Friday, May 31, 2013

The Lowly Legume

Everybody knows that legumes are good for us.  You know that, right?  But, have you ever really thought about what the definition of legume is?  Does it mean any kind of dried bean or pea?  Something that grows in pods?  Is it only starchy vegetables?  According to, legumes are defined as:

the large plant family Leguminosae (or Fabaceae), typified by herbaceous plants, shrubs, trees, and vines having usually compound leaves, clusters of irregular, keeled flowers, and fruit in the form of a pod splitting along both sides, and including beans, peas, acacia, alfalfa, clover, indigo, lentil, mesquite, mimosa, and peanut.

Simply put, they are plants whose edible fruits come in pods.  And, they are nitrogen-fixers, which means they grab nitrogen from the air, and convert it into nutrients that enrich the soil.  Oh yeah, and they're really good for you.  They contain vitamins A & C, tons of fiber, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, riboflavin, folate and niacin, just to name a few.  They are nutrition powerhouses. So, why are they treated like the low man on the totem pole?
My cousin grew up hating, I mean hating, all beans and peas. He's now approaching 40 and can eat some varieties, but still can't get really excited about them. I, on the other hand, grew up loving green beans, green peas, field peas, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, black beans, snow peas and crowder peas.  
Field peas and crowders are some of my favorites but let's think about this for a moment.  When is the last time you saw either of these on a restaurant menu?  Not even "country cooking" joints like the Thicket feature them.  And, if you grab frozen "field peas" in the grocery store, they aren't field peas.  They're small little peas, they're tasty but they aren't a real field pea.  And crowders are even more scarse.  Unless you live in a town that still has working farms on the outskirts, like here.  
Last year I stopped at the corner of Oak Drive & Mineral Springs Road. There are two old guys who stake out this corner with fresh veggies.  On this particular day, they had "boo-koos" of crowder peas.  I couldn't even remember the last time I saw anyone selling them.  I bought up a huge bag of them and excitedly brought them home.  Crowders are called that because they crowd together in the pod.  This is actually a good characteristic because it makes the pods split open easily and then you just run your thumb under the peas and they pop right out. Takes no time at all to shell these babies.  Now, try shelling butter beans.  That's a whole other story entirely.  But, crowders aren't very glamorous.  They're kinda pale, round, not much personality, but they taste awesome.  

All you have to do is cook them in some salted water.  The salt enhances their natural earthy flavor.  (When I say "earthy" I don't mean they taste like dirt.) They just have a deep, rich flavor all their own. I've read some recipes in which people want to add bell peppers, onions, garlic, etc.  You can do all that if you want, but crowder peas are just perfect on their own merits.

My 7 year old never ceases to surprise me by liking what most kids won't even consider and rejects what most kids practically survive off of.  She couldn't care less about mashed potatoes, but she can mow through some collards faster than a John Deere. So, you can guess what I'm about to tell you.  She digs crowder peas!  I can't wait for my cousin Brooks to read this.  He will probably gag a little, you know, childhood flashbacks.  As parents, we all try to expose our kids to as many foods as possible and hopefully expand their horizons.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Some kids are inexplicably picky, some are as adventurous as Evel Knievel. And sometimes they simply surprise you.
If you're unfamiliar with crowder peas, head out to the Farmer's Market, the Soda City Market, or whatever is near you and check them out.  They are inexpensive, easy to shell and cook and they pack a wallop of vitamins and minerals.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that they freeze well.  Just shell 'em and pop them into a freezer bag and they'll wait for you.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

And Presto! It's Pesto.

I remember my first introduction to pesto.  It came out of a packet. No, really.  This would have been somewhere in either the late 80's or early 90's.  I spotted it in a grocery store; a packet of pesto sauce made by Knorr Swiss.  You see, this "exotic" green sauce hadn't really become mainstream in America at that time. Not only had I never tasted it, I'd never even heard of it.  What came out of that packet was indeed delicious, but years later when I finally found fresh pesto being served in Columbia, I quickly realized the difference.  This, of course, led me to "Hey, why don't I just make this myself?"

Pesto originated in the Ligurian region of Italy and remains today their culinary star.  Just as France dictates that champagne can only come from Champagne, the Italians have restrictions on true Pesto alla Genovese.  They insist on the proper ingredients, preferably all local.  So, pesto involves basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parmesan, pecorino romano and sea salt.  If you're a purist, which I am not, invest in a mortar and pestle to grind the ingredients into a sauce.  This is the most pristine method of preparation.  I use either my blender or food processor simply out of convenience and speed.  Some Ligurians would say that the heat generated by the machine may alter flavor a bit, but <<newsflash>> I'm not Ligurian.  I'm a busy American mom whose attitude is:  when I want fresh pesto, I want it now!

