Sometimes it’s good to turn things upside-down.
This column usually starts with recipes and ends with requests. But I am so impressed by the interesting requests made this week by readers that I thought they should come first. I’m excited about the responses they may bring, and hope you are, too. Here goes:
Nancy and Jim Gouse write, “Halloween is right around the corner and my husband and I just moved from James Island where there were no children in our community to Johns Island where there are children in the neighborhood. With all that is going on with allergies, ‘sick’ people doing things to treats, trying to avoid sweets, etc., we would like some help on what we should be giving out on Halloween.”
So readers, what can you recommend that is healthy (or at least healthier than most candies), steers clear of common allergens such as nuts, and still will be appealing to children? Please send ideas and of course, recipes if you have them.
Sharon Cook of Charleston writes, “With the plethora of food and ethnic festivals we enjoy in Charleston all year round, I am at a loss as to why we do not have any kind of Oktoberfest/German festival. I lived in a small town in western Nebraska (population 6,000) that managed to put on a world-class German festival, complete with rotisserie chicken and a wide variety of wursts (and beer) and ethnic dancing. I would love to get some great authentic German recipes so that I can re-create them in my own kitchen and pay homage to my own fractional German heritage.”
Now I know there many people of German heritage in the Lowcountry (including myself), so here’s your chance to show off some tasty German cooking. Also of note, the Charleston Battery hosts an Oktoberfest at Blackbaud Stadium on Oct. 7. Get more info at www.charleston battery.com.
Sandra Salmon of Summerville is flummoxed by oysters.
“I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of slimy oysters and don’t know anything about how to prepare them. My husband likes oyster stew and has been (thankfully) satisfied with a well-known canned brand. However, many stores have ceased to carry it, for whatever reason, and it seemed to be more broth and fewer oysters in recent years.
“I’ve perused various cookbooks and find that it doesn’t look to be too difficult a dish to make, but I’m not very knowledgeable on the proper handling of the little critters. Many of the recipes seem to make an enormous amount and I wonder: When made, does it all need to be consumed at one meal or can leftovers be used within a few days? Can it be frozen?
“As a ‘seasoned’ citizen, I am constantly trying to downsize recipes and portions, but the smallest carton of raw oysters I’ve been able to find is 8 ounces and not inexpensive, which seems would make about a quart, maybe enough for two meals for him. Would the canned smoked oysters work?”
And there’s more from Sandra ...
“Gullah Gourmet makes a wonderful She Crab Soup mix, which I love. I wonder if the base could be divided into two, with half for oysters and half for crab?
“Maybe a few recipes could find a way into your column as the ‘R’ months are here for a while and there is a slight feel of fall in the air.”
Yes, hooray for fall and the return of oysters! As my colleague Brian Hicks cleverly remarked last week, standing outside: “They finally fixed the air-conditioning.”
Sandra has a lot of questions about oysters, and I also know there are plenty of “seasoned” oyster aficionados out there who have answers ... and recipes. We would love to hear from you.
A colleague asked about homemade chocolate eclairs. We thought, how fun! But we didn’t get a single recipe for the classic version. More on that later. Instead, the recipes readers submitted are for desserts with eclair-like flavors. Still, they are well-worth sharing.
Sue Ciucci of Mount Pleasant writes, “I saw the note this morning that you’re still looking for homemade chocolate éclairs. Well, I can’t help you there! But I do have a recipe for Eclair Dessert ... It’s an old recipe I’ve given out nearly every time I serve it. It’s just one of those tried-and-true recipes that always comes out well; you can make the day before; and people always seem to enjoy.”
Graham crackers (whole, not crumbs)
3 cups cold milk
2 small packages (3.4-ounce) instant vanilla pudding
8 ounces nondairy whipped topping, such as Cool Whip
Use a 9x13-inch pan for the whole recipe, or you can halve it in an 8x8-inch pan.
