The phrase "Southern food" often brings to mind fried chicken or catfish, collard greens seasoned with fatback, black-eyed peas cooked in ham, cornbread slathered with butter and pecan pie.
Once the rule of thumb for Southern cooking was "fat, fat and more fat," said Viktors A.K. Trepins, first vice president of the Augusta Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, but that's not necessarily the case any longer. Mr. Trepins said he sees the national restaurant trend of "low-fat, highly nutritious but tasteful food" gaining ground in the area.
The culinary group will feature its own healthy twists on Southern cuisine at a fund-raising dinner Sunday at the Partridge Inn. The event, La Nouveau Cuisine de Georgia, will begin at 6 p.m. with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, followed by dinner from 7:30 to 9.
The gala is an annual event put on by local chefs who prepare dishes using foods native to the area.
"We try to keep it to the region," said Mr. Trepins.
While Georgians need not abandon their chicken, collards, cornbread, catfish and pecans, there are healthful ways of preparing them.
Wayne Compton, another federation member who will prepare food for the gala, said items such as catfish and chicken, for instance, can be sauteed.
He's making an appetizer, marinated, sauteed, pecan chicken tenders. The chicken will be marinated in bourbon or brandy for several hours before it is cooked. The marinade keeps the chicken moist, he said.
The meat will be dusted or rolled in flour, egg, crushed pecans and brown sugar.
"You probably wouldn't get one-third of the calories from sauteeing that you would if you deep-fat-fry them," he said. "You use very little margarine to saute them, and you have most of that left over. The heat is what browns the meat; the oil just keeps it from sticking."
He will also prepare another appetizer, blackened catfish strips with a Cajun remoulade sauce. A piece of fish is lightly coated with oil or margarine (Mr. Compton likes to use olive oil or clarified butter) and placed in an extremely hot cast-iron frying pan.
Other items on Sunday's menu include shrimp-stuffed shitake mushrooms, which are indigenous to the area, Mr. Trepins said.
One of the main entrees will be a pit-smoked Cornish game hen glazed with spicy scuppernong and muscadine sauce. Scuppernongs and muscadines are local varieties of grapes.
"Cornish game hens are good with fruit sauces," said federation president Kathleen Fervan.
A new trend in smoking meat calls for different types of wood. In place of hickory or mesquite, pecan, walnut and cherry are gaining popularity.
Ms. Fervan said Sunday's Cornish hens would probably be smoked with cherry wood.
The event's menu also features favorite Southern vegetables, including collards and sweet potatoes.
Collards and other vegetables can be cooked with meat flavor but without the fat by usinga meat stock, Mr. Compton said.
A chicken stock is easily prepared by boiling chicken parts such as backs, necks and wings until the meat is done. Remove the meat, and place the water in the refrigerator for about five minutes. The fat will rise to the top, where it can be skimmed off. This process can also be used for ham and beef, but beef stock is a little harder to make, Mr. Compton said.
Sunday's dessert features a Georgia symbol - profiterolle de peche - also known as cream puff with peach. The cream puff will be filled with ice cream and garnished with fresh Georgia peaches.
One item that won't be on this year's menu but could arise in the future is kudzu.
"It's a leaf garnish," said Mr. Trepins. "If it's edible, chefs will find a way to cook it."
La Nouveau Cuisine de Georgia will be presented Sunday at the Partridge Inn. Cocktails begin at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $75 each and proceeds will benefit the American Culinary National Chef and the Child Foundation. For ticket information, call 771-4083 or 722-3521 ext. 347.
BEEF TENDERLOIN STUFFED WITH DUXELLES
2 pounds beef tenderloin
1/2 cup shallots
1/2 cup mushrooms
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon basil
Trim beef tenderloin and flatten as thin as possible. Chop shallots and mushrooms finely and add the herbs. Spread duxelles mixture over tenderloin, then tightly roll the meat, tie or secure the shape with a skewer. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cut thin pinwheel shapes. Two pinwheels per serving.
1 cup water
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup flour (bread)
4 large eggs
Boil the water in a 2- to 3-quart pot and add the butter or margarine to the boiling water. Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. The dough will come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and allow dough to cool for 5 minutes. Stir in one egg at a time. When cooled place dough in a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe the dough out into desired shape or use a No. 40 scoop for cream puffs to spoon out dough. Bake at 400 degrees on the center rack for about 10 minutes. Depending on different ovens, it could take more or less time, Ms. Fervan said. When the cream puffs are done, they should feel light as air. Fill with whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream or jelly.
VANILLA PASTRY CREAM (from Professional Baking)
1 cup sugar
1 quart milk
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 stick butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
In a heavy saucepan or kettle, dissolve 1/2 cup of the sugar in the milk and bring just to a boil. With a whisk, beat the egg yolks and whole eggs in a stainless steel bowl. Sift the starch and sugar into the eggs. Beat with the whisk until perfectly smooth. Temper the egg mixture by slowly beating in the hot milk in a thin stream. Return the mixture to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Mix until the butter is melted and completely blended in. Pour out into a clean shallow pan. Dust lightly with remaining sugar and cover with waxed paper to prevent a crust from forming. Cool and chill as quickly as possible.