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Lowcountry culinary traditions

From their kitchens to your December dinner parties, local chefs share simple seasonal dishes to savor.

Story + Photography by Amy Bartlett

Being the coastal Southeast, it’s not always sweater weather, but rounding the corner into the fall, we pull out the cookbooks, call the personal chefs, and begin to make plans for guests, events, holiday travelers and seasonal snacks to feed the growing populations in our homes.

Browsing the pages of well worn cookbooks, taped and torn snippets from Gramma’s recipe box, or catalogued issues of LOCAL Life, you’ll find Lowcountry culinary traditions offer far more than the stereotype of Southern cooking. In addition to key stakeholders like Lowcountry boils and oyster roasts, Beaufort County is known for a diversity of cuisine, reflective of a community that has drawn together from points near and far – where “born and raised” meets “secrets of the Old Country.”

Blending Lowcountry traditions and locally sourced foods with international flavor and flare, these dishes from area chefs will help you set the table while you deck the halls. One common thread (aside from traditional reprises of turkey and cranberry) is that less prep lets you trade stove for “hearth,” so you can spend more time with friends and family. After all, much of why we love to cook is for the way it brings us together, especially during the holidays. These recipes offer simple yet sensational ways to serve friends, family, and guests this season, with less hustle and more holiday in your home.



Hors d’oeuvres

Grab life by the meatballs

For a small plate, turkey meatballs are a season superstar and are easy to prepare ahead of time. Of course there is more than one way to make a turkey meatball. These distinctly different interpretations of the similar snack deliver a flavor-packed (hand-packed) starter or side.

So sweet

Executive chef Taylor Griffin from the Calibogue Club at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island shares turkey meatball with cranberry sauce that pairs savory (oregano, rosemary, parsley) with sweet (brown sugar, orange juice) for a bite that’s well worth a ferry ride but fit for home-cooking.

Haig Point – Fried turkey meatballs

Ingredients (meatballs)

1 pound ground turkey

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup yogurt

3 cloves garlic minced

1 shallot minced

2/3 cup toasted breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black peppercorn

Couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Couple dashes of hot sauce

Ingredients (sauce)

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup ketchup

Directions [1] Mix all meatball ingredients well before folding into ground turkey, being careful not to overwork the mixture. Form meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls (about 16). [2] Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Fry the meatballs for 3 minutes on each side before transferring to plate. [3] Deglaze the frying pan with white wine. Add fresh cranberry, brown sugar, water, orange juice and ketchup. Bring to a simmer and reduce over low heat, stirring frequently to muddle the cranberry. [4] Once cranberry is mostly muddled and sauce starts to thicken, add the meatballs into the mixture and simmer gently until fully cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Makes about 16 meatballs.


So spicy

Shifting sweet to savory, Moss Creek executive chef Lenny Giarratano takes the party into the backyard for a smokey, spicy kettle turkey meatball made for grill-side conversation and sharpening your woodsmoke expertise. “As we enter the season in which many of us traditionally entertain guests, this year some of us may be looking for ways to do more of that in our backyard rather than in our living rooms,” Giarratano said. “The weather in the Lowcountry generally cooperates for that sort of thing for at least another month or even more.  This month I would like to share a recipe that I have been making at home on my Weber kettle grill but can easily be executed on a Green Egg, any pellet grill/smoker, or even a gas grill if using an indirect cooking technique. Using gas, of course, you will trade off some of that authentic wood-fired flavor but will still have a very popular snack.  You will notice the seasonings are slightly different from what you might find in a traditional Italian meatball. I like the hint of chili and spice, along with the smoky flavor.”

Moss Creek – Grilled turkey meatballs

Ingredients (meatballs)

1 pound ground turkey

1 pound sweet Italian pork sausage removed from casing

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

3 teaspoons granulated garlic powder (not garlic salt)

3 teaspoons dark red chili powder

1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon fine ground black pepper

1/2 cup finely minced sweet onion

Approximately 1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs (adjust according to your preference)

Directions [1] Make meatball mix and roll into 3/4-ounce balls. [2] Set up your grill or smoker to run fairly hot, around 375-400 degrees. Use an indirect cooking method (food not directly over fire). Once grill temperature has stabilized, place meatballs on opposite side of grill from the fire and cook covered, until you reach a 165-degree internal temperature (about 30 minutes). [3] Baste with sauce and cover again just to let the sauce set on the meatballs a bit. Extra sauce may be served on the side. Remove and serve immediately or cool to be reheated later. Chef’s tip: For those using charcoal grills, I like to add a single wood chunk to enhance the charcoal fire for these meatballs. For those who enjoy very mild smoke, I suggest apple wood. For a little more smoke-forward flavor, use pecan wood.

Ingredients (sauce)

3/4 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/8 cup water

1 tablespoon dry mustard powder

1 teaspoon paprika (not smoked)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon fine ground black pepper

2 tablespoons grape jelly

1 tablespoon Sriracha

Directions Combine all sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer on low until satisfied with taste and texture – set aside.



