole hazelnut on top of each cylinder of gianduia.
With a fork, dip each confection into the dark chocolate twice before placing it on a piece of wax paper. Let it rest for about 5 minutes until the shininess has disappeared and the chocolate looks darker and crisp.
Baci are tossed with hot pasta, creating a rich, silky sauce, which pops with roasted hazelnut flavor. It's wonderful plain, but you can dress it up with a splash of hazelnut liqueur and a dollop of whipped cream.
1/2 pound spaghetti
12 Perugina Baci candies
Whipped cream or mascarpone cheese; hazelnut liqueur such as Frangelico (optional)
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Put 1 whole Baci in each of 4 coffee cups, wine glasses or dessert bowls.
Divide the hot pasta among them and top each with 2 more coarsely crushed Baci.
Serve immediately, topped with a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone cheese and splash with some hazelnut liqueur.
*THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED – CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2 WINNERS, TROY AND SIMON!
I’m proud to host a giveaway for 2 lucky winners to receive a 15-piece box of Baci Perugina Dark Chocolates courtesy of Baci Perugina and Bender Hammerling Group! All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me why you love chocolate and your favorite chocolate recipe idea.
*For additional entries,follow Artful Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter and let me know you’ve done so.
**Follow Baci Perugina on Facebook and Pinterest for even more giveaway entries, leaving separate comments below that you have done so.
Make sure to enter your email address (not public) with your comments so I can contact the winners to receive their Baci chocolates.
***Giveaway begins on Saturday, October 20th and 2 winners will randomly be chosen from the comment entries below on Thursday, November 1st at 12 pm EST.
Good luck and enjoy the recipes!
Look for Perugina and Baci Chocolate at Eataly and other fine shops, or online at Colavitastore.com
I stumbled upon this handmade cheese-making mecca a few weeks ago while on a stroll to the Union Square Farmer’s Market in the Flatiron District in NYC and was blown away by the impressive facility and store/restaurant as soon as I walked in. Founded by Seattle cheese makerKurt Beecher Dammeier, Beecher’s offers customers a full range of handmade cheeses and gourmet artisan foods and wines with a cafe, coffee bar and store. There’s a huge window as soon as you walk in where you can watch the cheese makers, well, making fresh cheese in their in-house facility all day long. You can also visit their cellar and taste a glass of wine and check out their “cheese cave” where rows upon rows of cheeses are being aged to perfection. They also have three cookbooks with their signature recipes, and are famous for their “World’s Best” Macaroni and Cheese recipe which is in the book and you can also purchase pre-made in their shop or cafe. The retail store offers a bountiful, well-curated selection of the “best of” American artisan cheeses and charcuterie. While visiting, they’ll introduce you not only to their favorite cheeses and meats but also to the talented producers they know and love. You’ll also be provided with fantastic accompaniments- antipasti, crackers, honey, pickles, etc- for your carefully chosen cheeses and meats, all true to their mission of natural, additive-free foods.
I can’t believe I’ve lived in NYC for 7 years and haven’t been to this amazing place until last weekend when I stopped in for brunch. Veselka is a hopping little place in the East Village that specializes in Ukrainian foods and I had to stop in to sample their potato pancakes. Coming from a German-Polish family, my Mom used to make the best potato pancakes served with apple sauce and sour cream so of course I had to size these babies up to see if they compared, and I have to say they did. I had the brunch with a cheese omelette, a piece of their fresh made Kielbasa, rye toast and of course the pancakes. Bummer I forgot to order some of their famous Pierogies, Stuffed Cabbage and Beef Stroganoff – more family favorites I grew up eating..oh well, maybe next time! I’ll definitely be back for another foodie excursion to this yummy place. In fact, I just may grab a copy of the Veselka Cookbook to make some of these noms at home!
Veselka Restaurant was started in 1954 by Wolodymyr Darmochwal who had recently emigrated from the Ivano-Frankovsk region of Ukraine. In the early days Veselka was a humble neighborhood candy store and newsstand that had a small counter and a few tables where a small selection of Ukrainian dishes were served. The popularity of these homemade dishes helped Veselka to grow over the years and become a full fledged restaurant serving a large variety of homemade Ukrainian and American dishes. Some of their signature dishes include: Cabbage Soup, Pierogies, Kielbasa, Potato Pancakes, Ukrainian Borscht, Beef Stroganoff, Bigos (a hearty Ukrainian Hunter’s stew made with Kielbasa, Sauerkraut, Pork and Onions served with a side of mashed potatoes), Ukranian Meatballs, Veal Goulash, Stuffed Cabbage, Soups, Salads, Burgers, Brunch…the list goes on! The atmosphere is buzzing and busy, and the kitchen is open in the front near the fresh baked goods and desserts counter which you also should not miss.
