Honey Carrot Cake

Honey Carrot Cake

If I were to name one cake that epitomizes southern desserts my pick would be carrot cake. Chess pie could be said to hold the spot for the pie category, and peach cobbler for something in between the two.

You may consider a different cake to fit the textbook definition of southern, but for me carrot cake was always a family favorite. Throughout my life (and throughout most celebratory tables) a carrot cake was alway present.

Such an old recipe has a debatable origin. It is not debated that it origins began it another country and eventually grew and changed in the States. Traditionally the sponge includes shredded carrots and nuts and smeared with a creamed cheese icing.

With such a traditional cake, it is hard to find a unique or delicious variation on the classic version. I find keeping the modification simple will result in the best results. An easy variation on the tradition is the use of honey to sweeten the cake. Of course, I prefer local honey since Savannah has such good procurers like Capital Bee Company.

To push the variation a bit more, I added orange zest and a bit of orange juice to the cream cheese icing. The citrus brightens up the soulful cake.

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.

My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.

A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.

You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.

You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.

The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.

I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.

For another childhood southern recipe click here.

 

Cajun Meat Bread

Cajun Meat Bread

Most southern food is bone sticking and hearty. A style that can be contributed to the economics of survival.

This recipe is not different. A full loaf of bread is stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables before being baked off. The result is a spicy gooey filled bread that acts as the perfect appetizer for any party.

This is a dish that I have eaten since I was a little girl, even considering it is difficult to find many versions of it in cookbooks or online.

Everyone in my family loves it. It originates from my Aunt’s mother, Mary Joyce, who is Cajun through and through. It is one of those items that is always present at family gatherings – especially large ones. A fact that is evident by the size of the portions used in the original recipe that was given to me:

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Personally, I do not cook for 80-100 people. I have a small family. So, the challenge with recreating this recipe was doing so in a way that would feed a smaller group. Lets say 10-12 people.

During my first test run of the condensed version of this recipe, I realized that the original recipe was missing some important instructions. A lack of instruction can easily be attributed to the fact that May Joyce has made this time and time again, so writing down all of the finite details was not something she needed to do. She has them all memorized.

To fill in the gaps, I did a little digging.  I found a recipe for creole meat bread by Emeril Lagasse, click here.

There is a large difference in creole and cajun food. Creole food is the result of many nationalities who settled in New Orleans. In many creole recipes you will find inspiration from West African, Spanish, Haitian, French, and many other cultures.

Cajun food comes from the Acadian people and has a French influence. You will find Cajun food primarily outside of the city…where my family lives.

Comparing the two, although one cajun and one creole,  helped fill in some of the gaps.

I present my version of meat bread. Of course it will never be good as the original I ate growing up. It is not easy to include the love that is thrown into every family recipe that is made for you, instead of by you.

For another Louisiana inspired recipe, click here.

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

Key Lime Pie Poke Cake

As you probably guessed, Key Lime Pie (and key limes) come from the Keys. Many southerners consider the Florida line to be the official end of the south, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon so it counts.

When key lime pie is done right (i.e. made with key limes) it can be magical. Refreshing yet sweet, and creamy and cool.

All of the traditional Savannah restaurants offer some version of key lime pie on their dessert menu. When I speak of traditional Savannah restaurants I am referring to the ones that have been around forever, like the Olde Pink House or Garibaldi’s.

Since summer has officially begun in Savannah, it felt natural to make a southern dessert that is inspired by the season. Note: it is not officially summer, but when you live this deep in the south, the heat makes it feel like summer arrives early.

And to be completely honest, I did not feel like making a pie crust so baking a version of the dessert without a pie crust was my approach for this one. What is just as good a pie crust? Cake!

The base flavors/components for key lime pie recipes are always the same, key limes, graham cracker, and meringue. This recipe includes all of the essential components. A graham cracker cake, key lime pudding, toasted meringue, and a graham cracker crumb.

As for a poke cake, the concept is simple. Bake a one-layer cake in a cake pan and once it is cool poke holes into and pour something delicious over the cake. I finish my version off with a slathering of meringue and a blow torch.

 

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

I assume you are asking yourself—how is an Éclair Cake southern?

The cake itself is not southern, but its source is. For many of us southerners, especially older generations, beloved recipes were sourced from community cookbooks. A community cookbook is just that, a collection of local recipes submitted by locals and compiled by a local a organization (the Junior League is a popular source) or a church. Each recipe contains the name of the submitter and a blurb about the recipe. Readers will usually multiple variations for one type of recipe. You may find three different recipes for pimento cheese. And almost always the finished book is spiral bound.

