An Experimentally Southern Meal

One of my recent food-related discoveries and loves is American Southern cooking.  Even though a quarter of my ancestry is deeply deeply Southern (my ancestors settled in Virginia as early as the 1600s, eventually making their way to the Alabama/Georgia line where my grandfather was born), I have never felt connected to it in any way.  However, through various influences such as a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C., and a fantastic episode of Parts Unknown in which Anthony Bourdain visits Senegal and highlights some of the food traditions that crossed the Atlantic with the enslaved people brought over to America and the Caribbean, I have developed a new interest in and a deep respect for the rich and meaningful tradition which is Southern cooking.  And it’s delicious too!

I decided to try my hands at some Southern-style recipes from The Joy of Cooking.  I’ll be upfront with you and say it was a beginner’s attempt. But one has to start somewhere.

The recipe I began my meal with was the Cajun Dry Rub, found on page 86 of the 1997 edition.  It’s a simple spice mix meant to flavor meats and vegetables and can be very versatile in the way it is cooked.  I kept to the recipe, including all the ingredients. However, instead of applying it to the chicken as a dry rub, Julian and I followed the recommendation given by the cookbook, which says “When a dry rub is moistened with oil or ground fresh ginger or garlic, it becomes a paste, which is even easier to use, because it clings nicely to the food.”  We added some oil to the mix and then applied it to the chicken. Julian used his preferred method of cooking chicken, by initially pan-frying it but finishing it up in the oven.

For sides, we made brown rice (I’d like to try grits or polenta next time) and a stirfry of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and okra, with a bit of Creole seasoning and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blend. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any fresh okra so we had to resort to frozen, bagged okra, which made the stirfry much wetter than I would have liked.

My favorite part of the meal, however, was dessert– the most experimental I’ve tried yet: bread pudding.

The recipe for New Orleans Bread Pudding can be found on page 1023 of The Joy of CookingIt is described as a “warm sticky bun drenched in butter and bourbon.”  Sounds healthy, right?  (….)

As a whole, I kept to the recipe, but when I was reading the recipe aloud and got to the part where it recommends adding raisins, Julian and I both shuddered a little, so we decided, no raisins.  Additionally, the recipe calls for whole milk which I only realized after we had come back from the store and I had started cooking– I only had 1% milk (all part of my attempts to keep my points down when I have cereal, but no good for desserts.)  I looked up solutions online and found a source that recommended the following substitute: for one cup of whole milk, use 2/3 cup of 1% milk and 1/4 cup of half and half (something I have never and will never give up for all the points in the world, thank you very much.)  Following this formula, I substituted the whole milk and the result was just fine.

The final way I deviated from the recipe was that I did not make the Southern Whiskey Sauce it recommends.  Not being much into drinking, we don’t keep a lot of alcohol at home, and bourbon, besides whole milk, was another detail I failed to consider when we were at the grocery store. So instead, I made the hot brown sugar sauce on page 1042, which is largely the same as the Southern Whiskey Sauce, except there’s no whisky, and you substitute one cup of light brown sugar for the white sugar of the original recipe.

We were very pleased with the result. Julian is not usually a fan of bread pudding, and it really is the type of thing that can so easily go wrong. But it didn’t– the texture was just right, and the flavor was delicious.  The bit of nutmeg in the recipe gave it a delicious spicy edge, and the brown sugar sauce was phenomenal.

The only problem is, the recipe is far too big for a family of two, and the texture is somewhat lost when reheated the next day.  I am realizing that if I am to make such sizable dessert recipes, I need to save them for when we have company over. (This is the problem of being an aspiring baker and an introvert at the same time.)


What is one of your favorite Southern foods?