I don’t get out to Brooklyn as much as I’d like to and especially Williamsburg – a funky creative foodie part of town that has some great restaurants. I stopped in to Roesling Tea Room after visiting a photographer friend of mine looking for a small bite to eat and a glass of vino after our meeting. I ordered at the bar and sampled a side of their luscious Macaroni and Cheese which was oooey gooey layers of cheese and shells with a dash of hot sauce topped with some fresh parsley. It was the perfect size for a small bite of goodness and was only $10 to boot. Their cocktail menu is pretty cool too with unique drinks such as “The White Witch” made with Flor de Cana and Creme de Cacao and Cream, or the “Way Too Early” made with Earl Grey tea, Gin, Lemon and Champagne.
They do have a full dinner menu (see link below) offering Apps such as Grilled Razor Clams, Raviolo with Garlic, Ricotta, Chili and Squid and a hearty Lamb Ragu over Vermicelloni with ground hazelnuts. If you’re hungrier and want a full meal, try the Steak Tartare, “Cock-a-leekie” Chicken, Grilled Hangar Steak or Softshell Crab. The atmosphere is dark and moody, with an open wrap around bar and is perfect for a quiet, intimate dinner with friends or a date. They also serve lunch and brunch with burgers, eggs, salads and fresh sides and offer room for parties and events in this impressive cool space and location.
If you’re ever in Chelsea in NYC, this is a must-see destination. The ultimate “Festival of Shops”, Limelight Marketplace is a theatrical and fun shopping experience, located inside the restored Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion of 1845, and the infamous swanky Limelight Nightclub that was hoppin’ in the 70′s and 80′s. Redesigned by Henry Bendel, it re-opened its doors in 2010 to reveal a 3-story grand emporium filled with shopping, food, fashion, restaurants, art and home furnishings, decked out with grand arched ceilings, and the recently uncovered huge stained glass windows and limestone arches from the original church architecture. Inside you’ll find some cool bars and restaurants like the famous Grimaldi’s Pizza, Cava Wine Bar (Italian Meats, Cheeses, Wines), Jezalin’s (artisan soups, sandwiches, salads and chartucerie) and soon Cross Bar. Upstairs on the top floor you can’t miss the Marie Belle Cacao Bar and Luxury Chocolates. They also have an outdoor garden atrium (which is currently decorated with Indian tents) where you can chill out and enjoy a coffee or just stare at the amazing grand old architecture in awe.
Funny story how I ended up here in New Haven, CT for Cinco de Mayo…last Saturday I was supposed to go to the Foodstock Festival up at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT to see a great lineup of speakers and check out some amazing food vendors. So I rented a car online, took an early 2 hour train ride up to New Haven Union Station to pick up my rental car. Well, apparently even if you’ve pre-paid for your car you still need a credit card to give them to take the car for the day. All I had was my camera, a Mastercard debit card and some cash – no go. Needless to say, my day in New Haven wasn’t all that bad. I walked around the beautiful campus of Yale University, went to the Yale Art Gallery, cruised around Chapel Street to grab a coffee and checked out the cute shops and boutiques. On my journey around town, I started getting really hungry for some Mexican and discovered a cool little place called Geronimo’s Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with some margaritas and food.
I had a couple of margaritas since they were only $5 for Cinco de Mayo, and tried their Chicken Tortilla Soup which had huge chunks of white meat shredded chicken, fresh veggies and crunchy tortilla strips on top. The chips were handmade, and the salsa super fresh and chunky with lots of cilantro, just how I like it. For an entree I ordered the Pork Quesadilla which had shredded roasted pork bathed in a Chimayo chile sauce with chihuahua cheese and scallions; topped with fresh grilled corn salsa salad. Delicious! warning: just be super careful if you sample their homemade habenero pepper sauce – its super tasty but super HOT, believe me you only need a smidge to taste the heat!
