Sunday, May 30, 2010

Burgers are in my blood

wilhemina standing

Great-grandmother Wilhemina, ca. 1880.

In a way, you could say that this was the story that I was born to write. Because, you see, hamburgers are in my blood.

Like all things American, the hamburger came from somewhere else, in the case of the all-American burger, with German immigrants in the mid-19th century. Originally, it was a “Hamburg steak,” a patty of seasoned, ground meat and somewhere along the line, a clever soul added a bun and it became a hamburger. Germany was the predominant country of origin for American immigrants for most of the latter half of the nineteenth century. These immigrants included the parents of my great-grandmother, Wilhemina Hamberger, called Minnie. That's right, my great-grandmother was Minnie Hamberger, a name I have always found amusing, bringing to mind images of sliders and Krystals.

My great-grandfather Otto Eggert was born in appropriately enough, Hamburg, Germany, in 1859 and emigrated with his parents as a young child, settling in Saginaw, Michigan. Wilhemina and Otto married in 1884 and they lived in Montrose, Michigan, where he owned a store, later becoming a traveling salesman based in Toledo, Ohio. Mom says they were middle class, but I know they must have had plenty to eat - look at how much they changed in the last picture - the trim young couple in the 1880s, and the stout couple in the 20th century. They died within a year of each other, Minnie first, in 1925.

Otto and his son Edwin, in Toledo, around 1900.

In between, they had three daughters and a son, my grandfather, Edwin Carl Eggert. Granddaddy was a lively personality, a bit of an adventurer and a thrillseeker. He astonished my brothers and me when he rode a rollercoaster with us - he was in his 80s. He worked at his office job the day he died, just before Christmas 1978. That day, he took presents in for “the girls” (the secretaries at his office), came home, sat in his chair to read the mail, and died. He was 89 years old.

When I remember Granddaddy Eggert, I can't help but think of the changes he saw in his lifetime. He grew up riding horses and ice skating on a frozen river to school (or so he claimed). When he died, he drove a 1977 Chevy Malibu and hopped on an airplane to visit his children in Florida and Georgia. He loved to entertain his grandchildren, and I remember especially that he loved cheeseburgers.

Otto & Minnie in later years, ca. 1920.

Well into a second century of food icon status, the all-American hamburger has seen its share of changes, too. When I make burgers, I like to use bison or buffalo meat. I’m not sure if Minnie would approve, but when she grew up, the mighty beasts still roamed the Great Plains. Bison is a lean meat, with significantly less calories and cholesterol than beef or chicken. And while it’s not quite beefy, it does have a satisfying meaty taste and texture. It responds to seasoning well, and that’s why I beef up my bison with kitchen sink ingredients - soy sauce, steak sauce and chopped onion. I love to use the new slider buns available in the supermarket - it's a more favorable bun-to-burger ratio - so for my Great-Grandmother Minnie Hamberger, I present a mini-hamburger.


Buffalo Sliders

Makes six ¼ pound sliders

½ medium onion

1 1/3 pound ground bison or beef

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons steak sauce, such as Heinz 57

6 wheat slider buns


3 slices white American cheese, halved

3 bread and butter pickle sandwich slices, halved

1. Finely dice the onion and place in small bowl with water. Microwave for one minute, let cool, then drain.

2. In a bowl, mix together ground bison (or beef), cooled and drained onion, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, soy sauce and steak sauce. Using your hands and a light touch, combine thoroughly. Shape into six ¼- pound patties, round and an even thickness. If making ahead, wrap and refrigerate for up to a day.

3. Set a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Fry burgers in batches, if necessary, until desired degree of doneness, about five minutes on the first side, three minutes on the second for well done. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. (If you have a grillmeister in the house, by all means, grill the burgers.)

4. Toast the buns and assemble sandwiches: spread bun with mayonnaise, add patty, then cheese, then pickle.

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Beekeeping and Brunch Amid Skyscrapers

On the fifth floor terrace of an Atlanta hotel, I learned everything I always wanted to know about beekeeping. That's right, the miracle that is honey is taking place in midtown Atlanta, not at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, just a hop, skip and jump across a few skyscrapers, but smack dab on 14th Street at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Chef Robert Gerstenecker harvests the honey, processes it and uses it in his fine dining restaurant, Park 75.

