Sunday, February 15, 2009


Mardi Gras!
Most of us think of Panettone as treat to be enjoyed during the Christmas holidays and indeed it is. However, here is a fun way of using this classic delicacy to enhance your celebration of Mardi Gras. Bread pudding is a familiar dessert much appreciated when made with stale New Orleans French bread. It is a practical and delicious way to use up the leftover bread.

A different critter
But I’m here to tell you that good old bread pudding becomes a whole different critter when made with a fine Panettone, which we still available in a very limited quantity. Panettone takes its name from a legend from Milan. The Duke’s baker, it seems, had no dessert to serve his royal guests. On the spur of the moment a mere kitchen boy, named Tony (Antonio), baked an excellent sweet bread that became an instant hit. To honor the young fellow the dessert was named Panettone – “pane” a loaf of bread and “tone” (pronounced “tonay”). Today his creation lives on as Panettone- literally the “bread of Tony.”

Soon to be published cookbook
The recipe we offer you here, substitutes Panettone for the bread and figs for the usual raisins, and is adapted from a soon to be published cookbook entitled “UNDER THE FIG LEAF” by Sherri Parker Lee. I had the pleasure to serve with Linda Ullian Schmid on the team that tested and edited the recipes as well as styling the photos for the new book. We very much look forward to making it available to you through Avanti Savoia upon its publication in late summer 2009.

Fig-Panettone Bread Pudding

Serves 6

1 cup dried figs, chopped
¼ cup brandy
2 Tblsp. butter for greasing baking dish
6 cups (two 100g Bosari Classic Panettone from Avanti Savoia) torn into pieces
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Soak chopped figs in brandy and set aside until needed.
3. Grease a 9”x13”x2” glass baking dish with the butter.
4. Place the pieces of Panettone in the baking dish and toss them evenly with the figs and brandy.
5. Combine whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla powder, cinnamon, heavy cream, whole milk and sugar and stir well.
6. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with the salt until they form soft peaks.
7. Fold beaten whites into the egg mixture and pour over the Panettone and figs. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
8. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Serve warm with a splash of heavy cream.

Bon Appetite Y’all!

Monday, February 9, 2009


My wife, Gail and I do enjoy romantic occasions and we think any excuse is good one for a celebration. We have had some pretty wonderful times “doing up” Valentine’s Day. Plenty of beautiful tablescapes, antique lace, hearts, flowers, candles and nice crackling fire… you get the idea. Of course, some really delicious cooking (when we stay at home) is always part of the equation. Chocolate desserts or at least a gift of one of the beautiful chocolate treats from Avanti Savoia help make the evening special as well.

This year we’ve decided to take a little different approach with a low-fat dessert. Our motivation for slimming down a bit is an upcoming April cooking engagement in Hawaii.
A working vacation is a hard proposition to refuse. A trip to Texas last April allowed us to not only to enjoy a fabulous time in Texas, but was also the opportunity to work with my brother, Austin catering chef David Lowery. David is going to return the favor by joining us for the job in Hawaii. What a deal!

Our inspiration this time around is the classic French Coeur a la Crème or “a heart with cream” dessert. Usually this creation consists of a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream, crème Fraiche or whipping cream and sugar. It is usually made in a heart-shaped basket or mold with holes in it to allow the watery whey to drain away. After being refrigerated over night, it is unmolded and served with fruit and sometimes a sauce.

The “lighter” idea is to substitute strained non-fat yogurt for the usual mixture of dairy products. We think that our idea works quite well, looks good and taste delicious. It is still made with sugar and has plenty of carbs, but a ½ cup serving is only around 125 calories with no fat or cholesterol. I can assure you however, that I wouldn’t eat or serve it if it didn’t taste good.

