Southern Small Plates

We’re announcing so many new dinners at City Grit but the Southern Small Plates dinner has got me most excited!

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s on the menu for this week:

  • Double Spiked Sangria, Spicy Olive Pastries
  • Creamy Gazpacho with Blackened Shrimp
  • Padron Peppers, Pimento Cheese, Serrano Ham
  • Cornmeal Crusted Calamari with Heirloom Tomato Relish
  • Halumi with Peaches, Arugula, Spicy Peas, Chili-lime Vinaigrette
  • Candied Scallops with Carrot Puree
  • Lamb with Hot Garlic Jam, Mint Jus; Patatas Bravas with Spicy Aioli
  • Creme Caramel Custard with Sour Cherry Compote

Wednesday’s dinner is sold out but there are still a few seats left for the Tuesday night dinner. Grab them for $55 at citygritnyc.com!

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Guess who was featured on the Institute of Culinary Education’s blog yesterday?

Check it out! Oh and surprise, in case you haven’t figured it out – I’m opening a restaurant!

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Make New Friends…

but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold!

Do you remember that little rhyme from your childhood? My nana used to sing it to me and I feel like it’s been my mantra. I’m forever grateful for the amazing people I’ve met over the course of my lifetime and continue to meet – who enrich my life in so many ways.

When I was home in May and looking for some food industry folks to invite to one of the City Grit dinners in Columbia, I followed a suggestion from my friend, Angie Mosier, and shot off an email to Emile DeFelice inviting him to join us.

I think you can send an email to almost anyone in America saying that you know Angie Mosier and that person will listen to what you have to say simply because you know Angie – she’s basically the Mayor of America and one of the people that I’m very lucky to know.

Anyway, back to Emile. So I email Emile and he emails back, “Hell yes! I love this! I’m in!”

I knew right there I would love him. And I did – or I do. He’s one of those people that is totally what you see is what you get. No pretense. No bullshit. Just straight up honest.

Emile and his lovely lady, Eme, came to my supper club dinner and within 10 minutes fell into the mix of family and high school friends. By the end of the evening, it felt like we’d known each other forever and we were making plans for them to have me over to their house for dinner. No one ever cooks for me, they say they want to, but then they don’t. But even thought I’d just met Emile, I knew he was serious.

Emile is best known among the foodie contingent for the amazing pork products that come from Caw Caw Creek, his pork farm in SC. This is not your average pork farm. It’s 200 acres of rich land where the pigs can roam, play, eat, and sleep – just one of the reasons why it’s the only certified humane pork farm in the state of South Carolina.

Emile, like Glenn, is producing sustainable products that our ancestors produced and consumed. And like the products at Anson Mills, you can absolutely taste the difference.

I got this country ham from Emile for a dinner in Charleston. Isn’t it a beauty? Though I almost sliced my dad’s hand off trying to cut it – it was so heavy I needed him to help me hold it. But once I finally got the hang of it, I was able to carve off enough meat for the Charleston dinner as well as four giant ziploc bags to bring back to NY. I always wonder what goes through the TSA agents’ minds when they go through my checked bag.

Like I said, most of the food world knows Emile for his pork. But in Columbia, he’s also a local hero for founding the “All-Local Farmer’s Market.”

Columbia's All-Local Farmer's Market is at 711 Whaley Street Columbia from 8 - noon every Saturday

Every Saturday, folks gather at the market for produce, meats, cheeses, and other food products – Anson Mills has a booth there – that are all produced locally. Emile and his team actually curate the vendors, making sure they are truly offering local goods. It’s truly a community affair and I was amazed to see so many folks not just crowded into the market, but settled into the tables on the porch, bags full of fresh goodies nestled at their feet – popping champagne and enjoying ready-made treats.

I’m proud of Emile for what he’s done as a pork producer, but I’m even more excited about what his All-Local Farmer’s Market can do for the culture of Columbia.

And, true to his word, Emile had me over to his house for dinner. It was a lovely evening with his family, Eva Moore from the Free-Times, and Jimmy the author of Eat It, Atlanta. We were all fortunate enough to take part in the debut of the Cow Cow Burger served with okra fries. I wish I could share the recipe for those burgers. Actually I wish I had that burger right now.

Instead, I’ll share this quick recipe for my Croque Madame with Caw Caw Creek Country Ham.

Ingredients

  • 1 french bread
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups milk
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Caw Caw Creek Country ham, thinly sliced
  • Gruyere, coarsely shredded
  • Fresh eggs, fried to your liking

Directions

  • Preheat over to 400 degrees F.
  • Slice bread on the bias into 1 and 1/2 inch slices. Set the slices aside on a non-stick baking sheet to dry out a touch while you make a bechamel – or white sauce.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil.
  • Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or spatula, then remove from heat. Season with salt and grate nutmeg over to taste. Set aside to slightly cool.
  • Spread a thick layer of the bechamel over each bread slice. Top with a slice (or a few slices) of country ham. Sprinkle evenly but heavily with cheese.
  • Place baking sheet in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese browns.
  • Remove from oven, top with fried egg and serve.