My waitress was super cool and was patient with me as I ran around the restaurant taking pictures of all their cool Southwestern artifacts and cool interior design inside the restaurant. Chef Timothy Scott (Connecticut native who studied with Anne Willan at La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy, France) and I chatted for a while as he showed me around the restaurant and told me about all the local, organic ingredients he uses and the South Dakota farms he visits to source all of his meats for some of their unique dishes as the Smoked Buffalo Brisket Tacos and Elk Chili. The menu has your typical Mexican dishes but they are infused with a “Santa Fe” New Mexican flavor, using traditional foods and flavors of the Native Americans, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-Americans that settled there. Its primary ingredients consist of corn, beans, chile peppers, rice, tomatoes, avocados, pork and bison. Slow-stewed meats and chilis, and natural heat from various chile peppers give the cuisine here a bold, rustic flavor that is distinct from other Mexican cuisine. Don’t miss it if you’re ever up visiting Yale or just cruising around New Haven for a day.
There’s a new kid in town – an amazing organic grocery market and restaurant called Forager’s City Grocer in Chelsea, sister to the Dumbo Brooklyn location. Everything inside the market is sourced from their local farms and made fresh daily on premises. They have a meat counter and prepared foods kitchen with fresh soups, salads, roasted veggies, house-cured pastrami, roasted chicken and herb-roasted porchetta (to die for!). Cruise towards the back and you’ll find a lovely cheese section, olives, cured and fresh butchered meats, and a full line-up of local, and more organic dairy products like yogurt, cream, butter and milk. They have plenty of spices, honeys, jams, imported pastas and other cool gourmet items. And in the front, you can’t miss the coffee bar and dessert counter where they have freshly baked cupcakes, croissants, and unique-flavored glazed donuts like Hibiscus and Blood Orange…Oh my.
The restaurant inside the market has a clean design with an open kitchen and bar, high tables and stools and lots of natural lighting. The cuisine has an Asian flair, offering lunch, brunch and dinner. All the menu items are created with local, organic ingredients, house-cured meats and fresh veggies straight from their farm. They have great salads such as Raw Dayboat Salad with Yuzu Koshu and Crushed Lemon Oil, or Fermented Tea Leaf Salad with Dried Shrimp, Sesame, Peanuts, Crispy Garlic and Split Peas. Or try the Wok-Tossed Berkshire Pork Short Ribs or Crispy Whole Prawns with Chiles, Prickly Ash and Green Onions. Brunch is a new thing, serving up fresh omelettes, buttermilk biscuits and gravy, cinnamon french toast, house smoked pepper bacon and house made quinoa granola with fruit. And don’t miss the Forager’s wine store attached to the market next door where you can find organic wines from grape farmers all around the world.
The Chelsea location has also launched the debut of their expertly handcrafted cocktails along with a menu of beers and eco-minded selected wines on tap. The new, eclectic cocktail menu was designed by head bartender Aaron Polsky (also of Amor y Amargo). The menu is heavily influenced by the market’s hyper-local foraged produce and seasonally inspired house-made syrups and infusions. Some of the cool new cocktails to try are:
Gordon’s Healthy Lunch – made with Dorothy Parker Gin, Foragers Farm spicy baby lettuce juice, lime, meyer lemon oleo saccharum
Doug’s Spring MP – with Tequila Pueblo Viejo Blanco, rhubarb, tarragon, raspberry shrub, soda
I recently went on a search of some pretty cupcakes for a photoshoot I am working on, and found this cute little place called The Cupcake Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen on 9th Avenue and 40th Street near Times Square. It’s a quaint little place with a tiny kitchen in the back where they bake and design their pretty floral cakes and cupcakes with great detail. Anne Warren, co-owner, also designs custom wedding and personalized birthday cakes and offers cake decorating classes and film catering. The interior has a cute bench, a table and a few stools where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and a luscious buttercream-frosted flowery cupcake, just because. No frills, just a cozy spot to indulge.
While on my journey around town in New Haven, I stopped into this cool, colorful store on Chapel Street called Metaphore -Eurostyle. I met the owner and artist, Liza Clayson, who showed me around her store full of custom art andgorgeous hand-painted furniture, shower curtains, linens, dishes, glassware, French pantry gourmet items such as sea salts, oils, honeys, vinegars, mustards, jams, teas, and cookies. We had an even more colorful conversation about the town, restaurants, blogging and marketing and who knows what else. I couldn’t help but start dreaming up all the cool photography and food styling sets one could design with her pretty hand-painted and imported goodies. Liza also has plenty of unique and unusual European-imported goodies in the store, thus the name “Eurostyle”. Many of her items are things you won’t find here in the U.S. – she has customers that come in the store from all over to buy her unique things. You just have to check it out for yourself. If you can’t make it to New Haven, you can call her directly and place a personalized order. Now that’s pretty cool.
