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Filtering by Category: COOKING

A Case for Tarte Tatin

Suzanne Pollak

A tarte tatin is best of American pie but adds a French twist, perhaps most fitting in these days between Independence and Bastille Day. Since South Carolina peaches are at the peak of perfection, why not try using seasonal fresh fruit instead of the traditional apple?

Adding to the inherent deliciousness of caramelized fruit edges, making a tarte tatin is even easier than pie. For starters, the dough only involves two steps: making the dough and rolling the dough. No fitting dough into a pie pan, stretching it, wondering, Will go up the sides of the pie pan all the way around? Will I have enough dough to make strips for a lattice top? Then there is the chore of decorative edges on the crust using fork tines or thumb indentations. Pies are wonderful, tasty and works of art, yes, but a tarte tatin is all that and more! 

The extra sizzle comes from sautéing the tart when it emerges from its thirty minute bake so that the fruit edges crisp up and turn dark golden. To guild the lily even more, whip up a cup of heavy cream for a side spoonful. Vanilla ice cream is delicious, but if you are sticking with the French theme, then homemade whipped cream is heavenly. Bonus: your arms get a tiny bit of a work out. 

Pies and tarts say and do so much. It's the baker whispering to the eater (even when the eater is the baker herself), I love you, and all is right in the world...at least for this moment. Fruit tarts and pies satisfy, soothe, and signal Summertime. Paired with a cafe au lait, left over slices make a healthy and indulgent breakfast. What else so small can deliver so much satisfaction? 

Find the full recipe for Peach Tarte Tatin HERE...

The Makings of a Pork Chop

Suzanne Pollak

An advisor to the Academy, the Minister of Meat, maintains that a pork chop is harder to perfect than a steak.* We all know where a pork chop comes from** but not many of us know the simple secrets to cooking a chop that will blow your mind this time, and every time.

What we don’t want is a grey pork chop. A grey chop means the heat wasn’t high enough. It means that you were chicken. Don’t get chicken with the pig. The difference between chefs and home cooks is that chefs are not afraid of high heat. The pork chop goal is juicy pink inside, crispy fat on the outside. The difficulty lies between crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. The following are the Pork Chop Poobah’s exact directions for the perfect pork chop, which he follows to the letter every time: 

  • Pork chops 
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Pears, apples or peaches, thickly sliced***
  1. For starters, buy your pork chops from the best butcher in town. It is literally impossible to make an inferior pork chop superior. In Charleston we go to Ted's.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When surface is hot, pour a generous slug of olive oil in pan. You are not frying the chop, but you need more oil than a bare sheen. Using enough hot oil is the reason why the fat crisps and becomes delicious. This heated oil is definitely going to splatter, so wear an apron to protect your clothes, and know you will be wiping the stove and floor near the stove during clean up time. Your stomach and loved one’s stomachs are worth that hassle. 
  3. When the oil starts to pop or "spit" (about thirty seconds), lay the pork chops in pan and leave the chop alone for exactly five minutes. Then turn the chop over. The Pork Doctor says that the second side is the creative side. Not to make you crazy, but he says listen to the vibe. The Dean’s translation: depending on the chop’s thickness, temperature of pan surface, even the humidity, the second side is done in three to five minutes. After cooking pork chops a few times you will know exactly when it is ready by touching and looking. Until that time comes, know that your chop is finished when the second side’s fat is crispy but the interior is pale pink. Stick a knife tip into middle of the meat and take a look at the color. It’s a fine line between pinky perfection and grey overtones.
  4. When you turn the chop to the second side, place sage leaves and slices of pears around the chops. Both leaves and fruit will be ready in two minutes, when browned and crispy. If the chops need another minute, remove the sage and pears with tongs onto a paper towel first, and then take the chops out.
  5. Serve pork chops with sage and pears on the side.****

*Why is a pork chop harder to cook than a steak? Steak is more forgiving. Cooking a streak properly means charring the outside and leaving the inside rare. You can guesstimate by looking at the thickness. There is more leeway between black and blue rare and overdone for a steak than there is for a pork chop. 

**A pork chop is from the loin of a pig, which runs from the hip to the shoulder and contains the small strip of meat called the tenderloin. The most common chops you see in the butcher case are from the ribs and the loin.

***Fruit and pork go together like Fred & Ginger. Use apples or pears in the fall and winter, peaches in the summer.  

****For a colorful feast, serve alongside sautéed yellow wax beans and roasted cauliflower.

 

Centerpiece for a Mother's Day Feast

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean makes it her business to meet passionate home cooks who keep salmon secrets up their sleeves. Each new way with salmon winds up being her newest excitement. Last summer, it was French -- the perfect marriage of poached salmon, fresh tarragon and heavy cream.

Now, a new salmon master has emerged to reveal an innovative, easy recipe pairing salmon with dill, making each tastier together than individually, as with any good match. How did the new King of Salmon know that combo would work? What lay at the heart of his recipe is a deep understanding of links between flavors. Dill has a nervy, clean taste that benefits rich fish. Dill is complex, demanding and opinionated, very much like the creator of this recipe. Three forks up to the newest King of Salmon.

