Pat Conroy, Meet Martha Stewart

I love to read, and I love to cook. My love of reading led me to Pat Conroy. I’ve read ALL of his books. Multiple times. There’s nothing he writes that I would not read. And then there’s the queen of cooking, Martha Stewart. I’ve subscribed to her magazine for as long as I can remember! I remember one of the first recipes of hers I tried to make was a triple layer chocolate cake with lemon curd filling. It took the whole day to make, but it was worth it! Well, worth it to me. My husband walked away in disgust when I mentioned the lemon curd filling. He’s opposed to anything that even suggests lemons. No worries, I’m pretty sure I ate the whole thing myself!

Last week I had a bounty of fresh produce, notably a dozen corn and piles of delicious heirloom tomatoes! I knew immediately what I was going to do with the tomatoes. About 10 years or so ago I came across a recipe in Martha Stewart Magazine for a mixed tomato cobbler with a Gruyere crust.

If these tomatoes aren’t ‘mixed’ I don’t know any that are!!

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Martha’s recipe for the tomato cobbler is one of the simplest recipes around, and when you have such beautiful tomatoes, there’s no better way to showcase them! The crust comes together quickly, and one of the best things about it is it makes enough for two cobblers. Pop one crust in the freezer for the late summer bumper crop of tomatoes! Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

Serves 8

  • 2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds assorted cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and 1 cup Gruyere cheese. Add 1 cup butter; process until mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
  2. With machine running, pour ice water (about 1/4 cup) little by little through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without becoming wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each into a disk; wrap in plastic. Transfer to refrigerator; chill 1 hour.
  4. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool slightly.
  5. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar, and basil and pepper. When onion mixture is cooled, add to tomato mixture, and toss to combine. Transfer mixture to a deep 9 1/2- or 10-inch pie dish. Set aside.
  6. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out half the dough into a circle 1 inch larger than pie dish. Remaining dough may be frozen up to 1 month. Transfer rolled dough to top of dish; tuck in edges to seal. Make three to four small slits in crust; form a decorative edge if desired. In small bowl, mix egg with 1 teaspoon water. Brush egg glaze over crust; sprinkle crust with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Place pie dish on a baking sheet to catch drips; bake until crust is golden and insides are bubbling, about 50 minutes. Let cobbler cool before serving.

Here it is in pictures….

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I really should have followed Martha’s instructions and let it cool fully before digging in. But it just smells so heavenly, it’s hard to resist.

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As I mentioned earlier, I have read everything Pat Conroy has ever written, and more than once. In the case of Beach Music, maybe eight times!! So given my love of all things Pat Conroy and all things related to food, it’s no surprise that I was reading The Pat Conroy Cookbook (for the second time). I decided that Pat Conroy’s recipe for summer corn chowder with seared scallops would be a great way to use up some of that corn.

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One of these days I’ll transcribe the recipe. But it’s basically a few cups of milk. Six or so ears of corn. After I take the corn of of the cob, I steep the cobs with the milk for a really rich corn flavor. Oh, and of course, there’s bacon.

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As we sat down to dinner that night, I imaged that Pat and Martha would have been proud of my efforts, and I smiled as I tried to envision them both at the table. The rather uptight, northern girl Martha and the thoroughly southern boy Pat; probably not a match made in heaven. If their food is any indication, I think they would have got on quite well!

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I Think I’m Going to Need a Bigger Dish

What to do with an excess of perfectly ripe peaches? Marinate them in an Amaretto-infused brown sugar syrup and layer between slices of cake and whipped cream, of course!

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The Humble Hamburger

Summer vacation has taken its toll. We bought a new car at the end of April, and it already has 6,000 miles on it. I’ve driven from Charlotte to Hilton Head to Asheville and back again. And then made a quick side trip down to South Florida. Needless to say I’m tired of driving. And I’m even more tired of eating on the road. So, now that I’m finally back home and have picked up my first box (really, boxes) of beautiful produce from the Farmer’s Fresh Market, you can imagine my excitement at being able to finally start cooking again. Only, it turns out my husband wants hamburgers for dinner. What’s a girl to do? My poor dear husband has actually been worse off than I have been in the food department: He’s had to cook for himself. So hamburgers it is… but it’s hamburgers MY way!

One of the best food discoveries I’ve made recently was during a visit to my in-laws. My mother-in-law mentioned she had tasted a delicious dip at one of their neighborhood dinner parties. She showed me the recipe, and I was a bit incredulous. Could it really taste as good as she made it sound?? It could, and it did. Here’s the recipe:

Vidalia Onion Relish

  • 5 to 6 medium onions, finely chopped
  • – Use the food processor if you like a finer relish, chop by hand if you like it a bit chunkier
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp celery salt

Soak onions in water/vinegar/sugar for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator. Drain well for 45 minutes in a colander. Pat dry. Mix onions with mayonnaise and celery salt.