If you like fried chicken like I do, great – but this is no ordinary fried chicken – this is Seoul, Korea-style fried chicken and a tasty one at that. Located on Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building, KyoChon came to NYC from Korea, opened its flagship store here and never looked back. KyoChon has become a cult-like obsession with New Yorkers (including myself) with its fresh, crispy, juicy fried chicken and tasty dipping sauces. The Soy Garlic and Hot & Sweet Chile sauces are apparently are secret recipes that founder Won-Kang Kwon and his wife whip up in a secret room in the basement of their production facilities in Seoul. They claim to use only fresh, not frozen, chickens, and hand-trim and hand-brush each piece, which is apparent when you taste a piece of their crunchy chicken. This ain’t no Chicken McNugget, folks. They also have sandwiches, salads and wraps filled with fresh veggies and fruits and the interior is pretty cool looking too, with its bright red spiral staircase and clear acrylic Jetson-style chairs and tables. Oh, and the Sweet Potato Fries ROCK.
After living in Atlanta for almost 12 years, it was refreshing to find a honky-tonk fun place in NYC that reminded me of the South.Rodeo Bar & Grill is probably one of the ONLY places in New York that you’ll find local and regional country and blues musicians playing live, where you can sit and enjoy a Margarita and some chips and salsa. This Tex-Mex bar and grill is located on 3rd Ave in Murray Hill and serves a kickass portion of chile con queso and chips, and other Tex-Mex specialties such as Enchiladas, Slow-Smoked Texas BBQ, Quesadillas, Tacos and a nice selection of burgers, sandwiches, appetizers and soups and salads. The live shows are on pretty much every night with different artists, until midnight during the week and late on weekends. They have a great happy hour from 4-7 pm offering half price margaritas and bar food like wings, nachos and sliders. Grab your cowboy boots, get yourself some tequila and some live country and blues – too fun.
I recently took a cooking class at ICE that was all about Southern Cooking. In the spirit of the Kentucky Derby, I wanted share some of the awesome down-home Southern food we made. These are classic Southern recipes you’d find on the Sunday “Supper” table with a large group of friends and family, that scream the words “Southern Comfort” all around. Think Deviled Eggs, Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Cornbread, Coca-Cola Cake, Fried-Green Tomatoes, Fried Fruit Pies, BBQ Ribs, Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, Sweet Tea, Mint Juleps – savory, homey, sweet, hearty, comforting and yes, FILLING. I guess that’s why they call it ‘comfort food’ because once your done eating and your belly is full, all you really wanna do is take a big NAP (on a nice big hammock on the front porch – Yes Ma’am).
I had my first real taste of true Southern food when I visited Meridian, Missippippi with one of my best friends and her family back in high school. We rode in the back of a station wagon from Upstate NY to Mississippi in the sweltering heat for about 20 hours, and when we arrived I thought I had reached the equator – or HELL for that matter. I wasn’t there for even 2 hours before I got attacked by a swarm of tiny red ants when we visited her Grandfather’s farm house that first day, and almost passed out on the beach after laying out for 5 minutes it was so hot down there. But after a big glass of ice cold homemade sweet tea, some Biscuits and Gravy, a crunchy delicious piece of her Grandmother’s Fried Chicken and a plate of Fried Okra – all the hellfire deceased instantly. (Well at least for the moment!)
University of South Carolina
My second experience tasting Southern food was in Columbia, South Carolina when I went to USC for a few semesters and ended up transferring there because I was so charmed by this unique Southern town. I’ll never forget the game day tailgating parties full of glorious southern banquets (and Bourbon!) that took up the entire parking lot across from the football stadium and lasted all day until we passed out from the heat, or the food (or most likely the Jack and Coke’s we had in our water bottles that we snuck into the game with!)
South Carolina Memories
There was also the local street vendor in Five Points (where all the bars and restaurants are on campus) who walked around selling spicy boiled peanuts to all the crazy drunk kids going in and out of all the bars staggering home to their dorm rooms. If you take a drive down to South Carolina, you can’t miss the huge giant peach water tower in Gaffney on the way down (or the massive retail outlet there!). Peaches are lovely. Peaches are everywhere down South. Peach pie, peach fritters, peach cobbler, peach tarts, peach salads, peach jam….ok, now I’m getting hungry.