Truthfully, if I had a nice mortar and pestle, I'd use it.  But I don't, so the blender it is. The funny thing is that some people I know have no idea how ridiculously easy it is to make your own. And, how fast.  Just this morning, we sat out on our patio and had coffee.  Neil and I both glanced over at our pot of basil and decided today would be a great day to whip up some pesto.  Now, the reason I'm posting this at all, is to show you how fast and easy this is.  If you're not in the habit of making pesto, I want you to start after you finish reading this.  

Pay attention, this is tricky...Pick a good packed cup of basil leaves.  Put those in your blender with 1/4 cup of parmesan, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 tsp minced garlic.  As you begin blending, pour in a 1/4 cup olive oil through that opening in the lid of your blender.  You may need to thin it with a little bit of water.  You be the judge.  


See?  Wasn't that ridiculously easy? Now you're ready to toss this magical emerald sauce with hot pasta, stir it into a baked potato, add some to that pot of minestrone you have on the stove or mix it into a cream sauce and drizzle over grilled tuna.  If you're not ready to use it, you might like this: I freeze mine in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, just pop them into a ziploc and when you need pesto, each cube will give you about 2 Tablespoons, depending on the size of your ice cube trays, of course. Here's an interesting tidbit:  years ago, I wrote to Vegetarian Times magazine and told them about my ice cube tray trick and guess what?  They published my letter.  15 minutes of fame.

Ok, that's it.  If you don't have any basil in your garden or on your patio, get in the car and go to Lowe's or a garden center.  That's step one.  

Now get going and buon appetito!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So, kale me maybe

Once upon a time, kale was only known as two things.  Decorative "cabbage-y" things for the Fall garden and the frilly, yet rigid garnish on the dinner plate.  Oh sure, the vegetarians have been consuming this stuff by the truckload all these years, but who ever paid attention to that?  Until the late 80s, John Q. Public viewed vegetarians as hemp-smoking, free-loving, dashiki-wearing weirdos.  

Finally, they broke that mold and emerged into "mainstream America" as health-conscious, animal-friendly, normal people.  (I know my veg friends are getting a kick out of this!) So, then, the rest of the world started paying attention.  "Hey, what do they know that we don't?"  At first, people thought they only ate side dishes.  Some thought there's no way they could keep it up...what about protein? But as more attention and seriousness was paid to our veggie-loving brethren  (and sistren? is that a word?) we began to learn a lot about nutrition and how "we carnivores" could adapt.

Which brings me back to that kale that was tucked in under your baked potato to brighten up your plate.  Kale is really, really, seriously, majorly, hugely good for you.  I'll skip ahead in my history lesson (yeah, I'm a real scholar here!) to where kale is today. Two words:  IT'S EVERYWHERE. But, there's a trick to kale.  I still think it's too rigid to eat raw, although I know people do it.  So, the trick is to cook it correctly.  I've cooked it before and have gotten a thumbs down from Neil.  This caused me to abandon the idea for awhile then I tried again.  This time I went for kale chips.  I kept hearing everyone on Facebook and Pinterest raving about them and how their kids love them. Turns out, I'm the only one who likes them.  Good thing though, because I've learned that I can mow through an entire cookie sheet full of them.  I'm the lone kale eater.  Well, I was...

I came across a Weight Watchers recipe that piqued my interest.  

It had bacon.  It had cannellini beans. It had onions. So many elements used Chez Akre. And, it had bacon.  Did I mention that?


 <<Ok, despite all I had to say earlier about vegetarianism, clearly, I'm not a vegetarian.  
I am an admitted baconivore.>> 

In a nutshell, this recipe involves cooking bacon (see photo above for reference.) Crumble it and set it aside. Then, saute some crushed red pepper and garlic in the bacon grease for about 30 seconds and add chopped onion. Cook until the onions soften then add your kale and cook until it starts to wilt.  Add some chicken broth, cover & simmer until the kale is tender.  Add cannellini and cook until liquid evaporates.  Finish it off with some salt, a little sugar and balsamic vinegar.  Sprinkle with bacon and serve it up.  

I loved it.  The kale was cooked well and was nicely tender. This is where I've fallen short in the past.  Another way I know this was successful?  Neil actually said, "The kale is good."  This was meaningful because last time the subject came up, he flatly stated that he just doesn't like kale. Unfortunately, the Vivver is going through an intermittent phase of deciding in advance that she's not going to like something, so this kale dish never really got a fair shake from her

Going back to my vegetarian friends, obviously, this dish can be made without bacon and would be (almost) as good.  I really loved it because I'm all about dark, leafy greens and incorporating more of them into my family's diet.  The beans added some heartiness and protein, of course.  And, well, then there's the bacon.  Need I say more??

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lowcountry Backyard

Yeah, so everybody's heard of The Masters, right?  Even if you think golf is one of the most hypnotic, sleeper spectator sports of all time, you've heard of it.  Well, after the Masters comes The Heritage at Hilton Head.  Since I only became remotely interested in golf at the ripe old age of 31, it goes without saying that I've never been to The Heritage.  Until now.