Party Platters & Sauces

Cater to their needs

For the experience as much as the meal, chef Lynn Michelle (aka the East Coast Chef) puts the “personal” in personal chef, balancing the benefits of professional menus with ideas that bring people together and into the kitchen. In preparation and presentation, Chef Lynn caters to (pun intended) to guests’ individual enjoyment, teaching hands-on tips and tricks, and recruiting tots and teens to create charcuterie platters for kids (fruits, nuts, candies, cheese sticks, popcorn, gummies – the hero of movie night). For the grown-ups, Lowcountry traditional seafood charcuterie and sauces let you impress without the stress of a full-course menu, showcasing the sensational seaside resources of your Lowcountry home.

Kid stuff

When you are neck deep in holiday stress and need a tray of sweets for a party or to satisfy the kids while you wrap gifts, consider a well-appointed candy platter.

The East Coast Chef – Charcuterie platter for kids

Ingredients

Chocolate covered pretzels

Orange, peeled

Bananas

M&Ms

Grapes

Blueberries

Licorice

Gummy cherries

Jelly beans

Peanut butter pretzels

Mini marshmallows

Goldfish crackers

Oreos

Raspberries

Hard candy

Popcorn

Hershey’s Kisses

Cheese sticks

Crackers

Directions Present items in small bowls, cups and glasses, leaving no platter space uncovered.


Awesome sauce

An array of local and traditional seafood piled high creates a scrumptious holiday extravaganza. In the Lowcountry, it’s common to have local shrimp cocktail, peel & eat shrimp, local oysters, oysters Rockefeller, bacon-wrapped scallops, and crab cakes mixed in with lobster tails, lobster claws and snow crab clusters. It’s also all about the sauces. Hot drawn butter, garlic butter, herbed butter, honey butter, Southern remoulade, traditional cocktail sauce, tartar sauce and tomato tartar sauce. Two go-to sauces will serve as the perfect accompaniment for your seafood charcuterie.

The East Coast Chef – Seafood charcuterie

Layer a serving platter with grilled shrimp skewers, lobster tails, bacon-wrapped scallops, crab legs and grilled vegetables and get saucy!

The East Coast Chef – Zesty cocktail sauce

Ingredients

1 cup ketchup

1/4 cup horseradish

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Dash Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

Directions Mix well together and store in the refrigerator.

The East Coast Chef – Southern remoulade

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup horseradish, strained well

1/2 lemon (juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

Dash sugar

Directions Mix well together and store in the refrigerator.



Main Entrée

Roll call

While simplicity is key when cramming countless holiday dinners into 30 days or less, it helps to have a heavy-hitter in your hip pocket that doesn’t overwhelm and yet still says ‘tis the season. For that we tour the Italian countryside, by way of New Jersey, with Chef Nunzio Patruno of Nunzio Restaurant + Bar. His turkey roulade with cranberry chutney may look like a showstopper, but preparing mise en place can have this meal ready to show off its fall vegetables and winter herbs relatively quickly after your group gets home from touring Harbour Town Lights.

Home grown

To bring this fragrant dish to life, it helps if you have half the garden Chef Nunzio has cultivated just beyond the steps of his kitchen. Grafting herbs brought over from Italy with local island varieties creates an aromatic decadence highly attractive to diners and deer.

Nunzio Restaurant + Bar – Turkey roulade with cranberry chutney

Ingredients

4 slices raw turkey breast, lightly pounded

1/2 cup cooked spinach, squeezed and dried

3 ounces, dried cranberries

3 ounces, pine nuts

2 tablespoons, ricotta cheese

Nutmeg

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons parmigiano cheese

1 egg

4 slices prosciutto

Fresh sage

Fresh rosemary

Ingredients (chutney)

1 mango, diced

3 ounces dried cranberry

2 ounces walnuts

1 ounce balsamic vinegar

Salt & pepper

Directions [1] Preheat oven at 400 degrees. [2] To prepare roulade mix: Mix in a mixing bowl the spinach, cranberries, pine nuts, ricotta, breadcrumbs, parmigiano, eggs, nutmeg. Set aside. [3] To prepare the roulade: Place on a flat surface one flat sheet of aluminum foil. Place four slices of prosciutto in the center of the sheet and sprinkle with fresh rosemary & sage. Then, place the turkey slices on top of the prosciutto. Spread the stuffing mix in the middle of the turkey slice and roll tightly. Make sure the prosciutto covers the outside of the turkey as you roll. Use the aluminum foil to help you make the roll nice and tight.  Seal both sides with aluminum foil on both sides like salami. [4] To cook the roulade: Bake for 20 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees. Remove and set aside. [5] To make the chutney: Sauté in a sauce pan the balsamic vinegar, cranberries and walnuts. Cook down for 5 minutes. Then, add the mango and let simmer a few minutes. Add salt and pepper and set aside. [6] To plate the roulade: Remove the foil from the turkey roulade and slice with an electric knife into 3/4-inch slices. Place onto a serving platter and serve with a spoon of the chutney on top. Serves eight. Chef’s tip: Serve with any roasted fall vegetable like acorn squash, yam, or Brussels sprouts with garlic and rosemary.