In my childhood home there was one community cookbook that my mom sourced everything from: Dogwood Delights. You will notice that this book was put together by Atlanta’s Telephone Pioneers of America. My mom worked in Atlanta for BellSouth when I was a child. I remember going to the big city of Atlanta and eating at the Varsity on special days I was allowed to go to work with her.

Every time we made red velvet cake for Christmas, the book came out of the cupboard. Luckily, my grandmother was kind enough to give me her copy as a source of inspiration. So when I make red velvet cake there is only one place to go.


Often times when I am looking for a source of inspiration in a bake or covered dish I want to bring to my next family gathering I pull out my old, dusty copy.

For me, and for so many, community cookbooks are a conservation of history. A memento of time, experience, and culture of a community. Generations of experience are contained in-between two covers which makes for a great resource to young and old cooks alike.

Although community cookbooks provided a wealth of information to homemakers and small town cooks (because they were popular long before the internet), so many of the submissions lack direction. If you are experienced baker or cook like me, it is no problem to fill in the gaps but not every person in the kitchen has that experience. For those who do not know to cream together your butter and eggs when making the batter for a cake, the gaps can be tricky.

My intention is to not only preserve the recipes so many southerners rely on, but to update them into a modern form. By update I do not mean changing the dish into something totally different, I mean raising it into its adult self.

Let this first recipe be the example. I found this recipe by thumbing through and liked it. As I mentioned before, there were about 10 different versions of the cake listed.

A picture of the original recipe
As you can see, this recipe calls for a bunch of premade items. Instant pudding, frozen whipped cream, etc. An update is simple, make everything you can from scratch…within reason. I will not be making homemade graham crackers.

I made a homemade bourbon butterscotch pudding out of homemade caramel, a homemade ganache for the top, and a homemade whipped cream. The southern in me felt the need to splash in bourbon instead of rum for the butterscotch.

Ta-dah! This community cookbook submission is brought into the 21st century.

Go out and find your own community cookbook. A good place to start is an old bookstore or my favorite—a yard sale.

A fork full of finished cake

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.

Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.

Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.

For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:

If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.

A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.

Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.

This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).

Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.

If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!

The finished loaf turned out from the pan

Georgia Brunswick Stew

Georgia Brunswick Stew

Today marks the day that I institute some changes for my blog. Lately I have been very inspired to learn more about the history of Southern cuisine, which forms the basis of my food history and influence.

I cannot list one specific reason as to the inspiration, but a slew of events accumulated over the last few months that pushed me here. Getting an invite to the private screen of Netflix’s Chef’s Table episode on our local chef, Mashama Bailey, was the starting point.

Next came the discovery of the Southern Foodways Alliance (here is there website) which documents the history of southern cuisine. I quickly became a proud member.

Not long after I visited with my dad and my Uncle Dusty (who is Cajun) and naturally fell into conversations about food of each of their regions. It seems as though I always fall back on or lean towards making food that has roots in the south.

Finally, I have realized that as a food writer in Savannah, I should educated myself more on the food I am writing about as to bring my readers some knowledge of their region.

To implement this change, I am going to start with a dish that I ate all the time growing up. When you live in certain parts of Georgia, semi-rural, there are only so many restaurants available. Most are chain restaurants like Long Horns or McDonalds, so the legitimate food selection is scant at best.

Birthdays and certain holidays resulted in eating out at the ‘fancier’ restaurants or the local mom and pop restaurants that the entire family loved. On our short list of go-tos was Wallace Barbeque, a shack of a BBQ restaurant that serves pulled pork by the pound with a bowl of vinegar-based barbeque sauce on the side. It is loved so much by my family that anytime my Uncle Dusty visits Georgia from his home in Louisiana, Wallace Barbeque is his first stop.

Like any good Georgia barbeque restaurant, Brunswick stew is readily available on the menu. As a result I have eaten gallons and gallons of Brunswick stew in my lifetime.

Brunswick stew is a hunter’s stew which combines any meat that is available, sometimes even squirrel, with any vegetables that are locally available. The result is a bone sticking stock that is chock-full of sustenance.

It is also important to note that Brunswick stew recipes change by the region. Georgia’s versions is traditionally sweeter due to the use of a barbeque sauce poured in the stock. Virginia’s version just uses a tomato base.

