A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: L is for Lard #AtoZChallenge

lisforlard

When I was a girl growing up, everybody used lard for cooking.  Crisco, which is a  vegetable oil shortening, was around, but nothing beat good old rendered pig fat for flaky piecrusts and crispy fried chicken.

Lard’s been around as a culinary stable since the Middle Ages, but its use began to decline after got a particularly bad rap in the 90s when McDonald’s abandoned frying their shoestrings in beef tallow for what was, at that point, considered the healthy alternative, vegetable oil.

In fact, vegetable oils are now considered the villain since they can contain trans-fatty acids, which increase total cholesterol, raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Vegetable oils may also have adverse effects on cell membranes and the immune system, and may promote inflammation, cancer and accelerated aging.

So the lard is getting its second wind – it’s now the go-to grease for farm-to-table culinary kings looking for a some fat to fry.  Lard’s a saturated fat, which is more heart healthy, it’s neutral flavored, sustainable, inexpensive, chock-full of vitamin D, has a high smoking point so it’s good for frying, it’s traditional and –

it makes for some awesome biscuits.

And that is a gig fit for a pig.

 I’m convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter. – 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: K is for Karo Syrup #AtoZChallenge

kisforkaro

Karo Syrup is a staple of most Southern pantries.  Widely used for baking, Karo comes in three varieties: light, dark and brown sugar-flavored.

It’s divine in pecan pies and divinity, a wonderful white candy my Granny used to make.

pancake

Oh, and it’s very tasty on pancakes.

Just ’cause you pour syrup on something doesn’t make it pancakes – Samuel L. Jackson

 

 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: J is for Juice #AtoZChallenge

juice

J is for Juice – Grape Juice.  In honor of our current visit to Montaluce Winery, I’m sharing a previous post about Southern Wines.

As a city belle and a lifetime hospitality industry employee, I tend to think of myself as a tiny bit of a connoisseur when it comes to wine.  I do say “tiny,” because not only is the industry enormous, but the varieties and varietals are almost infinite – years of study and training (and drinking!) are required to become an expert.  And although I’ve had some study and training (and I’ve definitely mastered the “drinking” part) I still feel that  fundamentally “it’s just grape juice,” (although sometimes truly amazing grape juice honed by masters) and there is a flavor for everyone and every palate.

Although the Southern states of Virginia, North Carolina and Texas are perhaps better known for wine making, it’s interesting to know that my home state of Georgia was once one of the largest producers of wines in the United States. Prohibition’s early start in Georgia (1907), wiped out their lead and made the industry almost non-existent until the 1970s, with the exception; oddly enough, of sacramental wine production.

Today, Georgia boasts over two dozen vineyards and wineries all over the state, although the preponderance are located north of Atlanta, in the higher elevations of Helen, Dahlonega and Cleveland.

Georgia boasts climactic conditions suited for growing Vitis vinifera (European varieties) and cold-hardy French-American hybrids used for making traditional “fine” wines. The South’s mild Springs and early Summers allow a long growing season and the higher elevations of the Appalachian foothills provide some relief from the humidity.  Our famous red clay soil, a universal source of profanity after a rainstorm, actually contributes to both to excellent drainage and the ability to retain moisture during dry spells.

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Vines at Montaluce, in Dahlonega, GA

Basically, this all means that the South, and Georgia in particular, is enjoying a renaissance of vinification.

How fortunate, I’ve always considered myself a “renaissance girl!”

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Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonga, Georgia

Once I managed to climb over my own ridiculous snobbery about Georgia-produced wines, I fell in love with the North Georgia wine country.

We visit its rolling hills and beautiful wineries several times each year, even staying in the estate villas in Montaluce for family vacations.

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Skilled winemakers and award-winning wines make it a pleasure not only to “shop,” but to “buy local.”

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Ernest Hemingway

We’re not trying to make California wine. If you want California wine, go to California. What we are doing is making Georgia wine…and Georgia wine is good wine.”

-Rob Beecham, Montaluce Vineyards

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: H is for Handpie #AtoZChallenge

handpie

OMG, I have to stop writing about food for this challenge.  I’m perpetually hungry and can think of nothing but making and eating all the food that I’m writing about.

Today, we look at the humble handpie, or fried pie, another traditional Southern consumable.

In theory, the handpie can be savory (and is in many cuisines, such as the divine empanadas of Hispanic culinary culture) but in the Southern United States, it’s traditionally sweet.

A single portion: rolled out biscuit dough, an aromatic filling of spices and fresh fruits (plums, peaches, apples), a quick crimp ’round the corners and a fast fry in hot oil – drain and dust with powdered sugar or a cinnamon sugar blend – maybe a drizzle of icing glaze.

A hot, palate-intensive flash of concentrated fruit flavor surrounded by sweet, melt-y, crunchy, flakey, amazing – give me one, NOW.

::sigh::

handpie

I, for one, am ready for a handout.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
David Mamet, Boston Marriage

 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: G is for Gravy #AtoZChallenge

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My Granny made some great gravy.

And when I say gravy, I’m not in particular talking about turkey gravy, or roast beef gravy, although she made both of those very well, as she did everything she cooked.  But her white gravy was beyond perfection.

White gravy is a staple of Southern cuisine.  It’s also called  “milk” or “sawmill” gravy.

White gravy is what you spoon over biscuits, ladle over country-fried steak and mashed potatoes or dollop on fried chicken.  It’s based on pan or bacon drippings, along with a little white flour, cold milk, some butter, salt and a strong dash of black pepper.

Perfection.  Please pass the biscuits.

Some people doll it up with crumbled sausage or bacon or even roasted garlic, but to me that’s just gilding the {White} Lily, since anything more is simply…

gravy.

I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage. – Erma Bombeck

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: F is for Fried Food #AtoZChallenge

f is for fried

Fried Food

[hahrt uhtak onnuh pleyt]

Fried food is pretty much a staple of Southern Cuisine.

Fried chicken, of course – that’s iconic. Fried green tomatoes (with crab meat and remoulade or just plain, dusted with cornmeal).  Fried okra (my favorite.) Fried pies (or hand pies – we’ll talk about those a different day.)  Fried shrimp and fried crab claws, fresh off the boat and crispy hot.  Fried squash (which really isn’t fried – just cooked in a skillet) and country-fried steak.  Hush puppies and griddle cakes.  Fried pickles with Ranch Dressing (noms.) Bacon (seriously, you can’t microwave it. You have to fry it to get the drippins for gravy.)

OMG, now I’m starving.

Fried foods are wonderful.  Yeah, whatevs, not good for you, but wonderful.  I’m a big proponent of enjoying them – albeit in limited quantities.

Some things, however, just shouldn’t be fried – although you’d be hard pressed to tell that to a Southern man (my Daddy in particular.)  It honestly just adds insult to injury:  Fried snicker bars?  Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?  Fried koolaid?

That’s the culinary equivalent of Bubba’s last words.  “Hey y’all, watch ‘is!”

“You can say a lot of bad things about Alabama, but you can’t say that Alabamans as a people are duly afraid of deep fryers.” 
― John Green, Looking for Alaska 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: D is for Dumplings #AtoZChallenge

dumplings

D is for Dumplings

[chikuh n en duhmp-linz’]

Do you have one of those foods that evokes memories as it melts in your mouth?

I don’t know, some edible that for some crazy reason manages to conspire with your taste buds to open windows into your past, to where you’d swear that for that moment, just one brief second in time, you were somewhere else entirely?

For me, it’s chicken and dumplings.

Dumplings made by my beloved Granny, who’s been gone now for almost 20 years.

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I can just look at that photo of chicken and dumplings posted above and be transported through all those years to my Granny’s kitchen table.

The room in my mind is all cozy and warm on a rainy day, the curtains and tablecloth bright splashes of orange and yellow against the grey skies framed in her bay window.

A simple white plate in front of me – steam and the heady aroma of stewed chicken and herbs rising through the air.

The first bite: white meat bird cooked so tender it shreds against your fork as you lift it to your mouth.  Mealy dumplings bland and chewy amidst the peppery sting of the gravy, hot against my teeth and tongue, every component working together to create a flavor overall greater than its individual parts.

Bliss.

In the moving picture that plays in my head, I pause for a second to feel my happiness. My contentment.  I smile, there in my past and here in my present, basking in my Granny’s love for me, the surest thing I know – both then and now.

She bustles up, breaking the reverie as she fills everyone’s glass of sweet iced tea.

“Kimberly Lynne!  You’re not eating!”

There’s a worried look on her beautiful face.

“You must not like it.  I’m gonna make you something else.  Just give me a moment.”

“No, no, Granny!  Stop! It’s perfect!”  I say.

And for this moment, everything is.

 

How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. – Marilyn Robinson

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: C is for Cheerwine #AtoZChallenge

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C

C is for Cheerwine

[chir wahyn]

I’ll make a confession to y’all.

I have never actually had a Cheerwine.

Of course, I know all about them – they’re truly iconic to Southern culture – the “Nectar of North Carolina” as it were; but yeah, somehow or another, I’ve never actually consumed one of the fizzy, black-cherry “Legends.”

Not that Cheerwine’s gonna lose any sleep over my lack of commitment.  According to the owners, the Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, North Carolina, even without my meager contribution, they’ve managed to become the nation’s “the oldest continuing soft drink company still run by the same family.”

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For ages, you could only get Cheerwine inside the Carolinas, or smuggled out a case or a four pack at a time, like Coors beers of long ago slipped out of Texarkana by the “Bandit.”

But to celebrate their 100th year of production in 2017, Cheerwine has partnered with Pepsi Bottling Company  to distribute their elixir throughout the entire United States of America.

Their slogan: “Born in the South.  Raised in a Glass.”

Of course, while you can raise a Cheerwine as a toast, the beverage itself has no alcohol.  It was named because of its “wine red” color and that “cheery” feeling you “get” from drinking one.

However…

Insiders (that is, a former college roommate whose name I won’t disclose) have revealed that the lack of alcohol in Cheerwine can be easily remedied by mixing your cheery cherry soda with a little Captain Morgan Spiced rum, to make a drink called a “Captain Cheerwine,” or the “Whining Pirate.”

captain cheerwine

Hmm.  I’m seriously wondering how I managed to miss this one. I was pretty open minded about aquatic-themed mixed drinks when I was in college.

Oh well, if boozin’ up your bubbles is not your thang, you could still get a sugar rush.

In 2010, Cheerwine began a collaboration with fellow North Carolina-based Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, to produce a limited run “cheerwine-cream filled” variety.

I’m trying to imagine what a cheerwine-cream filled doughnut would taste like.  I think I’ll limit that to my imagination.

Unless you’d like to pair it with a “Pirate.”

Know this, though: Even if the soft drink reaches all 50 states, there’s one thing we can claim about our Cheerwine that the rest of the country cannot. It tastes like home. It tastes like North Carolina. – Jimmy Thomlin

 

 

 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: B is for BBQ #AtoZChallenge

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B

B is for BBQ

[bahr-bi-kyoo]

BBQ. Three tiny little letters that represent enormously fierce fightin’ words south of the M/D line.

BBQ, barbecue (barbeque if you’re prissy, a chef or a Yankee) or ‘cue (if you’re likely to be wearing a trucker hat at this moment), is more than grilled meat.  It’s a war between states, religions and generations over what it is exactly, who makes it best and how to get baked bean stains out of a white shirt.

It’s regional divides harking back to the Civil War over sauce (Memphis, North Carolina, North Alabama White. Tomato-based.  Mustard-based.  Vinegar-based. My apologies to you lovely people in the Heartlands, but Kansas City does not have a dog in this hunt), cooking times, ways to cook (dare I even utter, “Big Green Egg, sotto voce?”), coals (hickory, applewood, oak, mesquite) plus the whole whiny dichotomy of noun verses verb.

flames

BBQ can be a simple pork sandwich slopped with Daddy’s sauce.  And again, I say simple: entire families have split asunder over over this gastronomical delicacy.  What kinda meat? Is it pork?  If so, chops, loin, babybacks, butt or the whole hawg? “Inside” meat, moist and juicy or “outside” meat, slightly charred?  Is it beef brisket (Texas style, the way my Mom makes it) or even chicken, smothered in “red” or “white”?

What’s it on?  A hamburger bun, thick-sliced and lightly toasted homemade bread, a Kaiser roll, a split chunk of cornbread or just a piece of Wonderbread straight off the loaf, served on the side to soak up the juice?

sandwich with sauce

Sauce.  Yeah, I mentioned it before in passing but let’s not even touch on what style of sauce.  That’s just a bit too personal, like your walk with the Lord or whether or not you got drawers on under them jeans. I mean how is your meat sauced?  Is it slathered on top?  Marinaded or dry rubbed?  All smoked and chopped and stirred up first in a pot with some extra spicy before loadin’ on the bread?

Pickles?  Go ahead, put ’em on, but be prepared for folks to start mutterin’ about the “slippery slope.”

Coleslaw?  That’s different.  Sure, you can serve it on the side, with the baked beans, corn on the cob and Brunswick stew, but you can also pile it high on top of the sandwich, right under the bun.  It’s so good that way!  And if you do a slaw stack (and your granny’s not flipping in her grave), is it Mayo-based (Duke’s of course, there is no other) or a vinegar-based cabbage salad?

My heavens, as a good Southerner, are you even allowed to eat those divinely yummy (but slightly heretical) pork BBQ Sundays? That’s “nouvelle” cuisine at its most controversial.

sundae

But BBQ doesn’t stop there, oh no, no, no.  We’re just scratchin’ that pig on its ears.

BBQ also means to grill: pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, sticks of veggies, Spanish mackerel…umm tuna steak? Never tofu.  Really.  Otherwise, if you can skewer it up or keep it from slippin’ through the grates, you can set a fire about it.