The terrace is also home to six planters filled with herbs, tomatoes and peppers, and a hydroponic garden for lettuces. Chef Gerstenecker grew up on a farm in Canada and believes in incorporating farm-to-table principles in his cuisine.

chef w bees
Chef Gerstenecker shows off a tray from the hive. The hive will produce about 100 pounds of honey this year.

The hydroponic lettuces go from seed to harvest in just one month.

The variegated sage is a brilliant addition to the herb garden. 

Housemade pickles in the Park 75 kitchen. They tasted just like the bread and butter pickles my aunt made.
buttery and honey
The honey and comb atop fresh sweet cream butter that accompanied the banana bread starter.

The way all good meals should end: with freshly glazed doughnuts (above) and sorbet (below) in the kitchen.


I visited Park 75 this past weekend as part of the Blogger's Brunch - about two dozen local food bloggers were treated to a tour of the rooftop garden and demonstration of the hives, followed by a stellar brunch at Park 75 featuring the "rooftop honey" and produce.

The Menu
The cocktail: a Mason jar Bloody Mary with a skewer of pickles - bread and butter, okra and pearl onion. And a crispy slice of bacon. I'm not making this up. As God is my witness, there was bacon in the booze and I ate it, cold congealed fat and all, and it was pretty darn good.
On the table: homemade banana bread, very good, maybe not as good as my best loaf, but still nothing to be ashamed about. Sweet cream butter topped with honey and honeycomb. And homemade bread and butter pickles and pickled okra. I had to restrain myself from eating my portion and my neighbor's - they were the old-fashioned kind that nobody makes anymore.
Athens Benedict, a vegetarian version with an heirloom tomato, sprouts, avocado and herb hollandaise. A sterling reminder that a runny egg yolk is a beautiful thing, especially when topped with hollandaise. Outstanding.
Chicken & Waffle, fried chicken glazed with rooftop honey sitting on the cutest little waffle I'd ever seen. This was lovely to look at, and many of the bloggers raved, but it's a dish that I just don't get. (Still ate it, though, cause someone worked really hard to make it.)
Wood-Grilled Waygu Skirt Steak with Blue Cheese Potato Salad. Some sort of Asian sweet glaze on the beef. Very tasty. And you don't have to sell me on blue cheese, it's one of my favorite things.
Tempura Squash Blossom filled with local Split Creek goat cheese. This was perfect - I've never prepared squash blossoms before and certainly never eaten them in a restaurant. This was simple and fresh and fun. Probably my fave bite of the day.
Seared Scallop with Spring Vegetable Risotto. The cook who prepared the scallops should go to Top Chef - the scallop gave up its life in a noble and perfectly-cooked fashion. Nary a drop of risotto remained on my plate.

After this feast, we repaired to the kitchen for desserts - homemade doughnuts (Boston cream, glazed and chocolate sauce) and house made sorbet. My friend and fellow blogger Susan says the doughnuts were delicious, but I went for the sorbet - two mini scoops, mango and lemon.

You know how you can eat an obscene amount of glorious food, but still require just a little something to finish it off? Chef Gerstenecker understands this and had housemade chocolates on hand. This glossy dark bar is the best kind of chocolate - just one piece is all you need to satisfy the urge.

But wait there's more - a lagniappe to take home - I left with a goody bag full of housemade spiced pecans and peach preserves from last summer. I feel like I visited Chef Gerstenecker's childhood farmhouse. I wonder if he'll give me the recipe for the pickles?

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Low Country Love: Shrimp & Grits

Breakfast-style shrimp and grits by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

If there is a universal code of comfort food, surely shrimp and grits would be part of it. If I were writing the rules, I would say that comfort food: 1. must be warm, 2. served in a bowl, and 3. be filling to the belly and soothing to the soul. Like the best music and books, comfort food is imbued with a sense of place and a bowl of shrimp and grits, just like Proust's madeleine, pulls me back every time to the South Carolina low country.

