Southern Supper Book Club: “Big Lies in a Small Town”

Southern Supper Book Club: “Big Lies in a Small Town”

It’s National Book Lover’s Day and my book club party planner is here! Host a Southern-style book club supper with “Big Lies In A Small Town” by Diane Chamberlain and these recipes from my cookbooks.

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I must admit, I was captivated by this book from the first sentence. After all the main character’s first name is Morgan.

Her surname is Christopher (name of my middle son) and her boyfriend’s name is Trey (name of oldest son). There’s a Jon in there somewhere, I’m sure!

The extra pull is that the novel is set in my adopted state of North Carolina jumping back and forth from the early forties and to the present. But it is the writing that really captures the reader. You feel like the characters are your peers. You find yourself dancing in a time warp while you are cheering for the heroine(s).

This is my next pick for our Super Supper Book Club. Gather your readers, give them the title and dole out the recipes for what will be a roller coaster discussion and meal.

Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit; she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold―until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

I already cooked up some questions for your Super Supper Book Club gathering…

  • After a year, you get your hands on a cell phone for the first time. Who do you call? 
  • Was it brave or crazy for Jesse’s family to aid Anna?
  • Does Morgan ever come to accept that alcohol is a problem for her, or does she simply comply with her parole requirements?

My Southern inspiration for this Super Supper Book Club menu is Jesse’s family’s Sunday dinner. I take the liberty of substituting Anna’s least favorite vegetable (collard greens) with my delicious recipe for Swiss chard. I exchange corn on with cob for creamed corn. In place of stewed tomatoes liberated from the family’s root cellar, I substitute slow roasted cherry tomatoes.

The author didn’t mention a dessert, but I bet the farm, there was strawberry shortcake somewhere, sometime on Sundays. My swaps are allowed, because all these recipes are rooted in my love of the South. Lest there be controversary during the discussion, keep those paintbrushes close to allow everyone to express themselves.

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Super Supper Book Club Menu: “Big Lies in a Small Town” by Diane Chamberlain

Fried Chicken Basket

Sunday Best Dishes, page 71

Creamy Smashed Parmesan Potatoes

Sunday Best Dishes, page 280

Braised Rainbow Chard

Canvas and Cuisine, page 124

Old-Fashioned Cream Corn

Fresh Traditions, page 208

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Fresh Traditions, page 205

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@helloimnik?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Hello I'm Nik</a> on Unsplash

Southern-Style Strawberry Shortcake

Canvas and Cuisine, page 331

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Southern Super Supper Book Club Menu

Southern Super Supper Book Club Menu

It’s “Read An eBook Week” and my recipes and read are available for immediate download! Host a Southern-style book club supper with “Almost Sisters” by Joshilyn Jackson and my “Sunday Best Dishes” menu.

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Last year I discovered author Joshilyn Jackson and devoured every book she’s written in record time.

For me, her characters, strong Southern women, strike a chord with so many attributes I aspire to. Her heroines face challenges that we can identify with, although hopefully in not such a dramatic manner!

For this book club, I’ve chosen the book “The Almost Sisters”.

This is not her most recent book, but I find it to be very current given our present political climate. And although this book is in no way political, it does deal with issues in the headlines.

Here is a summary from Amazon:

“With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

 

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

 

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight-year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes.

 

Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

 

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding.

 

Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.”

There’s a pivotal scene in the book that serves as the catalyst for bringing Leia home to Alabama and her grandmother. Birchie and her caretaker, Wattie attend a potluck supper after Sunday church. It’s Birchie’s out-of-character outburst in front of the parishioners that sends a distress call to Leia.

Sunday after church potluck suppers are a tradition in the South. I must have been on the same wavelength with Ms. Jackson when I wrote an entire chapter of the potluck recipes in my book, “Sunday Best Dishes.”

This book is the perfect one for recipes for your book club menus. Buy one and share it with all of your book club members!

