Did you miss me?

OK, you can admit it. You didn’t even know I was gone, did you? I had to go to down South for a few days on business. Don’t worry, I did lots of eating and am prepared to tell you about all of it. Just remember, I’m not a restaurant critic so don’t expect me to critique the wine list or rate the authenticity of the confit.

The highlight of the entire trip was my dinner at Watershed. The Chef, Scott Peacock, co-wrote one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Gift of Southern Cooking with Edna Lewis. It’s just a great book, combining Peacock’s Alabama cooking tradition with Lewis’s Virginia upbringing. The restaurant is famous for its fried chicken and pimento cheese. Of course I got both. We also ordered a hummus plate and shrimp & grits served with a huge “plank” of buttered toast:

Although I was most excited about the pimento cheese, I have to say the shrimp & grits were outstanding. I know from his cookbook that he uses shrimp paste, which is why it doesn’t look like shrimp & grits you might find elsewhere.

The fried chicken is brined overnight and then soaked in buttermilk, which is why they only serve it once a week. It’s served with biscuits, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was delicious. Tender, flavorful, crunchy. The biscuits were good too; I ate an extra order of those.

The next day I had lunch with my cousin and her son. They took me to the Varsity, which is legend around those parts. It’s been open for 80 years and is famous for chili dogs, onion rings and a drink called the Varsity Orange, which tastes just like a Push-Up (do they even make those anymore?). Of course, even though chili dogs aren’t my favorite, I had to order a number 1 combo: two chili dogs, with fries and a drink. My cousin got the onion rings and we shared. The “chili” was really just meat sauce, and it was pretty darn good.

I also had a couple of nice meals with friends and family that stood out more for their company than for their food (don’t get me wrong the food was good, but if it’s not fried or laden with meat sauce I’m not writing about it here). It was a great trip, and now I need to go eat some vegetables.

Here’s Scott Peacock’s recipe for pimento cheese. I haven’t made it myself but I’ve eaten it and it’s really good. Pimento cheese usually falls into two camps: sweet and savory. This is a savory recipe, which is my preference. Although his calls for roasted red bell pepper and homemade Mayonnaise, I can tell you that it’s ok to use a jar of pimentos and some store-bought Hellman’s. I need to work on my recipe a little, but once I get it tweaked I’ll post it for ya. It’s hard to find really sharp yellow cheese here in New England (I have no idea why), so mine is usually white-ish, but the kind I always had growing up was almost day-glow orange. Regardless of color, homemade pimento cheese blows the store-bought stuff out of the water. It can be served as a dip or on a sandwich; it’s great as a grilled cheese.

Scott Peacock’s Pimento Cheese
1 1/2 c. (10 oz.) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
salt to taste if needed
5 or 6 grinds of black pepper
3/4 c. homemade Mayonnaise
3 tbs. finely chopped roasted red bell pepper or pimento

Stir together all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl until they are well mixed and creamy. Taste carefully for seasoning and adjust as needed. Cover and store, refrigerated, until ready to use.