I have a South Carolina provenance, spending eight of my growing-up years in the northern part of the state, but I didn’t see the painted houses of Charleston and dine on shrimp and grits until many years after I’d left the red clay for the green hills of Georgia. The upstate town where my family lived, Gaffney, is peach country, where we could buy the juiciest, most luscious peaches imaginable, but shrimp came from the A & P, just like everything else. Before I visited Charleston, I read Pat Conroy's books, in the same way that folks read books before they see movies, I had to read about the low country before I saw it for myself. Conroy is nationally know as the author of the “Prince of Tides“ and “The Great Santini” and dear to this Southerner's heart. He’s a raconteur, a lover of stories and food, and both are given equal treatment in his cookbook, "The Pat Conroy Cookbook." (If I ever meet Mr. Conroy again, I'm going to tell him that the title is factual, but doesn't do the content justice - this book is as much memoir as recipes.)

Conroy's books bring the South Carolina low country, particularly Beaufort, to life - he calls them "psalms" to his hometown. This is his description of the low country, "I cannot look at a salt marsh, veined with salt creeks swollen with the moonstruck tides, without believing in God. The marsh is feminine, voluptuous when the creeks fill up with the billion-footed swarm of shrimp and blue crabs and oysters in the great rush to creation in the spring."

The fishers of the billion-footed swarm are losing out to overseas competion, according to the South Carolina Shrimper's Association Marketing Board. Its website says that 75 percent of the shrimp market has been lost to cheaper pond-raised, imported shrimp. If supporting the American shrimp market is important to you, be sure to look for "American Ocean-Caught Shrimp" on the label.

Charlestonians have many ways with shrimp, (forgive me if this sounds Bubba Gump) pickled shrimp, shrimp paste, and my favorite, shrimp and grits. This is the fisherman’s breakfast, served on the boat or at home, with fresh-from-the-brine shrimp and the Southern standby, grits, which is dried, ground corn. (It’s similar to polenta and a satisfying food for breakfast or supper.) What started as inexpensive, readily available food has become an upscale icon of regional cuisine, and surely on every menu in restaurant-mad Charleston.

My recipe for shrimp and grits isn’t fancy, but does showcase the superlative sweetness of American ocean-caught shrimp. I saute the little guys in butter and finish with a hit of lemon juice. The grits are creamy and rich thanks to milk and chicken broth, butter and Parmesan cheese. My children love this, and it's cooked more often for supper than for breakfast.

Shrimp and Grits, Breakfast Style
Serves 4
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups milk
1 cup grits (see note below)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste

1 stick butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (save the peels for future shrimp broths)
Juice of one lemon (you won’t use it all)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a nonstick saucepan, pour in chicken broth, water and milk and heat over a medium flame until bubbles appear at perimeter. (Voice of experience: don’t leave the room, because boiled-over milk is a bear to clean.) Add grits in a slow, steady stream, stirring with a whisk all the while. Stone-ground grits take about 30 minutes of patient and frequent stirring, quick grits take between 5 and 10 minutes of steady whisking action. When grits are just shy of done (depends on your personal taste - loose or leaden), stir in Parmesan and butter and season to taste.

2. Pull out your favorite skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. When butter is foamy, add the shrimp and let cook until pink, just a couple of minutes. Stir to ensure even pinkiness. Freshen with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Serve bowls of creamy grits garnished with shrimp.

A note on grits: Chef cookbooks specify using stone-ground grits, organic preferred. These are not easy to come by for the home cook who shops at suburban supermarkets. And I find the idea of mail-ordering grits to be absurd. Every time I use stone ground grits, my kids pick out the brown specks and accuse me of putting bugs in their food. So, I use ordinary store brand grits in a canister. Look for brand names like Quaker and Jim Dandy and all will be fine. If you live in the South, look for the bag of Dixie Lily brand yellow corn grits. They cook in five minutes and have a perky yellow color that will make you smile.

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.

The quote about salt marshes and God is from "The Pat Conroy Cookbook," published by Random House, © 2004.

Monday, May 17, 2010

P is for Potluck (and Peas!)

7 Layer Salad by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Contrary to what many believe, May, not December, is the busiest month for my colleagues in the mommy business. You may think that December, with class parties and church happenings, would be the craziest time of the year, but the end of the school year seems to slip on us and before we know it, we’re slammed with breathlessly important occasions such as Teacher Appreciation Days and Fifth Grade Graduation and the End of Year Soccer/Beta Club/Band Party. All of these occasions demand food and eventually folks tire of pizza and that’s where the mommies step up and bring a covered dish.

