Archive | December, 2009

Visiting B&B Pecan Groves in Fairhope, AL

31 Dec

Beautiful day in Fairhope — 71 degrees on December 31st!

This is the retail store at B&B — open Monday thru Saturday

Entrance to store at B&B Pecan Groves

A big old bucket of pecans ready for shelling

They even sell pecan oil here!

Who knew there were so many pecan varieties???

1 pound bags of pecan halves run $8.95 @ B&B

Bought a jar of this gooey goodness for $5.95

Shop online at www.pecangifts.com — these nice folks will treat you right!

New York Times on Southern New Year’s Traditions

30 Dec

Nice piece — Happy New Year, y’all …

Black-eyed peas and ham hocks please Northerners, too.

It’s a lesson I learned earlier this month, when James Graham handed me a couple of pieces of seasoning meat from his truck, parked on a stretch of asphalt in Brooklyn.

Seasoning meat is really just the thick trimmings band-sawed from the top or bottom of a country ham. Some people call it sweet meat, others just call it smoked ham.

But in the backs of a handful of trucks that park in East New York, Canarsie and Bedford-Stuyvesant, it’s called seasoning meat and it will set you back about $4 a pound. You don’t need very much to make a batch of Hoppin’ John or some greens. Maybe a quarter-pound, especially if the meat is sharing the job with a ham hock or two.

“Put some of this in your pot and the neighbors will come fast, I promise you that,” said Mr. Graham, who works out of a truck parked near the intersection of Flatlands and Pennsylvania Avenues in Brooklyn.

Seasoning meat is just one item he sells. He also has compact ham hocks, giant smoked turkey wings and a kind of white cornmeal that’s hard to find at the local Key Food. He has collard greens and okra, too. And bags of peanuts and pecans still in the shell.

Most of it had been driven north from Georgia and the Carolinas, following a trail that began generations earlier with the great migration of black Southerners to industrial cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York during the Jim Crow era.

Once people arrived, the tastes of home made the transition easier, said Marci Cohen Ferris, an associate professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the meaning of food in American culture.

“The Southern ham hocks and field peas you see in Brooklyn today are rooted in that history, especially at holiday time, when the Southern diaspora of New York really longs for home,” she said.

As far as the sellers and their customers can recall, the trucks appeared on the scene more than 40 years ago. That’s when people like George Huston and George Lee figured there was a market for country food in Brooklyn’s growing African-American community.

It’s likely, though, that similar enterprises in both Brooklyn and Harlem go back much further. Ms. Ferris points out that in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” the main character buys and eats a baked South Carolina yam on a Harlem street in the 1930s and is “overcome by an intense feeling of freedom.”

The trucks were once plentiful on Brooklyn streets. Mr. Huston owned 15 tractor trailers that he and his extended family would use to haul produce and smoked meat from the South.

The import business was so good for Mr. Lee that he opened the North Carolina Country Store on Atlantic Avenue in 1973. His daughter, Patricia, ran it until a year ago, when she sold it.

The store is one of the few places to get seasoning meat in Brooklyn.

“Everybody comes here if they can’t go to the trucks,” said Gloria Miles, a truant officer and a member of the Greater Bright Light Missionary Baptist Church. On a recent December afternoon, she was shopping at the store instead of at her favorite truck for two reasons. One, it was freezing outside, and two, she prefers pig tails to seasoning meat for her greens, and the trucks don’t usually have it.

Across the street, Jule Huston, 70, waited for customers. He’s in the moving business, but about 15 years ago he followed in his Uncle George’s footsteps and started selling smoked meats, pungent sage sausages and Southern pantry staples along the roadside.

He has watermelon and other produce for a short time during the summer, but relies on the last three months of the year to make serious money. That’s when people seek hams, the last of the fresh black-eyed peas and jars of chow-chow and honey to offer as Christmas gifts.

And of course, everyone needs supplies for Hoppin’ John and greens, two simple dishes that are required eating each New Year’s Day for Southerners (or anyone else, one imagines) who want to bring luck and prosperity.

Jessica Harris, an African-food scholar who divides her time between New Orleans and Brooklyn, was once a regular customer of the trucks.

