Thank you to Vicky Neer whose photographic contributions to this post made the story come alive.
I was born a left-coaster. Frolicking among the vast yellow beaches as a child, soaking in the warm sun, and feeling the icy surf as it crashed upon me in giant waves, I thought I had experienced the ocean in its entirety. Certainly there is no way to enjoy the horizon at sunset without seeing the curvature of the Pacific at its zenith, right? And vegetation is only coastal when it is thick, and succulent, growing along a shoreline that is conspicuously bereft of trees that might interfere with the sting of salty breezes. Oceans are loud, and foamy, and abrupt....
But then, everything changed the first time I found myself at the threshold of the Atlantic. Hmmm. Maybe this is the "right" coast after all?
I am approaching my eleventh anniversary as a Carolinian and during that time I have, without reservation, fallen in love with every inch of jagged shoreline marking the beginning of the 'other' sea. From Massachusetts to Miami, (I have yet to venture farther north,) the edge of our continent is a menagerie of landscapes and colors.
Sometimes it shows up as a thin strip of land protecting a teeming sound, whose dunes are covered with tall Sea Oats sprouting like a neglected beard upon fragile hills. Later it spreads out into a gradient of marsh and sea birds as the kayakers navigate ribbons of watery canals like so many children hunting for the exit to a corn maze. And then there is the familiar expanse of white, undulating, crustacean-ridden sand that welcomes warm, humid breezes, receding with low tide to reveal ancient shoals crowded with black Mussels. And with few exceptions, the sea simply laps upon the shores like a new born foal, with no hint of the violence that is the hallmark of California beaches.
Then there is Hilton Head Island, SC, whose perimeter folds endlessly into a combination of elements that surprise and delight. Bluffs appear magically beyond thickets of Saw Palm, Loblolly Pine and the ever present Live Oak. Gray-white sea-walls plummet into dark inlets, beckoning shark and bass to pass just under her mirrored tides. And all of it is framed by those beautiful, dancing tresses of Spanish moss.
As the lucky guests of our friends the Neers, we spent the holiday weekend with plenty of time to be both poet and enthusiast. Mornings were spent walking on the bluff, afternoons exploring a shopper's paradise. And the evening? Well of course, was spent cooking.
As I regale this weekend's culinary tales, I must begin by thanking three people. Richard, who was brave enough to let me be totally creative and not rebuff me for rejecting the usual holiday-grilling fare. Vicky, whose artistic eye behind the camera helped capture every angle of my mixing, fixing and baking, and made me feel like a true Food Network star. And finally to my blonde sous chef, the Neer's beautiful golden retriever, Duncan. Slobber and all, this is who you want at your side.
Lest I lose sight of all things wonderful, I will also thank my husband Ron, who is happy to be royal-taster and ever my relentless fan.
Sounds like a perfect holiday to me.
We joked throughout the weekend that all we did was eat, talk about what we'd eat next, and then talk about what we just ate. I'm not sure that's bad, but it certainly brought a chuckle to every activity. One of our favorite haunts was the Skull Creek Boathouse, where I enjoyed a bevy of flavors such as this beautiful seafood salad.
Nearly every place we visited begged for us to take dozens of photos. It just seems you can't take a bad picture of Hilton Head Island, or Ron for that matter. And in fact one of our favorite pass-times was just hanging with hosts and that great puppy, Duncan.
Not surprisingly I had been thinking for weeks about a menu that would befit our surroundings, and still be a take on the usual Memorial Day Burger. After walking the aisles of Publix I finally settled on making SWEET AND SAVORY ROSEMARY CHICKEN BURGERS IN A CHERRY BALSAMIC CABERNET REDUCTION, WITH MEDITERRANEAN SPICED RICE AND ROASTED PEPPERS AND ASPARAGUS. Soon the wine was opened, the music initiated, and pans were everywhere. For dessert I created a simple dish of RUM BOURBON CARAMELIZED BANANAS OVER POUND CAKE WITH VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM. Take a look and click the titles to download the recipes, or go to "browse my recipes" above.
All I can say is, it's a good thing I run 12-15 miles a week. Otherwise they would have to levy a toll to haul my extra weight back over the causeway. But that is what is so amazing about island life. You are literally moving around all the time. Recreating even when you don't know it. Smiling even in your sleep.
Which brings us to breakfast the next day. Rise and shine with my PERSONAL VEGGIE EGG SOUFFLES! (A new name for the Personal Holiday Omelets I posted over the Christmas holiday.) Serve it alongside the amazing Wolferman's English Muffins, and you can't do much better at any restaurant. (Like their Facebook page if you're a fan! @wolfermans)
I guess all that's left to say is that after reading this post you find you're not hungry, or curious about Hilton Head, you probably need some counseling. Your head isn't working right. And we have the perfect solution for that.
