Southern Cooking for Company

Lipstick On, Knockers Up: Pumpkin Chess Tart in a Fancy Pan

Lipstick On, Knockers Up: Pumpkin Chess Tart in a Fancy Pan

  Sometimes it’s how you present that makes the difference, and that’s what this recipe is about.  This pumpkin chess tart combines an old Southern favorite with pumpkin for a holiday dessert that’s a blessing for people (me!) who don’t like the eggy, condensed milk texture of the traditional pumpkin pie.  The recipe was developed by the stonkingly talented Mindy Merrell, whose blog, Cheater Chef, is a goldmine of simple brilliance in the kitchen. Mindy developed recipes for Martha White for ages, and it’s not an exaggeration to call her gifted in the kitchen. In fact, she’s a Chopped champ! (Go see her Pinterest board if you’re looking for inspiration.) Honestly, I could go on.  But back to the lipstick and knockers. This pie is so good, but the pan takes it to greatness. The shape looks so professional, and the removable bottom means no soggy slices and no broken-off wedges. You cut it into squares or slices, and they lift off the bottom easily, so you never end up with crustless servings or crust left behind in the pan.    Brown Butter Pumpkin Chess Tart 2015-08-07 12:32:10 Serves 8 "Some people just don't like pumpkin pie," says Mindy Merrell, "but they love this." Write a review Save Recipe Print Ingredients 1 (9-inch) pie crust, storebought or homemade (I use Dufour brand pastry--pricey but worth it) 2 tablespoons butter 1 1/4 cups sugar 2 tablespoons cornmeal or cornmeal mix 3 large eggs 1/4 cup sour cream or buttermilk 1 cup pumpkin puree 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg Whipped cream for serving Instructions Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the pie dough and press into the pan, over the bottom and up the side. Trim any dough that hangs over the side. Melt the butter in a skillet or small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, watching closely, until the butter has browned. Let cool. Pour the butter into a medium bowl and add the sugar, cornmeal, eggs, sour cream, pumpkin, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg and mix well. Pour the filling into the pie crust Bake for 45 minutes or until set. Let cool on a wire rack. Remove the pan rim and transfer the tart to a serving platter. Slice and serve with whipped cream. Notes You can use pumpkin pie spice in place of the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. By Mindy Merrell Adapted from Cheaterchef.com Adapted from Cheaterchef.com The Project Kitchen...

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Couscous with Peaches and Sugarsnaps

Couscous with Peaches and Sugarsnaps

The last of peach season is here, and before it gets away, I want to give away a stellar peach recipe from Southern Cooking for Company. Book marketers don’t recommend giving away your content. If everything’s available free on the internet, people won’t buy your book. Yet so many generous, open-handed cooks shared their exceptional recipes with me, and I want to share with you. Besides, it’s important to me that people see how much Southern cooking has evolved, and yet how authentically Southern it remains. The South is a different place than it was 50 years ago. The person standing at the stove is a different race or gender, or wasn’t born in the South. The ingredients in the refrigerator would have been wildly exotic to our grandparents, and even our parents. Even some of the techniques would have been unfamiliar to a traditional Southern cook. A lot has changed, and Southern food is changing with it. I’m pleased to have been able to document a small corner of the change. And in that spirit, I present Couscous with Peaches and Sugar Snaps as a good example. Neither couscous nor sugar snaps were available in the South of 1965. And this salad would likely have included either Jell-O or mayonnaise or both. But we are lucky to have access to more and fresher ingredients now, whose full and lively flavors don’t need any help to be delicious. I thank Donya Mullins, Georgian and blogger at A Southern Soul, for a really fine recipe that’s been the workhorse of my potluck offerings for the last two peach seasons.   Couscous Salad with Fresh Peaches and Sugar Snaps 2015-08-07 12:04:37 Serves 8 The lime juice and pistachios make this salad, so avoid substitutions. Write a review Save Recipe Print Prep Time 15 min Prep Time 15 min Ingredients 11/4 cups water 1 cup couscous 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste 1 cup fresh sugar snap peas 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh peaches 1/4 cup shelled pistachios 3 tablespoons torn or julienned basil Instructions Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the couscous, oil and salt. Let stand, off the heat and covered, for 5 minutes. Cook the sugar snaps in boiling water until they turn bright green. Drain and chill in ice water; drain. Combine the lime juice, olive oil and salt in the serving bowl or in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Stir or shake to combine. Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the peaches, peas and pistachios. Toss with the...