“When I first moved to Brooklyn, there was a guy selling yams in winter, grapes in fall and watermelon out of the back of his car in the summer,” she said. But that was 20 years ago.

“They’re all disappearing,” she said.

Mr. Huston can count just two other truck vendors — his relatives who work the one in Canarsie and another man with a small operation who sometimes parks near him on Atlantic Avenue.

As recently as November, Michelle V. Agins, a New York Times photographer, bought fresh black-eyed peas and ham hocks from a man she knows as W. C. Ms. Agins, who has been buying from him since 1989, said he usually parks near the corner of Lafayette and Classon Avenues on the border between Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. But he hasn’t been around much for Christmas or New Year’s shoppers.

Mr. Huston wonders how long any of them will keep going. Business at his truck is just that bad.

“Used to be I’d have a line out the door all day long,” he said.

Some of the Southern ingredients once found only on the trucks can now be bought at places like Costco or Pathmark. Many of his older customers, Mr. Huston said, have moved back to the South. The younger people are too far removed from their Southern roots. Most of them, he said, don’t cook that much anyway.

“They’re going to McDonald’s and Burger King,” he said.

There is hope. He still has a few loyal customers. And business at the North Carolina Country Store across the street is nice and steady.

Because to some cooks, buying ham hocks from a supermarket or a warehouse store isn’t the same. At the trucks, somebody will ask you where your people are from. They will tell you how long to soak the black-eyed peas and when to start simmering the seasoning meat.

“You don’t have those conversations when you go and buy your pecans at Costco,” Ms. Ferris said.

Caroline’s Cakes – Taking It To The 7th Layer

28 Dec

We came across Caroline’s Cakes while surfing the web for mail order desserts.  Sure, we realize Annapolis, Maryland is not exactly the Heart of Dixie. But these cakes looked amazing and we were open to giving them a try. I reached out to Caroline via email and she was quick to respond to our inquiry. Eager to impress our loyal Southern palates, she kindly sent us a couple treats to sample and enjoy with our friends over the holiday season.  The first cake we tasted was their famous 7-Layer Caramel (pictured above). This is the marvel of nature that put Caroline’s on the culinary map (including a feature on the NBC Today Show). One mouthful and I was experiencing a pleasant, sugary sweet buzz — sooo deeee-lish!

We also received the Carrot Caramel Delight Cake (shown above). My wife is a carrot cake fanatic and she was gushing with praise for this one. The alternating layers of caramel icing are what make this cake so unique.  

Here’s Caroline’s story as it appears on her web site …

As many of you already know, I first served my Seven-Layer Caramel Cake at my youngest son’s Christening in 1982. The power of word-of-mouth spread this incredible tasty treat across the country. Before I knew it I had customers as far away as Alaska and Hawaii wondering how soon they could get a Caramel Cake. WOW!! Initially I had a baker in South Carolina who made the cakes and I would pick them up and ship or deliver them to customers. Unfortunately she became ill and I had to decide whether or not I could continue the business. The answer was quite simple thanks to my wonderful customers who kept asking for more cakes! This labor of love was a rough start because Caramel is so difficult to perfect. I can remember days when it would take me an hour and a half to get the icing to stay on the cake. I was determined to make it work and through great perseverance I finally conquered and owned the process.

Caroline’s Cakes offers several other cake varieties as well. Visit their mouth-watering  web site for pricing and additional details. You will not be disappointed! In fact, we predict you’ll be floating in 7th heaven.  

http://www.carolinescakes.com/

Secrets from the Hot & Hot Fish Club

23 Dec

Terrific cookbook from Running Press featuring sophisticated Southern recipes. Also includes a pretty nice source guide in the back pages. Be sure to visit this wonderful restaurant the next time you’re in the Birmingham, AL area.