Desserts

In for a pound

To finish, simple and sweet, Belfair’s chef de cuisine Lakeysha (Marshall) Roofe says it’s the “pound of everything” (sugar, flour, butter, eggs) that makes poundcake an undisputed Southern favorite. Her father’s favorite as well (Albert Marshall), Roofe made it her personal mission to make a better batter. It “just wasn’t right” she explains, until a friend shared a sought-after secret: “Put pudding in it.” The glowing lemon poundcake that draws a crowd at the Bistro in the private Bluffton community of Belfair is a full-bodied final course to any festive feast.

Bistro at Belfair – Lemon poundcake

Ingredients

3 sticks of butter

8 ounces cream cheese

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 package instant lemon pudding (3.4 oz)

6 large eggs

3 cups cake flour

Directions [1] Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix room temperature butter, cream cheese and salt together on high speed until creamed together. [2] Slowly add sugar, instant pudding and cream until light and fluffy for about 6 minutes. [3] Lower speed of mixer to medium and add one egg at a time until mixed. Slow mixer down to slow and add flour one cup at a time until mixed but do not over mix. [4] Grease 12-cup bundt pan and pour mixture into pan. Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.


Legen-dairy combination

As we all know, peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven. End your holiday meal in style with this decadent peanut butter cup pie drizzled in chocolate from Salty Dog Cafe.

Salty Dog Cafe – Peanut butter cup pie

Ingredients

9 ounces of ground Oreo cookies

3 ounces melted butter

10 ounces cream cheese

14 ounces peanut butter

1 cup of sugar

1 pound of semi-sweet chocolate

2 cups heavy cream

5 peanut butter cups

Whipped cream

Directions [1] Mix Oreo cookies and melted butter together well. Press into greased pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 4 minutes. [2] In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter and a 1/2 cup of sugar (save the second 1/2 cup of sugar for making the whipping cream). [3] Whip thoroughly until creamy (3-4 minutes). Whip 1 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar together on high speed until stiff peaks occur. Gently fold into the peanut butter mixture until combined. Layer in pie crust and cool for 30 minutes. [4] Melt the chocolate in 1 cup of cream until smooth and spread on top of pie. Chop cups and spread over the top. Chill for an hour. [5] Top with whipped cream and serve.


Yule love it

No dessert represents holiday traditions better than a Yule log does. This irresistible cake roll from Berkeley Hall executive chef Jeff McKinney will make a stunning appearance at any holiday table. Filled with creamy frosting and dressed with chocolate ganache, it’s the perfect dessert to make and savor during this most wonderful time of the year.

Berkeley Hall – Chocolate ganache holiday log

Ingredients

1 pound sugar cookie scraps (4 cups, not packed)

2 ounces soft dried figs (about 15), coarsely chopped

2 ounces Medjool dates (about 5 large), pitted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions [1] To make the ganache: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heat-safe bowl and place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the cream to a simmer, so that bubbles appear on the edges of the pan, but do not let it boil. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let it soften for a minute, then whisk it until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well combined and smooth. Set aside your ganache for now. [2] Place the cookie scraps in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs. Put the cookie crumbs into a large bowl. [3] Add the chopped fruit, nuts, and salt to the cookie crumbs and mix until well distributed. [4] Add the vanilla extract to the ganache, and then pour the ganache over the cake mixture. Stir until well combined and there is a uniform texture throughout. Press some cling-wrap to the top of the mixture and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 1 hour. [5] Once the candy has firmed up, scoop half of it from the bowl and, using waxed paper or parchment, roll it into a log about 2 inches in diameter and 9 inches long. Once it is a cylinder, roll it on the counter a few times to try and get it as round as possible. Repeat the process with the second half of the candy, forming an identical log. [6] Place the logs on a baking sheet and freeze them until firm, at least 2 hours. The logs can be kept frozen for up to a month, but if you plan to freeze them for that long, wrap the logs with plastic wrap to prevent odors or freezer burn. [7] About 15 minutes prior to serving, remove the logs from the freezer. Roll them in powdered sugar to make them resemble a log. Cut them into thin slices and serve. The logs can stay at room temperature for several hours before getting too soft. If they do start to get too soft, refrigerate or freeze briefly to firm them up. If the sugar coating starts to melt, re-roll them in sugar as needed.



Soft as velvet

For many local families, it’s not quite the holidays without a moist and fluffy slice of red velvet cake. The team at Sprout Momma shared this recipe, which offers a fun twist on the Christmas classic.

Sprout Momma – Red velvet cake

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons red food coloring

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions [1] Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour three 9 x 1 1/2-inch round cake pans. [2] In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla. [3] Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a mixer until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. [4] Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. [5] Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely. [6] Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula, spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4- to 1/2-inch layer. Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting.

Sprout Momma – Cream cheese frosting

Ingredients

1 pound cream cheese, softened

4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions [1] Mix the cream cheese, sugar and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. [2] Reduce the speed of the mixer to low, add the vanilla, then go back to high until fluffy. Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff.