This past week has been one for the books. It started when the Seahawks won in a nail-biter, AND I started a new job. More on that later. Rewind to several weeks ago. I got word that a Sense of Taste recipe won the annual Tupelo Honey Holiday Recipe Contest.
Tupelo Honey has been my favorite restaurant in the mountain south since my first visit to Asheville over a decade ago. Oh, Asheville, be still my heart. Oh, Tupelo Honey, be still my heart times 2. If you’re unfamiliar with Asheville, I’ll do my best to describe it to you in a way that doesn’t take an hour. It’s in the middle of the rolling hills of the Appalachian mountains, where, despite being in a city, albeit small, you feel like you’re tucked away in the best and only place on earth. The city pulsates with a bright and palpable energy, maybe because of the street artists and folks who live there, who walk around with bare feet and djembe drums slung over their shoulders. It’s mostly a brick and iron city, whose relatively untouched Art-Deco Architecture can be attributed to the slow economic growth between the Great Depression and mid-80s. There was no money to redevelop, much to the city’s aesthetic credit today. The small downtown area is dotted with art galleries, small businesses, co-ops, and restaurants.
One of the restaurants in the downtown area is the original Tupelo Honey Cafe. This place was using local fare and providing jaw-dropping food to its diners far before farm-to-table restaurants and Asheville dining was popular. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pioneered the farm-to-table restaurant movement, or in the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if many FTT restaurants modeled their businesses after this Asheville mainstay. Their biscuits and gravy and/or buttermilk pancakes–with a side of bacon, undoubtedly are the best cure for any hangover or hungry belly. Their lunch and dinner menu is just as spectacular.
A couple months ago, I saw they had a holiday recipe contest, so I thought it was worth a shot and entered my Sweet Potato, Kale, and Country Ham Hash with Maple Red Eye Gravy recipe, and low and behold, it won Chef’s Choice in the contest! I was stoked because Chef Sonoskus himself chose it as the winner. I so admire he, Sean Brock (whose foreword–or love letter to the Mountain South– in the front of the Tupelo Honey cookbook will bring Southern expats to tears with its beautiful detail), and Vivian Howard so because they’re working on preserving food ways and sharing Southern Food with audiences (I use audiences here because I think their meals transcend a plate of food because of their devotion, their craft, and personal histories infused in the dishes they create) who would otherwise think southern fare was fried chicken and anything laden in butter. Granted, Southerners do eat their fair share of both, but vegetables really rein supreme. They are the product of the rich soil of the Carolina earth that is as fertile as one could hope for.
The cookbook, in particular, is filled with beautiful, bright pictures, drool-worthy recipes, and stories. If you want a go-to Southern cookbook, folks, throw your Paula Deen cookbooks in the Goodwill box and buy this one. It will be the best $20 you will spend today. I promise.
I had to try a recipe from it to get a feel for what kind of cookbook it was. I saw an irresistible recipe for Soft Pretzels with Pimento Cheese Fondue and it was a no-brainer because 1) Hubby brewed some beer a few days prior and since we no longer have our chicken-pets, we have a huge bag of spent grain on our hands, and 2) it was football Sunday and the Seattle Seahawks were scheduled to play. Ohhh, the terrifying, nail-biting, blood-pressure-raising game that was the Seahawks vs. the Packers. At least we had good food to get our minds off the first half.
The original recipe in the cookbook does not include spent grains, nor beer in the fondue. I just added both because I had them on hand, and I LOVE the textural component spent grain adds to bread. In the recipe below, for the original Tupelo Honey recipe, simply omit the grains.
- For the Pretzels
- 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees)
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp, granulated sugar
- 1¼ tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on the pretzels
- 1 package (1¼ tsp. active dry yeast)
- 3 to 4 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 cup of ground, dried spent grains (my mixture had roasted barley in it)
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) of melted butter
- ⅔ cup baking soda
- 2 egg yolks, whisked
- For the Fondue
- 2 cups pimento cheese (instructions below)
- 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. beer
- To make the pretzels, combine the milk and sugars and 1¼ tsp salt in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with yeast and let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Add 3 cups flour, ground spent grains, and the melted butter using the dough hook on an electric mixture at low speed. If you're mixing by hand, stir in the flour and butter with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add enough of the remaining one cup flour to make a soft dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm place, away from drafts, for one hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with vegetable oil. Divide the dough into 8 pieces, rolling out each piece until about ½ inch thick, and twist into either pretzel shapes or in the shapes of logs to make pretzel sticks. Place on the baking sheets.
- Bring 2½ quarts water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan. Working with one pretzel at a time, place the pretzels in the boiling water mixture for 30 seconds and remove from the water with a slotted spatula and return to the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the pretzels with the beaten egg yolks and sprinkle each with kosher salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes until dark brown in color. Allow pretzels to cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes before serving with the Pimento Cheese Fondue and Mustard.
- For the Fondue:
- To make the fondue, combine the pimento cheese, cream, and beer in a saute pan or small sauce pan and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer and the cheese melts, stirring frequently. Simmer for one minute or until hot an bubbly. Serve with pretzels.
- For Tupelo Honey's Sharp White Cheddar Pimento Cheese
- Combine one pound of shredded sharp white cheddar cheese with 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard, 1 tsp. dried mustard, 1 tsp. pepper vinegar, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley, and 1 cup minced roasted red peppers. Blend well and stir in an airtight container for up to 7 days.