From Publishers Weekly

Husband-and-wife team Chris and Idie showcase the best offerings of their Birmingham, Ala.–based restaurant, the Hot and Hot Fish Club. More than a cookbook, this is a personal tribute to seasonal offerings and the hardworking, dedicated purveyors who supply the restaurant with the freshest ingredients. The authors focus on honest, unassuming dishes with a Southern flair that highlight rather than bury the natural flavors of the ingredients. Organized by month and availability, recipes include rabbit tamales with black bean salsa, the unusual hot and hot tomato salad, which is topped by a crispy bacon strip, seared foie gras with brioche bread and wild persimmon jam, and pomegranate sorbet. Their dishes are not unfamiliar yet are distinctive, such as their devil’s food cake, which includes grated red beets. Dispersed throughout are sidebars on cleaning soft-shell crabs, roasting whole pigs and wading for watercress along with family stories that convey the Hastings passion for and connection with food. They include a useful section on basic recipes, including not only the standard stocks, sauces and vinaigrettes, but also crème fraîche, risotto and hush puppies.

SHRIMP AND CORN FRITTERS with Chive Aïoli

SEAFOOD FRITTERS WERE ALWAYS SERVED AT THE BEACH WHEN CHRIS WAS A CHILD. FRITTERS HAVE LONG BEEN AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE SOUTHERN DIET AND HE GREW UP EATING THEM FOR LUNCH ALONG WITH SLICED TOMATOES AND SUCCOTASH. HIS GRANDMOTHER LOVED TO SERVE THEM WITH A DOLLOP OF HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE. TODAY WE SERVE THESE FRITTERS AS HORS D’OEUVRES FOR COCKTAIL RECEPTIONS OR SNACKS AT THE BEACH WITH CHIVE AÏOLI INSTEAD OF THE MAYONNAISE. FOR A DIFFERENT TWIST, TRY SUBSTITUTING FRESH CLAMS OR LUMP CRABMEAT FOR THE SHRIMP.

 Y I E L D :  A B O U T 5 0 F R I T T E R S

 1 POUND FRESH, PEELED MEDIUM (25 TO 30 COUNT)

SHRIMP, DEVEINED AND CUT INTO 1/2INCH PIECES

1 ½ CUPS FRESH CORN KERNELS, ABOUT 2 EARS

½ CUP FINELY DICED RED BELL PEPPER

½ CUP FINELY DICED YELLOW BELL PEPPER

½ CUP FINELY DICED POBLANO PEPPER

¾ CUP CHOPPED GREEN ONIONS (GREEN PART ONLY)

1 ½ TEASPOONS KOSHER SALT

¾ TEASPOON FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

¼ TEASPOON CAYENNE PEPPER

½ CUP ALLPURPOSE FLOUR

1 TEASPOON BAKING POWDER

2 QUARTS PEANUT OIL, FOR FRYING

3 LARGE EGG WHITES

1 CUP CHIVE AÏOLI, FOR SERVING

Combine the diced shrimp, corn, peppers, and green onions in a large bowl; cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Once chilled, season the shrimp mixture with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, stirring until well seasoned. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the shrimp and vegetables and toss until the vegetables and shrimp are well coated with the flour. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Pour the oil into a deep-sided skillet to a depth of 3 inches. (Alternately, a deep fryer can be filled with peanut oil.) Preheat the oil to 350°F.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold one-third of the whipped egg whites into the shrimp and vegetable mixture. Repeat with the remaining egg whites, making sure the egg whites are incorporated before adding the next third. (At this point, the fritter batter can be used immediately or chilled for up to 2 hours before serving.)

 Carefully drop rounded tablespoon-size scoops of the fritter batter into the preheated oil and fry for about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel–lined plate. Season the fritters with additional salt, if needed. Serve the fritters in towel–lined baskets or on platters alongside a small bowl of chive aïoli.

www.hotandhotfishclub.com

Southern Soul BBQ Sauce is 1st Rate

15 Dec

Buttery, brown sugar sweet, tangy tomato base with a hint of mustard and a black pepper kick. A competition-quality grilling sauce and condiment, made from a family recipe with all natural ingredients and containing zero high fructose corn syrup or msg. They are the perfect enhancement to any grilled or smoked meats and seafood.

I recently became acquainted with Griffin Bufkin on Facebook. Griffin is the force behind Southern Soul BBQ in St. Simons Island, GA. I’ve been hearing good things about the joint — and good things about the BBQ sauce they are cranking out.

