Archive for Southern cuisine

Percy Street Barbecue, Smokin’ Great!

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If you’re in the neighborhood of South Street and hunger strikes, fear not.  Percy Street Barbecue will come to the rescue.  My husband and I were at a loose end on Saturday evening, and he had a hankering for barbecue.  Being a southern boy, that happens from time to time.  We hadn’t been to Percy Street for awhile, so we strolled over, and we’re happy to report that it is going strong.

Bon Appetit Darling Erin O’Shea is still at the helm as both chef and owner, and her reputation for great barbecue and soulful cooking is well earned.

In lieu of bread and butter, we were offered saltine crackers and homemade pimento cheese, which was authentic and delicious.percystappy

We opted for the “Lockhart” menu choice, which is basically a feast.  For $19.00 per person (the entire table has to commit), we enjoyed generous slabs of ribs, brisket and chicken, as well as all of the sides on the menu.percystmeats

The toasted corn bread with onion jam was a delightful accompaniment to the meats.

The sides included cole slaw, homemade sauerkraut, German potato salad, collard greens, and baked beans.

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Given the generosity of this menu option, we steered clear of appetizers, which was a good move, despite the tempting options. And when it came time for dessert we were simply stuffed. But, the pecan pie and the key lime pie did look good.

The beer selection is excellent; a wide array of local craft brews as well as plenty of imports.  And my husband, whose mixology standards are notoriously high, deemed Percy Street’s Manhattan as excellent.  High praise indeed.

Best part:  our entire bill came to $53.00 before tip.

Thanks, Percy Street.  We’ll be back soon.

Southern Corn Bread with Jalapenos and Cheddar Cheese

My husband is a pretty open minded chap in many ways.  But his southern roots run deep and they most certainly extend to his views on corn bread. He derisively refers to any corn bread with a hint of sweetness as “Yankee Corn Bread” and deems it “cake”, which, he asserts. has no business near chili, pulled pork, short ribs, scrambled eggs, or any other place a southerner would place his corn bread.   Me, I like a little sweetness, but then again, I grew up in New Jersey.

Strict traditionalists would eschew any ingredients beyond the basic batter; Matt’s not that hidebound.  He”ll add select savory items to his batter, as he did last Sunday…..

Matt’s Sunday Corn Bread

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup corn meal

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

2-4 jalapeno peppers, chopped and seeded

Heat Oven to 375.  Grease an 8 inch square pan.  Combine all ingredients in medium bowl.  Mix well, and pour into prepared pan.  Bake 25 minutes until lightly browned.

We enjoyed this warm, cut in squares and served along side chili-braised short ribs for Sunday dinner. The leftovers were great toasted for breakfast Monday morning.

How to Make Biscuits (After 20 years of trying)

Biscuits were a seemingly simple food that I never managed to make well.   Having married a southerner, this was particularly problematic.  He was raised on light, fluffy, perfect biscuits and my hockey pucks were a source of dread to us both.   In his defense, he, too, tried to duplicate the heavenly orbs of his youth without success, so he sympathized with me and recognized that biscuits were complicated.

This problem came to a bit of a head recently; husband invited a group of colleagues for a real southern meal (he’s frying chicken–stay tuned for future post on that).  To round out the meal with full authenticity, biscuits were required.   We considered ordering a tray from Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner (whose biscuits are stellar),  but it just felt wrong.  I agreed to make that our plan B, but was determined to produce a bona fide biscuit in a dry-run batch the week before the party.

I searched several of my go-to sources for this type of cooking and found solid advice from Lauren Chattman’s Mom’s Big Book of Baking and Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.

I learned the following strategies:

1.  Use 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour for lighter biscuits.
2.  Use buttermilk instead of milk for best flavor.
3.  For Drop Biscuits (I abhor rolling dough) increase the buttermilk or milk in recipe by 25%.
4.  Cut butter into dry ingredients quickly, either with a mixer, pastry cutter, or 2 knives–do not over work.  Dough should be crumbly chunks about the size of lentils, not a smooth gooey mass.
5.  When adding milk, stir in by hand.  After mixing, dough will have a more formed texture but will still be lumpy and a bit crumbly.
6.  Bake biscuits when butter is still in small, cold bits; this produces air pockets and makes for lightness and fluffiness.

I integrated several different recipes, followed that six pack of tips and came up with the following formula–which, I am delighted to say, was a success!

Finally Successful Drop Biscuits

6 TBS chilled butter cut in pieces
1 c all purpose flour
1 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 425.  Line cookie sheet w/ parchment.  Mix everything but buttermilk til small crumbs form.  Mix in buttermilk with spoon.  Drop by large spoonfuls on cookie sheet; each biscuit should contain about 1/3 cup dough.   Bake about 18 minutes til they are just beginning to brown.

Soups of the South

Seeking soups of the south gave me a chance to tap two of my favorite cooking men:  my husband Matt, who hails from Arkansas; and Chef Bill Beck, who was raised in New York, but food-wise he’s all New Orleans.

Matt’s latest specialty is black-eyed pea soup.  He starts with a meaty ham hock, chops a large onion, a few stalks of celery and carrots, 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of chili powder and salt, and tosses the lot into a big pot with a pound of rinsed black eyed peas.  Or navy beans.  Or whatever beans you have on hand.  He covers the mess with water and simmers for about 3 hours.  Then he pulls the ham off the bone into bite sized bits, tosses it back into the soup, and is ready to enjoy.  [Alternatively, skip the ham hock, buy a 1 lb picnic ham,  cut it into cubes, and add them to the pot--saves the work of picking the bones.]