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Here’s a menu that will work perfectly for your book discussion of “The Almost Sisters”:

Pretty Potluck Beans

Sunday Best Dishes, page 73

Southern-Style Chicken Pot with Okra and Collards

Sunday Best Dishes, page 79

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham and Green Onions

Sunday Best Dishes, page 83

Trio of Picnic Salads

Sunday Best Dishes, page 123

#RecipesAndReads

 

Here are a couple of book club discussion questions to get you started:

  • There are multiple relationships in the novel that fit the title The Almost Sisters description. How did the title take on new meaning to you as the story developed?
  • Despite her worsening dementia, Birchie is still a strong character throughout the book. How would you describe her lifelong friendship with Wattie? Did your impressions change throughout the novel? Why do you think Birchie chose to keep their true relationship a secret even as times changed?
  • Leia makes the decision to hide her pregnancy early on and keeps her secret throughout much of the story. Do you think Leia made the right decision? Were you surprised by the characters’ reactions when her pregnancy was revealed?

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Sweet Traditions in the Making

Sweet Traditions in the Making

This was so going to be a post about Thanksgiving side dishes…. And then… I had the blessing of having both granddaughters join me on what happened to be National Bread Day this Sunday.

Mallory, 13 and Bookie, 2 have a huge age difference between them, but share a common love for me – reminds me of Sally Field in Soapdish and that line, “they really, really love me!…”

Here’s how making our precious memories together went down. I was looking for something to write about for Monday’s blog, and Mallory inspired me by her quest to bake something. She was looking for edible cookie dough or at the very least, a chocolate cookie skillet.

But Jorj.com just posted a bunch of cookie stuff….soooo, we decided on baking bread instead. Thanks to just placing an order with Carolina Ground, and having a lot of flour on hand, we had an absolute blast.

We baked my recipe, A Tale of Two Loves from Canvas and Cuisine and swirled the bread with a layer of my last jar of highly coveted apple butter.

Totally worth it!

Sweet Mallory spent hours with Brooke in between dough rises, and sweet Brooke abandoned her nap to rise to the grown-girl challenge. Does it get any better than this? I’m not sure. Coming into Thanksgiving, this is what I give thanks for. And I hope you cherish your family moments too.

Oh, and P.S. When you bake this bread, feel free to add a tablespoon of your favorite spice mix to the flour, like apple pie spice, gingerbread spice, or pumpkin pie spice!

A Tale of Two Loaves

makes 2 yummy loaves

20 minute cuisine, plus 2 hours to rise and 30 minutes to bake

2 cups milk, warmed on the stove top

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon natural cane sugar

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast, 1 package

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 ½ cups white or whole-wheat bread flour

2 ½ to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Stir the beaten egg into the warm milk. Stir in the sugars. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and stir.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

Place the melted butter, salt and whole-wheat flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Pour in the wet ingredients. Stir, on slow to medium speed, until the flour and milk are combined. Add the all-purpose flour, about ½ cup at a time gradually increasing the speed of the mixer to form a soft, wet dough. This process will take you about 5 minutes. Once the dough wraps around the hook, continue mixing until you have a smooth, shiny ball of dough wrapped around the dough hook, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a large bowl that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 1 ½ hours to rise. I use my warming drawer set on the proof setting for this.

Coat 2 (8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½-inch) loaf pans with vegetable oil. THIS IS IMPORTANT! If the pans are larger, your dough may not rise. If your pans are smaller, the dough may not cook properly.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Punch the dough down and shape into two round loaves. Place each loaf into a pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 to 45 minutes. If you are adding mix-ins into your loaf, now is the time. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board. Fold in your favorite items. (Mine is a brushing of melted butter with cinnamon and brown sugar.) Shape the dough into a loaf and continue with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Bake the bread until the tops are golden and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.

 

Book Signing Party Food: You’ll Want This Stuffed Mushroom Recipe

Book Signing Party Food: You’ll Want This Stuffed Mushroom Recipe

Sue and I are excited to introduce our new book, Canvas and Cuisine: The Art of the Fresh Market. We will be holding a series of open houses, showcasing yummy food from our labor of love. We are calling these soirees, “A Taste of the Fresh Market”. We’ll have books to read and Sue’s original art work to take your breath away, plus a sip or two of a late afternoon libation. Most importantly, we will have samples (recipes from the book!) on offer in mini bite-size portions.