Here is his deceptively simple recipe for Salmon with Dill:

  • Salmon (Not farmedWe use Scottish Salmon from Ted’s Butcher Shop, flown in fresh every day. Using a whole side is very impressive but you might have to cut into two pieces to fit into 9” sauté pans.)
  • Olive oil
  • Dill
  1. Preheat oven to 475. 
  2. Heat sauté pan over high heat. When hot, pour enough olive oil to cover bottom of pan. Let oil heat for twenty or thirty seconds, then place salmon skin side up for two minutes. Using a spatula turn salmon over, to skin side down, and continue cooking for another two or three minutes,  depending on thickness of the piece.  Remember, the oil will splatter, so wear an apron.
  3. Cover top of salmon with many sprigs of dill, then place sauté pan (with salmon) in oven for seven minutes. If salmon is on the thin side, check after five minutes. Dill’s feathery fronds will crisp, the salmon will be succulent and you will be a star! 

 

The Right Tools for the Job

Suzanne Pollak

Angles matter. Whether cutting garlic cloves to release the most flavor, testing the doneness of steamed cauliflower, or simply choosing a spatula -- it’s all about esthetics & practicality.

Tony Hendra, Charleston Academy's Dean of Wit, likes to thinly slice his garlic because "the large combined surface area of the garlic means it releases its flavor faster and more fully when it hits the oil. Also crispy sautéed garlic slices are one of the great toppings for pasta, fish, and veggies (e.g. haricots verts.) In fact they're up there with 'amandine' or crispy sautéed almond slices. Sometimes I mix them to make my own special amandine.

I rarely mince unless I'm in high heels.  I only chop wood and suey."

We often use the term "Goodfellas thin" in reference to the famous scene in which lead character Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) describes how mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) prepared dinner while they were doing time: “In prison, dinner was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, then we had a meat or a fish. Paulie was doing a year for contempt and had a wonderful system for garlic. He used a razor and sliced it so thin it would liquify in the pan with a little oil. It’s a very good system.”

When testing the readiness of steamed vegetables, people often use the tip of a knife. The Dean has learned that sometimes a knife tip is wrong for the gig. Using the tines of a fork with cauliflower is better. Three or four prongs provide greater surface area for poking and give a more accurate decision of doneness. 

Finally, the almighty spatula. The angle of the spatula makes the utensil more, or less, useful. In the photo, the top spatula, by Oneida, will enable the cook to slide food from the pan without having to tilt a screaming hot object.

In the kitchen, you're only as good as your tools. And remember, it's never the oven's fault...

I Heard You Twice the First Time

Suzanne Pollak

When it comes to managing uncommunicative teenagers, your home is the ideal place to get this surly age group to start talking to you. The second most ideal place is your car, essentially the family home on wheels.

A well-known fact is that everyone feels comfortable in anyone's kitchen, even young adults. So set up an environment that puts teens at ease around a kitchen island or countertop, and organize a project making gnocchi together.  Making and forming gnocchi will be a learning experience, no matter how expert you are already. (If you are frightened by the prospect then get the Academy to do the teaching.)

Here's what happens when you are creating something with your hands and concentration is needed: brains are 75% occupied with task at hand, which makes the other 25% of motor functions relax. Don't ask the Dean why but she knows this is a proven fact after raising four of her own children. Talking subjects can be about the steps to making the gnocchi, a completely non-threatening topic which offers lots of areas for delving into -- food, culture, nutrition, taste. Not to mention that a hands-on experience is always more fun to do with someone else, because you become pals in a project instead of adversaries.

If you can get into a routine (maybe once a month) a one-on-one tradition may start and memories will be made, believe us! Once a skill becomes more familiar and less scary, there is always opportunity for laughing at mistakes which will definitely occur, being proud of the final product, and creating a delicious dinner. With patience, the space will arise for talking about other, more personal subjects...maybe not on the first try but eventually. Number one key: don't ask penetrating questions, which moms can be expert at doing.

Nightly dinners are the time and place to become an active listener. Ask questions that need more than a yes or no response, but remember, not too personal! The big mistake is to do all the talking or give too many opinions. Allow these teenagers of yours time to answer a question so they can formulate what they want to say and how. Let these guys be the smartest ones in the room. Every person needs that. 

Life Hacks for MEN

Suzanne Pollak

Because men need the Academy* too...

54835edb400e1_-_mcx-breakfast-in-bed-004.jpg

The Dean recently taught a class full of gents looking for ways to improve their life at home. Her sure-fire strategy? Feed your beloved breakfast in bed!

Three words:

  • FLOWERS. When arranging, it’s all about color, scent, and simplicity. Pink or red is the color of love. Tulips and daisies are beautiful; lilies and roses smell divine. Combine to up the ante (but careful not to crowd the vase.)

  • FRITTATA. Remember, a frittata is just an open-faced omelet. The latter cooks quickly over high heat, while a frittata goes low and slow. Omelets are folded when the eggs are still runny; a frittata is firm, flat, and round. No special pans required, but it should be cooked on both sides. Of course, you could flip in mid-air like a boss, or it’s perfectly fine to employ your broiler. There are an endless number of fillings you can add to a base of eggs (3/person, freshly laid if you can find them), a splash of cream, salt & pepper -- tomatoes and basil, asparagus and creamy cheese, or even any meat/vegetable leftovers you have in your fridge. Try it! See if it’s not delicious.