The queen of the covered dish is my friend Julie. We’ve been friends since college, and twenty years after rooming together at UGA, we still seemed stunned that we spend our lives in carpool lines and not behind desks. Julie is a first-class cook and is always the first to volunteer to bring a dish to an event. In our weekly call from the carpool line, she told me that her latest success was a layered salad. If you're not familiar with the layered salad, it's the kind of recipe that Paula Deen has built an empire around. It's a potluck staple, a green salad layered in a pretty glass bowl with green peas, onions, bacon and cheese, then topped with a creamy mayonnaise dressing.

“It was a big hit,” she said. It kind of surprised her, but “you know, nobody cooks anymore. They eat in restaurants or if they cook, they open a box first.” We’ve decided that we’re the last of the casserole queens, the ones who cook from scratch and carry a dish to every family, church and school gathering. I suppose layered salad is kind of a cold casserole, with the base of lettuce substituting for pasta or rice, and the requisite green vegetable, peas in the middle. Topped with cheese, and mayonnaise subbing for the cream of whatever soup, and you see what I mean.

can o peas

Julie’s recipe is from her church cookbook, and it’s from Miss Ethel Arrington, a woman who never married and played the organ at the church. Miss Ethel Arrington specified a can of LeSueur Peas in her layered salad, and Julie doesn’t substitute. The silver can is a guilty pleasure for me - I can’t think of LeSueur ("Very Young Small Early") peas without memories of my Grandmother Kitty, with her Montgomery, Alabama, accent, saying “LeSu-wuuuuu-er peas.” She served them at all family gatherings, convinced that the only green vegetable that her many grandchildren would eat is LeSueur brand peas. The menu would include a cooked ham, potato salad with and without celery (another story for another time), heated canned peas, blueberry Jell-O salad (the kind with the cream cheese topping) and, if we were lucky, her homemade itty-bitty biscuits.

While I keep a can of LeSueur peas in the pantry, I'm more likely to use frozen English peas when I cook. Peas are the only vegetable that comes to mind that is nearly as good frozen as fresh. It's a frozen pantry staple for me - a handful of peas thrown into a stir fry or added at the last minute to beef stew. Frozen peas are a kitchen workhorse, completing the sacred triumverate in a meat and potato meal, or adding their sweet mellow selves to a potluck dish. In a pinch, the bag of frozen peas makes a handy ice pack for boo-boos. (At the very least, it will get a giggle from your child.)

My layered salad is adapted from, perhaps the church cookbook of the internet age. If you want to be true to Miss Ethel Arrington and my grandmother, use two cans of LeSueur peas, drained, instead of the frozen, thawed, English peas. Peas are a good choice for the layered salad, between the sharp onion and crunchy lettuce, creamy mayonnaise dressing and salty bacon, the emerald spheres make pleasant, sweet pops in your mouth.

layered salad
7 layer salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Sweet Pea Seven-Layered Salad

1 lb. bacon, cooked, crumbled, drained

1 head of iceberg lettuce, chopped

1 bunch green onions, all of white and some green, chopped fine

1 (12 oz.) package frozen green peas, thawed

1 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped cauliflower

1 ¼ cups mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sugar

4 perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

A handful of wasabi peas, optional

1. In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and sugar and let rest while you assemble the salad.

2. Use a large, clear glass bowl, if you have one, but any large, deep bowl will do. Place the lettuce in the bottom of the bowl and top with a layer of onion, then follow with peas, shredded cheese and cauliflower. Spread mayonnaise mixture on top of salad. Sprinkle bacon and egg on top. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. If you want a little kick to your layered salad, add my favorite crunchy/spicy snack - wasabi peas across the top of individual servings.
© 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Weekend's Baking

(above) Lemon Glazed Thins

(above) Ginger Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal

My church is having a knitting party tomorrow, and although I won't be able to attend, I thought I'd send in cookies so the women could have something sweet to eat while they're knitting hats. I've written several times about the ginger cookies, they're my all-time favorite cookie. The chocolate chip cookie is just the recipe on the Nestle bag with reduced flour and added oatmeal. The Lemon Thins are new to me - they're from Susan Purdy's The Family Baker and are WONDERFUL! I'm crazy about lemon and it's about all I can do to keep from devouring these.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Apron Strings

Chicken & Dumplings. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
My mom is cleaning out. She says that she's doing my brothers and me a favor by doing a big clean before, heaven forbid, something happens to her and Dad. Mom remembers too well cleaning out her father's basement when he passed away at age 89. That basement could have been a time capsule - suitcases with Aunt Eloise's x-rays, discarded wheelchairs and crutches from various family hospital stays through the years, cancelled checks from 1910. I wish I could say I was making this up, but I was along for the emptying of the basement and I remember it well.

