While on vacation this June in Charleston we had a some pretty good food. And some just OK food. While visiting a new city it’s difficult to get a real feel for the local cuisine unless you do the research before you go. Well, I didn’t quite figure that out until after we got home, so the only way to remedy that was to do the research and serve up my authentic Charleston menu here in Ohio.
I waited until August to try for the hot, humid weather we were subjected to in June (just kidding...I just didn't get around to it before now). Fortunately, our weather here this summer has been cooler and drier than normal but, of course, Saturday was one of those hot humid days we would expect to see this time of year. And me with no air conditioning. It was pretty miserable and sweaty while we were in Charleston and although it was indeed hot this weekend, we still didn’t match the weather on vacation. Thank goodness!
So to revisit our few days in the deep south, I’ve come up with what I think would have been an authentic Charleston menu for my friends to enjoy while we sip and sup our way through a fun evening. Game Night for us means lots of food, some adult beverages, a few card games and generally lots of laughs. And maybe a little good natured competition. We played a few rounds of Outburst and then a lengthy game of 8 handed Phase 10. And I'm sure there were lots more things we could have gotten up to - a nice night like this spent at home with my good friends is something I cherish!
Here is my menu for our August Game Night. I made these all as small plates so we weren’t completely bulging over our belts when the evening was over. Recipes will follow with some interesting tidbits about why I included them in my menu.
Rum Spiked Black Raspberry Lemonade Spritzers
Sweet Potato Crackers with Peach Chutney and Cream Cheese
Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham
Mom’s Biscuits & Creamed Chicken Gravy
Rice Cakes & South Carolina Mustard Glazed Chicken Fingers
Fresh Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon Spiked Peaches
CAROLINA GOLD RICE
Come to find out, rice is a HUGE tradition in South Carolina. Once the colonists discovered a method for creating huge bogs for rice fields, they grew more rice there than anywhere else in the new world. While on vacation this summer, we visited Magnolia Plantation, which was originally a rice plantation. We conjured up romantic visions of riding in a horse-drawn open carriage down a long avenue of moss-draped live oaks leading us up to the graceful manor house. During their period of greatness, rice planters, like the antebellum planters of other communities, created a world that inspired young men to become country gentleman, and insisted that young women train to be plantation mistresses with perfect manners.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the plantation and manor houses still standing are now museums with little trace of the activity that took place there when rice was the main crop of the area. And ask any modern woman and she’ll only be too happy to tell you there aren’t many country gentlemen left these days and darned few men OR women with perfect manners.
CAROLINA GOLD RICE CAKES
From the Carolina Rice web site
1 cup Carolina Gold Rice
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp pepper
4 slices, cooked & chopped bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 each shallots, fine dice
½ red bell peppers, small dice
1 each green onion, fine dice
2 each eggs, beaten
½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
Bring Stock to a boil. Add rice and stir. Bring down to a simmer. Cook until rice is creamy. Drain off excess Liquid and cool at room temperature. Sauté shallots, garlic, red pepper, green onions with chopped bacon. cool to room temperature. add this mixture to cooled rice. Add flour and eggs.
Form rice into cakes to desired size—I got about 18 small appetizer-size rice cakes. Coat with Panko Bread crumbs. Sauté at a medium heat until rice cakes are a light brown.
There is hearty debate about barbeque (as testified by the multitude of BBQ contests smoking their way across the country) but there is one certain fact…South Carolina lays full claim to a very specific version of barbeque sauce. There’s no tomato allowed in this delicious and tangy sauce…mustard and vinegar are king in this part of the country.
Vinegar and pepper are the original barbeque ingredients and mustard was added in the Carolina’s thanks to large populations of Germans who settled in the area. Ketchup-y sauces didn’t become popular until the 1960’s when Kraft began mass-marketing the stuff to an eager country recently armed with backyards and charcoal grills. Thanks to the Kraft Corporation’s marketing savvy, we all just assumed that was barbeque. I won’t argue the fact here (however I DO think tomato when I think BBQ), but this sauce is lovely and tangy too.
