Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cocktail Sauce

Why in the world are there are so many packaged cocktail sauces on the market? To being with, most of these sauces have flavors that range from insipid to downright nasty. And, nothing could be simpler than to whip up a homemade cocktail sauce from scratch.

All you really need are four ingredients: ketchup, prepared horseradish, lemon juice, and black pepper. These things last forever, and it's easy to always have them on hand in the fridge. Fresh lemon juice is best, but you can keep a small bottle of lemon juice tucked away on the fridge door just in case.

About a 3 to 1 to 1 ratio of ketchup to horseradish to lemon juice should do the trick, with a dash or two of black pepper. But, like with all recipes, experiment to get the combination that tastes best to you. Then, just stir and serve. Perfect for shrimp and other seafood dishes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Stuffed Shrimp

This recipe is inspired by the stuffed shrimp served at the seafood restaurant where I worked when I first graduated from college. I have no idea what they put in their crabmeat stuffing, and my recipe has certainly evolved over the years, but the basic idea of butterflying a shrimp, filling it with deviled crab, and baking it remains the same. This is one of my favorites to cook for out-of-town visitors to Charleston, since it lets me use fresh local jumbo shrimp. The crab meat is usually not local (in this case the tub I bought was from Bayou La Batre, Alabama), but I try to get as good a batch of crab meat I can--backfin, in this case. It's pretty expensive, though. Cheaper canned crab meat won't be quite as good, but it will still do.

The recipe below uses a full pound of crab meat, which makes enough stuffing for forty shrimp (8 - 10 servings). I usually freeze half of the deviled crab and use it later for crab cakes or a second batch of stuffed shrimp.

Crab-Stuffed Shrimp

1 lb. crab meat (backfin)
1 egg
1/4 cup mayonaisse (homemade if you've got it)
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced green or red pepper
couple of sprigs of parsley, minced
dollop of Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
a few dashes of hot sauce
about 1/2 cup bread crumbs
4 oz Swiss cheese, shredded
1.5 to 2 lbs jumbo shrimp (about 40)

Preheat the oven to 375.
First, make the deviled crab. Mix the crab meat, egg, mayonaisse, onion, bell pepper, parsley, mustard, salt, pepper, and hot sauce in a bowl. Add enough bread crumbs to make the mixture thick and bound together. Then mix in the Swiss cheese. (If you are going to freeze any of the deviled crab, leave out the cheese and add it later when you are ready to use it.)

Mixing the deviled crab

Next, clean the shrimp, removing all but the tails and last section of shell, and butterfly them. There are fancy tools sold to help you do this, but I just use a sharp paring knife. Hold the shrimp between your thumb and forefinger with one hand, slice along the ridge of its back with the knife, and remove the black vein inside.

Once they are butterflied, lay the shrimps in a baking pan, pressing the butterflied sections outward to make a flat cup for the stuffing.

Butterflied shrimp awaiting its stuffing

Spoon a small ball of the deviled crab into each of the shrimp and brush the tops with melted butter.

Stuffed and ready for the oven

Bake the shrimps at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the flesh of the shrimp is pink and the stuffing is starting to turn brown. I usually turn on the broiler of the oven at this point to finish toasting the tops, giving them a golden brown sheen. Remove from the oven, brush on a little more melted butter, sprinkle a little paprika over the tops, and you are ready to go.

On the plate

I serve these with freshly-made cocktail sauce, and they are a hit either as an appetizer or a main course. As an appetizer, arrange on a tray with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce for dipping (see Cocktail Sauce for the recipe) . For a main course, I usually serve them with rice or potatoes and plenty of crusty bread.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Apple Slicer

Keeping on the theme of useful kitchen gadgets, here's a Christmas gift that I've found very, very useful. My whole family are suckers for apple and cheese plates, so we go through a lot of apples. This little device lets you core and slice and apple into ten wedges in about five seconds. Just position it over the apple, press down, and, voila, core-free apple slices.

And, you just drop it in the dishwasher when you're done, so no big clean up.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Window Herb Garden

Live herbs are cheap. In most cases, you can purchase a live plant for less than what you pay for the package of cut herbs. They are perfect for a small pot or a window box and, with a little water every day, will keep you in fresh herbs through the winter. I've currently have mint, basil, chives, and (added after this photo was taken) rosemary in my window, and I couldn't be more pleased.