“Coeur” a la Yogurt

One 32 oz. carton of plain non-fat yogurt
¼ cup blush wine
1 pkg. unflavored gelatin
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tblsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon or orange zest, finely chopped
Fresh strawberries or raspberries for garnish

1. Line a large stainless steel strainer with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Empty the carton of yogurt into the strainer, cover and refrigerate for several hours.
2. When ready to assemble the “Coeur”, combine wine and gelatin in a small saucepan and let sit for a few minutes to soften. Heat and stir over a low heat until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt (discard the whey) and the dissolved gelatin with the rest of the ingredients. Blend well and evenly.
4. Line a 3-cup heart shaped mold with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, unmold onto a serving platter and garnish with fresh strawberries or raspberries. If desired, the “Coeur” can also be served with a fresh berry sauce or coulis.

Fresh Berry Sauce

1 pint fresh strawberries or raspberries
½ cup sugar
Dash of brandy or other liqueur

1. Combine all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and chill.
3. Drizzle over servings of the “Coeur” or serve the sauce in a little pitcher on the side.

Still need a little chocolate? Do what we did and drizzle some of the Leaning Oaks Vineyard’s Cabernet & Chocolate Wine Sauce over the top of the “Coeur” & berries.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

LowCountry Part II

New Year’s Day
It is from the Lowcountry tradition that we have inherited the New Year’s Day custom of eating Black-eyed peas and collard (or other) greens for good luck. The actual dish enjoyed in the Lowcountry is called “Hoppin’ John,” which is a combination of black-eyed peas (or cowpeas) and rice. The following menu was for our New Year’s Day celebration with our friend Gary Elgin, artist, meditation teacher and bon vivant. But, such a feast can be enjoyed anytime for a Lowcountry celebration with a contemporary feel.

Lowcountry Menu
Low Country Martinis
Hoe Cakes
Hoppin’ John
Red Tomato Chow Chow
Homemade Crème Fraiche
Shrimp and Grits
Mixed Greens seasoned with Country Ham
Warm Gingerbread with Lemon-Orange Sauce and Crème Fraiche

…as complicated or simplified as you might like
This is a menu that can be as complicated or simplified as you might like. The Lowcountry Martini is a variation of what is usually called a “Dirty Martini”. The Martini of course is an image straight out of our cultural mythology. Purist (and there are many) prefer and adamantly claim that a true Martini is fine quality Gin, a drop of dry vermouth, stirred not shaken and maybe garnished with an olive.

Lowcountry Martini
The “dirty” Martini is made dirty by the addition of some of the juice from the olive jar. Our Lowcountry variation substitutes some pickled garlic juice from Low Country Produce’s Pickled Garlic and uses Vodka instead of Gin. The following recipe is approximate.
Per drink, mix:
2 oz. Vodka or Gin
2 tsp. dry white Vermouth
2 tsp. juice from the pickled garlic jar
a clove of pickled garlic skewered on a fancy toothpick for garnish

(yes, we do prefer shaken)
Combine liquor, Vermouth and garlic juice in a shaker with ice and shake (yes, we do prefer shaken) until the outside of the cocktail shaker has frost on it. Strain the Martini into a frozen Martini glass and garnish with the skewered pickled garlic and serve. OR… prepare in whatever fashion that you enjoy the most.

Hoe cakes
The Starter course that accompanies the Martini consists of Hoppin’ John served on Hoe Cakes and topped with Low Country Produce Red Tomato Chow Chow and a dollop of Crème Fraiche.

Hoppin’ John
Hoppin’John or something similar to it is famous in the south as a “good luck” dish served on New Years Day. Recipes abound, but the basic procedure involves cooking Black-eyed peas and rice in a savory broth heavily flavored with smoked pork. We cook this down until it is thick and can be spooned onto small Hoe Cakes, which are fried cornmeal pancakes. Topped with Chow Chow and a bit of homemade Crème Fraiche, this first course is both hearty and delicious.

Homemade Crème Fraiche
Homemade Crème Fraiche in its most simple form is made by combining 1/3 of a cup of sour cream with 2/3 cup of heavy cream and sometimes a little lemon juice. Blend well and allow to sit covered overnight at room temperature. Not only is Crème Fraiche used in savory recipes, it is also great as a sauce with the gingerbread cake.