It's called the screened porch. And it is certainly the sanctuary of the Southeast; a place for contemplation and joviality. Where everything that is magic about the south can be pondered bug free while sipping a little sweet tea...or one of Ron's lemon drops.
Either way, thank you for coasting through this journey with us!
The following ritual has become a kind of a joke these days: I get the bug to cook, I invite friends over for a meal, they ask "what can I bring?" and I of course just say, "...bring your appetite. I have the rest!"
It sounds innocent enough; civilized, intelligent people around my table who bring me wine and all I have to do is cook. And on this fateful evening I decided that I would make QUICK APPLE LEMON RELISH WITH BAKED COD AND BLACK RICE and MANGO HABANERO APRICOT BUTTER CROSTINI.
But wait. We know about that evil fruit whose core is cloaked in fable and truth, that blossomed only to change Eden to desert and isolation. Oh yeah, nothing guiltless about that menu choice. Can it be served without debate? Will biting into its crispy flesh transform us into new creatures and spoil it all? Could it possibly keep the doctor away, show a teacher you love her, stand as the main ingredient in America's favorite pie, and cause Adam to fall?
The apple has a heavy load to carry.
Which is why I decided it MUST be the centerpiece of my easy meal.
Chop, chop, chop into little chunks it fell before becoming part of a quick apple relish with onion, fresh tarragon, lemon and a bit of champagne vinegar. Then, by being carefully placed atop a salt and pepper baked cod, all fables fell away, and only knife and fork were our tools of conversation. And all because forbidden is what food is all about.
Eve would be SOOOO proud.
I just returned from a long business trip, so you can imagine just how empty my fridge and pantry had become in my absence. Then when I threw out all the leftovers that my husband didn't eat -- because he went out with his friends almost every night -- it was positively impoverished looking. (Ron said he missed me, but I wonder?) So when it was time for dinner the first night in my kitchen, I had to do some creative thinking. The resulting success was a combination of some leftovers I was able to keep, and some warmed up hamburgers simply cut into cubes to look dressier.
After some quick thinking, I came up with this meal: Cheesy Stuffed Mini Peppers with Latin Cubed Burgers and a Fig Ginger Port Wine Reduction. Seriously, it's rice, cheese, peppers, burgers, dried fruit and grape juice. Hello! You can impress with the right title!
So first I combined the cottage cheese, Pecorino-Romano cheese, goat cheese, rice, egg and some seasoning. (I added the rice because as I was creating it, the mixture got too thin and I needed another binder. Enter left over white rice.)
By cutting the ends off the little peppers, and coring out the white pith, I had a nice little vessel for my cheesy creation.
Now for some dressed up sauce to make it look like I SPENT. ALL. DAY. -- Cutting up some candied ginger and packaged small dates, which I warmed in butter, I had the perfect base for the rest of the port wine I had in the back of my pantry, (thank goodness!) which I let reduce down to a lovely, sweet and flavorful sauce.
Good heavens. I didn't even have any meat in the house. Just some Sriracha Burgers I had made weeks before and put in the freezer. Zippidy-doo-de-frost in my microwave and they were ready to eat. I just took a knife and cut the round edges off so they were square and stacked them for drama, and I was set. Hello happiness!
Phew. Time to head to the supermarket.
When I finally decided to make braised red cabbage, one of my all-time favorites, and something I had heretofore not tried, I though to myself, "I am so on the fringe. Wait until I tell all my girlfriends what I have endeavored to conquer?"
And they were all like, "Uh, yeah. Everybody makes braised red cabbage."
Man, that was a shock. Because even those friends who don't necessarily even have a kitchen apron (I have 8) had still made braised red cabbage! After a bit of questioning, I discovered that it is a staple all over the country, and everyone seems to have their own twist on ingredients and technique. Well, okay. I can play, too.
Actually I kinda like being a little naive about some foods. It reminds me I might be getting too focused on making things totally out of the box, and I need to get some real successes under my belt with the kinds of food that people measure you by. Why, who would trust someone who didn't have their own chili recipe? Or a proprietary blend for their own meatloaf? Well, now I have one for BRAISED RED CABBAGE.
So, you should be warned that your work area needs a bit of caution tape stretched across it, and a written disclosure distributed to those passing through. Danger: Red cabbage will stain. If you have a favorite tea towel that your aunt gave you, keep it in the drawer. And don't let the liquid you're cooking it in slosh around too much. I have first hand knowledge of these consequences. Ignore at your own peril.
Next, this is like massively easy. Which is why I got the "what the???" eye from my fans in the first place. Just follow the photos and then download the recipe. You'll notice is was served alongside one of my signature slow roasted chickens and some lovely brown rice with red quinoa. Purple food at its BEST!
Watch my short video about getting comfy in the kitchen.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.