Down South: Chicken-Fried Steak, Collard Greens, & Cornbread

Where did September go? This whole month flew by in a whirl of busyness, work activities, and birthdays. I feel like I hardly cooked anything exciting at all! To make up for this, I threw a little dinner party last night, Southern-style, for my friend Dado who will soon be returning to China. After an ingredient fiasco (I wanted to make fried catfish… turns out, the guest-of-honor is allergic), I decided to make an easy but delicious meal of chicken-fried steak, collards, and cornbread.

I went down to Marlow & Daughters to pick up some top round after work, but since they were out, I went with the cheapest alternative: ground beef. Chicken-fried steak is essentially cucina povera anyway. I whisked an egg and add the meat and some salt and pepper to the same bowl, patting it into flat disks of meat. I then coated each with egg and dredged in flour, then placed each piece into a hot pan full of butter. Each side cooked for about a minute and a half, then I removed them to make the roux, adding a bit of flour, more butter, and water to create a sauce.

I served each person with their fried meat and buttery sauce alongside slow-cooked collard greens, which had stewed for a half hour in salted water and apple cider vinegar, and buttermilk cornbread. Dado had brought a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Oyster Bay, which paired surprisingly well with the food due to its more robust fruit. The sharp, bracing acidity also cut through the rather fatty meal, refreshing our palettes as we ate through it all.

To finish off the meal, I had prepared a roasted banana gelato with a nutella swirl — as decadent and down-home good as everything else we’d eaten. Bon Voyage, Dado!

Dinner ideas adapted from Virginia Willis’ Bon Appétit, Y’all, David Leibovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, and my mother.

Homecoming: Coconut Gelato for Toni

Toni went to Italy and Croatia to visit his family for two long weeks. Over the course of these last six months, I’ve never known him to be so happy as he was while there, surrounded by his family and friends, in the place he considers home. I wanted to do something for him so that coming back to New York would be less bitter and more sweet. When I asked him what that might be, he said quite simply that he wanted gelato al cocco, coconut gelato. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

Coconut Gelato for Toni

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups milk (I used 1 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup skim milk, and a splash of heavy cream)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

In a bowl, combine sugar and yolks, stirring until incorporated. Heat milk and vanilla bean over medium heat, then add a ladle of the heated milk to the sugar and egg mixture to temper it. Add the sugar and egg mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. Add the coconut.

When mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon, remove from heat and cool. Keep, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Don’t forget to put the body of your ice cream maker in the freezer to chill.

When you are ready to freeze the gelato, remove the vanilla bean and discard. Pour into the ice cream maker and let it churn for about 20 minutes, scraping down the sides every now and then. Put into a container and freeze until ready to eat.

Recipe adapted from Nicole Lang.

Celebrations: Being Together with Good Wine

The last time I was together with both of my parents was in February, so I was excited that we were all able to be down at the beach for a few days. My little brother Scott was too busy turning 21 to join us, and what did he miss?

 Dad in a kayak.

Aside from sea and marsh kayaking, fly-fishing on a motor boat that took us out to Cumberland Island, sea turtles, dolphins, and “The American,” he missed the opportunity to drink a wine as old as his big sister. And not just any 24-year-old wine. He missed a Latour.

Yes, that is a Premier Grand Cru Classé from 1986.

Most likely, Scott does not realize what a momentous occasion this was, at least for me. This wine, along with a few others, had been sitting at my grandmother’s beach house for who knows how long, cooking in the south Georgia sun when no one was on the premises to turn on the air-conditioning. So opening the bottle was as much of a gamble as anything. There were, however, a few factors in our favor: the ullage was high (the level of wine was above the neck) and the bottle itself seemed to be in pretty good condition. And I’d texted Stevie to know if the ’86 was drinking. Her one-word response? “Drink.”

Sniffing and tasting the newly decanted wine.

Boy were we well-rewarded. The liquid inside the bottle, a tawny color, neither smelt nor tasted of vinegar. Instead, it possessed the effect of tart, underripe blackberries — tight as the wine was first exposed to air in the decanter and in my glass — as well as notes of walnut dust, leather, and raisins. And it was immediately balanced, surprisingly so, as I’d read that many Bordeaux of that year were highly tannic. Then, the magic that I love about wine began to show itself. As we prepared dinner and let the wine breathe, it was suddenly rejuvenated: full of bright, ripe berry notes, and so incredibly smooth on the palette. No element of this wine overpowered another. I was utterly happy.

Taste-testing corn-fed beef (below) and grass-fed (above),
seasoned with smoky salt from Washington State.

The Latour proved an excellent complement for my first taste of my aunt Emily’s grass-finished beef. Life is really good sometimes.

Down South: The Best BLT

It’s September, and I can finally say it: summer has arrived. For me at least.

I’m not talking about the heat. That’s come and is hopefully going away soon. I’m talking about tomatoes, peaches, corn, and more… from south Georgia. Nothing tastes like summer to me like the produce I grew up eating during the summers down at my family’s house in Sea Island, Georgia. The peaches up north just aren’t as sweet, the tomatoes not as juicy. And now I am finally down south for a few days, eating the things that make me happiest. So what makes the perfect BLT? A Georgia tomato, on toasted bread with Hellmann’s mayo.

Mamma’s BLT, with Ruffles potato chips.