Cover bottom of dish with whole graham crackers, breaking to fit if necessary. Mix milk and pudding with a whisk until it thickens, then stir in whipped topping. Spread half over the graham crackers. Put on second layer of crackers. Spread on the rest of the pudding mixture. Put on third layer of crackers. Mix frosting (below).
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
Milk as necessary (1/8 to 1/4 cup)
Mix frosting ingredients together with whisk until smooth, starting with 1/8 cup milk, adding up to 1/4 cup, until frosting is smooth and spreadable. Spread over top of graham crackers. Refrigerate for 6 hours. Can be made the day before.
Patricia Green of Mount Pleasant sent essentially the same recipe, with another way of making the frosting:
Melt 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate baking squares with 3 tablespoons butter or margarine. Add 2 tablespoons corn syrup, 11/2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. Add warm water if mixture is too thick. Spread over crackers as directed above.
But the real-deal chocolate eclairs are not that hard to make. After all, they are basically elongated cream puffs. A few steps, yes, but not difficult ones. We turned to Good Housekeeping’s “Baking” cookbook (Hearst, 1999).
Of note: The “choux” in choux pastry means cabbages; the recipe takes its name from the plump, round shape of cream-puff shells.
Also, baked unfilled shells can be frozen. After filling and frosting, eclairs can be refrigerated for up to 3 hours.
For the vanilla pastry cream:
Makes 23/4 cups
21/4 cups milk, divided use
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat 2 cups milk to boiling over high heat. Meanwhile, in large bowl, with wire whisk, beat egg yolks, remaining ¼ cup milk and sugar until smooth; whisk in cornstarch and flour until combined. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg-yolk mixture.
Return mixture to saucepan; cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking, 2 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour pastry cream into shallow dish. Press plastic wrap onto surface of pastry cream to keep skin from forming as it cools. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
For the chocolate glaze:
Makes about ½ cup
3 squares (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon milk
In heavy 1-quart saucepan, heat chocolate with butter, corn syrup and milk over low heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
For the choux pastry:
Makes 30 eclairs
1 cup water
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
In 3-quart saucepan, heat water, butter and salt to boiling over medium heat until butter has melted. Remove saucepan from heat. With wooden spoon, vigorously stir in flour all at once until mixture forms ball and leaves side of pan.
Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until batter is smooth and satiny. Shape warm batter as directed.
For the eclairs:
Prepare pastry cream, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour large cookie sheet. Spoon batter into large pastry bag fitted with ½-inch round tip.
Pipe batter into strips about 31/2 inches by ¾ inch, 1 inch apart, onto prepared cookie sheet to make 30 eclairs. With fingertip dipped in water, smooth any peaks.
Bake 40 minutes, or until deep golden.
Transfer pastries to wire racks to cool.
With serrated knife, cut each cooled eclair horizontally almost in half, leaving one side attached. With small knife, make hole in each end. Whisk pastry cream until smooth; spoon into large pastry bag fitted with ¼-inch round tip.
Pipe into bottom halves of split eclairs or pipe into both ends of whole eclairs.
Prepare chocolate glaze.
Dip top of each eclair into glaze, smoothing with small metal spatula if necessary. Let stand until glaze sets.
A Johns Islander requests readers’ favorite recipes for catfish, prepared any way.
If there’s a recipe you’ve lost or a dish you are just wondering about, email food@postandcourier or call Food Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886.