My friend Kelley, had tickets but was unable to use them, so she offered them to me.  I thought, "Huh, I've always heard it's really fun.  Why shouldn't we go?"  So, I accepted her offer.  Good move on my part...not only did we have tickets to Saturday's play but we also had an invitation to a Hospitality Suite.  N.I.C.E.

After a fun day of wine, awesome pulled pork, cruising about the links and Harbour Town, running into friends from high school and watching said friends play the "dollar on the ground attached to fishing line" trick, it was time for us to head home.  But, first, we needed to fuel up.  And the car too.  I had consulted my buddy, Urbanspoon, and the website for The Heritage and came across a restaurant I wanted to seek out before leaving the island. The Lowcountry Backyard.

I am so glad we followed our noses.  First, this place is right off the traffic circle at Sea Pines, so it was a cinch to find. As their website tells you to come early, we were in good shape since around 4:30 we were looking for a substantial "snack" before our drive back home.  Like a couple of nerds, we were standing outside when they unlocked the door, with our Heritage tickets hanging from our shirts. To be exact, however, there was actually another couple there before us, so we didn't have to be the mega-geeks seated first!

Here's the low-down. We both flipped our lids over this little place.  It's a small dining room and a backyard dining area.  This day was chilly, so they didn't even bother asking us if we wanted to be outside...they knew we'd say no.   The dining room is charming and intimate. I loved the fact that the ceiling has those little pin-hole fiber optic lights in it.  You know, the ones that subtly change color. It has a very close and comfy feel to it like you're in the dining room of a friend. Right off, we were greeted by the most fabu waitress we've had in awhile.  She's quite beautiful, actually.
Amy. Best Waitress Ever!
First off, they make fried green tomatoes here.  I am a sucker for fried greens.  Funny thing is, until the movie Fried Green Tomatoes I'd never even heard of this.  People say and think it's so Southern, but in my South, this was not a frequent flyer on our menus. But after that movie, they started showing up everywhere. I think it was Rockaways that introduced them to me.  Things haven't been the same since! So, we ordered the fried green tomato appetizer to share.  It came as a stack of tomatoes with homemade sweet pickles.  The tomatoes were perfect and were drizzled with homemade Ranch dressing but those pickles were pretty incredible too! The slices were thick enough to allow the tartness of the tomato really come through. Fried well too, no excess grease.

Super stack of fried green tomatoes

I am not a meatloaf eater.  My mom hates meatloaf, therefore, my family never had meatloaf. I've grown curious about it as I've aged, but I've always concluded that my mom knew what she was talking about.  It's a brick of meat. The meatloaf of this restaurant is described as "potato chip meatloaf."  I thought it was interesting that some of the reviews actually said stupid stuff like "I really couldn't appreciate the potato chips." Really?  Really?  Who are these people?  Have you ever been able to "appreciate" the torn up bread or bread crumbs in other meatloaves?  Here's a shouldn't taste bread or potato chips or panko or whatever binder is used.  And here's something else you should using potato instead of bread, these clever folks have made this dish gluten-free, which we know is necessary for some and "all the rage" for others.

Neil ordered the meatloaf sandwich on flat bread with a side of grits.  I know, I know. Odd combo, but that's how my man rolls.  This meatloaf is a game-changer.  From the moment the plate hit the table, I was intrigued.  It didn't look like meat-brick.  Not at all.  It had sauteed onions, beautiful flatbread, but what really caught my attention was that there was actually JUICE coming out of the meat.  What?? Meat bricks don't have any moisture, right? Well, this is the true exception. The grits are magnificent.  Definitely cooked with cream; perfect consistency.

The meatloaf sandwich and incredible grits
 On to my plate...I chose the shrimp burger. Now this is a dish that first showed up around here back in the early 80's.  It was at the Shrimp Shack on St. Helena Island. Maybe it's because childhood memories run deep, but to this day, I think the Shrimp Shack still is the King Daddy of shrimp burgers.  However, the Lowcountry Backyard is a very close second.  The Backyard's burger was nicely cooked. I believe theirs is pan-fried and like the tomatoes, not greasy at all.  It was served, as you can see, with a beautiful bright red tomato and a crisp romaine leaf.

Shrimp Burger

I selected the macaroni salad as my side, since I'd read so much about it.  I thought it was quite good because even though it's a mayo-based pasta salad, it wasn't swimming in mayonnaise.  And, some more of those yummy homemade pickles. 

Neil and I were simply delighted with this place. The food is really good, the atmosphere is comfortable and inviting and it's not an over-priced seafood-slinging tourist magnet.  Our server was very friendly and open to our questions.  She knows the menu and made our experience A+.  I'll tell ya this...I'm ordering that meatloaf for myself next time.  Wow.  I never, ever, ever expected to hear myself say that.  This should tell you how flippin' good the stuff is.  And, if you expect or want to taste potato chips, you're just going to have to get a side of chips.  

A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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