Notes: This recipe doesn’t give exact measurements for everything because it’s a personal preference as to how much cheese, sauce, ham you want to add and can be made to feed as many people as you’d like to feed.

What you’ll need: a bread knife, a baking sheet, two saucepans, a whisk, and a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.

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A Tour of Anson Mills

photo from ansonmills.com

Back in May, when I was traveling around the South I had the opportunity to spend the morning at Anson Mills in Columbia with the founder, Glenn Roberts.

I’ve been buying my grains from Anson Mills for years. But it wasn’t until last year at a panel discussion about The Future of Food in NYC that I had the chance to meet him. It’s funny looking back on that panel and his contributions to that particular conversation because the role he plays in the future of food is bringing the food from our past back into our kitchens.

Among 900 other very important things, he works with global seed banks to get ancient grains and crops back into production, providing us with food that our ancestors grew and consumed 100 years ago. I hope the simple description of what he’s doing doesn’t make light of how challenging this task is or how important it is for agriculture sustainability.

Glenn is one of the most cerebral people I’ve ever met. My tiny brain was strained trying to keep up with the knowledge he was spouting. The next time I’ll bring a court reporter and a tape recorder along. He had so much information to share, though I often found myself nodding, retaining only every seventh tidbit he threw out at me.

Of all of the things he told me, there is one that a) I almost fully comprehended, b) completely blew my mind, and c) forever changed the way I look at food production. Before I get to the “moment of truth,” I have to give you some background.

I first started buying my grits from Glenn because some chef (now I can’t even remember who) told me I should be using them. And they were the tastiest grits I’d ever cooked. But as I grew as a cook, I started taking a deeper look into my ingredients, where they come from, how they’re processed, etc. because I realized as I learned more about them, I became better at preparing them. That’s when I started taking a deeper look into what Glenn was up to.

It made sense. These products were delicious because they were heirloom products like our grandparents ate. I liked the idea of it (still not getting how important this was) and so every month, I’d fill my freezer with various grits products and carolina gold rice.

Why the freezer? You have to freeze these products because the natural oils released during milling go rancid pretty quickly. And since they’re not processed with a bunch of chemical preservatives (thank goodness) to keep them from spoiling, you have to keep them cold.

Over the years, Glenn started adding other products to his mix, my favorite being, his farro piccolo. And so I started ordering it as well, forcing me to rely on friends near-by to share their freezer space with me. It got to a point where Anson Mills was offering so many amazing new products, that I considered buying a chest freezer and putting it in my bedroom to store them all.

But nothing says KRAZY! like a single girl in the east village with a chest freezer in her bedroom, so I decided to wait until we opened up our own commercial space to place giant orders for all of my beautiful Anson Mills grain purchases. We got the freezer last week – it felt like Christmas morning.

Anyway, back to the moment of truth. So Glenn and I were walking through the Anson Mills storage room, he’s showing me the rice and the corn and the farro, and our conversation goes like this:

Me: “I’m so excited for you because of all of these amazing new products you’re growing.”

Glenn: “Yeah, well, we have to grow all of this in order to grow rice.”

Me: “Huh?”

Glenn: “We started growing corn and wheat because you have to do so in order to grow the best rice. The wheat protects the field in the winter and the corn enriches the soil and lalalalala”

(It may be the other way around and he didn’t say lalalala but that is what I heard as I was busy picking my jaw off of the ground)

Me: “Ha! The retail strategist in me assumed adding these new products meant you were expanding your business. I feel like an idiot”

Glenn: “Nah, I just wanted to grow rice. And it turns out you have to grow all of this other stuff in order to do it right.”

It all finally made sense. THIS was why his products tasted so good! And it explains why the products you typically buy in the grocery store tasted so bad. And because he’s a gentleman and wanted me to feel like less of an idiot, he then ran through all of the things that he learned the hard way when he was first starting out.

I left him that morning feeling both dumb and smart at the same time, but I also felt a little more reassured about my own path learning that at one point many, many years ago this genius of a man didn’t know what the hell he was doing either.

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Oh my…

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since my last post. Actually it feels like two years. I’ve taken so many trips and done so many things and cooked so many dinners and met so many amazing people that it couldn’t have possibly all been crammed into eight weeks. I have so many stories to share and just need to find the time to sit down and share them.

