Why, it’s Atlanta, of course.
Published in 1995, True Grits: Tall Tales and Recipes from the New South is no spiral-bound, home-spun project. It is fancy pants, and proud to admit it: “Make no mistake about it,” the authors lead off. “Though True Grits includes recipes as traditionally ‘Southern’ as Fried Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits, this is New South fare all the way.”
And what exactly is the New South?
Well, after the Civil War, Southerners realized that an agrarian society, the prosperity of which depended upon slave labor, simply couldn’t compete with the rest of the nation. And so, industrialization came to the South. And with it came rampant consumerism, suburban sprawl, corporate rape of the environment, McMansions, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The New South represents the emulation of the rest of the United States, but only the very worst parts.
As Brady so elegantly puts it, “The New South is a fraternity pledge with an inferiority complex saying ‘Thank you, sir, can I have another?’ to the biggest jerk in the room.”
This is not to say that New South cooking isn’t delicious, because it can be. As I flipped through the pages of True Grits, I pored over the recipes thinking, “WWRBD?”
What would Richard Blais do?
For the uninitiated, Blais was a contestant on the 4th season of Top Chef, an Atlanta wunderkind who wowed the judges with his banana scallops, tapioca, and sweet tea reductions.
I once read in Tom Colicchio’s cookbook, Think Like a Chef, that a meal rarely comes together around a protein. It’s more likely to take shape from the starting point of a vegetable, a cheese, a sauce. And I found this recipe in True Grits for a Ginger-Peach Salsa, and lo, I knew what I had to do.
Pecan Crust Pork Chops with Peach Salsa
Georgia Peach Salsa
Georgia Peach Salsa is delicious served with chicken, ham, pork or seafood. Process 1 teaspoon minced fresh or pickled gingerroot with 1 peeled and chopped Georgia peach in a food processor until smooth. Combine the peach mixture with 4 peeled and chopped Georgia peaches, 1/4 cup minced green onions, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Chill, covered, for 4 hours or longer.
Pecan Crust Pork Chops
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 medium green onions, chopped
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon grated gingerroot
4 (8-ounce) pork chops
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, green onions, horseradish and ginger in a shallow dish. Add the pork chops, turning to coat well. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour or longer. Drain.
Combine the flour, pecans, cornmeal, salt and white pepper in a shallow dish. Add the pork chops and coat well.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Brown the pork chops in the olive oil for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
For a side vegetable, I decided to ride the fresh corn and chiles kick I’ve been on lately.
Spicy Corn Stir-Fry
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups cooked fresh corn or 1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn
Stir-fry the bell pepper and jalapeno in the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the cumin. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the corn. Stir-fry for 2 minutes or until heated through.
This meal was amazingly good. The marinated pork chops stay juicy, and the breading is so delicious that I may have been caught standing over the stove and picking at the bits of it that stuck to the skillet after dinner. The peach salsa was an excellent accompaniment, and has great flavor on its own, too, like a little fruit salad with kick. As for the corn, it’s nothing particularly fancy, but the fresh corn makes all the difference in the world.
For dessert that night, we had vanilla ice cream with the ganache leftover from my ill-fated Boston Cream Pie. But I was not done with Atlanta yet. No, I had to mess with success and try to make yet another cake from scratch. And not just any cake – a Coca-Cola Cake.
For the cake:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1/2 cup Coca-Cola
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the frosting:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons baking cocoa
3/4 cup Coca-Cola
2 to 2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup broken pecans
To prepare the cake:
Mix the sugar, flour, and baking powder in a bowl. Bring the butter, baking cocoa, and Coca-Cola to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to blend well. Pour over the dry ingredients gradually, mixing well.
Combine the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in a bowl; mix well. Add to the batter; mix well. Spoon into a greased and floured 8×8-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
To prepare the frosting and assembly:
Bring the butter, baking cocoa, and Coca-Cola to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to blend well; remove from heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Pour the hot frosting over the warm cake; top with pecans. Let stand until cool.
After adding the confectioners’ sugar to my butter-cocoa-Coca-Cola mixture, I thought it looked suspiciously thin, more a syrup than a frosting. However, I consulted a few other similar recipes on the internet and they all called for a similar ratio of ingredients, so I figured I’d just go along with it. Also, none of the recipes said to dump the cake out of the pan before doing this, so I didn’t.
This may have been a mistake. I can only assume (and hope) that Coca-Cola cake is not supposed to look like this.
But as I poured the syrup over my cake and watched it drip down and collect in the sides of the pan, the thought that went through my head was, “Well, at least this cake won’t be dry.”
And it was not. Soggy, yes. Sickeningly sweet, yes. But not dry. And that is really all I wanted anyway.
Next week, I’m going on vacation with my family and will have the rare pleasure not only of seeing my family, but also of cooking a Junior League meal in the city where it was published. Pictures and recipes to follow upon my return.