  • FANTASY. It starts with dessert in bed. You can venture away from alliteration, or you could serve Fruit (cored pears, filled with liquor, sprinkled with sugar, and passed under the broiler for a few minutes) and Fudge Cake. Choose your own adventure. You’re also going to need whipped cream, which everyone knows has multiple uses. Make arms strong hand-whipping** and vastly improve, along with a splash of brown liquor, an otherwise ordinary cup of coffee.

Most importantly, Fellas, don’t forget to clean up! The whole point of breakfast in bed is to show the love, and appreciate this fantastic catch of a person who does so much to make your life better. So, if you leave a big greasy aftermath in the kitchen, then you have just ruined all the love vibes you worked so hard to create.***

Join us next week for Class Two: In the Bedroom...where we’ll teach the fine art of making the bed somebody actually wants to jump into.

 

*And feminism!

**Thou shalt not mention “aerosol can” in the hallowed halls of the Academy.

***Unless, of course, you are in the thick of new romance, then all is forgiven.

 

 

No Time for Foolishness

Suzanne Pollak

Recently the Dean heard news she cannot like; in fact, it has her recoiling in horror. Say it ain’t so! That people the Dean knows, and knows of (with children no less) have not turned their stoves on for over six months -- told like a brag, even with pride! This is foolishness beyond belief. These people are missing out on some of life’s greatest pleasures: relaxation, creativity, bonding, feasting at home.

Here’s what else these fools are missing:

  • eating healthier meals,
  • making the kitchen (instead of TV) the heartbeat of the house,
  • teaching children manners, healthy eating habits, patience, focus and concentration by simply sitting at the dining table, 
  • and one of the most joyous daily occurrences, spending time together with people you love eating food you love.

The Academy cannot help these folks. Is there an Academy out there for common sense?

Sage Advice

Suzanne Pollak

IMG_9841.JPG

The best cauliflower the Dean ever tasted (since FIG tragically removed their famous mustard-y cauliflower from the menu) was the result of a sage bush gone wild, spreading its branches thither and yon. My host in Merviel, clasping his antique kitchen cleaver in his right hand, chopped several branches off the bush, using the vegetation as the foundation for his cauliflower brainstorm. Into a steamer went the sage branches, the cauliflower florets laying on top. The moment the florets were tender, he discarded the sage and tossed the cauliflower with a little butter. The cauliflower was like perfume, infused with sage, a surprisingly wonderful marriage of flavors. File this away for Thanksgiving of course, but don’t wait! Get yourself some sage, a head of cauliflower and steam away. You are welcome!

Shrimps in Garlic (and in Soup)

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean is obsessed with the killer Gambas al Ajillo her host made in Merviel, France. The classically simple Catalan recipe is the perfect treatment for the #1 ingredient in Lowcountry cooking: SHRIMP. We suggest you use the peels to make a fantastic starter soup, perfect for appetizing your dinner party guests when you are still at the stove...

  1. Remove heads and shells, leaving tails on, of 3 lbs. shrimp. Put the peeled shrimp in one bowl, the heads and shells in another. Toss peeled shrimp in 2-3 teaspoons of coarse salt and refrigerate for 20 minutes. (This step makes the shrimp tastier, crustier when cooked, and removes any water shrimp might be holding.)
  2. In the meantime, prepare a stock using the heads/shells and equal parts water and white wine to barely cover the shells. Add a little salt and simmer until all "shrimpiness" is released from the shells. In 15-20 minutes the liquid will taste like fish stock. Strain. To finish, measure six demitasse cups of strained stock back into the pot. Taste, and a stronger flavor is needed, boil the strained liquid for a few minutes to concentrate the flavor. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more to taste. The goal is to add body and creaminess but not too much, or the cream will take center stage. Finally add a capful, or two, of Pernod.* Grind a few black peppercorns and your miniature cup of sensational soup is ready to go. Guests can sip while watching you stand in front of the stove sautéing your shrimp...
  3. Slice large garlic cloves very thin.** Slice cloves longways because you want as much garlic surface as possible in the oil for release the most flavor. Pour 1/4 inch of Spanish olive oil to cover bottom of a large sauté pan. (The oil and garlic is a fantastic sauce for dipping bread into, but in this case more is not more. If an abundance of oil is used to make 'extra sauce' the shrimp flavor will be masked). Over medium high heat, add the sliced garlic and a sprinkle of espelette (or a whole red hot pepper) until garlic is lightly browned, about one minute. Add all the shrimp and stir until just pink, two to three minutes depending on size of shrimp.

Serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread and plenty more white wine! There is not an easier or more delicious dinner party to be had, on either continent.

*TIP: When adding cream and Pernod, remember you can always add more but cannot take out.

**Another TIP: Try to find large fresh garlic bulbs, some of our papery ones are basically tasteless.

The Stock Broker

Suzanne Pollak

Stock is an ongoing project at Chez Host of the Dean while she is on vacation in the South of France. This household wakes up each morning to the smell of stock simmering away on a back burner while the host, a dedicated amateur cook, swims laps and bikes miles, already having started his stock at sunrise. He repurposes last night's roasted guinea hens or quail bones, and any left over wine* in today’s stocks -- not one iota wasted in his kitchen. His liquid ratio is half water half wine (red, rosé or white, but definitely some red to add body.) 

A few hours later, when today’s stock from yesterday’s roast is strained, the stock becomes a foundation for gravy, a liquid for stew, a spoonful to flavor salad dressing. Even though these bones have already roasted and simmered they are not thrown away. They have more flavor to give! After straining the stock, the Stock Broker pours boiling water over the bones, and even more nourishment and flavor is released; this liquid is the beginnings of tomorrow’s stock.

*The very first night eleven diners consumed twenty bottles of wine. Not sure if any was left over for the making of stock. 

The Blues

Suzanne Pollak

Recently, the supremely original Madame Magar stopped by for an Academy lunch, bringing along her sumptuous Indigo-dyed silks, linens and baskets. The artist AKA Leigh Magar remains widely known for her handmade hats sold at Barney's and beyond. But her current "life's work" harvesting and hand-dying with Indigo speaks to the legacy of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who championed the crop on 18th-century Carolina soil.

 A quilt, featuring Eliza Pinckney's profile, hand-dyed and stitched by Mme. Magar.

A quilt, featuring Eliza Pinckney's profile, hand-dyed and stitched by Mme. Magar.

Two years ago, Magar moved from her Charleston home to a Clark & Menefee-designed house on 400 acres in rural John's Island. She planted her own heirloom seeds there and eventually discovered Indigo plants growing wild in the backyard! Instead of making Indigo powder like Eliza Pickney did, Madame adheres to the ancient methods of the Greeks and Romans, soaking Indigo leaves to prepare the dye, and then dipping the softest silks into her dye to fashion napkins, tea towels, aprons, handkerchiefs and scarves. 

 The Madame at work...

The Madame at work...

 On stacks of indigo-dyed napkins.

On stacks of indigo-dyed napkins.

So, in honor of the Madame of Indigo, we threw an Indigo-themed luncheon. Naturally, front and center stood the Academy Salad, this time gloriously embellished with crispy slices of blue potatoes plus roasted Mepkin Abbey shitake mushrooms. To really guild the lily, the croutons were smeared with whole milk ricotta and drizzled with olive oil. Local heirloom tomatoes added red and yellows to our blue salad. Dessert was more blues in the form of blueberry pie! Who knew the blues could be so delightful?

Pie is for Lovers

Suzanne Pollak

  A weekly Summer Pie ritual serves as a solution to deliberating over which pie to make -- peach, cherry, blueberry, gooseberry, strawberry or rhubarb?

A weekly Summer Pie ritual serves as a solution to deliberating over which pie to make -- peach, cherry, blueberry, gooseberry, strawberry or rhubarb?

Commit to baking a pie each week. A kitchen habit established for a few Summer months accomplishes the following: happy family members, tasty and healthy (if you adjust sugar amounts) desserts on a regular basis, a handy surprise for last-minute vistors, a comforting practice for you to look forward to, and the inevitable title of Expert Pie Baker. After all, it doesn't take 10,000 hours of experience to become the best pie maker on the block.

To guide you, a few simple rules of the Academy Crust, and everything in between:

  • Frozen butter is your friend, as it keeps dough flaky. You can even grate it into dry ingredients to avoid a mess.
  • Kneading the dough is a good thing, making it supple and easier to handle.
  • Wax paper is a no-no! Instead, use Saran Wrap for storing or rolling out dough.
  • Prepared dough can rest for two days in the fridge or else rolled immediately, filled and shoved in the oven right away. The most discerning baker will neither know nor care.
  • Bake pie in glass pie dish on floor of oven for crust worth devouring.
  • Picking fruits? Juicy, ripe, local are the key concepts.
  • Pies do not like to be stored in the refrigerator. Lay a piece of wax paper on top of pie and leave at room temperature. It will stay good for for up to 3 days, although sure to be devoured in less. 

So many choices are exactly why pie is never boring and much more interesting than cake. Summer pie, Winter pie, tomato pie, even four-and-twenty blackbirds pie! Crostatas vs. crumbles vs. double crusts? What’s complicated here? All are great. Try each and let your children vote. Include your children early and often on important family decisions. Lattice vs. open vs. closed tops? Same as above. Healthy, hearty dinner and dessert conversations will ensue. No one will be on the iPhones when pie is on the table. A difficult discussion coming up? Serve pie to help the medicine go down more easily. 

P.S. There's nothing like sharing a piece of pie with your sweetheart. Two forks plus one slice = love at first bite. Want to seduce a certain someone? Bake them a pie. Serve with a seductive wink. Searching for a heavenly Summertime treat? Start the day with a piece of leftover fruit pie and hot coffee. Rinse pie plate & repeat.

White Lighting

Suzanne Pollak

It's never to early to be thinking of Winter cockails, especially when one friend gives you a GREAT gift and another, an even better idea! The gift was a large mason jar filled with Moonshine, and the idea was what to do with all that white whiskey.

Cameron Eubanks, star real estate agent and super star of Bravo’s Southern Charm, presented the Dean with a bottle of Moonshine made by one of her husband’s patients.  Another friend, who happens to be Director of the esteemed Metropolitan Museum's Collections, came for dinner, spied the hooch on the kitchen counter and immediately recommended soaking cherries in the elixir.  Is everyone at the Met a painting, sculpture AND cocktail expert? 

Being the ever-resourceful leader that the Charleston Academy requires, the Dean knows a genius idea when she hears one. Once the mason jar was opened, the aroma intoxicated in the most delicious way, defying hooch's longtime reputation as a toxic, radiator-strength, not-to-mention sometimes illegal, hillbilly concoction. By the following morning the counter in the Academy’s lab was covered with jars filled with cherries and white lightening. 

Twenty four hours later and tonight is the NIGHT to bite into the cherry (because who can follow Carrie’s advice and wait?) For a dinner party dessert, we'll serve a moonshine cherry sitting atop scoops of vanilla ice cream and roasted peaches for an Academy Sundae. The next taste will have to wait until October, Old Fashioned month, when we will serve our trademark cocktail in a flat-bottomed crystal glass, embellished with a twist of citrus, Party Ice, and cherries bursting with hooch.

P.S. POP QUIZ! What is the best part of attending class at the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, besides learning how to live a more beautiful life? The answer: No other institution of higher learning starts class with a cocktail! 

Domestic Divas

Suzanne Pollak

From the moment the Dean woke up on Tuesday morning, she could tell something was different. There was fresh energy, a new crispness in the air. It didn’t take her long to put two and two together... Southern Charm’s 'Cooking with Cameran' segment aired the night before and the Academy hotline was positively abuzz. 

   Thank you Cameran for coming to the Academy for help! Yo  u are now on your way to being a Domestic Diva.

Thank you Cameran for coming to the Academy for help! You are now on your way to being a Domestic Diva.

What this show made the Dean realize is that the Academy is not helping nearly as many people as we should be. So we used the May-mester to create our new curricula and wrote an e-book for your very own minute-by-minute party plan. Yes, you can throw the celebration of a lifetime at the drop of a hat! And for those lucky enough to be invited to said celebration-of-lifetime at the last minute, our two cents on receiving an invitation at the last minute:

The last minute party requires a two-way avenue of communication. If you wake up Saturday morning and are lucky enough to have a text inviting you for drinks or dinner that night be sure to answer promptly. The inviter has put himself out there and given himself a short time frame. This is a numbers game and size matters. Your host won’t cook for two people what he would for twelve, so answer quickly so he can get his game plan ready. Everyone hates turning down invitations but the last minute invite is guilt-free because it is highly conceivable that you would have already had plans. Your response is essential.

Dinner Parties, the Southern Charm Way

Suzanne Pollak

Southern Charm Season 3 premieres tonight!

On next week's episode, the Academy's very own Dean lends a hand to the fabulous Cameran Eubanks, a Mama Hen on the show, with her first ever at-home dinner party. Check out our guide, Cliff Notes to Cameran's Southern Charm Dinner Party, available to download directly from our site. Maybe your style matches hers, or maybe not… 

Entertaining at home is all about attitude, all yours. It’s not about rules, copycatting, or tremendous pressure. There is no one way to give a dinner party. The way to give unforgettable parties is to develop your own personal style and use it 100%. 

Are you a Nervous Nelly? Too many children to contend with, or hours slaving away at work? You need a plan that is streamlined and a menu to match. There is nothing wrong with ordering your city’s finest pizza, or serving grilled cheese sandwiches with craft beer, or even champagne; this shows spunk and creativity. 

Even foodies who love cooking, grilling, smoking, or pickling, might still need a guide to entertaining, lighting, setting the table, centerpiece arrangements, timing, organization. One thing is certain: nobody comes to a dinner party at anyone’s house, even the White House, for the food. It’s all about the company and connections. 

The Academy’s expertise is developing a plan that works for your life and style so you can give the best party on your block. And of course we are also geniuses with making a timeline that is positively foolproof. Purchase the Cliff Notes (for less than $3!) and relax at every one of your future dinner parties, just like Cameran and the Southern Charm crew.

Cooking with Pat Conroy

Suzanne Pollak

My friend, Pat Conroy, died on March 4th in Beaufort, S.C. Pat was best known to many as the bestselling author of many titles, including The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. But to me and my family, Pat was a friend and comforter, someone we came to love for his sense of humor and his sense of humanity. Pat was also my co-author, my partner in crime, in creating The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life, which we published together in 2004.

Pat and I began our cookbook in 1994, not long after we were introduced by a mutual friend. He entered my kitchen, a man bigger than life and full of joy, and (I found out later) carrying a gun. What is it like to have a man like Pat Conroy hanging out in your kitchen twice a week – for a year – and then off and on for ten years? It’s more fun than you can possibly imagine. While we made beef stock, fried squash blossoms, and baked gooseberry pies, he regaled me with animated stories, as only a gifted storyteller such as Pat Conroy could, acting out his tales for emphasis. I was captivated as he described Barbra Streisand’s call about making The Prince of Tides into a movie, insisting she sing The Way We Were over the telephone to prove her authenticity. Pat proceeded to sing to me his version of Barbra singing the tune while frying flounder.

In another of Pat’s stories, local activist Wilson Lane “Tootie Fruity” Bourke sprang to life in the body of Pat, as he mimicked the man who singlehandedly integrated Beaufort, directed traffic, and led virtually all parades, including one for the Ku Klux Klan, who didn’t know what to make of him. One time, Pat removed a life-sized portrait of me from the dining room wall, and when my young children asked what was he doing with it, he answered, “Dancing with your mother.” On Christmas Eve one year, Pat, my daughter, Caroline, and I made squash tortellini, and when Caroline’s twin brother, Charles, complained, “Tortellini. Again?” Pat described a dinner of canned dog food his mother once served his father, helping my children appreciate the bounty in front of them. 

There was one afternoon when Pat drove up to our house and saw my eldest son, Pete, sitting in the yard, unraveling countless knots of fishing line. Pat took one look and declared to Pete, “Right there is why I do not fish.” He shot hoops with the boys in the driveway, and had Pete demonstrate his left-handed pitch, bringing a quiet confidence to my son with his approval. Pat and I watched from the window as my youngest son, Christopher, buried his school of goldfish in the garden in small raisin-box coffins, while reading the funeral service from the Book of Common Prayer. Right then, Pat declared our book must have a chapter on dying. He predicted that all the shrimp in South Carolina would shake in their shells the day he died, because he envisioned buckets of pickled shrimp served at his funeral.

Our friendship grew as we worked together and discussed our distinct childhoods, impacted by our fathers’ careers (his military, mine CIA). Pat attended 11 schools as a kid, while I attended 12. It was Marion O’Neill, Pat’s physiologist and my close friend, who introduced the two of us. I later realized that she may have had an ulterior motive. During this time, Pat was walking around with a gun, (his brother, Tom, had committed suicide three months later) and Marion had Pat drive an hour and a half from his home on Fripp Island to her office on Hilton Head twice a week for sessions. She wanted Pat’s time filled with activity. What better way to accomplish that than by starting a huge project, combining three of his passions – writing, cooking, and eating.

Marion arranged our introductory dinner in May of that year, the same week Jackie Kennedy died. Marion, my husband, Peter, and my youngest child, Christopher, sat in the dining room at the Bray’s Island Main House. Christopher, at the time a fourth grader, told Pat he had just written a book, and the hardest part was sewing it together. Christopher asked Pat how he sewed all his books. Pat treated the boy’s question seriously, and then explained that sewing wasn’t half as difficult as cutting down trees and making enough paper.

I next invited Pat to dinner at my house and, when he arrived early, I put him to work. Here’s what he said about that evening in the introduction to our book: When I walked into Suzanne Williamson Pollak’s kitchen in Hilton Head Island several years ago, she was fixing supper. She had her hands full and could not shake hands, but looked up, smiled, and said, “Hey, Pat. Why don’t you make the pasta?” On the counter was a mound of flour with three broken eggs set in its well. I had never made fresh pasta in my life, but I made it that night as Suzanne gave me directions from the stove. The directions were clear and easy to follow. We have been cooking together ever since. She is more fun to cook with than anyone I ever met except for my passel of fine and comely wives. Suzanne and I are both dedicated amateurs, but we can cook our little fannies off. We collect recipes and cookbooks, and both of us believe that the cooking of food is one of the most delightful activities a human being can do during the course of a lifetime. There is joy in the preparation of food that we share and try to spread around to those we love. Now we will try to spread the source of this joy to you. Suzanne is the great workhorse and beauty behind the recipes in this book. I provide the hot air and sense of story. 

Within that year, Pat was living in the Surrey Hotel in New York City, editing Beach Music, and he decided that it would be a good idea for us to cook dinner for his agent, Julian Bach. I called Mr. Bach to find out his favorite meal, but the agent asked for more time to consider the question. The following day, he called with two menus. The plan was for Pat and I to cook in the Bach family’s elegant Upper East Side townhouse, but where in New York City was I to find Mr. Bach’s requested wild venison? Here’s where things got a little tricky. I bought a deer that had been dressed, but not wrapped well enough. I walked through the Savannah and LaGuardia Airports carrying my white plastic garbage bag filled with ice and meat, leaving a trail of venison blood and somehow managing not to get arrested. Pat feigned sickness and left me to manage cooking in Julian Bach’s basement kitchen. I was convinced that Mr. and Mrs. Bach had never entered the room, and Pat roared with laughter because he knew it had to be true. Though the couple’s knives could not cut softened butter, and their tin pots didn’t sit evenly on a stovetop, it all worked out. We sat in their opulent, chocolate-brown dining room, one floor up from the barren kitchen, feasting on sole quenelles, white asparagus, venison loin, and chocolate soufflés.

One chapter Pat planned to write, but never did, was "The Best Meal I ever had in a Hospital came from an IV." And, this is the number one reason I will love Pat Conroy forever, grateful until my dying day for what he did for my eldest son when he had spinal cancer. Pete was in the hospital in Savannah, before his transfer to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York for the six months between Thanksgiving and Easter that year. When Pete was in intensive care with a MRSA infection, we thought he was going to die. Early on in the ordeal, I left a message for Pat, asking if he would please call Pete and say something to make him smile. Pat proceeded to call every single day for six months. I have no idea what he said in those conversations with my son, but the minute 19-year-old Pete answered the ringing phone next to his hospital bed, I knew it was Pat, because Pete always started laughing. I am convinced that what Pat had to say over those 180 or so phone calls was just as important as the radiation and medicine in saving my son’s life. 

I will miss our cooking days together, Pat. May you rest in peace.

8 Lessons Learned in a Oaxacan Cooking Class

A. K. Lister

1. Shop Local (and don't forget to haggle.)

 A vendor and her homegrown produce for sale at Mercado de la Merced (including dried crickets in the bottom of frame.)

A vendor and her homegrown produce for sale at Mercado de la Merced (including dried crickets in the bottom of frame.)

 Another vendor explains huitlacoche -- a fermented corn kernel that is akin to a mushroom or truffle, usually sauteed.

