Last Sunday, we opened the column up to highlight home cooks while also continuing to field recipe requests as we have done for years. We asked you to suggest the names of family and friends regarded as "good cooks" and sure enough, y'all came through. Just keep those names coming!
Thanks to Marsha Korpanty for recommending Rena Butler of Edisto Island. Marsha says her friend is "an awesome Southern cook. Anything she makes from traditional dishes to those with a little extra flair is extraordinary. Additionally, she makes it all look so easy because she plans ahead and is so organized in the kitchen. ... Growing up on the Edisto River, she understood farm to table when it was the ONLY way to cook."
So I promptly got in touch with Rena, who was touched by the shout-out. She and her husband, Nicky, do live on Edisto and they have three grown children (Robin, Ricky and Rhonda), and four grandchildren (Lauren, Hunter, Kady and Hailey) and two dogs. She also is a nurse who retired from the Medical University of South Carolina.
I posed some questions to Rena and here's what she had to say:
Q: Have you had a lifelong interest in cooking? How and why did you get going?
A: I only got interested in cooking when I got married and I couldn't boil water.
Q: What are some of the dishes that define your style of cooking?
A: I cook collards and cornbread, black-eye peas, barbecue, cake, cookies, seafood - especially deviled crab - shrimp, catfish stew, oyster stew, clam chowder and my grandchildren's favorite, mac and cheese and strawberry salad.
Q: You live on Edisto, in the heart of the Lowcountry. There's so much talk about local cuisine these days. Is there a particular dish that epitomizes Edisto Island cooking?
A: I think all the seafood dishes and what you call Gullah cooking.
Q: Do you have any particular chef or cookbook author that you admire? If so, why?
A: No, the best cook I knew was my Aunt Rena and I have tried to cook like her.
Q: Is there another cuisine you would like to explore? Why?
A: French cooking, because they are known for their sauces (but my husband is a true Southern meat, seafood and potatoes eater)
Q: Best words of wisdom to a novice cook:
A: Don't be afraid to try new dishes and to add your own spin on a dish.
From Rena's recipe box Clam Chowder
5 large baking potatoes
4 slices bacon
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon Cliff House Spice Blend (recipe follows)
1 pint fresh clams; reserve juice
1 quart half-and-half
1 teaspoon black pepper
Sherry or hot sauce for serving (optional)
Cut potatoes in small pieces and boil until tender in a small amount of water, then drain.
In a large Dutch oven, fry bacon until crispy. Drain bacon and crumble.
Saute chopped onions in bacon grease. Add butter and spice blend. Add clams, half-and-half, crumbled bacon, cooked potatoes and the pepper. Heat slowly and do not allow to boil. Add clam juice to taste. Serve in warmed bowls. Sherry and/or hot sauce may be added to bowl according to personal preference.
Cliff House Spice Blend
4 teaspoons oregano
4 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons marjoram
2 teaspoons dill
4 teaspoons thyme
4 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon sage
4 teaspoons rosemary
2 teaspoons tarragon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Mix all together. Place in sealable plastic bag and crush with rolling pin. Store in refrigerator.
Good news: More vegetarian chili recipes trickled in. As we all know, variety is the spice of life. Here goes:
Isabelle D. Rooney of Summerville writes, "This is a wonderful recipe that my daughter sent to me. She serves it when she has a group come to her house where there are several vegetarians. It is always a hit, even to those who are not."
Ultimate Veggie Chili
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed (see cook's note)
2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 can (2 ounces) diced jalapenos, drained
1 (4-ounce) can green chilies, drained
2 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup whole roasted cashews
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnishes: (optional) sour cream, shredded cheddar, more roasted cashews
Cook's note: Freeze tofu solid. Thaw and squeeze out excess moisture.
In a large stockpot, saute onion, bell pepper and garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat until onions are starting to soften. Stir in cumin, chipotle and red pepper flakes. Crumble the thawed tofu into the mixture and saute 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Add all tomatoes, jalapenos, green chilies, black beans, kidney beans, corn and cashews; mix well. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.
From Cheryl Cote of Summerville: "I'm a chef and a vegetarian and this is my favorite."
Makes 30 portions
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups chopped onions
3 cups chopped carrots
12 minced garlic cloves
4 cups chopped green bell pepper
4 cups chopped red bell pepper
3 cups chopped celery
4 tablespoons chili powder
6 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
4 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
4 (19-ounce) cans kidney beans with liquid
4 (11-ounce) cans whole kernel corn
8 tablespoons ground cumin
6 teaspoons dried oregano
6 teaspoons dried basil
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions, carrots and garlic until tender.
Stir in green pepper and red peppers, celery and chili powder. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.
Stir in mushrooms and cook 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, kidney beans and corn. Season with cumin, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer for 25 minutes.
Lastly, a little zucchini goes in the pot. This recipe was shared by Lauri Adler Bailey of Charleston.
1 large onion, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium or large zucchini, diced
1 green pepper, diced
Canola or other vegetable oil
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15.25-ounce) whole kernel corn with liquid
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles with liquid
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Saute onion, garlic, zucchini and green pepper in 1 to 2 tablespoons oil. Add tomatoes, beans, corn and chiles. Add spices and stir to combine. Bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, to heat through and give flavors a chance to meld.