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How I almost killed Southern food

How I almost killed Southern food

It’s a relief to be wrong sometimes, like that time I predicted the death of Southern food. It’s right there on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, December 16, 1993. “This food was meant to fuel field work,” I told a reporter. “Desk workers who eat it just up and die at 55.” The Journal sent a reporter to follow me around while I reviewed restaurants. It was a moment in Nashville when few places served good traditional Southern food. More often, Southern food suffered from shortcuts and substitutions, canned and frozen ingredients, roller-milled cornmeal mix. The result was food without the fresh, authentic flavor of traditional homemade Southern food. It was close enough approximation for a few places to have a decent lunch trade, but not so good that you wanted the recipe. The really good places took the long way: snapping beans by the bushel, peeling and slicing peaches, braising meats and vegetables, seeking out stone-ground cornmeal. It was a lot of work, and when the owners retired, the restaurants nearly always closed. Besides, Nashville and other mid-size Southern cities suddenly had far more interesting food to eat. It was the era of the Silver Palate, of regional Italian, French country, and the California-fresh revolution. We could order arugula with raspberry vinaigrette, salade nicoise, and orecchiette fra diavolo. Nashville had its first sushi and Thai places in the 1980s. Maybe the older folks wanted canned green beans simmered with bacon, but we wanted sushi and pad thai. Digging deeper, there was the American Heart Association’s recommendation against a diet high in fat. The introduction of whole lines of low-fat and fat-free packaged foods in the 1990s codified the recommendation. Since a lot of Southern cooking had subtle flavors from traditional fats like ham, bacon and clabbered milk, the culture’s turn toward low fat cooking and eating was a terrible blow. Lowfat buttermilk doesn’t yield the lush-textured cornbread and biscuits of full-fat buttermilk. Low fat meant no deviled eggs, no ham beans, no collards with fatback, no fried chicken. No baked ham. Lean pork chops, hold the gravy. By the time I had my little chat with the Wall Street Journal, it was easy to dismiss Southern food. It was moribund anyway, save for home cooks and a few places doing traditional, from-scratch handmade food. In the city, Southern food was a “sometimes” food: only available sometimes, only okay sometimes in a healthy diet. What I could see moving into its place was noveau Southern—a fried chicken salad with honey-jalapeno dressing I tasted in Charleston. A chilled crowder pea salad as a side dish at a fine restaurant. Black-eyed pea cakes with salsa at the neighborhood potluck....

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Sorghum-Pecan Banana Muffins from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Sorghum-Pecan Banana Muffins from Deep in the Heart of Texas

  This week’s post is from Randle Browning, a Texan whose inventive yet thoroughly Southern recipes I am fortunate to have found. Three are included in Southern Cooking for Company, and I tell ya, they’ll make you want to go in the kitchen and cook. “Hey!” I jumped out of my chair and banged on the window, “Those are our pecans!” I shouted at my dozing husband, banging my palm against the pane and flailing my arms, “Honey! That guy is back! He’s taking our pecans!!” Standing there in a fluffy pink bathrobe at 6:00 in the morning, I was helpless to stop him—one of many foragers who cycled down our street last autumn, a plastic grocery sack bursting with pecans swinging off each handlebar. I looked on in panic as he walked in a leisurely circle around our pecan tree, scooping up the fresh-fallen nuts and adding them to his collection before moving on to the next house. Waco is known for a lot of unsavory things (like this), and a few good ones (like this and this), but for me, the best thing about living in Waco is the pecans—The old pecan tree that drops thousands of oblong, thin-shelled nuts on the roof of our restaurant, where my husband uses a deck brush to push them off into the truck bed. The hundreds of trees at Pecan Bottom along the Brazos River that put off tiny, sweet pecans with thick shells. The mature trees that rain pecans all over Baylor campus, and my favorite, the plump, oily, pecans that fall from the tree in our front yard. Not everyone shares my devotion to the walnut’s juicier, oilier, more flavorful cousin. Maybe it’s because I grew up in pecan country. I grew up rolling pecans under my shoes in the fall, and in spring when I ran barefoot, I tried my luck at the pecans leftover from the last season by cracking them between 2 rocks. Some Texans need brisket; I need pecans. Last year, when my husband and I moved into our first house together, I almost felt like I was purchasing a pecan tree that came with a house, rather than the other way around. That’s probably why I felt the need to guard it so fiercely, even before dawn. That was before I realized 2 things: There are plenty of pecans for everyone. (Seriously, there are.) Shelling pecans sucks. Let me rephrase—it takes for.ev.er. And it’s really hard not to eat them as you’re cracking them. They’re just so good! You just have to keep telling yourself that if you eat all the pecans as you shell them, beautiful, special things like pecan pie and these...

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Hello, I’m Nicki

I've written about food for a living since The Silver Palate was new. Discovering a new cookbook or technique is my idea of fun. And kitchen gear--I'm helpless to resist. Like kitchen projects, the posts here are occasional and open-ended, so please subscribe. You can read more about my work at the "About Nicki" page.

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