Talking Pie with a Southern Girl

Talking Pie with a Southern Girl

And not just any Southern girl either – Amanda Wilbanks, owner of the Southern Baked Pie Company spent part of her Friday afternoon on the phone with us, dishing on all butter crusts, pies as small as a tassie and as large as a wagon wheel, blackberry pies, pies made with fresh, organic blueberries that are growing all over Georgia right now, and her savory chicken pot pie that is her favorite to eat but the hardest to make.

“I used to love to make chicken pot pie with my Grandma, who I called Betty. We had to cook the chicken first, which took hours. The pie doesn’t have vegetables like a lot of people think, but its simple, honest ingredients: chicken, dumplings and salt are heavenly.” eagerly awaits Grandma Betty’s recipe, but it’s not on the list of what Amanda’s publisher is okay with sharing right now. We’ve pre-ordered her cookbook, which will be released on August 7.
When you click on Southern Baked: Celebrating Life With Pie, you can immediately look inside and see how to make her famous pie crust, which calls for one whole stick of butter.

“I admit I’ve gained a few pounds,” Amanda chuckled, “but I’ve never been happier. Making this cookbook was hard work, but my friends helped me test every recipe and arrange all the photo shoots. We had so much fun. Sure, it was 12 hour days for a solid month, but we nibbled and hung out as friends. Amazing.”

As an author of many cookbooks myself, I can relate. Like me, Amanda’s recipes are also inspired by travel.

“About ten years ago, I was studying abroad,” she said, “and when I was in Prague I had my first taste of a made-from-scratch pastry. It was a tart. When I bit into it, I was shocked at how good it was; the custard was warm, and the dough the softest and most buttery I’d ever had. The fruit inside the tart shell was perfectly sweet.”

It was a perfect segue. I told her about Canvas and Cuisine, with Sue’s oil paintings of far flung farmer’s markets and the exotic recipes they inspired me to create. I think the three of us are such like-minded individuals that I sent Sue some of Amanda’s pies. I myself tasted the pies’ marvelousness when someone gifted them to me through the mail. The Southern Baked Pie Company ships all over the United States.

This is Amanda’s store and HQ in Gainesville, Georgia.

She told me she spends most of her time here, but does drop by her other two stores in Alpharetta and Buckhead from time to time, ready to roll up her sleeves, get out her pre-refrigerated pie making ingredients, and make what she loves. Her product managers like to tell her, “We got this.”

And this, would be her family’s dream. The pie entrepreneur says her mother-in-law, Sandy Wilbanks got the whole thing started by showing Amanda how to make buttermilk pie. That was in 2012, and she’s been making all sorts of pies ever since. Her very favorite right now is chocolate chess pie, which tastes especially good washed down with a glass of Prosecco, a few ripe berries floating on top. Her husband, Alex convinced her to sell her pies professionally, and it’s to him, whom she dedicates her cookbook.

“Alex is the one who always believed in me the most.”

The mother of two will mark her 5th year as a store owner shortly after the book’s official release. She says they plan to host a book signing party at the Gainesville store, on August 18th. “It’s a tiny shop,” Amanda says, “so we’ll probably bring the celebration outside, and serve a few pies.”

August 18th is a Saturday, and Fridays are free pie days – so if you bring a hankering for the blackberry pies – a favorite of Southern Baked this summer, you will probably be in luck for a fresh baked encore. But who knows? It could be anything. No notion is too pie in the sky here…

*Photos in this blog by Abby Breaux Photography

A Cake for All Occasions

A Cake for All Occasions

Here’s a tall tale for you: I was hiking the Profile Trail in Pisgah National Forest, when I ran smack dab into a budding blueberry bush, that sent me down an exciting path with black bears, and ultimately led to the baking of my Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake. That’s a fairy tale, here’s the truth:

Actually, I was poking around the woods (behind the Ninth Green), looking for my lost golf ball, when – scout’s honor – I crawled under a blueberry bush with little green blueberries budding on the branches. The ball was lost, but the inspiration was found!

It will be a while before those blueberries are ready for pickin’, so a quick trip to the farmer’s market (or grocery store) is just about all you need for this yummy snack. I stick the blueberries in the middle and top of the cake, but you can stir them right into the batter if you like.

The only thing you absolutely cannot do, is NOT bake this cake! I won’t make you eat the whole thing instead, BUT I WILL suggest you bake the cake, and take half to a pal who needs to smile. You never know when even a small act of kindness can make a large difference in someone’s day! It’s perfect for a morning snack with your piping hot cup of coffee, an afternoon bite with a chilled glass of lemonade, and an after-dinner treat with a soothing cup of tea. Guess this makes it a must-bake cake for all occasions.


Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake

serves 8 to 10

15 minute cuisine, plus about an hour to bake

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup sour cream

½ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

Juice from 1 Meyer lemon, about 2 tablespoons

Zest from 1 Meyer lemon, about 1 tablespoon

2 pints fresh blueberries

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375°. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a small bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the eggs with the granulated sugar until fluffy and pale yellow in color. Mix in the sour cream, oil and vanilla. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter.

Stir the cornstarch into the blueberries. Pour half of the batter into a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment paper. Top with half of the blueberries. Pour the remaining batter on top and sprinkle the rest of the blueberries over the top. Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out with crumbs, (it will mostly come out with melting blueberries, but you can see crumbs rather than batter) about 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.





Summer BBQs, the smell of wood smoke, and perfect pool weather are part of what makes this time of year so great – at least for those of us who live in the South and can enjoy picnics before Memorial Day. Before we load up the cooler, and invite our good friends to the backyard, we should nail down a few BBQ techniques from the experts. My friends at Smoked BBQ Source asked me to feature their advice on my blog, so I hope you’ll click on their wonderfully handy wood smoking guide. In it, BBQ source shares the two main ways you can use wood when you barbecue, what kind of smoker to use, and how to bring out coveted aromas and flavors in your meat. With all their talk of apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite or pecan woods, and videos of how to man a superior grill, my mouth was watering!

If you’re gonna have a BBQ, you gotta have French fries, and you might as well have the best! The ketchup in this recipe is full of robust flavors, and there’s enough for dipping the last morsel of fry. Have fun out there!

The Real Deal Fries and Home Made Ketchup

1 (12-ounce) can tomato paste
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon hot ground mustard
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for fries
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice

Put the tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, cinnamon, salt, pepper, cloves and allspice into a small pan over low heat. Pour in ¼ cup water. Whisk until smooth. Cook until the sugar melts and the ketchup is warmed through. Set aside and let the flavors blend at room temperature for 1 hour or in the refrigerator overnight.
2 large Idaho potatoes, scrubbed
Canola oil for frying

Peel the potatoes. Cut each potato lengthwise into 4 long slices. Cut each slice into 4 strips. Place the strips into a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge. Drain the potatoes through a colander and slide onto a paper towels. Use more towels to blot the potatoes dry. The drier the potatoes, the more they will crisp.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Pour enough oil to come 1-inch up the side of the skillet. Use a candy thermometer to gauge the oil to 325° Place the fries into the oil and cook for 5 minutes. This step cooks the inside of the potatoes. Transfer the fries to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. These pre-cooked fries will keep in the fridge for several hours until you are ready to serve.

Raise the temperature of the oil to 375°. Place the partially cooked fries in the oil. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and serve with ketchup.

Christmas New Orleans Style with this Yummy Stew!

Christmas New Orleans Style with this Yummy Stew!

It’s a Christmas gift in and of itself: slowly simmered spicy sausage marries okra, chicken and shrimp in this pot of perfection. Red beans and rice complete the Bourbon street experience. I can think of no better DISH OF THE DAY when company is on their way; this is a weekend feast, you’ll want to prepare on Friday, so that when your weary travelers appear, you’re covered!

My recipe for N’awlins Jambalaya Stew recommends the perfect andouille sausage. It’s got just the right ratio of the Cajun holy trinity: savory onions, bell peppers and celery. On a cold night, there really isn’t anything better than this very specific type of heat! Warm your bellies and enhance your kitchen with oodles of recipes just as good, when you use my cookbook throughout the new year! Merry Christmas, everyone — thank you for being part of the SUNDAY BEST release. It’s not the best — YOU ARE!

N’awlins Jambalaya Stew


½ cup olive oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and diced, about 2 cups
4 celery stalks, diced, about 2 cups
8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
2 cups home made chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 pounds Andouille sausage, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (10-ounce) package frozen okra
1 (15.5-ounce) can red kidney beans
2 cups uncooked rice
2 pounds fresh jumbo shrimp, about 21 to 25 per pound
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the flour and whisk until the roux is bubbling and turns a dark mustardy color, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the onion, peppers, celery and garlic and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Pour in the sherry and add the thyme and bay leaves. Stir in the tomatoes, clam juice, chicken broth, tomato paste and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, chicken, okra and beans. Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Add the rice and shrimp to the pot and cook until the shrimp turn opaque, and the rice is plump, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh parsley. Ladle the soup into bowls and dig in!

The Mother of all Quiche Recipes

The Mother of all Quiche Recipes

Merry Christmas from me a few days early. I’m giving away my favorite recipe from the Pic Niques chapter of my newly released cookbook, Sunday Best.  I do so because I know the “most wonderful time of the year” is full of office parties, gift exchanges and special luncheons. My Smoked Gruyere Cheese Tart with Spinach and Bacon is the perfect dish for your afternoon party. It pairs well with a deep red French wine…which gives me an idea for a unique Xmas gift. A Francophile foodie basket for the Julia Child in your life!

Use your imagination to add to this basket with the Cabaret Sauvignon.

It needs additional goodies, like French sea salt, Herbs de Provence, Gruyere cheese, balsamic vinegar, and the indispensable cookbook that calls for these treats, SUNDAY BEST DISHES A COOKBOOK FOR PASSIONATE COOKS.

Add a fluted tart pan, and you are well on your way. In my book, I recommend the best and most time tested cooking tools, gadgets, and food stuffs on the market – the ones that have kept me eating well since I started in this business over 30 years ago. I can’t wait to sign your book!  Cheers, and do let me know if you take this fabulous quiche to your next holiday party!

Smoked Gruyere Cheese Tart

with Spinach and Bacon


1 (9-inch) prepared pie crust

½ pound bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 cup

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 pound fresh spinach leaves, about 4 cups (or substitute with 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained)

1 teaspoon dried Herbs of Provence

8 ounces smoked Gruyere cheese, grated, about 1 cup

4 large eggs

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Unroll the pie crust and press into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom.  Pierce the bottom of the pie crust with a fork.  Bake until the pie crust is golden, about 9 to 12 minutes.

Cook the bacon in a skillet, over medium high heat, until crisp.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Pour off the bacon drippings.

Heat the olive oil and butter in the skillet, over medium high heat.  Cook the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and cook for 4 to 5 minutes more.  The diced onion should be golden and slightly syrupy. Transfer to a bowl. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes.  Season with Herbs de Provence and set aside.

Carefully slide the baked tart shell onto a baking sheet.  Sprinkle the bacon onto the bottom of the baked tart shell.  Cover the bacon with grated cheese.  Cover the cheese with the caramelized onion.  Spread the spinach over the top.  Whisk together the eggs and cream, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Carefully pour this mixture over the ingredients in the tart.  Place the baking sheet with tart into the oven.  Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is golden, about 30 minutes.

If not serving immediately, cool the tart to room temperature.  Wrap the tart in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before serving.


Warm Up with a Spicy Indian Dish Tonight

Warm Up with a Spicy Indian Dish Tonight

Another fabulous Christmas dinner is spicy lamb, made the way they love it in India. My recipe features a lamb tenderloin – the center portion cut from the rack of lamb. With the Christmas countdown at 13 days, I say you cheat a little and make this dinner partly take-out.

You can purchase lamb from your local butcher, from specialty markets like The Fresh Market and online. If you are unable to find lamb loins, substitute with a whole rack of lamb. Season the rack with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the lamb for 12 to 15 minutes per rack. Rest the lamb for 5 minutes. Cut the lamb into double chops, and serve over a spicy Indian spinach sauce. So far as sauces go, this is one of my favorites! Mostly because it’s so versatile. This rich, spicy spinach sauce works great on chicken or pork…. So, don’t fret. It’s all about Christmas!!

The only thing you need to worry about is having enough bread on hand to dip into the saag, the spicy spinach sauce this meal revolves around. I think spinach is the perfect accompaniment for lamb; the two served together is sure to be a Sunday favorite, if you don’t get a chance to debut it sooner.

And speaking of acting fast….no Christmas is complete without a personalized copy of SUNDAY BEST DISHES: A COOKBOOK FOR PASSIONATE COOKS. Email me your address at and I’ll sail my glossy, beautiful cookbook right over, with a cute bookplate made out just for you!

Spicy Lamb Saag



2 pounds fresh baby spinach

1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled

1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely diced, about 2 cups

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Use a microwave steam dish, or a steamer basket over boiling water to steam the spinach (in batches). Drain in a colander.

Place the ginger, jalapeno pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to caramelize, about 8 to 10 minutes (note: not sure if it takes that long to turn brown). Add the ginger and spices and cook for 2 minutes more. Pour in the tomatoes and cook until most of the moisture begins to evaporate, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and garam masala. Cook until the spinach is warmed through, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the yogurt. Stir until the sauce thickens.



1 (2.5 to 3-pound) package lamb tenderloins

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the loins to the pan and sear on all sides until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes total. The lamb should be quite rare in the center. Let the lamb rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes. Cut into 2-inch diagonal slices and add to the sauce. Add the butter to the sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Traditional accompaniments for Saag are naan (Indian flatbread) and rice.