But time is something I don’t have. I’m not alone here as I know everyone is busy and as you age it just seems to fly by. Lord, I sound like my mother. Until I can build a magic time stopping machine, which will enable me to put the world on hold so I can get some writing done, I’m going to give you the highlights in a series of posts over the next week or so as well as clue you into “Project Huge” also known as the project that is currently sucking the life out of me!

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Chicken with 40 cloves of Garlic…and Dumplings

Last night was my first City Grit dinner on the road. Some new friends – Hannah Horne, WIS (Columbia’s NBC affiliate) lead news anchor, and Emile DeFelice, owner of Caw Caw Creek Farm, attended the dinner, as well as some of my high school friends. My parents also came which made it a very special evening.

The consensus among those who sat at the table with my parents was that I should bring my Dad “on the road” with me because he is HILARIOUS! Apparently, he kept trying to get people to leave and go to Taco Bell…which he thinks is so funny. Obviously, so did everyone else. He also kept asking when was the “Chicken and Dumplings” course was coming.

I think he thought he was making a joke because he thinks that Chicken & Dumplings is too “low brow” for the dinner I was serving. Little does he know, that it was actually one of the courses on the menu at the larger Parlez Vous Francais, Y’all dinners we hosted in NYC earlier this month. This is actually the first dish I created when I started working on the menu. It marries Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, one of the most popular dishes among French home cooks, with a Southern staple, Chicken and Dumplings.

Since I’m not serving this dish on the road, I thought I’d share the recipe. I love this dish so much that I may never make my standard chicken and dumplings recipe again.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (about 3-4 pounds)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 4 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
  • 40 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 cups chicken stock, divided
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 3/4 cups buttermilk

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a 5 quart dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • Pat the chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Place the chicken breasts, skin side down, in the hot oil. Cook until skin is crispy, about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer the chicken to a plate and add onions and celery to hot oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the wine and bring to a boil for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to release those yummy brown bits.
  • Bundle the thyme, rosemary, and parsley and add to liquid. Scatter half of the garlic cloves in the bottom of the pan.
  • Nestle the chicken into the liquid and top with the remaining cloves.
  • Roast uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is cut.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles course meal.
  • Add buttermilk, stirring with a fork until moist.
  • Turn dough out onto a flour surface and knead lightly out onto a flour surface and knead lightly four or fine times.
  • Roll out into a 1/4 inch thick square
  • Using a sharp knife, cut into strips, approximately one inch wide.
  • Bring remaining chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Drop pastry 8-10 pieces into boiling stock and cook for 5-6 minutes. Transfer to cooked pastry to dutch oven and continue working in batches.

Notes: I’m not usually a proponent of shortening. But it’s really the only way to make the perfect dumplings. You can use lard if you prefer. If the dish seems to be too thick, use the leftover stock to thin out the mixture.

What you’ll need: A 5 quart dutch oven, medium saucepan.

What you want to know: You don’t want to know.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard Vinaigrette

For the last few days, I’ve been running around Columbia, SC like a chicken with my head cut off! Who knew it was going to be so hard to find fish, or celery root, or SUPERFINE sugar?!?!?!? The weather down south is so lovely, but I’ve only been able to enjoy it in spurts as I run out to the store to grab yet another ingredient I’d forgotten on my last trip to the store. I feel like I left my organizational skills back in NYC.

Finding time to update my blog, rest my feet, or do anything but prep for Thursday’s dinner has been almost impossible. However, I did find some time yesterday to turn a head of cauliflower in my mom’s fridge into a salad inspired by a dish at Joseph Leonard, one of my favorite NYC spots.

It was a hit with my parents – including my dad whom I’ve already told you, doesn’t like to “try new things” unless it’s a new item on the value menu at McDonald’s.

Ingredients

  • 1 head Cauliflower
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut cauliflower into small pieces, reserving some of the larger pieces for later.
  • Toss small pieces in a gallon freezer bag with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
  • Spread cauliflower on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and roast for 30-40 minutes or until the florets are tender and golden.
  • Combine remaining oil and vinegar with the mustard in a small jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
  • Add cauliflower, parsley, red onion, and capers to a large mixing bowl. Cover with vinaigrette and toss until ingredients are well mixed and lightly coated.

Notes: This dish is even better with pickled red onions. My go to recipe for pickling is 3/4 cup white vinegar, 3 T sugar, pinch of red pepper, 5 cloves, 5 all-spice berries, 1/8 teaspoon salt and one large onion, halved and thinly sliced. Bring vinegar and sugar to a boil until sugar is fully dissolved, add spices and onion. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Enjoy! (Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.)

What you’ll need: A gallon size freezer bag, a large rimmed baking sheet, a large mixing bowl, and a small jar.

What you want to know: One fourth of this dish is approximately 120 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1 gram protein, 2 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 Weight Watchers points.

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