“no dish more typically Lowcountry than Shrimp and Grits”
Shrimp and Grits have become such an omnipresent item on so many restaurants’ menus that it is amazing to me that I had not even heard of the dish before about 20 years ago. I was however familiar with a traditional brunch favorite in New Orleans, Grillades and Grits, which is pieces of fried round steak served with a brown tomato sauce over grits. I served the dish at a catering/teaching event a number of years ago and a guest suggested that I try grits “Charleston style.” I did and have loved and cooked Shrimp and Grits ever since, as well as enjoying it at many South Carolina (and other) restaurants, although it is certainly not limited to the style of just Charleston. Author and Chef, John Martin Taylor in his cookbook says he knows of “no dish more typically Lowcountry than Shrimp and Grits.”

Lowcountry delight
The key to this Lowcountry delight is fine quality grits cooked with milk or cream and served with fresh shrimp. The grits sometimes have cheese added and there are many variations to cook the shrimp. We usually just sauté the shelled and deveined shrimp in olive oil with garlic and a little lemon juice, but you can add bacon, onions or herbs. To serve: place the hot grits in a bowl or on a serving plate and top with shrimp- or mold grits in a ramekin, unmold on a plate and arrange shrimp around the grits. Serve as is or top with a sauce. We have sauced ours with everything from Hollandaise to Lobster Bisque, as well as serving it without any sauce at all.

Many approaches to cooking greens
The perfect side dish to Shrimp and grits has to be collard greens or in our case we used a combination of greens because we still have a row of mixed greens in our garden, including collards. There are again, many approaches to cooking greens. Our favorite seems to be first cooking down the well washed greens whole in stock with some smoked pork Next, we cool and chop the greens and sauté them with onions and garlic in bacon fat. Collard greens in the Lowcountry fashion are usually torn into pieces and simmered in a pork seasoned stock until tender. Collards may take 1 to 2 hours to become tender.

Lowcountry… has only become familiar to me in the last few years
Lowcountry cuisine and culture has only become familiar to me in the last few years, partially due to my wedding to my wife Gail in Greenville, South Carolina and our honeymoon on Edisto Island. Trips to Pawley’s Island, Georgetown, Charleston and Savannah, Ga. have only increased my enthusiasm for the area and its people.

…a most remarkable chef
In researching this post I have come across the work of a most remarkable chef and writer, John Martin Taylor. I spoke with Chef Taylor a few weeks ago and ordered his authoritative cookbook on the Lowcountry, HOPPIN’ JOHN’S LOWCOUNTRY COOKING published by Houghton Mifflin. You can order this online at or call him at 800.828.4412 and he will be happy to ship you an autographed copy. I can highly recommend this book as a reference for Lowcountry cooking as well as the source for many authentic recipes. Do visit the chef’s blog at; I truly think it is one of the most entertaining and interesting food blogs out there.

…not a recipe that I gleaned from the Lowcountry
To finish our feast we enjoyed a Texas gingerbread cake based on my grandmother, Clara Lowery’s recipe. Definitely not a recipe that I gleaned from the Lowcountry, but this recipe is a tradition in our family and perfectly at home with our menu.

Gingerbread Cake

Yields 12 large pieces

½ cup (1 stick butter)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
½ cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-b-12-inch baking pan and line it with waxed paper.
2. With an electric mixer, cream butter and gradually add brown sugar.
3. Add molasses, eggs, vanilla and mix thoroughly.
4. Sift flour with baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon and ground cardamom.
5. Add flour mixture alternately with milk and beat just enough to blend after each addition.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve warm with a little Crème Fraiche and Lemon-Orange sauce.

Lemon-Orange Sauce

1 cup water
½ cup sugar
The juice from one lemon
2 Tblsps. cornstarch
2 to 3 tsps. Orange liqueur
Zest from 1 lemon (stripped from the lemon before you try to juice it)
2 Tblsps. butter

1. Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. Combine lemon juice and cornstarch and thoroughly blend. Cook for several minutes until it thickens.
3. Stir in Orange liqueur, zest and butter. Stir a couple of minutes to blend and serve warm drizzled over Gingerbread Cake. The cake is great with this sauce and a bit of the Crème Fraiche.