My mom's big clean means that my brother got the telephone lamp - you hang up the receiver to dim the light, something we could do for hours as children - and I got Mom’s collection of aprons. Does anyone outside of a restaurant kitchen wear aprons anymore? I don't always remember to wear them, but my mom always did when preparing dinner. She kept them in the bottom drawer next to the Harvest Gold side-by-side refrigerator, separate from the kitchen towels. That’s right, she had a drawer just for aprons. She made them herself, cotton gingham with rickrack trim and a single pocket. When I helped in the kitchen, I’d pull one out, asking first for the organza hostess aprons that weren’t practical (they were dressy aprons meant for tea and bridge parties), but settling for the gingham and rickrack version with the gathers at the waist. The aprons would circle my waist, fully covering me and the ties would wrap twice or sometimes three times around. Those days are gone.

On some of those apron-wearing days, Mom would let me choose a recipe and we would cook together. She didn’t have a lot of cookbooks, but she did have an old-fashioned recipe folder stuffed with yellowed newspaper clippings. There were more than recipes in the binder - vintage Erma Bombeck columns, clipped because they made Mom laugh out loud; a real estate listing of a log home by a river, complete with a working mill; these were Mom’s life and dreams. And there were recipes, tried and true gems from the newspapers where we lived when my family was young - the Nashville Banner, the Tennesseean, the Spartanburg Herald and Charlotte Observer (we lived in Gaffney, South Carolina, and subscribed to the Gaffney Ledger, and occasionally the Spartanburg paper, but Mom insisted that the Observer had the best food section).

Mom’s chicken and dumplings recipe came from one of these clippings, in a story from the Charlotte paper about a woman who raised a dozen kids in the darkest days of the Depression. She lived on a farm and learned to make great quantities of food for her family. Her recipe produced tender chicken and fluffy dumplings and was finished off with the odd choice of a ½ stick of margarine melted on top. Over the years, Mom and I have each changed the recipe to suit our cooking styles. She makes hers with boneless chicken breasts and canned broth. I prefer meat on the bone and the broth from a gentle poach. Neither of us adds the margarine at the end.
Making broth. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

When I think of my inspiration in the kitchen, I know that it most surely comes from my mom, but I can’t think of a single recipe that is all hers, that I make just the way Mom taught me. My mom is an excellent cook, but I have to say the greatest cooking lesson she ever gave me was to be open-minded and to learn where I can - from other cooks, from books, from TV. I absorb it all and the results are my own.

I make chicken and dumplings about once a month, especially during the winter. When I make this recipe, it makes so much more than my family can eat, so I will pull out a couple of servings and give them to her. She says my chicken and dumplings are better than hers. Can you believe that?

Dumplings ready for the stew-pot. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

My latest variation is in response to some folks who claim a metallic taste in baking powder. I understand this, especially with these dumplings which require three teaspoons baking powder to 3 cups flour - that’s a lot of baking powder. I borrowed a technique from "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis. Miss Lewis made her own baking powder of ¼ cup cream of tartar to 2 tablespoons baking soda. I mixed this up and used it in the dumplings with great success.

dumplings in pot
Dumplings in broth. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

When I make this recipe, I don't always use a whole chicken - it's quite good made with just chicken breasts or chicken thighs, but if using the latter, I always brown the skin first and remove it, scraping up the tasty bits in the bottom of the pan to enhance the broth. I will also use chicken broth, homemade or canned, instead of the water. But the dumplings are never altered. They are different from most dumplings - they puff like biscuits in the stew. After reheating, they absorb the broth, swelling into yummy pillows.

Chicken & Dumplings. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Chicken and Dumplings

1 (3 lb.) chicken
1 onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced medium
3 carrots, peeled and diced medium

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
About 1 1/2 cups milk, more or less, for the dumplings
Additional milk for the stew

1. Wash chicken and place in pot with water to cover. Add onion and bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken from pot, let cool and remove meat from bones. Throw away carcass, chop meat. Reserve broth.