And a BBQ, “the BBQ” is also the instrument of the flames. The pit. The grill.  The Webber.

“Burton McNeely Hallsworth the third, you and your daddy fire up that there barbecue – we’ve got folks comin’ over and we need to smoke up a mess o’ ribs.”

The mechanism that delivers the meaty manna can range from a $9.99 K-mart Hibachi to a re-purposed oil drum.  Some are built-in brick fire pits that take up half the back yard.  Some of them are so huge you can tow ’em behind the truck on a trailer.

grill

Honestly, in the Deep South, gas grills are considered by many to be a little “sissy,” but that doesn’t stop good ol’ boys (and gals) from investing tens of thousands of dollars in some chrome monstrosity with multiple levels, warming drawers and a steam tray.  Personally, I always feel those fellas are overcompensatin’ a mite but I’ll leave it at that.  In my family, they use a charcoal grill complete with an aluminum chimney to nurse the coals to the proper color and ash before spreading them with a practiced flourish to the exact micro-density required to perfectly cook the protein du jour.

But before I forget, there’s another BBQ entirely.

shrimp

Creole BBQ.  It’s got nothing to do with grills or tomato-based sauces.  Creole BBQ is a heady blend of salt, black pepper and spices (rosemary, thyme, paprika) pan sauteed with fresh shrimp still with the heads, tails and shells, at least a pound of sweet butter, diced green chilies, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon and a hearty dash of Tabasco, served in a bowl with a hunk of French bread for soppin.’

Despite the galaxy’s vast reaches of technology and ideology imbuing this culinary zeitgiest, in my mind  (arguably) the best inventions to come along in the entire history of barbecue?

wetwipetums

I try to avoid barbecue potato chips. They’re my weakness.

 – Gwyneth Paltrow

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: A is for Abita #AtoZChallenge

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Honestly, I think the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is the Devil.  Every year at the end of March it lures me in with its sweet words and easy promises and every year I leap from the bridge of common sense into the blog bog with high hopes and good intentions, only to flop miserably around the letter M, crushed motionless (see what I did there?!) by time and responsibilities.

“This year shall be different,” I say! (yeah, I really don’t believe me either).

I do actually tremendously enjoy the theme I {attempt} to write each year through my alter-ego, “The Hellacious Belle,” regarding A – Z topics on life in the Modern South.  This year, I’ll gonna try to shepherd you through a maze of materials of which I possess a tad bit o’ knowledge:  Food and Drink (or, Sips and Vittles, as I’ve so dubbed them).

Allons-y: the Letter A!

A

A is for Abita Turbodog Beer

Quite a long time before swanky craft beers and artisan gastropubs were a way of everyday life in the Deep South, there was Abita.

Abita Brewing Company was founded just outside of New Orleans in 1986 and quickly became the go-to-brew of my panhellenic party peeps during my early collegiate days at the University of South Alabama.

To be transparent, I’ve never been much of a beer gal.  I’ll enjoy a “canoe” beer (WARNING: Adult Content in the link), like Coors Light or Amstel, while sunning at the pool or fishing (it’s actually fairly de rigueur in these parts) but a hearty, heady, hoppy half-pint never much floated my boat.

That is, with the exception of Abita’s finest (IMHO) the legendary Turbodog.

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And don’t ask me why, because I can’t tell you.

I just find this beer pretty damn tasty.  Abita credits it to pale, caramel, and chocolate malts and Willamette hops giving the ol’ T-Dog its rich body and color and a sweet chocolate, toffee-like flavor.

I credit it to memories of roadtrips with my sorority sibs, sunny Gulf beaches, barbeques and boating, captured through a glorious, golden Instagram filter of happiness.

Here’s raising a glass to one of my favorite pups!

(And for you brave culinary adventurers, a recipe from Abita’s Website for Turbodog Barbequed Alligator Legs)

Chef Greg Collier – Red Fish Grill

Makes 6 appetizer portions

The Alligator Legs

1 gallon water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon liquid crab boil
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
5 pounds alligator legs, skinned

Combine the water, salt, onion, crab boil and Creole seasoning in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.  Bring to a gentle boil, add the alligator legs and simmer until the meat begins to fall off the bone.  Drain and pick the meat off the bones.  Set aside.

The Barbecue Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 ounces Abita Turbodog (3/8 cup)
9 ounces ketchup (1 1/8 cup)
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Crystal hot sauce (or other hot sauce)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until they are soft, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to an electric blender and puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the alligator meat with the barbecue sauce and arrange in a baking pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.
Serve warm.

Note:  In Louisiana some specialty markets and supermarkets carry alligator meat.  Alligator legs and meat are also available at http://www.nafood.com

 

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