Friday, May 17, 2013

Lee Bros. at Publix

When the missus and I decided to move into the Canteen here in northwest Tampa, it was pure dumb luck that we happened to pick a neighborhood that was near 1 of the 8 Publix Aprons Cooking Schools in the country (and the only 1 between Sarasota and Lakeland). Aprons offers classes on everything from cooking basics boot camp (which you can be sure I'll be attending at some point) to individuals classes on grilling (yay!) to visits and demos from celebrity chefs. Next month, Kevin Gillespie of Top Chef fame (he was a runner-up during the Las Vegas iteration of the show) will be there (June 27 - mark your calendars), however, the Lee Bros. also recently made an appearance at the school, an event that Mrs. Hackknife and I opted to attend to tide us over until June. I'd only recently heard of Matt and Ted Lee, siblings from Charleston, SC that first started a mail-order food business focusing on specialty foods from their home region (the Lowcountry), then branched out into food journalism and, eventually, cookbook writing. Their stopover in Tampa was part of a tour promoting their new book (Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen) and they were gracious enough to share a 4-course meal of their latest recipes with the demo attendees (of course, we were happy enough to consume them).

For our appetizer, the boys (and their assistants from the cooking school) whipped up a surprisingly simple, yet substantial beloved cheese spread from a now-defunct restaurant in Charleston called Henry's (you can find the recipe here). Not all that different from the traditional Southern spread pimiento cheese (minus the mayonnaise), this dish packs a decent wallop of spice from the horseradish and hot sauce that gets added (of course, you can adjust the heat level to suit your preference or the tolerance of your guests), plus a little pick-me-up from a few ounces of beer (and a splash of red wine, if desired - this didn't make it into the official recipe). Like most dips, this one is best served with crackers and cut-up veggies like carrots and celery. Next up was a briny and refreshing pot of something called frogmore soup, named after a town on the South Carolina coast. Although the soup does not contain any actual frog meat as I was hoping, there are plenty of other stellar ingredients (including shrimp, blue crab, smoked sausage, and sweet corn) to make this a nice candidate for one of the best representations of Lowcountry cuisine.

Moving on to the entree, the brothers presented their take on an iconic Southern specialty, shrimp and grits. The Lee Bros. version contains both bacon and tomatoes in addition to the shrimp (which are sliced in half lengthwise so that they curl up like spirals when cooked), yielding plenty of umami flavor to balance the mellow grits (they cook their grits in whole milk, not cream or butter). For a side dish, we received a healthy helping of Matt's four-pepper collard greens, featuring a great combo of spice (from jalapeno and poblano chile peppers) and bitter (greens mixed with apple cider vinegar), a vegetable dish I'd have no problem wanting to duplicate at home some weeknight. And last, but not least, dessert arrived in the form of something called syllabub , a whipped cream treat brought over to America by English settlers in the 18th Century (it gets a boozy boost from the addition of Madeira or Amontillado Sherry). The recipe I found includes rosemary-glazed figs, but our syllabub had strawberries and black pepper instead (simply substitute 4 oz. of quartered strawberries that have been tossed in a couple teaspoons of sugar for the figs). When washed down with a little Port, this was a fine end to a fine meal (and straight home to bed for us - zzzzz....)

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