Another vendor explains huitlacoche -- a fermented corn kernel that is akin to a mushroom or truffle, usually sauteed.

On a recent post-holiday Mexican getaway, my partner and I took a class at the La Cocina Oaxaqueña Cooking School with Chef Gerardo Aldeco. Before the lesson, located in the open-air kitchens in his family's sprawling Oaxaca City home, Chef took us to the one of the best of many overflowing, street block-sized markets to show us how to source the ingredients for one of the traditional cuisine's seven molé sauces. Each is made from a different chili grown in- state (Mexico's most biodiverse), and the two darkest of all molés include incredibly tasty local chocolate. His tips for sourcing good dried chiles: not too dry, slightly pliable, so they don't crack when you squeeze them. Wipe clean; remove stem, slit one side top to bottom, remove the veins and seeds. Don't touch your face.

 An assortment of dried chiles for molé, on display at La Merced in central Oaxaca City.

An assortment of dried chiles for molé, on display at La Merced in central Oaxaca City.

Also, when ponying up your pesos at the market, don't be shy! Counter-bid. Bartering is customary: a blessing on the transaction, and sign of mutual (and self-)respect.

2. Tamales take time.

 Visiting Professor/ Chef Jason Stanhope  tries his hand at toasting banana leaves for wrapping tamales.

Visiting Professor/Chef Jason Stanhope tries his hand at toasting banana leaves for wrapping tamales.

PRO. TIPS:

  • Finely ground the masa made from boiled corn, at least 3x. Then, use chicken stock to really thin it out.
  • Cut seam from banana leaves and save to use as tamale ties. Fill and wrap just like a present, according to the natural direction of the banana leave (horizontal "hot dog" style.)
  • Layer the pot: chicken on the bottom, vegetables and cheese on the top. Steam for an hour or more.

3. Eat the dark meat.

The mother of our instructor, a master sous chef, busied herself in the background as our cooking class carried on under Aldeco's instructions. Tasked with shredding an entire boiled chicken, I set the gizzards aside, assuming they would have some other purpose than the filling of tamales. When the señora came over to inspect our work, she asked, in slightly horrified Spanish, if I really wasn't going to use the most flavorful part? Then she sliced them herself into perfect and utterly delicious slivers to cook along with huitlacoche (a delicacy) and squash blossoms in a steamed fresh corn tamale.


4. Always tackle prep. work with a friend!

 Jeannie and Barbara from Santa Fe, NM, pick herbs while they catch up on all the hot gossip.

Jeannie and Barbara from Santa Fe, NM, pick herbs while they catch up on all the hot gossip.

 Mole Verde fixin's

Mole Verde fixin's

5. Molé is like gravy. Keep stirring...

Whenever you add a hot liquid to a starchy mixture, masa de maiz in this case -- do it very gradually and stir, stir, stir like the wind! A golden rule for every roux under the sun.

6. Try adding a cactus worm to your salsa?

 Oaxacans use freshly ground worms and salt for everything from cocktails to salsa.

Oaxacans use freshly ground worms and salt for everything from cocktails to salsa.


7. Make fresh tortillas.

 A traditional tortilla press and colorful woven basket for keeping them warm.

A traditional tortilla press and colorful woven basket for keeping them warm.

 Chef Gerardo shows a fellow student from NYC how to gently slide the tortilla onto the tamal.

Chef Gerardo shows a fellow student from NYC how to gently slide the tortilla onto the tamal.

PRO. TIPS:

  • Lightly mold a lemon-sized ball of dough into a thick disk, then press (in tortilla press) between two sheets of plastic wrap.
  • Peel one side of plastic and flip; peel the other side; remove from press and gently slide onto a tamal. Practice using one hand to push and the other to pull so it lies flat.
  • The tortillas will pillow up with steam and fall again (pure magic!) just before they are ready to serve.

8. Have a little mezcal, even at lunchtime.

To be fair, seems that Oaxacans start the day with a huge breakfast of memelas, empanadas, or chilaquiles, and enjoy their second meal more like a middle-of-the-afternoon feast. Chef G. told us that most of the time they skip dinner because lunch is such a grand affair. The traditional high-gravity accompaniment is a true art form at it’s best — i.e. made according to (arguably) prehispanic tradition from 100% agave, which grows wild and often takes a quarter-century to fruit (meaning that it might be harvested and cooked by a farmer younger than the plant itself!) Good mezcal is quite low in sugar; so while surely still possible to overindulge, a couple of small glasses won't leave you with a hangover.

Finally, because the production process is so labor-intensive, and the drink itself a requisite at celebrations, many distillers will hoard their lot in anticipation of a wedding in the family, leaving little left for the rest of the market. In short: if you're lucky enough to get the good stuff, enjoy it, with new friends and a fantastic meal, regardless of the hour.

New Year's Eve, Academy Style

Suzanne Pollak

This is the way the world [/year] ends
Not with a bang but a whimper [almost].
— T.S. Eliot [and the Dean]

After all the sparkly Christmas parties, crushing crowds, decorated windows, doors and trees, not to mention major cooking…New Year’s Eve could be a time for going off radar. A big New Year’s bash is unabashedly out to blow all your circuits -- isn't that the whole point? Make no mistake, this night's party takes sustained effort both to organize and enjoy (as any New Year's host will attest.) This year the Academy takes our cue from our favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, and decided to end our year with a whimper. 

How do you orchestrate a whimper that is also unforgettable? An evening worth staying up for, and going out to? Start by inviting several couples for a champagne cocktail before they go off to blow out all their circuits, but invite one or two of those couples to stay longer for dinner. New Year's Eve isn't without a little over the top, but keep it classy & do it with your menu. Key words: Simple and Extravagant.

MENU

  • Champagne Cocktails - here are ten different ways to make one.
  • Caviar - Ossetra is fine with the Deans but don't overlook delicious domestic varieties i.e. ...) Try an assortment for that really over-the-top feel.
  • ...with Blinis and Creme Fraiche - easier to make (Martha's way) than you think.
  • A plate of charcuterie -- the best you can find. (In Charleston the best is Bob Cook's at Artisan Meat Share on Spring Street.)
  • Oyster Stew
  • Cognac Chocolate Mousse in Champagne Cups - from the Handbook.
  • More Champagne.

We also like to to have plenty of seltzer on hand, because bubbles, as well as the words to Auld Lang Syne so that everyone can join in a round of song to usher in the New Year.

Here's to you, your parties, and 2016!

 

Mastering Prime Rib 101

Suzanne Pollak

Standing Rib Roast is having a moment. The Academy's line has been fielding dozen of calls about this holiday showstopper. Those of you who have never bought or cooked a Prime Rib (yes, it's the same thing) should not be be intimidated. Let the Dean hold your hand and answer any question that arise. Some of our students are so diligent that they have been practicing before the big holiday meal and texting their every questions to us. The Dean never rests!

For first-time cooks, we offer you a step-by-step guide. More advanced cooks may be amused remembering the confusion you once felt.

Prime Rib FAQ & A:

  • I have big eaters. How many ribs do I need for eight people? We answered, 8 big eaters = 7 ribs.
  • The butcher asked if I'd like an "easy-carve" style? Do I? Easy carve is brilliant, unless one of your guests is an expert carver. 
  • Do I want to buy the fat end or the other end? We say fat end. 
  • Any hints about the vodka rub? Place the roast fat side down during the before cooking time.
  • So I put in at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then do I leave it in oven to turn temp. down to 325 for the remaining cooking time? Not sure if I should take it out while the oven temperature adjusts... Beef stays in the oven. 
  • My meat thermometer melted...help! Oops, can’t help you there.
  • At what temperature should I remove from the oven? 120-125 degrees (interior) for rare. The roast will continue cooking after it comes out. 
  • Roast is out of the oven and temperature is rising. Do I remove the roast from the roasting pan onto a cutting board so it cools down, or leave it alone? Leave it alone. 
IMG_4730.JPG
 All-star student, Logan, and her first Prime Rib.

All-star student, Logan, and her first Prime Rib.

We suggest serving Prime Rib for a holiday dinner with your closest friends, perhaps even in January after everything else subsides.  Serve with Potatoes Gratin, a big green salad, and fine red wine.  If you have leftovers, try Roast Beef Hash for a weekend brunch meal the following day.

MT. VERNON XMAS PUNCH (& other Homemade Gifts)

A. K. Lister

There is no good reason not to have an arsenal of homemade gifts on hand this time of year, whether to give to hosts of the many Christmas (and Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, etc.) parties you are sure to attend, or to reciprocate when a neighbor shows up with a little surcee for you and yours.  

Homemade gifts, like the Washington family's famed punch, can be simultaneously simple to prepare and yet still spectacular to behold, not to mention imbibe.  For as velvet-y as this punch may seem, it is a nonetheless quite potent mixture of bourbon, rum, Chartreuse, sherry, vermouth, and tea, cured for a week in tightly-sealed mason jars.  

Who knew George was such a party animal?!  You can find the recipe for Washington's Punch in our Archive.  Each jar may be individually labeled and tied up in a cheery ribbon, with serving instructions alongside for the recipient to enjoy at another occasion.

Now, there are a few ways to serve a jar of Mt. Vernon Christmas Punch.  For a small gathering of 5 or less, stick with cocktails.  Simply pour a couple ounces of the base over ice, top with either champagne or soda, and garnish with a cherry.  Why not present a plate of Cheese Coins alongside?

For 6 or more, get out the punch bowl -- we're having a party!  But first, you'll need an Ice Ring.  Simply fill a bundt pan halfway with cranberries, cherries, or any other festive fruit to garnish your punch.  Then run hot water over the pan to loosen the ice, flip it into the bowl, and top with 2-3 bottles of champagne to put it to action.  Like so:

There you have it, Mt. Vernon Christmas Punch, the gift that keeps on giving.  There are plenty of other goodies you can whip up and portion for casual gifting, whether alongside the punch or no.  Try biscotti, bourbon cake, or Raisin Scones.

But, if your kitchen is already sanctioned for other grandiose projects -- we're making Prime Rib for Christmas Eve dinner (more on that a little later this week) -- build your Holiday credit with promises for the New Year: offer to make a series of meals, complete with menu suggestions, for someone extra special, or plan to throw a dinner party in their honor.  Or, simply take all your girlfriends out for a nice lunch and hand out a few fabulous party favors.

Regardless, 'tis the season to let the people you love know exactly how you feel...and to drink lots of punch!

XO, the Academy