Hurricane Irene heads toward Hispaniola and US

In the U.S., Irene, the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane seasion, was expected to affect Florida and could clip Georgia and the Carolinas.

The subject of buttermilk struck a practical cooking nerve in a number of local cooks.

Linda Wood of Mount Pleasant requested recipes after facing the prospect of throwing buttermilk away. She was buying buttermilk for soaking frying chicken and would have more than she could use.

But first, what is buttermilk? In the old days, it was the liquid remaining after butter was churned. Today it is produced by adding a lactic acid bacteria culture to nonfat or low-fat milk, which thickens the milk slightly and makes it tangy like yogurt. Typically, it's labeled as "cultured buttermilk." It is lower in fat than sweet milk despite what the name implies.

A few readers say no need to have "leftover" buttermilk -- just make exactly what you need.

Irvin T. Bush of Charleston, Claudia Radeke of Johns Island and Judy Oken of Meggett all shared this tip: Mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with enough whole milk to equal 1 cup. Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes before using.

From Marie Gann of West Ashley: "When I have leftover buttermilk, I measure 1 cup portions, put in a (sealable) bag and freeze. Easy to use for the next recipe calling for buttermilk and readily available."

Harriet Little of Summerville keeps powdered buttermilk in her refrigerator for when the need arises. "This seems to be a logical alternative to having excess quantities," she says.

We did get recipes, however. This one is from Judy Oken:

Buttermilk Pound Cake

1 cup butter (soft)

2 1/2 cups sugar

6 eggs

3 cups sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon almond flavoring

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and beat well. Sift the flour and soda together and add alternately with the buttermilk. Mix well and add in the flavorings. Bake in a greased tube pan for 1 hour and 30 minutes at 325 degrees or until center of cake is done.

June Sageser of Charleston writes, "I almost always keep buttermilk on hand to use making biscuits. I have substituted it for regular milk and found that it enhances the flavor of everything, making it sweeter and heartier. It can be used in puddings, muffins and corn bread. Many cake recipes call for it as well, notably red velvet cake and Italian cream cake.

"If you like nuts and coconut, here is a simple recipe."

Buttermilk Pie

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup buttermilk

Dash of vanilla flavoring

1 cup nuts, chopped

1 cup coconut

Refrigerated, rolled pie crust dough for 1 (9-inch) pie

Dab of butter or margarine

Mix eggs and sugar with electric mixer. Add buttermilk and vanilla, mixing just until blended. Stir in nuts and coconut. Place dough in pie pan according to package directions. Pour buttermilk mixture into pie shell and put 4 small pinches of butter on top. Bake at 350 degrees until done when crust is brown, about 50 minutes.

Hominy Grill Chef Robert Stehling is known for his Southern classic version of Buttermilk Pie with just the right touch of lemon juice and freshly grated nutmeg. It bakes into layers of light-yellow custard on the bottom with a lighter, cakey layer on top. That is, if you can match his skill.

The recipe was published in The Post and Courier five years ago.

Buttermilk Pie

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon lemon juice, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 8-inch deep-dish pie crust, blind-baked until very lightly browned

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine butter and sugar until well-blended. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add flour, lemon juice, nutmeg and salt. Add buttermilk in a thin stream until blended. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites until they form soft peaks. Pour about 1/4 cup buttermilk mixture into egg whites and fold gently by hand to combine. Pour egg-white mixture into buttermilk mixture and fold gently until just combined. Mixture will be somewhat lumpy.

Pour filling into a baked pie shell. Bake in middle of oven until filling is lightly browned and barely moves when pie is jiggled, 45 to 50 minutes.

If you have added more than one tablespoon of lemon juice, it may take longer for pie to brown, so bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, if desired. If edge of crust browns too quickly, cover with foil. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers.

Elaine Hull of Charleston sent an assortment of recipes. Because the South is slaw-centric, I picked this one. Perhaps no coleslaw is as tasty as the version made with buttermilk. This recipe is from "America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook."

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw

6 to 8 servings

1 head red or green cabbage (2 pounds), cored and shredded

Salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup minced onion

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pepper

2 carrots, peeled and grated

Toss the cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt and allow to sit in a colander for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse the cabbage, then pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, onion, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a bowl large enough to hold the salad. Add the wilted cabbage and carrots and toss. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Postscript

A caller saw last week's blueberry recipes and left a message requesting a blueberry muffin recipe. So here goes:

This recipe is adapted from the September-October 2001 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

Best Blueberry Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) sour cream

1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, preferably wild

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl until combined. Whisk egg in second medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar and whisk vigorously until thick, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 2 or 3 steps, whisking to combine after each addition. Add sour cream in 2 steps, whisking just to combine.

Add frozen berries to dry ingredients and gently toss to combine. Add sour cream mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together and berries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds (small spots of flour may remain and batter will be thick). Do not overmix.

Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time.

Invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, and cool 5 minutes.

Who's got the recipe?

Still looking:

--Elsie Clees of James Island wonders if any readers would have the recipe for "Panama Sue" cookie/bar. "A friend of mine attended a garden club gathering and ate these and she said they were the best cookie she had ever eaten."

--Lou Miles of West Ashley remembers a dish called straw and hay pasta that was served by the Med Deli in the late '80s and early '90s. "I think it was prepared with sausage and the fettuccine was a mixture of spinach" and plain pasta. "... I would love to have this recipe if it could be located from someone from the 'old' Med Deli."

--A Summerville reader got a new standup mixer and wants to try her hand at pizza dough.

--A West Ashley reader is still looking for some fresh ideas for cooking for two.

--A colleague is looking for main dishes that freeze well and vegetable sides that don't use heavy creams or sauces.

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886 or food@postandcourier.com.