Quirky takes on Southern fare


January 24, 2007|By Drew Jubera | Drew Jubera,Cox News Service

The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

By Matt and Ted Lee

W.W. Norton & Co. / 2006 / $35

The recipes in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook run the gamut, from the sublime to the seemingly ridiculous - from twists on regional standards such as Hopping John and Corn Macque Choux to more fanciful variations such as Peach Sake and Chocolate Grits Ice Cream.

Chocolate Grits Ice Cream?

"It amuses me more than intrigues me," Atlanta chef Scott Peacock says of the recipe. "But it's such a part of their personality that it's appropriate for them. They get this excitement, and one thing leads to the next and the next. In a lot of cookbooks, some recipes can sound like, `What can I do that no one has ever done before?' But with the Lees, even the quirky recipes are expressions of their personalities rather than their egos."

Maria Guarnaschelli, the book's editor, pushed Matt and Ted Lee to embrace, rather than run from, regional cliches such as grits, fried chicken and country ham.

"You have to make people care," said Guarnaschelli, who also edited the revised edition of the classic Joy of Cooking. "I don't eat grits, but I may now. I think they've created a Southern cookbook that a lot of people who never thought of Southern cooking will use."

To illustrate the Lee brothers' cooking style, we put several recipes to the test and were thrilled with the results. We had a hard time visualizing the recipe for Rollins Family Genuine Apple Float, but we loved the story that accompanied it so much that we were curious to give it a try.

According to the Lees, the dessert was described to them by a friend named Conley, who claimed his grandmother made it by whisking Mott's applesauce with Cool Whip and floating it in a pool of Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. Although this dessert requires a number of steps, the result wowed our testers. The airy, spicy apple mixture indeed floats like a cloud atop the rich vanilla custard, and the bourbon-spiked whipped cream is a lovely crowning touch.

The Lee brothers developed what they call "the cheese straw of our dreams" after the maker of the ones they sold through their mail-order catalog disappeared just before the holiday season.

The recipe was a consolation to the customers who ordered them. In the process, the brothers found that cheese straws are among the easiest baked goods in the world.

"We like our cheese straws long, slender and elegant, like ... well, straws," the brothers write. "Although they're fragile, they bundle together nicely on end in a stout cocktail glass or silver julep cup."

Cheese Straws

Makes 30 straws

1 1/2 cups (about 4 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces

3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1 tablespoon half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red-pepper flakes and process in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.

On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8-by-10-inch rectangle that is 1/8 -inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into long, thin strips, 1/4 to 1/3 inch wide. (Dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut.) Gently transfer the strips to ungreased cookie sheets, leaving at least 1/4 inch between them. The dough will sag and may break occasionally in the transfer, but don't be concerned - just do your best. The straws can be any length, from 2 to 10 inches.

Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheets on a rack to cool. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for 2 days.

Per straw: 39 calories, 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 3 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 55 milligrams sodium

Recipe analysis provided by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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