A new venture.

Today is an important day. The birth of a new venture.

My cousins are as obsessed with food and cooking as I am. Maybe it’s in the genes, or maybe it’s because we were raised at the same hearth of good, southern food. And we’ve traveled the world to taste everything else that’s out there.

I’m pleased to tell you that we’re combining our interests and talents to launch a new food blog, called Culinary Cousins. The most interesting part, I think, is not in our shared interests but in our differences. We are in our 20s and 30s. We’re newly out of school, we’re married, we’re single, we have kids, we spoil our dogs. Some of us eat healthy, some of us (ahem) are addicted to chocolate, and some of us have to obey dietary restrictions. I think that runs the gamut, and I’m excited to see what we have to say and share.

You’ll find us all over at www.culinarycousins.com, so come. Check us out. We’re a work in progress, but growing slowly.

My first post is up today: the best. ever. macaroni and cheese. Promise.

Buttermilk Pie: The Experiment, Part II

It’s been busy days here around Constitution Lane, but I realized I need to tell you about the second part of my buttermilk pie baking experiment!

I’m always on the hunt for a good pie crust recipe — and nothing but homemade will do. If you’ve ever read the label on those ready-made, refrigerated crusts at the grocery, you’d probably join me in that. Handmade pie crust does require more labor and time, but not as much as you think. Plus, the finished product isn’t even comparable to crust in a box, and making it by hand lets you work out some aggression and build some arm strength. Always a positive.

I confess that pie isn’t really my go-to dessert — I’m much more of a cake (and frosting!) girl — but I bake a few at Thanksgiving and call on the same pie crust recipes when I make quiche to use up fresh vegetables. I’ve encountered a lot of different pie crust recipes in my time, with all manner of butter-shortening combinations. I find vegetable shortening to be kind of icky in its slick, opaque greasiness, and I just don’t feel right about using it in my food. But pie crust experts will tell you it’s a necessity for proper crust flakiness. Okay, okay. In my last few pie bakings, I’ve used shortening but always very sparingly. I reduce it to a tablespoon or two and make up the rest with butter. I know, I’m so rebellious.

The recipe I used last Thanksgiving was the best yet, and I was prepared to let that be the end all, be all. Until I read about the vodka pie crust.
Keep reading »

Buttermilk Pie: The Experiment, Part I

I’ve been catching up on episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” this week, which always makes me think of my own roots and family history. The truth is I couldn’t be more southern. My mom was raised in the lowcountry of South Carolina, and my maternal roots go several centuries deep in Savannah. My dad is from the Pee Dee area of South Carolina, and we can trace my paternal ancestry back to colonial times in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. I was raised near Charlotte, N.C. — so, like my mom says, we haven’t moved very far.

My exposure to the cuisine of the South while I was growing up included staple recipes that had been in my family and the classics we ate in family-run restaurants. I grew to love food that most southern families have enjoyed for centuries: puckeringly sweet iced tea, fresh figs off the tree, blackberries on the vine and homegrown, road stand vegetables like deep, red tomatoes and fuzzy, tender, juicy peaches. In the fall we picked up pecans under the ancient tree that canopied my grandparents’ backyard and cracked and shelled them inside by the fire. At home we ate fried quail or fish with grits for breakfast, country-style steak with rice, chicken bog, boiled peanuts, slow-cooked collard greens, red velvet and caramel cakes … the list goes on.
Keep reading »

Reinventing an heirloom recipe.

I am related to an amazing array of women who can cook. And I do mean cook. I associate every one of them with a special recipe that has defined my childhood and holiday occasions since, whether it’s my mom’s cold oven pound cake, Taffy’s mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, Mimi’s okra soup or Grandmama’s cornmeal fritters. My Aunt Dell is not allowed to attend family functions unless she brings her collard greens. Well, I’m exaggerating … only sort of. That food is just a part of our loving and sharing with each other.

Most of these family recipes are well documented, or at least those who have perfected them are still around to share their tips. But one family heirloom recipe has eluded us as of late. My grandfather’s sister, Aunt Ida, was famous for her caramel cake, which she brought regularly to family events. Regularly enough at least that it made an impression on my young taste buds. Aunt Ida passed away more than 10 years ago, and we’re just now discovering that no one has her recipe. Egads!

Caramel cakes are very southern, if not very Easterly. But I had a craving to attempt one a la Aunt Ida’s for Easter Sunday dinner. I Googled recipes all week, which resulted in a concoction of cobbled together cake and icing instructions. Then I updated them to reflect the tastes of the 2010s — a dash of sea salt makes it a salted caramel icing. Keep reading »