Counting Down to The Big Pig Gig

The road to the Big Pig Gig is paved with test recipes.  This past weekend, we stayed in and beta-tested three of the recipes that we were planning on serving next week.  One is an appetizer, one’s a side, and one’s a dessert.  All three turned out amazingly well and are a go for starring roles at the Big Pig Gig.

The unofficial theme for this year (at least in my head) is True South, and, as such, there’s more of a Southern bent to the menu than in previous years.  One true Southern staple, and a delicacy that I had a lot of while in South Carolina, is pimento cheese.  The people who I’ve spoken with around these parts all have expressed some degree of unfamiliarity with pimento cheese, so maybe it deserves a little explanation here.

Pimento cheese is a concoction of cheddar and cream cheese, mixed with pimentos and a pinch of this, a dash of that.  If I had to classify it, it’s kind of a spread of sorts, although it is very common for people to make pimento cheese sandwiches as a quick and cheap lunch.  Every family in the South has a particular recipe for pimento cheese, but often times people will just skip tradition and buy it from the grocery store.  Having had some homemade stuff down in South Carolina last week, I can tell you there’s no beating a pimento cheese made with dedication and personal pride.

Which brings me to the pimento cheese recipe that made the cut.  I came across this recipe in the book Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill, which I picked up at an outlet store for eight bucks, but is well worth every penny even at full price.  Having flipped from cover to cover, I love this book so much I’m putting it into the sidebar for this site.

I won’t give away Mr. Stitt’s recipe here, but I can tell you that it does stick to the common pimento cheese template of cheddar and cream cheese, and is amazingly quick to whip up in a food processor in all of five minutes and provides a damn fine classic example of pimento cheese.  We’ll be serving it alongside a stack of saltines and Ritz crackers – the first batch is nearly gone, and it’s only been two days.

Act Two was a brand new recipe for cornbread.  I’ve been a creature of habit for years now, having found a recipe for cornbread and sticking with it every year for the barbecue.  That was true until we went to Charleston, and ate at the Hominy Grill, where they served a cornbread that was so light and airy, I would have given my right arm for the recipe.  As it turns out, I just needed to buy their cookbook for $12, and whoop, there it is.  By Grapthar’s Hammer, what a savings.

So, about this cornbread – my previous cornbread recipe, that which held the title of “my” cornbread for going on about five years now, was made from stone ground cornmeal, was fairly thick and dense, and had about two cob’s worth of corn kernels mixed into every batch of batter.  I thought I would never leave it.  The Hominy Grill cornbread, though, was a revelation – presented as a wedge, it was unlike any other cornbread I had ever tasted, almost cakelike in its crumb, collapsing easily into an almost creamy texture, but still retaining that Southern quality of not being too sweet.

I was hopeful that I would be able to replicate the same qualities that we had so enjoyed in the restaurant.  I found that the key to the lightness was a greater amount of baking powder than I had seen in a cornbread recipe prior – when wet, the batter was almost foamy as I poured it into the pan.  Some 30 minutes later, after taking it out of the oven, I had a sense that I had gotten it right.  After letting it cool a bit, and cutting into it, we knew that we had found our new cornbread recipe.  We whipped up an impromptu dish of honey butter and attacked the thing like it had insulted our mamas.

The last test recipe was for buttermilk pie, another dish that we had tried at the Hominy Grill and another recipe that was included in the small booklet that we had bought from the restaurant.  Made from a simple batter of buttermilk, eggs, sugar, and a little bit of lemon juice, the pie presents a light ending to what presumably will be a very heavy meal of barbecued pork (and chili, and mac and cheese, and cornbread, and red rice…) for most people attending our bash.  The recipe was easy to follow, and turned out tasting exactly like the version that was served to us in the restaurant.  So, we have our dessert, or at least our contribution to dessert, along with whatever anyone else decides to bring.

Oh yes, that, and a little something called Jack Daniels Chocolate Ice Cream.  More on that later.