What to do with those coffee grounds?

I recently purchased a french press for making coffee--which I love--and while dumping out yet another batch of spent coffee grounds in my sink this morning, I found myself wondering whether I should be putting those things down the garbage disposal or not. So, I took a quick spin through Google, and from what I turned up coffee grounds are either:
  1. An absolutely perfect thing to put down the drain, even helping freshen up a stinky disposal unit; or,
  2. One of the few things (like corn husks and large volumes of fats) that you shoud NEVER EVER EVER put down a disposal, for Pete's sake
There are a slew of articles on the web (such as this one and this one) that apparently all derived their material from the same source, which is purported to be "The In-Sink-Erator Division of Emerson Electric", who certainly sound like they should know what they are talking about. This list, oddly enough, tells you that hard materials such as bones and fruit pits are just fine and, because of their scouring action, can actually help the device.

However, if you search the In-Sink-Erator website itself, you'll find this article, which cites getting rid of coffee grounds as one of the key reasons to buy an In-Sink-Erator in the first place. (And, there doesn't to be any document on the site that has the do's and don'ts list referenced all over the web.)

None of the sites I found that said "don't put grounds down the disposal" gave any reason at all why they would be bad for the device. So, I'll continue to dump 'em and grind 'em.

Interestingly enough, all sources seem to agree that you should use cold water when grinding fats and meats. The best explanation for this I've seen is that hot water will melt the fats and make it clog the mechanism. For all these years I thought it was the other way around . . .

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dining in Charleston, SC

Updated 4/13/2010

This is a completely personal, eminently biased guide to dining in Charleston, S.C.

Over the past two decades, Charleston has not only become a major tourist destination but has also earned a national reputation as one of America's up-and-coming culinary cities. Gourmet magazine, for instance, recently called us "a lovely port city that’s fast on its way to becoming a serious food capital."

I would argue that we arrived several years ago.

The restaurants included on this site are my (current) favorites in town. There are tons of restaurants not on this list, many of which I suppose are pretty good, but for some reason or another I just haven't found them appealing enough to make them regular haunts. I draw no particular line between high and low: you'll find both roadside hot dog stands and high-end restaurants that rival the best that NYC or San Francisco have to offer.

The hardest part is that new restaurants keep opening all the time--just about the time you think you've finally caught up on your list of "must-trys", six new places crop up. But, that's a good problem to have.

Here are my current list of highly recommended establishments, 

Low-to-Medium Prices, Kid Friendly
Higher End
Markets and Other Food Related Destinations

Low-to-Medium Prices, Kid Friendly

Andolini's Pizza
US17 (West Ashley), Downtown, North Charleston, and Mt. Pleasant locations

A great independent pizzaria. Makes New York-style thin crust pies. You can get two slices of cheese pizza and a draft PBR for six bucks.

Bessinger's Barbecue
1602 Savannah Highway/US 17 (West Ashley

Though they are a barbecue joint and have great barbecue, my wife and I usually end up getting cheeseburgers because, without a doubt, Bessingers has the best cheeseburgers in town, hands down. If you're from out of town, though, I would recommend trying their barbecue. You can get a good cheeseburger almost anywhere; Bessinger's is an exceptional example of the mustard-based style, a variety unique to South Carolina. I also recommend getting one of the plates with hash and rice, for hash is the uniquely South Carolina side item. It's pork and various pork parts (don't ask--you're better off not knowing) minced up fine with a lot of spices and served like a very thin stew over rice: fantastic.

Bessinger's Barbecue on Highway 17

A heaping plate of mustard-based barbecue with hash from Bessinger's

Charleston's best cheeseburger

G&M Fast French
98 Broad Street, Downtown
The real name of this little spot is "Gaulart and Maliclet Cafe", but no one in Charleston seems to be able to remember and/or pronounce that name, so most people just call it "Fast French". I love to stop in for a croissant and coffee on Saturday mornings.

Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
62 State St.
(843) 722-5650

Not to be missed. An unassuming looking little spot next to the Little Cricket on State St. They cook up some of the best biscuits, croissants, patty melts, and meat-n-three grub in town. Perfect for breakfast, and not bad for lunch or just some mid-morning snacks, either. Dixie is a gem.

