Finding comfort with Southern dishes



Paula Deen & Friends

Living It Up, Southern Style

By Paula Deen With Martha Nesbit

Simon & Schuster Inc. / 2005 / $25

Southerners are known for their bountiful food and their gracious hospitality and celebrity cook Paula Deen puts it all together in her new book, Paula Deen & Friends: Living It Up, Southern Style.

The silver-haired doyenne of the Food Network, who never met a stick of butter or a cup of buttermilk she couldn't include in a recipe, has organized essential Southern goodies in themed menus for every occasion in her new cookbook. The recipes are her own and those of her favorite Southern cooks. All the reader has to do, she writes, is add guests who love life.

There is "Paula's Birthday Bash," featuring "beer-in-the-rear" grilled chicken, buttermilk biscuits and buttermilk poundcake with strawberries and whipped cream. And "A Week at the Lake With the Kids," which includes recipes that can be cooked ahead so the cook can vacation, too.

She has put together menus for a christening, a working lunch, a Kentucky Derby party, bridge club, a tailgate, a teenager's slumber party, a cookie swap and for when "The Boss Comes to Dinner," which features a veal loin stuffed with roasted bell peppers, goat cheese and basil.

She warns that this menu will cost at least $100 for the groceries, will take several days to prepare and will put you on the map as a couple to be reckoned with.

"This is not a menu for the faint of heart," she says.

For the less adventurous, she kindly includes a less-ambitious menu that substitutes rock Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and drops several of the side dishes.

But the section that I chose to cook from was Deen's chapter on "Comfort Foods." Nothing says Southern like comfort.

In this chapter, she collected popular recipes for soups - including a delicious crab soup made, incredibly, from canned soups - casseroles and desserts that hold up well in transport and freeze well. These are just the kinds of foods you would offer a family in the midst of trouble or sadness.

Not only are the recipes easy to expand, Deen provides the cooking instructions you need to write on the card that accompanies them.

Like the Southern mama she is, Deen has thought of everything.

Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking

Classic Flavors for Today's Cooks

By Damon Lee Fowler

Simon & Schuster Inc. / 2005 / $26

If the South weren't known for its barbecue, it would be known for its baking.

Paula Deen's "neighbor" in Savannah, Ga., Damon Lee Fowler, has adapted the best Southern treats for the modern cook and has added a collection of short stories that recounts the lore of Southern baking.

He begins with the basics, teaching the reader how to make the perfect biscuits with just the right "hand," and moves on to the sinfully Southern desserts, such as bourbon pecan squares and coconut chess (which means "cheese" in the South) pie with dark chocolate bourbon sauce.

Seasoned in the South

Recipes From Crook's Corner and From Home / By Bill Smith

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill / 2005 / $19.95

From the Old South to the New South. Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C., a restaurant growing in national renown, is credited with blending Southern traditions with the modern bistro, and author Bill Smith is the man in the kitchen.

Arranged by season and filled, as everything Southern is, with lots of stories, Seasoned in the South brings innovation to Southern cooking with recipes for dishes such as fried green tomatoes with sweet corn and lemon beurre blanc and white-peach-and-pepper soup.

The recipes are sophisticated and their preparation requires time and skill. And some of them, gleaned from his world travels, would look out of place on his Southern menu. But the author admits this, and includes them anyway.

Quick Crab Stew

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, chopped

one 10 3/4 -ounce can condensed cream of potato soup

one 10 3/4 -ounce can condensed cream of celery soup

1 soup can of milk

1 soup can of half-and-half

1 pound claw crab meat, picked through for shell

1/4 cup sherry

salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the soups, milk and half-and-half. Add the crab meat and bring just to a boil. Add the sherry, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot immediately or allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze immediately in plastic microwaveable, reusable containers with lids.

Label with the following directions: If refrigerated, vent container. Microwave on 50 percent power until crab stew is hot, about 3 minutes. If frozen, vent container. Reheat at 30 percent power until thawed, about 10 minutes. Then reheat at 50 percent power until hot, about 2 minutes.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 303 calories; 23 grams protein; 16 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 15 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 130 milligrams cholesterol; 1,169 milligrams sodium

Recipe from "Paula Deen & Friends"

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