He recently visited his elderly parents for a few days on the Chilly New England Coast, and while there filled their freezer with a vats of homemade soup–chicken, simmering in the picture above, and black eyed pea.  Clearly he’s a keeper.

And no discussion of southern soups would be complete without a mention of Gumbo.  Strictly speaking, Cajun is different from southern, but geographically it’s nearby, and since Chef Bill Beck of Beck’s Cajun Cafe is a rising star on the Philly Food Scene he warrants some airtime.

Chef Bill Beck with a vat of gumbo.

Chef Beck will be competing in the Reading Terminal Cook-off on February 25 at the Valentine to the Market Gala, but he was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat soups with us.  “Gumbo is the quintessential Cajun dish.  The key is a good roux.  You really have to brown the butter and flour mixture thoroughly, constantly stirring for a good while to avoid burning.  The roux forms the base flavor as well as the thickener for the gumbo. “  In addition to gumbo, Bill was kind enough to share his famous oyster stew.  This recipe is a New Orleans version of a dish that is commonly served in coastal areas all over the US.  Bill’s rendition would typically be served as a first course for a holiday dinner in New Orleans. 

And finally, we’re dying to try this Cope’s Corn and Shrimp Chowder, which appeared in the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine’s “What is Southern?” issue from January 2008–the only one I saved from my vast subscription.  The chowder is definitely on our agenda soon.  We’ll be sure to report the results.

Homesick for the South

Just back from a whistlestop tour of the Southern States.  Having never traveled to the South before, strange to say that over the last five weeks, I’ve taken in not one, not two, but four of the South’s finest (Paul Theroux, eat your heart out).

Swung by a rodeo in Houston, Texas, graced the elegant cities of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and sojourned in the foodie capital of the South, New Orleans, Louisana.  What a month!  In the process of my journeying, I was even won over to grits with oodles of salted butter and a smattering of fresh black pepper (for breakfast at least…) En route, I dined like a King.  Enjoying awesome steaks, barbecued meats and grilled fish – many of these fish were completely new to me.

By far the most innovative cuisine was to be found in New Orleans. 

Ignoring the fine beignets at Cafe du Monde… (I held out for two days, but capitulated to my sugared donut lust on Day 3)….

we experienced the best meal of my vacation at a student-favored restaurant in the Carrollton area of Uptown. 

Called Jacques-Imo’s Cafe, the place was stuffed to the gills with locals and students.

At Jacques-Imo’s we tried their signature appetizer – Alligator Cheesecake

I’m not sure that I’ll be cooking this one back in Philly…My trip, however, did initiate me to collard greens with spicy ham hock, and the sublime fried green tomatoes with blackened shrimp.  Now these are two recipes I definitely want to recreate at home. 

Green tomatoes, waiting to be breaded and fried.

Grab the ingredients from the Market and you’re good to go.

Do you have favorite Southern recipe you’d like to share..?

If this has put you in the mood for all things Southern, remember that at the Reading Terminal Market, you’re spoiled for choice!  Beck’s Cajun Cafe rustles up some pretty good beignets; the Down Home Diner is renowned for its home-style Southern breakfasts, and Delilah’s has put the Market on the map for its mac n cheese.

Almost as good as Cafe du Monde — and far and away the best that you’ll find in Philly!

Amanda’s Mississipi Cornbread

Elvis came to Jackson, MI to perform at a fundraiser to help tornado victims in the area.  Our Southern neighbor Amanda was lucky enough to see him at this concert, one of his last ever live performances.  She remembers it vividly, and she gets the photo credit, too, taken by her 7 -year old self with her Kodak Instamatic and carefully lifted from her childhood scrapbook for our use.  Thanks, Amanda!

Mississippi. 

The name is evocative of fragrance, sounds and textures; sweet Magnolias, sticky Pecan Pie, cornbread and biscuits baking.  It also brings to mind that distinctive drawl, y’all, and traditions of southern hospitality.  It’s the birthplace of many a famous writer — Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner come straight to mind.  And of course it’s the birthplace of the late, great King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis.

We persuaded one Southern Belle from Jackson, Mississippi,  now a Philadelphia transplant, to share her foodie recollections about life in the South.  We asked our neighbor, Amanda, about the truth behind a few Southern cliches:

  • that everything is fried (it’s true she confesses, her fave fried dish is a fried dill pickle);
  • that Southern Ladies favor BIG HAIR.  (Also true, they are prone to over-zealous use of the curlers, but with good reason..the humidity wreaks havoc on the tresses);
  • and, that food is central to all large, noisy Southern family gatherings, (Amanda’s mama was one of ten children – six girls and four boys so her Grandma’s kitchen was always filled with busy bee Aunts!)

Sweetcorn in every shape and form was always on the menu.  It popped up for breakfast (cornbread cut into cubes and boiled up with milk to an oatmeal like consistency, was her Dad’s ritual); creamed sweetcorn was a staple side for dinner (roasted or boiled, scraped off the husk then boiled up with oodles of cream, butter and salt and pepper) and then there’s the ubiquitous cornbread — we’re all familiar with cornbread, only difference with true cornbread is that in the South, cornbread is made in a skillet. 

According to Amanda: “The secret’s in the skillet.  Every house in the South owns at least one heavy cast iron skillet.  The trick I remember was heating the oil in the skillet, in the oven, while mixing the ingredients. Then when you poured in the batter you kind of had a fried crust already.”

So here’s the recipe to make Buttermilk cornbread Southern-style…

No  skillet on hand? 
Run to the Down Home Diner, Beck’s Cajun Cafe or Delilah’s
at the Reading Terminal Market for your fix instead!