More: My CP review of Dixie Supply.

The Glass Onion
1219 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley
(843) 225-1717

The Glass Onion serves up good, solid Southern cooking with a slow-food sensibility. Top-quality items like Anson Mills grits and Benton's bacon are regulars on the menu. From the authentic New Orleans-style po-boys to the massive braised Pork Shank, you won't be dissapointed.

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Ave., Downtown
(843) 937-0930

Robert Stehling's top-notch "neighborhood restaurant," which features classic southern recipes cooked from scratch with fresh local ingredients. This may well be the best Southern cooking in the world. Stehling took home the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.

Iacofano's Italian Bar & Grill
626 Coleman Blvd.
Mt. Pleasant
(843) 881-2313

I'm a huge fan of John Iacofano's low key Italian deli and restaurant. The meatballs--whether served up on a hoagie or sliced in the middle of their cra-za-zy lasagne--are sublime, and everything is done up with just a little extra touch of quality, even as the restaurant remains calm and unassuming. Definitely a favorite haunt.

More: My CP Review of Iacofano's.

Jack's Cosmic Dogs
2805 Highway 17 North, Mount Pleasant, SC
Open 7 days a week, 11 am to 8 pm.

Jack's Cosmic Dogs is a Lowcountry joint that was created as a throwback to the old roadside hotdog stands of earlier years. The building is retro-cool, with cinder block walls painted bright yellow outside and bright red inside. The 1960s-style tables come with mismatched metal and vinyl chairs, and you order at a stainless steel-fronted counter with wooden top. An old-school ice bin offers Sundrop and RC Cola in real glass bottles, and there's a Galaga machine in the corner. It even has a screen door.

The hot dogs are sizzled up fresh on a flattop griddle and served not on a plain old bun but on a big seeded roll For a classic chili dog, try the Atomic dog--chili, onions, spicy mustard (pictured below). If you're more adventurous, there are several dogs with a great blue cheese coleslaw on them, including the Cosmic dog with the slaw and Jack's homemade sweet potato mustard. The french fries are hand-cut from fresh potatoes, which is the only way fries should be made.

Long Point Grill
479 Long Point Rd, Mount Pleasant

The Mustard Seed
1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd, Mount Pleasant

I'm cutting corners grouping these two together, but they are both operations run by Mount Pleasant's Sal Parco, and both offer similarly solid but sophisticated fare for reasonable prices. From risotto and polenta to fried chicken and burgers, the hardest part of eating at Long Point Grill and The Mustard Seed is trying to choose from a menu crowded with intriguing options that always seem to pay off. Both server dinner, but they are great spots for lunch, too.

Moose's Famous BBQ
1440 South Live Oak Drive (Hwy. 17-A)
Moncks Corner
(843) 899-4999

With barbecue chicken, pulled pork, and hands-down the best beef brisket to be found in the Lowcountry, Moose's is a carnival of eating. Pay as you enter, cash only, the buffet is not only loaded with tasty smoked meats but some damn good side items, too. Wear your eatin' pants with the extra-elastic waist. You'll need 'em.

More: My City Paper review of Moose's

Poe's Tavern
2210 Middle St.
Sullivan's Island
(843) 883-0083

When I have friends in from out of town, Poe's is an old standby for lunch. Their burgers--hand-ground on premises, cooked to order, and served with fresh-cut fries--are out of this world, and with a zillion great beers on tap it's a perfect place to while away a beach afternoon. When I think Sullivan's Island, I think Poe's.

More: my CP blurb on the Hop Frog Burger.

Sunflower Cafe
2366 Ashley River Road/Highway 61 (West Ashley)

Don't understimate this small, unassuming looking restaurant in the corner of an shopping plaza off Ashley River Road. It looks like it would be a standard pancake-breakfast, meat-and-three lunch kind of place. But, the food is really fantastic.

The breakfast menu boasts a series of eggs benedict variations (including crab cakes and fried-green tomatoes), rich omlets, beignets, and french toast. For lunch, there's steak sandwiches made not with some cheap cut but tender filet(!), plus chicken and crabcake croissants, and a range of fresh salads.

The Sunflower is off the beaten path--way down Highway 61 past I-526. But, if you are heading out to Drayton Hall or Middleton Place, drop in and give it a try for breakfast or lunch (they close at 2:30 PM). It's one of my West Ashley favorite.

The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene
106 Haddrell St, Mount Pleasant--off Shem Creek.
(843) 884-0052

Definitely call and get directions--you'll never find it on your own, since they don't even have a sign. A complete dive, with plastic lawn tables and chairs and canned beer. And also the best, freshest mounds of fresh shrimp and scallops you'll ever eat. Not really high-end, but not cheap either. Takes cash only, so be sure to bring a pile of it.

Higher End

39 Rue de Jean:
39 John St., Downtown
(843) 722-8881

French-style brasserie. Great atmosphere, great mussels, and really good food. There's nothing particularly Charleston about Rue de Jean, but I don't care. There's such a relaxed, European feel about the place that I just enjoy sitting inside the place, watching all the people and action going on around me. A great bar, too, if you just want to stop in for drinks and appetizers.

Al Di La
25 Magnolia Road. West Ashley.
A great trattoria-style Italian restaurant with fresh pasta, homemade bread, and slow-cooked meats. Located in the West Ashley's funky Avondale district. Open for dinner Tuesday - Saturday.

976 Houston Northcutt Blvd.
Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-6969

This is a Mt. Pleasant gem. If the roasted olives and housemade mozzarella aren't enough to make you swoon, the gnocchi will finish the job. And, for such good, authentic Italian food, it's very reasonably priced.

232 Meeting Street, Downtown

The home of Mike Lata, one of Charleston's celebrity chefs, FIG is a delightful bistro-style spot in the heart of downtown. Lata is a devotee of fresh, seasonal food, and all the dishes on the menu are uncomplicated and focus on the quality of the ingredients. The menu varies by season, but entrees include a range of fresh local fish along with meat selections such as roasted chicken, flat-iron steak, and veal sweetbreads. The stylish interior and friendly, well-informed wait staff make it a great spot to enjoy a really good meal.

La Fourchette
432 King St.
(843) 722-6261
Serving Dinner, Mon-Sat

La Fourchette is unapologetically French and doesn't care if you like it or not. But, with pomme frites double fried in duck fat, old-school French favorites like cassoulet and coquille St. Jacques, and the best French wine list this side of Paris, you're bound to like it.

More: read about La Fourchette's fries

2 Unity Alley (just off of East Bay Street), downtown
(843) 577-0025

The atmosphere is a mix of old-Charleston and new-restaurateur-slickness: a couple of old buildings dating back to the 18th Century, linked together with the old brick and hardwoods preserved and a lot of fancy features like soaring skylights added. Altogether, they are nice rooms to eat in. The food is excellent, too: try the venison.

Markets and Other Food Related Destinations

Marion Square Farmers Market: (Corner of King and Calhoun Sts., downtown) This is a must visit. Every Saturday morning from the months of April until December, local growers, artists, and food vendors set up shop under tents in Marion Square Park. Like most farmers markets, some of the vendors are simply reselling produce from all over that they bought at wholesale markets. But, many of the stands specialize in fresh, locally-grown vegetables, herbs, and other foods--including my favorite, where Celeste and George Albers from Green Grocer Farms on John's Island sell shrimp caught the previous day from their own boat along with a a small selection of rotating items grown on their farm, such as fingerling potatoes and sweet onions.

There's plenty of ready-made food for a late breakfast or early lunch (I'm particularly partial to the homemade pretzels and lemonnade), and entertainment for the kids as well. For locals the market is a perfect start to the day--seeking out the fresh ingredients for the evening's dinner; for tourists, it offers not only a fine sampling of Lowcountry food but also a great place to pick up local-themed artwork and souveneirs. (8:00 am through 1:00 PM from April to December)

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market: (Moultrie Middle School on Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant). If you miss the Marion Square market on Saturday, you can always catch the Mount Pleasant version on Tuesday nights. Located in front of the Moultrie Middle School, the Mount Pleasnat market features many of the same vendors as the Marion Square version, and it's an equally good spot to pick up fresh local produce. Starts at 4:00 PM and runs through dark, April through October.

This posting is a work in progress and is regularly updated.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Best Way to Squeeze Lemons

Too Many Chefs provides this great example of the type of rigorous experimentation that we need more of in the food world. Plus, it's just a fun article:

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