SOUTH CAROLINA BARBEQUE SAUCE
When it comes to barbecue sauce recipes, mustard and vinegar is king in this part of the country. There's no ketchup allowed in this delicious and tangy South Carolina barbecue sauce recipe. And this comes with a warning – don’t get too close while making this, the fumes from the vinegar will take your head off while it’s cooking!
Makes 2 cups South Carolina Barbecue Sauce
Cook Time: 10 minutes
1 cup yellow mustard
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
Whisk together all ingredients, except butter in a saucepan, bring to a low simmer, and turn off heat. Stir in butter. Let cool to room temperature. May be used as a basting sauce towards the end of cooking, or brushed on after barbecuing, with additional sauce served on the side.
I wasn’t too sure about the reason sweet potatoes seemed to be so pervasive in southern cooking so I looked up a little history. The North Carolina Sweet Potato folks tell us that the American Indians were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus discovered America in 1492 - which makes it a native crop just like corn. I can’t say we ate many sweet potatoes (or yams…yes, I know there’s controversy there but we haven’t time to work it out just now) when growing up except for the candied things with marshmallows on them we had at Easter and Thanksgiving dinners. And although those were very good at the time, there are many, many dishes out there to try out made with the sweet potato. And I discovered they’re even researching to make ethanol out of sweet potatoes. Who knew? Someday this little tuber could be fueling our cars!
To incorporate the sweet potato into my Charleston menu I decided upon a southern classic – the sweet potato biscuit. Split and served up with some good ham and mustard these little gems seem to pop up on menus all over the south. A small cookbook I brought back from vacation had a recipe that I thought might do the trick…WRONG. I had the cutest little sweet potato hockey pucks one could ask for but they certainly were not worth eating. Well, the birds and squirrels ate them but I won’t say whether they liked them or not. So after one disastrous biscuit attempt I went back to my own roots and used Mom’s biscuit recipe and just added some sugar and sweet potatoes to the mixture. I’m happy to say these turned out great. To make appetizers for the party, I simply split the biscuit, added some ham and topped the ham with a little mustard and put the top back on. Later I discovered that these were even better with some peach conserve added to the ham. At least they were really good that way for breakfast the next day.
MOM’S BAKING POWDER BISCUITS
2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
4 Tbls. butter
¾ cup milk
In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Cut in the cold butter to resemble course crumbs. Add milk and process just until combined. Turn onto a floured surface, pat into a ¾ inch flat round. Cut with biscuit cutter or edge of a glass. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
TO MAKE A SWEET POTATO VERSION: add about ¼ cup sugar to the dry ingredients. Adding some cinnamon and nutmeg would be good too although I admit I didn’t think about this at the time. Add 1 small, baked and mashed sweet potato (½ to ¾ cup) to the dry ingredients and then just enough milk to make a soft dough.
I made a batch of these plain biscuits to serve up with my Creamed Chicken – which is what I ordered at Hominy Grill in Charleston when I couldn’t get the sweet potato pancakes I’d heard to much about. I thought everyone ate Creamed Chicken (also known in some parts as Chicken a la King), but lots of folks around the table hadn’t had it before. It was one of those family meals I grew up eating regularly. Mom always made the best biscuits and they had a starring role in this dish. The dish I had at Hominy Grill was just as wonderful as I remembered from our own kitchen. They topped theirs with a soft poached egg as a nod to breakfast time – and while it was delicious, it’s totally optional.
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 ½ cups cooked diced chicken
Make a roux from the butter and flour. Add the milk and stir until thick and creamy. Add seasonings, taste and adjust if necessary. Add vegetables, allow to heat through. Add cooked chicken and allow to heat through. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot over split biscuits or toast topped with additional pepper.
Since we are also celebrating my friend Grant’s birthday we made some hand-cranked ice cream. On top of the ice cream I served another southern staple – peaches – with a little spike of bourbon, of course. Peaches are grown all through the Carolina’s and Georgia so it would have been sadly remiss of me not to include them in some form. Lynn provided the custard and her ice cream maker churned it to a smooth, cool, creamy texture - perfect with the peaches. The ice cream didn’t set up quite as we’d hoped – but truly that’s the charm of making it at home that’s the fun of the whole ordeal. It was still cold and creamy and very delicious.