Ever since I first heard about the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue in which Matt and Ted Lee offer an abundance of Southern ingredients and foods both by mail order and online, I have been a big fan of Matt and Ted Lee. (About that catalog: It’s simply wonderful. I adore it even though I live right here in the South. They actually welcome your phone call to talk about your order, and they’ve been shipping APO for 15 years, so if you have dear service members with a hankering for Southern delights, here’s a fine option.) But I digress. Next thing I knew they were hosting a food-centric radio program, writing for magazines, and working on their first book. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook , published in 2006, brought Southern food and cooking out onto the national stage in new ways. Southern food hasnever gone backstage since, because it’s just that interesting and just that good.
Their second book, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Downhome Flavor, came out in 2009, to wide acclaim, and I’ve enjoyed reading their words and recipes in publications including Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Food & Wine, the New York Times, and Travel + Leisure. They have been working on this latest book ever since, exploring and celebrating the food, cooking, people and traditions of Charleston. You could say that they have in fact been working on this one for decades, given that it shares their personal story of food, people, and life in Charleston, South Carolina. The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen opens the screen door and invites us all into their kitchen to explore, appreciate, and understand a little bit about the city they know deeply, love completely and proudly call home.
I like the way Matt and Ted Lee introduce their third book on their website HERE: “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen is our most personal book yet. With these stories and recipes, we show you what it was like to grow up here and how the food life of Charleston helped make us the cookbook authors we are today. We introduce you to our friends who make living in the Lowcountry so delicious, as well as important figures from the city’s culinary past, who inspire us to have fun in the kitchen.”
Matt and Ted Lee launched their book tour in Charleston, of course, but one of their very first stops was here in the Triangle, the portion of Piedmont North Carolina including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Pittsboro, Hillsborough and everything in between. They did book-signings at some of our local indie bookstores (Quail Ridge/Raleigh and the Regulator/Durham, and a sold-out cooking class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill. I signed up for their Charleston dinner at Fearrington House, located south of Chapel Hill, about halfway to the town of Pittsboro, NC. Though it’s a mere eight miles from my home in Chapel Hill and the UNC campus, the big silo and grazing cows around what was originally a dairy farm convey a pleasing sense of leaving my everyday suburban life behind. Home to Fearrington House Restaurant and Inn, along with two other restaurants, it also includes McIntyre’s Books
Since last fall, Fearrington and McIntyre’s have been hosting Books & Cooks, a series of culinary events centered on a guest author who shares stories and signs books, while Chef Bedford cooks up a meal from the featured book. I’ve enjoyed Books & Cooks events with Jean Anderson, Nathalie Dupree, Rebecca Lang, and Frances Mayes. For April, the Cooks & Books guest author is me, celebrating my first book Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking.
The Lee Brothers’ Charleston Dinner on March 14th began with a lovely introduction of Matt and Ted Lee by my friend Marcie Cohen Ferris, assistant professor of American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and the author of Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South. Fine wine pairings by Fearrington’s Wine Director Max Kast added great pleasure to the meal.
First Course: She-Crab Soup. Divine.
A fabulous little treat: Rice and Ham Croquettes with Tomato Sauce
Spectacular centerpiece of a most memorable meal: Smothered Pork Chops and Brussels Sprouts with Benne and Bacon
Sweet Potatoes with Sorghum Marshmallows, passed at each table, family style. So good.
Pineapple Cornbread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream. Lovely finish to our Charleston feast. What? Oh, the Take Home listed on the menu above? The Homemade Benne Wafers, packaged and ready to transport share with family? Well, let’s just say that I hope my family is not reading this post because no such delightful, crisp and elegant treat crossed our doorstep that evening.
Chef Colin Bedford came out to talk about the menu he had chosen and the particulars of preparing each dish, after which all three took questions.
Home with my signed copy, I started reading the very next day. The first thing I cooked was one of the desserts: Hugenot Torte. The recipe called for a 2 quart baking dish. Not having same, I went with a nine-inch square pan, causing my dessert to have more surface area and less depth. My family adored it, as did I. Ice cream was not required, but it did extend the delectable pleasures of this apple-pecan dessert.