As I shoveled this dip into my mouth (using any available vessel… club crackers, cucumbers, a spoon) I marveled at how such simple ingredients could yield something so marvelously delicious. I figured this could elevate anything you put it on (or in)! I enjoyed this dip so much, I took a copy of the recipe and a bag of Vidalia onions with me to the mountains for my annual girls weekend trip.

On that long drive from Hilton Head to Asheville I was listening to the Martha Stewart Radio show “Everyday Food”. Would you believe the episode I was listening to was about CONDIMENTS! The host asked for people to call in to share their favorite condiment. And that’s exactly what I did. Julie from Charlotte was live on Martha Stewart radio sharing the recipe for Vidalia Onion Relish!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming… My favorite girls were a little doubtful that onions and mayonnaise would be something worth eating… but the indulged me yet again! And all weekend long, every time I turned around I saw someone shoveling onion dip into their mouth!! On hamburger night, we brought out what was left of the relish and put it on top of our burgers. Now THAT was delicious!

Fast forward to last night. I had half a bag of Vidalia onions left over from that trip, so I make the Vidalia onion relish. I knew it was good ON a hamburger, so if figured it would also be good IN the hamburger. I took my ground beef (grass fed, locally raised) and mixed in about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, about 1/2 cup of the onion relish and some salt and pepper.

I added some cheese, another dollop of the relish and a slice of the juiciest tomato around! The Hamburger was humble no more.

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In Defense of Lard

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Notice how I put the picture first. That’s right, there’s lard in those biscuits. And I tell you, I have never tasted such a light, fluffy and absolutely delicious biscuit. It’s amazing how far a little lard can go!

I recently bought the Lee Brothers’ Cookbook, which is chock-full of delicious Southern recipes. What I love about this book is its focus on creating traditional Southern recipes using the finest local and seasonal ingredients. The Lee brothers have a small section in the book where they extol the virtues of lard, and well, it didn’t take much to convince me. I had already done some research on it, because while much maligned, it actually isn’t as bad for you as some would have you think. In fact, in moderation, it’s actually GOOD for you. You can read more about lard here.

 

So, with my sights firmly set on creating the ultimate buttermilk biscuit, I went in search of some lard. The good news is, I didn’t have to search for long, as I knew the exact person who could set me up: My friend Kirk at the Farmer’s Fresh Market! He very kindly sent me a pound of lard with my order of other Fresh Market goodies (stay tuned for more on that).

So last Sunday, I whipped up a batch of the Lee Brothers’ Bird-head buttermilk biscuits. I’ve been making buttermilk biscuits for quite some time,  and Scott (my husband, and official taste tester) has said on more than one occasion that my biscuits are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen. But I tell you, these biscuits set the bar even higher. They just melt in your mouth and are absolutely lard-o-licious. I also took the Lee brothers’ advice and whipped up a little batch of sorghum (molasses) butter, using up some of the sorghum I had leftover (also procured through the Farmer’s Fresh Market). Talk about a revelation. Josh tries to spread that sorghum butter on just about everything now. The rest of breakfast was almost an afterthought… well, almost. Soft-scrambled eggs with goat cheese and tarragon: The tarragon from my garden and the goat cheese from Looking Glass Creamery, also procured through… well, you know where. Delicious!

Firing up the Grill!

Spring is in the air, and right around the corner, the long, lazy days of summer. Ever since the end of the Urban Produce Box deliveries, I’ve been counting down the days until summer is back in full tilt and I can once again cook with the finest produce around! Until then, I have to make do with what I can find at the Harris Teeter.

I was recently inspired by a recipe for Middle Eastern Chicken Sandwiches on Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Middle-Eastern-Grilled-Chicken-Pita-Sandwiches-with-Yogurt-Mint-Sauce-12158

My kids tend to make a mess with any sandwich bigger than a grilled cheese, so I decided to ‘deconstruct’ the elements and serve it the way my mom used to when I was growing up.

I marinated the chicken as described for most of the day. I also went ahead and whipped up some dough so I could grill my own flatbread, way cheaper (and tastier) than buying a pack of pita bread. I made a cucumber and tomato salad, and the yogurt sauce as written in the recipe. I liked the idea of carmelized onions, but didn’t want to add the tomato, as I already used some in my salad. So I made a pot of Basmati rice and then topped that with my carmelized onions.

The whole thing came together beautifully. As usual, Josh had two helpings and Erin ate her rice. I will definitely be making this again in the summer when the tomatoes are actually in season. I think next time I’ll marinate a whole, butterflied chicken and grill that. The rice and onion combination was definitely a winner!

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