Bufkin was kind enough to offer us a sample bottle for our review. Their Sweet Georgia Brown sauce is simply delicious. We made a killer BBQ chicken and enjoyed the heck out of it. The sauce is slightly reminiscent of the mustard-enhanced sauce made at the legendary Johnny Harris BBQ in Savannah. However, Sweet Georgia Brown offers a smooth buttery finish that is difficult to find with most mass produced sauces. Small batches often = high quality and that is certainly the case here.

We look forward to visiting this cool looking dive (seen above) on our next trek along the Georgia coast. Get your own bottle of this dandy BBQ sauce at www.southernsoulbbq.com if you can’t wait for your next drive by!

Thanks, Griffin … keep up the fine work!

These Cookbooks Make Great Holiday Gifts

9 Dec

From Publishers Weekly

The playful title of this Southern-French cookbook belies its studious attitude to cookery. Virginia Mollie Cox Willis, a chef who has cooked for the White House and stars like Aretha Franklin and Jane Fonda, grew up in Georgia and Louisiana, absorbing her mother’s and grandmother’s repertoire of grits, casseroles and gumbos before developing her professional skills at French cooking academies. The result is a hybrid cuisine she calls refined Southern, which applies traditional French technique and lighter ingredients to produce new versions of Southern staples. Her collard greens are cooked up with smoked salt instead of hog jowl; her cornbread is dressed with panko. Sprinkled liberally throughout are the Southern ingredients that Willis was raised on: Vidalia onions, okra, Georgia pecans and peaches. Willis’s approach is faithful, yet she’s unafraid to reinvent culinary clichés when necessary—like making pimiento cheese from scratch. Some of her creations—like a tipsy salad, riffing on the frat boy combo of watermelon and vodka; Yukon Gold and Edamame Mash; and Coca-Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs—elevate mundane flavors with sheer ingenuity. Magnificent color photos; detailed, helpful tips; and Willis’s cheerful, trustworthy guidance make this an original and welcome newcomer to a classic cookbook library.

From Publishers Weekly

Writer and poet Bryan follows up 2006’s Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook by zeroing in on the Virginia establishment’s highly lauded desserts. Bryan’s compilation of 65 recipes hits all the sweet spots, offering reliable standards like peach, blueberry, coconut cream and sweet potato pies, as well as caramel coconut, german chocolate and watermelon variations. Though most of the recipes are basic, achieving the perfect crust isn’t; Bryan offers patient tutelage and step-by-step photos, but acknowledges that Mrs. Rowe’s technique took years to master. Even experienced pie makers should pick up a trick or two; Virginia’s Almost Impossible Coconut Pie, for instance, has no crust-the custard filling creates a firm outer layer when baked. Those looking to tweak their crust might want to consider cream cheese, which makes a tangier product than butter and flour alone. Bakers stymied by weeping meringues, meanwhile, will be comforted by the restaurant’s “weepless” version, bolstered with salt and cornstarch. Seasoned pie pros and newbies will both find this ode to southern desserts a helpful and lasting resource.

New Orleans Chef John Besh Visits Fairhope

9 Dec

Chef John Besh, one of the rising culinary stars in the Crescent City, made a stop in Fairhope last night to promote his new cookbook, “My New Orleans.” The event, sponsored by Page and Palette Bookstore, was held at the beautiful Fairhope Inn in downtown Fairhope, AL.

The inn was decorated for Christmas and the complimentary wine and shrimp remoulade appetizers made for a festive occasion. A strolling accordian player provided the soundtrack by performing a variety of Christmas tunes and pop standards.

The crowd was much larger than I expected. This guy is a bit of a rock star with foodies along the Gulf Coast. I estimated about 200-300 people made the scene. Many of them purchased multiple cookbooks and waited patiently to meet Besh. He signed books and seemed to take great pleasure in chatting with each party as they arrived at the signing table.

The setting was relaxing & the weather comfortable

Downtown Fairhope is all lighted up for Christmas

For more on Besh and his new cookbook, visit his web site at www.chefjohnbesh.com  or http://shop.chefjohnbesh.com/myneworleansthecookbook.aspx

Memphis Wrasslin’ Hits the Silver Screen

7 Dec

My old memphis pal Sherman Willmott is at it again – thankfully!