Five years ago, Karen Kuhn lucked into getting a new job and a boss with a yen for hospitality.After Joe Buckheister hired her, Kuhn saw how cooking for groups, including the office, came naturally and easily to him.“He is an original Lowcountry ‘Gullah’ chef. He loves to cook and thoroughly enjoys the pleasure of seeing people enjoy his talent. He always has a club meeting that he has volunteered to cook for or a friend, like me, who asks for a pot of okra gumbo or chicken bog.”Indeed, Buckheister’s specialties are often one-pot dishes.Kuhn says there is no one quite like Buckheister. “He is a true Charleston gentleman and a very good cook.”Name: Joe BuckheisterAge: 65Residence: Johns IslandFamily: Wife of 44 years (Kay); sons (Brooks and Kevin); daughter (Rachel); son-in-law (Charles); and granddaughter (Jessica).Occupation: Semi-retired VP/GM McAllister Towing (Tugs). Presently working two days a week in sales.Q. Here in Charleston, there is a special breed of men who really like to cook the Lowcountry way, and you probably know them all. What dishes or ingredients define that style of cooking for you?A. Pilaus or “bogs,” soups and stews. Most all of my dishes usually start with bacon, sausage and onions. I shy away from casseroles except around the house.Q. Who or what got you started on this path?A. My mother. She was an excellent cook. I enjoyed helping her with the Sunday dinners. And I learned a lot from an old black cook at work back in the 1970s and ’80s. He cooked for the crews and office personnel. He served a good old-fashioned country meal five days a week.Q. You are a big fan of rice. (We’re guessing it’s not brown rice.) Is it true that in old Charleston, most families cooked a pot of rice every day?A. No, definitely not brown rice. I tried it once but it is definitely not my favorite. And, yes, my mother had either rice or potatoes (and sometimes both) at every meal. Rice and gravy, or pilaus, were a must at our home come dinner time. Rice and a good brown gravy made from a pork roast. “It don’t get no better!”Q. What is your favorite rice dish?A. I guess my favorite would be a good old-fashioned chicken bog. This is chicken cooked in a large pot of water until done. Remove the chicken from the bones and add to the broth along with some rice, onions, celery and sausage, plus some seasonings, and you have a meal. This with a salad and vegetable is a complete meal. Simple and easy!Q. We hear that you like to cook for the office or for groups, like clubs. Some people are terrified of that; what do you most enjoy about it?A. The feedback. I love it when people come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the food and ask if I’ll share my recipe.Q. Can you think of an old Lowcountry dish that could be lost to future generations (and be a real shame if it happened)?A. One comes to mind. When I was growing up, my mother would head downtown to the old market and pick up a “soup bunch.” It was fresh collards and turnip greens, rutabagas, white turnips, carrots, celery, an onion and fresh thyme tied together in a bunch. This would be made into a large pot of fresh vegetable soup, cooked with tomatoes, stew beef and a big beef bone. I still cook it but I buy my vegetables separate, usually using frozen collard and turnip greens. And you cannot find beef bones in the grocery store today like the old times. I have to substitute beef ribs.Q. All good cooks follow the seasons. What transitions are you making at this time of year?A. With deer season now in full swing, I’ll start with some venison recipes I’ve picked up from some of my hunting buddies. Plus, the crabs are plentiful now off my dock. I enjoy making devil crabs from a recipe passed down from my mother. And I cook a lot with the fresh shrimp now available, especially shrimp pilau and shrimp creole!Q. What is something on your bucket list, food-wise?A. I’ve heard lots about Cajun food in Louisiana and I’ve made my version of Cajun food. I’d like to sample some of their cooking. See, real simple. Forget about all the fancy foods from around the world.A favorite recipe:Sausage and Okra PilauIngredients1 pound mild pork sausage1 medium onion, diced1½ pounds frozen or fresh cut okra4 cups water1 package dry onion soup mixSalt, pepper, garlic powder and dash of MSG (optional) to taste2 cups raw riceDirectionsFry sausage in large heavy pot until done. Remove sausage from pot and pour off excess fat, reserving approximately 4 tablespoons. Saute onion and okra in grease until vegetables are tender. Add water, onion soup, sausage and seasonings and bring to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover, turn down to medium heat and cook until all liquid is absorbed, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Note from Joe: “I substitute one can of field peas for the okra at times (especially around New Year’s). This is my version of Hoppin’ John.”If you would like to suggest a good home cook to be profiled, email email@example.com with “Good Cook” as the subject line. Briefly describe the person’s talent and how you know him or her, and provide their phone number or email address so we can contact them.