We took roadtrips to Charleston, SC and experienced the low-country cuisine like Shrimp and Gravy, Red Beans and Rice or Frogmore Stew (a South Carolina specialty made with shrimp, corn, new potatoes and sausage). The downtown Sunday market is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade baskets, art, crafts and great southern and low-country food. If you’ve never been to this town before, you MUST make a trip – the architecture, the Sunday markets, the seafood, cobbled streets, southern hospitality and warm breezes off the ocean will charm the pants right off of you.
Our Spring Breaks had to be semi-close by because none of us could afford to fly anywhere, so we hopped in our cars and took roadtrips to nearby towns like Savannah, GA or to the beach in the Florida panhandle (otherwise known as the Redneck Riveria – Destin, Panama City Beach, Pensacola) and ate spicy boiled Crawfish – “sucking heads and pinching tails”, while slugging down a good ice cold Budweiser or two.
Then, I moved to Atlanta after I graduated from college (swayed by a great friend of mine that I met at the University of SC) and unexpectedly stayed there for 12 years – and that’s where I really learned how to cook and love Southern food. There was something about the flowery, green smell in the air down in Georgia, and the charming friendliness of the people – a realness and down-to-earth manner that made me feel like I belonged in this strange Southern universe (even if I was just a damn Yankee that moved down South to get away from Mom and Dad after college).
Georgia Southern Food
Fried Chicken and Waffles, BBQ, more peaches (every street in Atlanta is named “Peachtree”), trips to the Dillard House in the Georgia mountains, day trips and weekends at the lake – I couldn’t get enough of this place. We grilled out almost every weekend on the deck or at the lake with our friends (and made awesome steaks and burgers with Dale’s Seasoning which are Ah-mazing).
My ex was from Alabama and Texas, so you can only imagine the Southern food and hospitality that I was exposed to. We ate the best BBQ south of the Mason-Dixon line in Selma, Alabama at a little truck stop called Lannie’s Barbeque, that served hot fresh bbq pork sandwiches on toasted buns with homemade cole slaw, southern green beans and a side of cornbread with extra sauce for mopping. There was never a trip to Selma without a stop here. Or a mandatory trip to Dreamland BBQ for a whopping plate of messy delicious ribs in Tuscaloosa for Alabama ‘Game Day‘. Roll Tide! (I was always still a diehard Gamecock fan though, even if Alabama kicked our ass).
Alabama Fried Catfish & Grilled Corn
His Mom was an amazing cook too, and every holiday we would go to their “camphouse” in the woods. The men would go deer and bird hunting for the day, and the women would stay home and prep for the big mid-day feast: slow-cooked collard greens with smoked ham, deep-fried turkey, slow-roasted pork butt, fried okra, skillet baked cornbread with jalapenos and cheddar, pecan pie, homemade flaky buttery biscuits, sweet tea, and the list goes on. On Friday nights we always went to “Mac’s Fish Camp” on the Alabama River (which tragically burned down in 2007 and is no longer around). We ate the best cornmeal-crusted fried catfish that would blow your mind - whole, right off the bones, served with fresh corn on the cob, cole slaw and hushpuppies. Even on the sweltering dog-days of Summer like they have down South, there’s something about the savory, buttery, comfort food down there that makes you feel right at home.
A Southern Feast
True Southern food and hospitality is all about eating and sharing big homemade meals with large groups of friends and family. My cooking class was almost 5 hours long and we made so much food you could feed a small Confederate Army. Thus, this post only has half of the food we made for our Southern feast that day so I’m making this Part 1. The recipes below include: Classic Deviled Eggs, Country Smoked Ham with Red-Eye Gravy, Southern Collard Greens, Cornbread, Coca-Cola Cake and of course, some homemade Southern Sweet Tea to wash it all down with. Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week for some more down-home, get-in-my-belly, authentic Southern Comfort food. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to take a nice, long nap on the hammock between now and then…
6 hard-cooked eggs (1 week old eggs are easier to peel than super fresh eggs)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise, or to moisten
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or to taste
Paprika, for garnish
1-2 tbsp chopped Parsley leaves
Equipment: ice water bath
Put eggs in a saucepan that will hold them in one layer. Cover with cold water by 1 inch. Heat just to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pan. Allow the eggs to “cook” in the hot water for 15 to 17 minutes and then immediately transfer to the ice water bath to cool and stop the cooking.
When well-chilled (you may have to replace the ice water bath with cold water or more ice to keep them cold and fully chill), roll them gently on the countertop and crack the shell all over.