I learned a lot converting some of the bigger dishes in Canvas & Cuisine to party appetizers! In redesigning some of my recipes, I ended up producing classic standbys that I – a self-described EXTREME party planner – haven’t tasted in a while. What FUN!

One of the most popular dishes in the book (according to my recipe testers) is Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pancetta and Toasted Breadcrumbs. This dish proved to be a great example of what you can do with a recipe. You can make it your own.

I created the dish as a mostly veggie entrée, featuring meaty grilled mushrooms with a buttery wine sauce over the top. Through my recipe testers, it evolved into a spicy stuffed mushroom, with a crunchy topping of crisp ham and breadcrumbs.

This is one of those dishes a dinner host can easily convert from a first course or veggie main to a simple, satisfying appetizer. By stuffing smaller mushrooms with just a bit of the sun-dried sauce, and sprinkling the toasted topping over the top, they become bite sized delicious versions of the original dish.

I thought I’d share this one with you in advance of the event…. Just in case you are in the neighborhood. If you wanna get a book shipped ASAP, click here and order your copy today!

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

with Sun Dried Tomato Breadcrumbs 

Serves 4

30 Minute Cuisine

1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons butter, melted plus 2 more for sauce

½ cup julienned sun dried tomatoes in oil

4 large garlic cloves, minced, about 2 tablespoons

¼ cup Marsala wine

Juice of ½ medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

8 Portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter in a small bowl. Pour onto a baking sheet. Bake the buttered crumbs until they begin to crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Heat the sun dried tomatoes and the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and simmer until most of the wine has disappeared, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice. Season with salt and crushed red pepper. Turn off the heat and swirl in 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the parsley.

Heat a grill pan on high heat. Brush the mushrooms with olive oil on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the mushrooms, turning once, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the mushrooms to a platter, cap side down. Divide the breadcrumbs into the mushrooms. Drizzle the sundried tomato sauce over the crumbs.

 

 

 

 

 

What to Feed Your April Fool? How About Dinner for Breakfast?

What to Feed Your April Fool? How About Dinner for Breakfast?

There are so many savory breakfast classics that seem better suited to dinner, am I right? Steak and eggs, Quiche Lorraine, a mound of white grits that could be your April Fool’s Day mashed potatoes in the right light….

I wasn’t sure how to usher in the first Monday of this month. To help me brain storm, I got out my bullet journal. Bullet journals are trending lately. It differs from keeping a regular old diary, in that you just make lists and outline your goals in fun colors, adding little drawings in the margins.

Ideal bullet journal entries are grocery lists and recipes. When I embarked on note taking for Jorj.com’s Monday offering, I drew a Spanish sun first. Light was streaming through my kitchen window, warming my skin. I thought of the chapters in my new cookbook that were inspired by mine and my co-author, Sue Fazio’s trips to Spain.

I then decided that a perfect, savory dinner for breakfast is the Tortilla Espanola. In Spain, it’s just a tapa, but on April Fool’s Day in my house, it’s dinner!

You can make it in a cast iron skillet – any skillet – but be warned. It’s HOT!!! There are a lot of fiery bites on tapas plates. I guess the thought is the more blazing your taste buds, the more you require a swallow of chilled aperitif to put out the flames.

SANGRIA, anyone? Oh, and April Fool’s Day Tip – maybe make one side of the tortilla extra spicy and tell people to take their chances, wink, wink…

And remember – all days of the year, not just 4/1/19, this is a terrific dish for a pot luck. It’s good old-fashioned comfort food!

