Thursday, April 30, 2009

Al Dente

A decade or two ago Americans woke up and realized that there was more to Italian cooking than Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. Some folks went whole-hog and started making their own gnocchi and growing their own fresh herbs to use in rustic sauces. Others just learned a couple of new rules of thumb, like pasta should always be cooked "al dente."

And suddenly a few years ago every dry pasta manufacturer started putting in their on-the-box instructions to cook pasta "al dente."

Is it just me, or is this "al dente" stuff just a load of hooey? I hesitate to even bring it up, since I'm sure it will expose me as a person of low and common tastes, but when I cook dry pasta I always end up going a minute or two longer than whatever the box recommends.

I don't want my dried pasta to be chewy. Inevitably, cooking pasta that way meats you get a soft exterior with a firm, chewy, and unpleasantly dry middle. No, cook it all the way through until it's uniformly soft (but not so mushy that Grandma can gum it without her dentures).

Fresh pasta: that's a different story. Fresh pasta's texture is so different from dry that it's in a class all its own, and you definitely want that cooked "to the tooth"--tender but firm. I'm wondering if this "al dente" nonsense is a case of confusion, of people applying the Italian standard for fresh pasta to the dried boxed variety?

In any event, unless I've taken the time to whip up a batch of fresh pasta, I'll be tacking that extra two minutes on every time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

End of an Era

18 months seems enough. Jack's has left the building.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Culture Clash on the Road Home from Charleston

John Kessler of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has a fun piece on traveling back to Atlanta from Charleston

I've made that haul down I-20 many times, and I know Washington Road all too well.

Too bad they didn't take a little detour around the Bobby Jones Expressway and take in Sconyers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Radishes

Spring is here, and I'm suddenly consumed by a desire to eat vegetables, lots of vegetables.

Radishes, according to this handy SC Produce Availability Calendar, can be had almost year round, but I saw some particularly good looking radishes with their greens at Whole Foods and had to snap them up.

For the preparation, I went with simplicity in an attempt to recreate the radish appetizer at FIG, which still remains one of my most stunningly memorable vegetable eating experiences. I was fresh out of artisanal butter and fleur de sel, so I compensated a little by using coarse sea salt and a compound butter whipped up from plain old grocery store unsalted butter along with thinly sliced spring onions (from Boone Hall Farms), a squirt of lemon juice, black pepper, parsley, and dill.

Slice a piece of radish, slather it in the butter, and bite. Damn, that's good stuff. Fresh and just a little spicy and the richness of the butter is the perfect contrast. I've had that little salad three nights in a row.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Crawfish Boil at Fiery Ron's

Here's something you don't see much in the Lowcountry: a crawfish boil.

Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ in West Ashley will be dishing up crawfish Sunday May 3rd from noon to 10 PM. I saw a notice about the event the other day, but mostly it just listed a bunch of musicians, part of some sort of "Allstar Americana Jam" thing that for some reason is mentioned BEFORE the crawfish, which clearly must be a mistake, for how could anyone give a bunch of banjo pickers top billing over mudbugs?

If you've never been to a real crawfish boil you've missed out. It's a lot like a Lowcountry Boil or an Oyster Roast, only with crawfish. And a lot stinkier and more disgusting. For 12 bucks it's all you can eat crawfish and a bunch of good music, too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hemingway Barbecue and Shag Festival

And speaking of barbecue . . . the 21st Annual South Carolina BBQ and Shag Festival begins tonight up in Hemingway, SC, a part of the state where they really know how to cook a pig.

Scenes from Daily Life (Barbecue Version)

The Wife: "Auugcchh!"
Me: "What?"
"They put SLAW on this sandwich! Gross!"
"Lot's of places put slaw on their barbecue sandwich."
"Yeah, but if they do they should at least tell you that."
"It says right here 'chopped pork with slaw on bun'.”
"Oh, please. 'Slaw' is buried in the middle of the description in the same tiny font. It should say in 24-point red all-caps, 'WARNING!!! THIS SANDWICH HAS SLAW ON IT!!!”
"I like slaw on a barbecue sandwich.  It adds crunch."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bowen's Island Rebuild

The P&C has a good article about the ongoing effort to rebuild Bowen's Island after it burned down back in October 2006.

It reminds me a lot of the dearly departed Rockaway Athletic Club up in Columbia, which burned to the ground back in 2002, about 3 months before I left the city for good (there may or may not have been a causal connection). Anyway, they built a new Rockaway, and the food is pretty much the same, but somehow with the new building the atmosphere just isn't the same and you lose half the effect.