Peel under cold running water and reserve.
Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half length-wise and shave a bit from the bottom of each half so it will lay flat on a serving dish.
Remove and mash the yolks; combine with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and relish.
Refill the centers of the egg whites with the mixture (use a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, ideally). Garnish with paprika and chopped parsley, refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 12 deviled eggs.
Country Ham Steak with Red-Eye Gravy
Country Ham with Redeye Gravy
1 bone-in fully cooked ham steak, about 2 pounds (salt-cured country ham or a center-cut slice of ham)
Butter, vegetable oil, lard or shortening, as needed
3/4 cup strong black coffee
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Melt sufficient butter or other fat to film the bottom of the skillet. Add the cooked ham, and cook to warm through and brown the meat. Reserve the ham.
Over high heat, add the coffee to deglaze the pan; scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits.
Bring to a boil and cook about 1 minute. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
To serve pour the gravy over the ham to serve with the ham or serve gravy in a separate pitcher.
Country Ham in Roasting Pan
Ham Steak ready to serve
Time to pass the Red-eye Gravy
Southern-Style Braised Collard Greens
Southern-style Braised Collard Greens
2 pounds of collard greens (can substitute kale, turnip greens, or mustard greens)
1 ham hock (or 6 slices of cooked bacon)
1 medium onion, sliced or chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
Sherry or cider vinegar, optional (for serving)
Tabasco/Louisiana Hot pepper sauce or pickled pepper juice, optional (for serving)
Clean and wash greens well; remove tough stems and ribs. Cut the greens up into large ribbons or chunks and place in a deep pot; add onion. Wash off the ham hock and add to the pot. Add red pepper and salt. Add enough water to cover greens, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the greens until tender, about 1 hour (up to 2 or 3 hours is fine as long as they don’t get mushy). Add more water as needed, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve with corn bread, and pass the vinegar and hot sauce.
Serves 4 to 6.
Slow cooking Collard Greens
Classic Southern Cornbread
Classic Southern Cornbread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease pan
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved (don’t over mix!). Allow the mixture to site at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Corn Bread Batter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet.
Melt butter in the hot cast iron pan
When ready to bake, coat the bottom and sides of the hot skillet with butter (and be careful – pan is very hot!)
Pour batter in the pan
Pour the batter into the prepared pan,
Cornbread ready for baking
and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares or wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature with extra butter if desired.
We used to make it with green chilies or jalapenos and cheddar cheese – if you want to try this version, chop the chilies (about 1/2 cup) and some shredded cheddar (about 1 cup) and add it to the batter before pouring into the cast-iron skillet. Delicious!
Makes 1 (10-inch) skillet of cornbread, approx. 8 to 10 slices or squares.
Coca Cola Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup Coca-Cola
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; grease and flour a 13×9 inch baking pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Combine 1 cup butter, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 1 cup of Coca-Cola in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add marshmallows and vanilla, stirring until marshmallows are melted.
Pour mixture over dry ingredients and blend in well. Add the buttermilk, beaten eggs, baking soda and pecans, if using. Beat well.
Spread batter in the pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake bounces back when lightly touched near the center. Cool completely.
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
6 to 7 tablespoons Coca-Cola
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand blender), blend the softened butter with cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, and Coca-Cola. Beat ingredients until smooth and creamy; spread on cooled cake with a spatula. If desired, sprinkle finely chopped pecans over the top. Serve warm.
Makes 1 (13×9) cake.
1 ounce loose black tea
1 quart hot water
1 quart room temperature water
Lemon wedges, for garnish
Infuse hot tea into hot water for 4 to 5 minutes, strain the tea into room temperature water. (we used to bring water to a boil in a large saucepan and then turn it off and infuse large tea bags in the hot water and add additional room temp water). Sweeten with simple syrup if desired and garnish with lemon wedges. Mint leaves are a nice twist too.
3 cups sugar
3 cups cold water
For simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a small non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, and cook until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely (before putting ice in it or the tea will turn cloudy and taste bitter).
Can be kept in the refrigerator for a month or more in a tightly sealed container.
Kristen Hess is a NYC-based food stylist and photographer, writer.
Her professional background is in advertising, design and creative direction, marketing and social media for many well-known food and beverage brands.
She is passionate about food and travel, art and design, photography, theatre and film and all things creative.
Food Styling & Photography Portfolio: http://www.kristenhess.com