Tortilla Espanola

(Potato Torte)

serves a crowd

40 minute cuisine

5 to 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Vegetable oil for frying

2 large yellow onions, diced, about 3 cups

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 3 tablespoons

6 large eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Chopped, fresh parsley

Use a mandolin or very sharp knife to slice the potatoes into thin rounds. Place the potatoes into a colander and toss with salt. Pour enough oil to come halfway up the side of a deep skillet. Heat the oil over medium high heat. You will know that the oil is ready when you place the end of a wooden spoon into the oil and you see bubbles. Fry the potatoes in the oil until they are tender in the middle and just beginning to brown on the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes. You can do this in batches so that you don’t crowd too many slices into the pan. Use a slotted spoon or wire skimmer to transfer the potatoes onto a paper lined baking sheet.

Carefully add the onions and garlic to the oil. Lower the temperature to medium low and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to turn golden, about 5 to 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or wire skimmer to transfer to the baking sheet holding the potatoes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and carefully pour all but 2 tablespoons of the oil into heat resistant bowl. (When cooled, you can strain and re-use the oil for another recipe.)

Place the eggs into a large bowl using a fork to blend.  Gently slide the potatoes, onions and garlic into the bowl. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper and gently blend trying not to break the potato slices.

Heat the oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Pour in the potato and eggs using a spatula to spread evenly in the pan. Cook for 30 seconds to brown the (soon to be top) of the torte. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the center is set, about 5 to 8 minutes. Use the spatula to gently loosen the edges from the pan as it cooks. Shake the skillet to make sure the center is setting. Turn off the heat. Take a plate, that is large than the skillet and place it upside down over the skillet. With one hand on the plate and the other on the skillet handle, invert the pan so that the torte comes out and onto the plate. There might be a little loose egg around the edges. Use your spatula to scrape any bits back into the torte. Gently slide the inverted torte back into the pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook until a tester inserted into the center of the torte comes out clean, about 5 to 6 minutes more. Transfer the torte to a clean platter and keep warm. The torte can be served warm or at room temperature.

A Tasty Trip Down Memory Lane

A Tasty Trip Down Memory Lane

New Zealand held so many special times during our recent trip. If you’ve been there, you know how special it is. The locals keep the towns pristine and welcoming. They love to show off their love of their lands. We visited Christchurch, a small coastal town on the South Island. Our tour guides arranged a visit to a small sheep farm in Canterbury. We were greeted by the farmer, his gorgeous wife and their adult daughters, and given a sheep shearing demonstration! What a show!!

After a brief tour of their 1840ish farmhouse, we were escorted outdoors, where we were met with a Martha Stewart inspired luncheon table, seating fifty guests! The table was set with linen clothes and napkins, vintage flatware and freshly clipped flowers in mason jars.

The table sat under the canopy of a recently erected, tent shading us from the warm New Zealand sun. Lunch was served buffet style, and featured a garden fresh salad, whole roasted salmon filets, boiled potatoes and a main course of baked chicken pieces with a sauce of wine, olives, dates and capers.

We all passed around bottles of chilled rose wine and dived into lunch. It took only a couple of bites of that chicken dish to bring back memories of my early catering days. I could swear the dish was Chicken Mirabella from the Silver Palate cookbook. What a lovely coincidence! I travel fourteen hours across the globe, only to have the same meal I’ve made over and over again for my clients. I confirmed this with the generous Lady of the Manor. Her smile was ginormous when she realized that we had cooking and entertaining in common. She grabbed my hand, and took me back into her kitchen to show me her cookbook collection. What a treat.

When my pals came to Florida for a recent visit, we put together a girl’s night supper that featured none other than that Chicken Mirabel dish. I served it with Poached Asparagus and a Green Goddess Avocado Dressing, along with a recipe from my new book: Farmer’s Market Orzo Salad.

As a further retro treat, I added yummy rolls from an old Junior League cookbook, another one of my reliable tomes from my old catering days.

The meal was a true treat. When I think of where I’ve been and where I am now, and all the places I still have to visit, I can’t help but be reminded that good food never really changes. It is one of the things that bind us all together.

Here’s a slide show of my scrumptious trip down good ol’ memory lane.