A good point of reference for the difference in each region’s Brunswick stew is the Southern Floodway Alliance’s Community Cookbook. It lists a recipe for North Carolina Brunswick Stew. I could not find one for Georgia. Instead of using a sweet barbeque sauce like in my recipe below, the recipe calls for the combination of ketchup, vinegar, and sugar.

Regardless of the region, the modern Brunswick stew features two meats, pork and chicken. Gone are the days where most southerners used what they caught or what was readily available on the farm to cook. The surplus of local supermarkets has made placed cheap meat in every home.

The recipe below is merely a starting point. I based my recipe on the countless bowls of Brunswick stew I ate growing up. You can switch out the vegetables, lookup versions from other regions or just throw in anything that suits the moment.

A big pot of hearty brunswick stew and slices of bread

If you do not feel like making stew at home, here is my recommendation on a good local bbq spot.

Strawberry Cheesecake Rice Crispy Treats

Strawberry Cheesecake Rice Crispy Treats

Last week I posted a new recipe for homemade Cheesecake Marshmallows, and I wanted to share the recipe of how I used the mallows because the flavor is so unique.

The recipe for the cheesecake flavored marshmallows can be found here.

I created this recipe some time ago. I started with strawberry Rice Krispie treats that I created for my nieces and nephews. To make simple strawberry flavored Rice Krispie treats, all you have to do is use plain marshmallows in lieu of these cheesecake flavored ones.
The natural progression for strawberry cheesecake Rice Krispie treats came when I decided to attempt to make my very own homemade marshmallows.

Like most recipes, it is simple to make your own flavor or version by switching out some of the ingredients. You can create or use any flavor marshmallow you like, and the same goes for the freeze dried fruit. Make banana flavored Rice Krispie treats by using freeze dried bananas. Or even thrown in some vanilla wafers to make banana pudding Rice Krispie treats. Maybe that will be my next recipe to post.

The good news is that this recipe is extremely simple, so any level of cook can make it. It is also a really great recipe to make with your kids. I hope it inspires you to come up with your very own uniquely flavored Rice Krispie treats.

Three finished treats stacked high on a plate

Cheesecake Marshmallows

Cheesecake Marshmallows

Marshmallows are one of those things that I have always wanted to make at home. But when it is so easy to just buy a bag of pre-made marshmallows at the store, why take the time to do it yourself? Have you ever tried a homemade marshmallow? There is no comparison! Making them yourself is totally worth it.

The homemade version is fluffier, lighter, gooier, and even more so of all of the things that everyone loves about a marshmallow. And after making my very first batch (successfully might I add), I concluded that it is not very hard at all. The only troublesome part is dealing with the extra sticky freshly made mallows.

The second benefit to making them at home is that you can flavor your confection with almost anything. I found a bottle of cheesecake extract on Amazon and it arrived in two short days. Click here for the extract.

And finally, you actually get to see what is in your food. Instead of pumping yourself with processed store-bought stuff.In a few short days, I will post my recipe on how I used these little clouds of cheesecake heaven. Until then, just eat them by the handful.

The marshmallow being coated is powdered sugar

 

Apricot Roasted Chicken

Apricot Roasted Chicken

There are often extremely difficult moments in life—days during which you feel as though you will not be okay. In the end, time will heal almost everything, but waiting seems impossible.

In those moments, food plays an important role for many. Personally, I gravitate towards homecooked meals that warm and ease my soul.

Two weeks ago I made the difficult decision to let go of my dog and best friend of 13 years. Although I know it was the correct decision to ease her suffering, it was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. My friends and family really stepped up to be there for my husband and I. The showering of food (and booze if I am being honest) kept my home full while my heart was empty.

I cannot think of a more soul warming meal than roasted meat and a couple of sides. A meat and two or three (or four) is a staple southern meal. Growing up, dinner most nights included meatloaf, country fried steak, pot roast, salmon patties, or pork chops.

So when you go through something difficult you often lean towards bits of nostalgia—the good moments. A full plate of love-filled food is a plate full of nostalgia for me. A lot of my childhood consisted of sitting in the kitchen with my mother as she cooked me dishes from the heart.

Although she never roasted chicken like this, I think this recipe is easily one that you can add to your repertoire of food to cook and share with others. The preparation calls for an arrangement of vegetables at the bottom of your roast pan and a slathering of sweet sticky apricot preserves. The result is a juicy home roasted chicken with a slight Asian flare.

I am going to leave this recipe here because it is my hope that you share a homecooked, heart-filling meal with friends or family. Even if you are not going through your own battle, and just want a good meal, this dish will serve you well. Now get in the kitchen and make memories.