Let's hope Bowen Island has more success in recreating their old style.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Grandma's Little Secret

John T. Edge has a good New York Times piece on the rise of pre-packaged biscuits and dinner rolls in the South.

Hat tip to Eva.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Updating the Dining Guide

A long while ago I created a simple Guide to Dining in Charleston that just listed some of my favorite restaurants with a little commentary--not necessarily an exhaustive catalog of all the good restaurants in town (and we have no shortage of these) but rather just the ones that, for whatever reason, caught my fancy.

I created it as a single post that I edited every now and then, but it's been sitting dormant for quite some time. So, I've dusted it off and moved the entries to a new blog-like format which I think will let me keep things fresh, and I've started to update the entries with some of my new favorites around town.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lowcountry Grits Throwdown

Tomorrow afternoon is the First Annual Lowcountry Grits Festival out on Bowen's Island. In addition to beer and live music, there will be a Best Grits competition with cooks from The Boathouse, Bull Street Gourmet, Carolinas, JPaulz, McCrady's, Triangle Bar and Char, and Lost Dog Cafe'. That's a pretty good line up.

Charleston in Gourmet Magazine

Charleston is featured in May's Gourmet magazine. The author, Christian L. Wright, has done her homework and hits a lot of the city's high points. Local chefs including Frank Lee, Robert Stehling, Jeremiah Bacon, Bob Waggoner, Michelle Weaver, Ken Vedrinksi, and Aaron Deal all get mentioned, though Sean Brock at McCrady's and Mike Lata at FIG are singled out as the two chefs who are "pulling way ahead" of the rest.

But it's not just the big downtown players who got noticed: West Ashley's Ali Di La and the Glass Onion get a nod, as do shops like City Lights Coffee and Caviar & Bananas. And, Glenn Roberts gets a shout out for his Anson Mills rice and grits.

It's great to see the city getting more national notice. Wright summarizes Charleston as, "lovely port city that’s fast on its way to becoming a serious food capital."

I still get a chuckle from predictable setups like this: "In Charleston sitting rooms, you can still hear the Civil War referred to as the War Between the States." Perhaps a few old ladies down South of Broad still talk this way, but I haven't heard this phrase (uttered seriously, at least) in quite some time, much less been in a "sitting room." Maybe I just don't travel in the right circles.

And this one made me wonder: "The city’s culinary heritage was besmirched, or at least belittled, by popular demand. For fried fish." Huh? Fried fish? Wright cites the lines outside the Noisy Oyster and Hyman's Seafood as if these were part of some older Charleston food scene that's now getting eclipsed by the better restaurants serving real food, but in my mind they are all part and parcel of the same thing--a two-decade growth in local tourism that fuels both high and low.

Minor quibbles. The best part is to see a magazine getting beyond the shrimp and grits and she crab soup (though both get their due) and notice some of the really interesting cooking going on in town.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Boone Hall Strawberry Festival

The Boone Hall Strawberry Festival is coming up this week . . . as our three-year-old is quick to remind us everytime we drive past and he sees the little strawberry tilt-a-whirl ride sitting idle at the edge of US 17 waiting for the big festival day. "See strawberry! See strawberry!" he intones unfailingly.

It's about as much fun as you can have at an event that doesn't serve beer. Rides for the kids, fresh strawberry picking for all . . . Just one of my little signs that Spring has arrived.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Springing Back

Okay, so I've been AWOL a few months as I wrapped up a big project (more on that later) which, along with my day job and my City Paper gig, consumed about every free minute I had for writing. Besides, it was winter, the farmers' markets were all closed, and there was nothing even vaguely interesting on the shelves of the grocery stores, which I swear become more and more predictable with every passing year.

It used to be (unless memory is failing) that even the big corporate grocery chains like Publix and Bi-Lo had some variety to their offering. I'd show up for a weekly shopping run and could browse the meat department and always find something that wasn't normally there, like a pork steak (great slow braised) or lamb shanks. Not anymore. It seems like it's the exact same cuts week in and week out these days. Sometimes there's a special price on this or that, and I'm sure there's a lot more different cuts and types of meats than there were, say, around 1980, but it's always the SAME variety.

Ah, but Spring is finally here. The Marion Square Farmer's Market opens for the season next Saturday, and Boone Hall Farms has just put out fresh asparagus and their first picking of strawberries at their market off Highway 17. (The Strawberry Festival at Boone Hall is just two weeks away).

It's time to dust off the old blog and start exploring Lowcountry eating once more . . .

Popular Posts