2. To make dumplings, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening by your preferred method (I’ve given up on pastry blenders; hands are my favored tool for this), until mixture is mealy and the particles are small. Add enough cold milk to make a workable dough, up to a cup and a half. Knead the dough and lightly press out 1/2 inch thick with floured hands onto a floured counter. Cut into 1 - inch strips.

3. Bring broth to a gentle boil, using a fine mesh skimmer to scoop up the fat and gray crud from the surface. In a separate pan, cook celery, onions and carrots in a small amount of water until soft, about 10 minutes. Add cooked vegetables to broth, then chicken pieces, then gently drop dumplings into pot, allowing each to puff up and rise to the surface. When all dumplings are in, add milk to the stew to achieve proper consistency, about a cup or two. Taste for seasoning. Let simmer about 15 minutes. Feed to your hungry family.

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

My Mother's Day outing was a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, where nearly everything was in bloom. Happy Mother's Day, friends!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mayonnaise: the Stuff of Life

I recently read that Harp seal mommies nurse their pups for just 12 days before leaving them in the cold North Atlantic waters to search for food. The seal mother’s milk is thick enough to sustain the pup, in fact the book described it as “creamy and thick like mayonnaise.” Another reminder, this time from the animal kingdom, that mayonnaise is the stuff of life.

I come from mayonnaise people. I was raised on mayonnaise. We weren’t loyalists in my parents' house, all brands had a tryout - Kraft, Blue Plate, Hellmann’s and the staple of the South, Duke’s. There was an unfortunate, dark time of a healthy eating kick that meant strange mayo pretend-to-be’s were stocked. A lesson learned the hard way: mayonnaise needs real fat to taste good.

Mayonnaise is a constant thread through the kitchens I have known - my grandmother put mayonnaise in a celadon ceramic crock beside a plate of sliced garden tomatoes. My husband is from Macon, Georgia, and he remembers his grandma serving pound cake slices slathered in mayonnaise and fried. Mayonnaise is culinary glue - it holds together any number of salads - egg, pimento cheese, chicken, tuna, cole slaw, potato. As the basis of a sauce, it can dress up everything from fish to pasta.

Here is a menu celebrating the accessorizing power of mayonnaise and the Dorado that my husband caught last week. It’s a little South of France meets Heart of Dixie, and a tribute to the universality of mayonnaise, a sauce which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, came to France by way of Spain. I used the mayonnaise from a jar, but the recipes are easily adapted to homemade mayo. Follow Francis Lam’s detailed instructions or my streamlined cheat sheet:

Pan-Fried Dorado Sliders with Spicy Tartar Sauce
Fish Stew with Red Pepper Aioli
Fried Pound Cake

Pan Fried Dorado Sliders with Spicy Tartar Sauce
For the sliders, I dredged chunks of Dorado in seasoned flour and cornmeal and fried them until done. I served them on mini buns with shredded cabbage and this spicy tartar sauce.

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
10 pickled jalapeƱo rounds, minced
Three teaspoons dill pickle relish
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients together. Make ahead for better flavor. Store in refrigerator.

fish stew

Fish Stew with Red Pepper Aioli

Fish stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 leeks, chopped, use the whites and part of the greens
1 cup white wine
2 cups shrimp stock or clam juice or water
4 cloves garlic
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1/2 pound fish fillets, chopped into bite-size pieces

1. In a stockpot, saute carrot and leeks in olive oil until soft. Add white wine and cook until reduced by half. Add stock or clam juice or water, and garlic and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add fish and cook for about 5 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve with red pepper aioli.

Red pepper aioli
1 cup mayonnaise
1 roasted, peeled and seeded red bell pepper
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a food processor, with blade running, drop in garlic cloves. Add bell pepper and process until pasty. Add remaining ingredients and process. Make a day ahead for better flavor. Store in refrigerator.

fried pound cake

Fried Pound Cake
This is my husband's childhood treat, a slice of pound cake, buttered on both sides with mayonnaise and cooked on a griddle. It's sweet and salty at the same time. I would say add sweetened berries and whipped cream, but it's pretty indulgent on its own.

© 2010, Lucy Mercer.
Fish Stew and Red Pepper Aioli adapted from the New California Cook by Diane Rossen Worthington.
Spicy Tartar Sauce adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine.
Fried Pound Cake adapted from a fine country cook.