The March meeting of CHOP NC (Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina) a few days later gave me reason to return to the book for snacks. I made Hugenot Torte again, because it is so simple to cook and rewarding to share. People just love it, including me. This time I went for a whipped cream accompaniment — again, unnecessary, but ice cream would have melted and I wanted CHOP NC folks to have as much razzle-dazzle as possible.
The Lee Brothers’ Hugenot Torte, a Charleston classic dessert, batches one (oven and with ice cream) and two (with whipped cream and the feet of a CHOP NC member awaiting the opening of the CHOP NC Snacks Table on March 20, 2013). I took home an empty, shiny-scraped clean pan, and a lot of whipped cream. Nobody cared about it — they just wanted to eat Hugenot Torte, plain and simple and good.
I also took a platter of these fantastically good Pecan Cheese Wafers from Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. These deliver the goodness of traditional Southern cheese straws. They are streamlined to be made up in food processor and then rolled out and cut like sugar cookies rather than the extruded from a…an extruder? A cookie press, which creates classic cheese straws’ beautifully detailed corrugated tile form. These were incredibly good and popular. These Cheese Pecan Wafers and a plate of deviled eggs? Perfect Portable Party Food, especially if you, like me, prefer not to bring anything back home.
I also took great interest in Matt and Ted’s extensive coverage of shad, a Southern springtime culinary pleasure. These beautiful fish are anadromous, which I had to look up and learn that this means they move away and come back. Born in fresh water upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, they swim down to the ocean for a salt-water fish’s lifetime, and then swim back up to their homeplace for spawning, in springtime. This is when shad and shad roe are caught and savored for a few weeks, as in right now. I posted about shad roe last month, which you can see right HERE. After reading the Lee brothers’ handsomely illustrated section on shad and on salt-baking whole fish, I went back to Whole Foods where I had found the lovely roe, and there were beautiful whole shad, with roe inside. That post is coming soon. (It was some work and worth it and really good.)
On my list for future cooking after a good, leisurely perusal of the recipes in this excellent book: Frogmore Stew. Country Captain. Smoked Egg Salad on Toast (I think I can smoke things in my wok. My friend Grace Young, Poet Laureate of the Wok, will know about that…). Conch Fritters. Fish in Parchment, Edna Lewis’s way. From Fearrington’s Chef Colin Bedford’ Charleston menu, Smothered Pork Chops with Brussels Sprouts Bacon and Benne, and She Crab Soup. Forgot Shrimp Butter. There’s more, but this is a good start, I do believe.
While things are simmering and baking, I will keep reading about the people and history of Charleston, from the authors of a classic Charleston women’s club cookbook, a shad-master, and the queen of shrimp boats, to a legendary Italian composer, a waterman dedicated to sustainably harvesting stone crab, and the trio of longtime employees who have bought a beloved French cafe from its fixing-to-retire owners in 2010 and have kept it cooking everyday lunches. Then there are loquats, jerusalem artichokes, guinea squash and the guinea fowl of Lamboll Street, the latter a lively flock of guinea vagabonds who can be observed in a very cool short video right HERE. You might want to treat yourself to another short video, the trailer for this book, which is, again, three minutes plus of wonderfulness and an introduction to what the fuss is all about. That’s right HERE.
If you’d like to cook up a few Lee Brothers’ recipes from their first two books, check out the three on their website, which didn’t come together but would certainly go together, to make a wonderfully indulgent and memorable meal: Frogmore Stew (no frogs are ever harmed in the making of Frogmore Stew); A New Ambrosia, and Red Velvet Cake. Those three recipes are right HERE.
Two of my friends have written about Matt and Ted Lee on their excellent blogs, which I delight in following. Here are their posts:
(This next post refers to Jay’s sold-out Lee Brothers dinner at Lucky 32 on March 28th; you can’t actually sign up cause it’s history.)
For the remainder of the spring and into the summer, Matt and Ted Lee will be rolling along the highways and byways sharing this heartfelt book on tour. To see where they’re headed, check their website for the latest details.